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Maria Popova: I loathe the term “content”


Brain Pickings blogger Maria Popova sat down with WordPress in the Own Your Content series to discuss evergreen ideas and rethinking the meaning of content.

Popova writes about timeless topics. “I am drawn to ideas that remain resonant across time and space, across cultures and civilizations.” If you read her blog, you know that she excels in digging up little-known gems from primary sources and combining them in an interesting way.

Her talent reminds me of what professor Kenneth Goldsmith of the University of Pennsylvania said about education in the internet era: “an educated person in the future will be a curious person who collects better artifacts. The ability to call up and use facts is the new education. How to tap them, how to use them.”

Maria excels in making old content relevant again. Following her blog is a direct line to her insatiable curiosity.

In this sense, then, it naturally inclines toward what you call “evergreen” — which I take to mean enduring ideas that hold up across the years, decades, and centuries, and continue to solace and give meaning undiminished by time.

Yet, she also dislikes the word content as it compels merchants to race the bottom in the form of attention-seeking missiles:

I loathe the term “content” as applied to cultural material — it was foisted upon us by a commercially driven media industry that treats human beings as mindless eyeballs counted in statistics like views and likes, as currency to be traded against advertising revenue. Somehow people have been sold on the idea that the relationship between ads and “content” is a symbiotic one, but it is a parasitic one.

While tech may be the cigarette of the century,  the internet does provide space for writers like Maria Popova to demonstrate combinatorial creativity in the name of the hyperlink. If used properly, the internet can be a learning machine rather than a propaganda tool.


What’s the difference between blogging and writing?


There is no difference between blogging and writing.

Blogging is the process of writing. The only difference is that appears on a website rather than in a formal publication like a newspaper or a book.

The best part about blogging is that it’s free. You can set one up right now on WordPress in a few minutes. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Advises Andrew Chen:

“Writing is the most scalable professional networking activity. Stay home, don’t go to events/conferences, and just put ideas down.”

Everything is a remix

You can change the world from your computer. The content doesn’t have to be original. Like a hip-hop track, you can sample but credit the source. You can share a link or a post a video and add some context. Show people what you’d think they’d like.

Blogging is the practice of writing, unpolished but still remarkable. Blogging means more writing, more thinking, and more doing. It’s a  canvass for working out ideas but also a catalyst to building other stuff.

Lacing the blogs 

I see blogs as projects for unique avenues of thinking.

This blog is my thinking blog. It focuses on what I’m reading and chewing on. It’s a collection provocative ideas and observations.

My music blog is like my music shelf. It’s an ongoing library of new music finds from the current year. The post art is just as significant as the music. I like to dig around on the artist sites and social networks to select images of the musician. The stream — whether it’s from Bandcamp or SoundCloud, contains the song/album art.

My blog focuses on creative ways to respond to prompts. WordPress does a great job in galvanizing its community by inspiring people to show their angle on a variety of topics and photography challenges. For the latter, rummage through my Google Photos to see what works.

Meanwhile, my Tumblr blog is more or less an aggregator. I cross-post there but also play natively within the platform by posting quotes and resharing cool GIFs from others. I also use my Instagram to dice up the array of posting.

Nevertheless, all of feeds tie together. They are ways of seeing, of which nothing becomes clear until I write it down and publish it.

“Blogs are like ham­mers. They are tools for building stuff.”

— Hugh MacLeod

Blogs permit me to show my work. The writing can be repetitive and thematic, which often means I’m trying to nail down the nugget or UBI (unifying big idea) of my approach. But at the end of the day, I want to say ‘this is what I made today.’

In short, blogging is another way to connect the dots on screen.

To dare is to blog


A blog helps you solidify your thinking. But the practice of blogging is both a freedom and a constraint.

It’s liberating to say whatever you want, even if no one reads it. How dare someone discovers you! At the same time, there’s a fear that what’s written isn’t polished enough to be published.

But that’s what blogs are: rough drafts. They’re good enough. They are the blank piece of paper, a sandbox where people work out ideas. Blogs are full of contradictions and imperfections.

The fear is that your words may be wrong or misunderstood. No one likes to be called out. But that’s also part of the excitement; the ability to catch someone’s criticism.

Bloggers are already naked. They can even blog in their underwear. Bloggers notice and give other people something to discuss.

Bloggers raise their hand before they are ready. They pick themselves, professionals, past success, or not. They have a long-term willingness to figure it out all out and change the world while no one notices.

Writing vs. blogging

sound of music
Let it all out

If you want to feel like you’re losing, write a book. If you want to feel like you’re winning, blog. With a blog, you can publish every day to get your hit of dopamine. A book is a practice in delaying gratification.

Writing or blogging is a matter of preference. Seth Godin publishes a blog post every day in addition to writing books and working on his altMBA program. Maria Popova is a blogger that specializes in digging through old print books to inspire blog posts but admits that she has no appetite to pen a novel herself.

The most important thing is to write and enjoy the practice, even if your writing never sees light of day. You should write for yourself anyway. Just don’t write so hard in your turtle shell that you remember to be a human being.

“Those who work much do not work hard.” – Henry David Thoreau

Why everyone should blog

Everyone should blog. You do not have to publish 500 words a day. You do not even need to post at all. In fact, writing comes easier when you can write for yourself, in private.

Use a smartphone journal like the Day One app or the ever popular Morning Pages Journal where you write by hand. When it comes to blogging effectively, you have to be a little vulnerable. Don’t tell all but don’t hide everything either, especially if your advice will benefit the lives of other people.

“Use your blog to connect. Use it as you. Don’t “network” or “promote.” Just talk.” — Neil GaimanClick To Tweet

I have been blogging for years (btw, I recently wrote a blog post about how to start one on WordPress) It is harder to get an audience who cares to read your stuff today than it has ever been. You have to assume nobody wants to read your shit because he or she is busy or would rather be social networking or playing games instead. However, for those readers who do read your blog frequently, they have subscribed for a reason.

Luis Suarez has been blogging since 2002 and recently offered some advice about using your blog to reflect the real you.

“It’s all about having a meaningful presence and how you work your way to make it happen, to leave a legacy behind, to share your thoughts and ideas others can learn from just like you do yourself with other people’s vs. pretending to be who you are not…Just be yourself with your own thoughts and share them along! It is what we all care for, eventually. The rest is just noise.”

People like to say blogging is dead. But not only are new platforms emerging like Medium, but blogging is just writing. Words will always be a powerful way to say something meaningful, whether it is in print, online, graffiti, or the walls of a cave.

I started this blog so I could show the world what interests me. It is no surprise that what you read here is information I learned from other blogs. In other words, blogging acts like a canvass where you synthesize, remix and interpret in your words. Above all, blogging is free, what Seth Godin calls “the last great online bargain.” Blogging gives you a voice, and it is an excellent incentive to think in a world that just wants us to consume.

Blogging is a bicep curl for the brain. Write daily, and practice the art of conviction.

'Everyone should write a blog, every day, even if no one reads it. There’s countless reasons why it’s a good idea and I can’t think of one reason it’s a bad idea.' — Seth GodinClick To Tweet

PS. If you’re looking to start a blog, I highly recommend doing so on WordPress. You can also choose a one-click WordPress installation using Bluehost.

An Instagram Experiment

I’m going to start using my Instagram account as a blog. While pictures generally speak for themselves I believe there’s a backstory there that people would be interested in. I’m in New York after all.

I published my first one yesterday to low engagement. Maybe I wrote too much. Maybe the image just sucked.


Either way, I’ve got a decent following on Instagram and social media and this blog are just are a palette for experiment. Let me know what you think of this approach and if you’ve explored different approaches on the Instagram platform. Thanks.

7 articles to read this weekend

Every week I release a pack of links that inspire me to think differently about the world we live in. The road is better than the end, isn’t it?

1. Wanting To Be Normal

Normal means having a house and a relationship. These things are supposed to create a life of happiness. But normal is boring and unconscious, what psychiatrist Tania Glyde refers to as “Happily being, without mentally doing; living as an existential lily of the field.” Being normal is hard. Emotions and struggles force you to think outside the box and deepen perspective. Story short, it sucks to be normal. Be weird instead.

+ Financial Times: The secret to happiness may be low expectations. Constrict choice, create happiness.

2. Time Bias

Don’t judge a book by its cover. The old adage rings true for the online world as well where news sites are providing estimated reading times. You can’t judge content on the amount of estimated minutes it takes to read. You may miss the good stuff, like Frank Chimero’s piece on content consumption and time management.

+ Shawn Blanc: Shawn finally watches Jiro Dreams of Sushi and realizes its about creating good work just as much as it’s about consuming good work.

3. Saying “No”

Say “no” makes you makes you more creative because it frees up the time you need to do the real, primary work. As Kevin Ashton writes, “Time is the raw material of creation.”

+ Crew Blog: Restrict checking email because it inhibits work flow. Suggestion: Focus on what’s important with email breaks in between.

4. The Indies

Who would the masses have to steal cool ideas from if it weren’t for the independent creators driving innovation? The Indies, whether’s a bedroom musician or app creator, can make the things they want and love without having to appease a larger audience. Naturally, they attract the fans that fill their niche. As Brent Simmons explains, “Inventiveness, passion, and courage comes from indies, not from people who watch the bottom line.”

5. Get Lucky

Lucky people are “lucky” because they’re less anxious and more open to opportunities. They don’t look for perfect like the unlucky person does. They look to embrace the moment instead. Lucky people see the positive in their misfortunes.

6. Weird Science

Science is based on what we know now and changes based on the latest continually evolving evidence. Unlike religion, science has not truths. It can’t be Googled. As professor Amy Meyer writes, “Science is a continual challenging of common sense, and the core of science is not certainty, it’s continual uncertainty.” Science begins with asking questions and composing present solutions, only to create even more doubt.

7. Reflections on Blogging

Blogging is about owning your own canvass, shipping your opinion yet willing to be shaped by the feedback others give back to you. Dana Boyd reflects on blogging and concludes that in addition to serving as her public microphone, blogging is also learning in disguise.

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7 articles to read this weekend

Every week I link to 7 articles that inspire me to think differently about art, life, productivity, and technology. Inspiration is the fuel that inspires curiosity, creativity, and doing the work.

1. Digital vs Print

I read faster on my iPhone. I read more deeply on the Internet-less Kindle. And I read too hard with paper books. Everyone’s got their own preference; I’d be happy never to touch a newspaper or paperback again. Reading speed and comprehension on ebook vs print ultimately “depends on what you’re reading and why.”

+ Medium: Read more creatively by focusing on the good stuff. If you read the less by focusing on the best sources you can avoid information overflow, argues Sarah Gooding.

2. Art of the Mix Tape

Remember how much effort it took to create an actual mixtape, not just mastering the timing of the recordings but also organizing the sequence is songs. It had to flow. Well, 8tracks has been enabling users to build mixtapes online for years now. And they’re finally getting the kudos they deserve. The mixtape is inherently social which is the key to 8track’s success.

+FastCoLabs: Soundcloud opens up new offices in Berlin and reinvents its app in its latest update.

3. Ike and Tina

Tina Roth Eisenberg (aka SwissMiss) has been one of the Internet’s best side project entrepreneurs. In this video, she reveals her 5 personal rules. My favorite: identify and embrace your superpower.

+ First Round: Spotify’s design lead explains why side products should be stupid.

4. No ‘I’ in Team

Soccer is a team sport. It’s the system and shape that determine success, with exception to few stellar players like Messi and Ronaldo. That’s why teams like Costa Rica and the United States move on in this World Cup and England suffers, argues Simon Critchley.

5. Voicemail is Dead

When’s the last time you actually welcomed a voicemail? As Teddy Wayne so eloquently explains, no one (at least teenagers) leaves voicemails any more; they text instead and call back if it’s important.

6. Trust Your Gut

After enough experience you start to realize where the ball will bounce next. Experience builds more intelligence and better judgement which in turns builds better instincts. The folks at Harvard have the data to back it up.

7. Blogging is thinking

The New York Times is killing a bunch of its blogs. They required a lot of work with little payoff. That’s because people misunderstand what the blog is really about. As Om explains, blogging is a philosophy more than a publishing tool. I like to think of this blog as a canvass that allows me to think and connect the dots.

Blogging types

There are three types of blogging:

  • Fast – Twitter
  • Medium – Tumblr/Medium
  • Slow – WordPress

Twitter is a micro-blog because you write in a succinct 140 characters or less to get your message across. Naturally, Twitter is for breaking news and conversation.

Tumblr is a bit slower then Twitter. The feed is lighter and the posts are lengthier, capable of mixing all media types: Images, videos, GIFs. Tumblr is a social network on top of a blog, but it’s more about showing inspiration rather than snarky conversation.

WordPress is a more traditional form of blogging. It allows for stories and thicker analysis. The platform is customizable but the content feels more rigid, like a news site.

As a blogger, I prefer to first write for the medium paced thinkers. Tumblr allows me to post a juicer piece like this without rambling on too much as well as a quote or photo to express myself, kind of like a pin board.

But it really doesn’t matter which format you choose. Just share what you think is interesting. Teach the world something new. Show people that you have the ability to think or synthesize other people’s thoughts. Think and create out loud. Just avoid using your blog to complain.

Here’s some more advice on blogging if you’re interested.

7 articles to read this weekend

Each week I share 7 articles that inspire me to think differently about art, creativity, productivity, social media, and life.

Giving less advice. Jason Fried explains why advice can be misleading. What worked for you in the past offers no clear solution for how things work today. Instead, ask someone who just went through it.

Don’t give advice about things you used to know. Just because you did something a long time ago doesn’t mean you’re qualified to talk about it today.

How VSCO Grid Plans To Set Itself Apart From Instagram. VSCO may look like it’s aping Instagram with its grid and multiple app filters but its philosophy is intensely focused on the art of photography.

Whereas Instagram and its echo chamber of hashtags and follow-back spam can feel noisy and crowded, VSCO Grid is designed to strip out excess, allowing the images to speak for themselves.

Designer music: how Tycho blends art and sound. In this interview, Tycho explains how art, film, and music influence each other and in some cases, blend together.

I see Tycho as an audiovisual project. Any design or visual work I’m doing now is dedicated solely to the music project.

Twitter Fiction. Tweets are the new poetry. Writers like Teju Cole are using Twitter to produce short-form fictional stories over a series of tweets. The art of writing on Twitter lies within its 140 character restriction. As Teju Cole explains:

“No Constraints, No Joy”

Inside Amtrak’s (Absolutely Awesome) Plan to Give Free Rides to Writers. As a daily train commuter, the train is far and away my favorite place to blog and get work done. There’s something about working calmly on the inside while the progressing to your destination. In many ways, the train is a metaphor for life. You never really get off.

There is no plan to actually require writing; Amtrak wants to keep the residency an “organic experience.”

Best Advice: Life Isn’t an Arrow, It’s a Sine Wave. Life is bumpy, not a perpetual acceleration to endless peaks. In fact, you need struggle and low points; those experiences prepare you better for future challenges. It’s impossible to win all the time.

One hopes it arcs upward, but in reality it is a series of amazing highs and terrible lows. That is how to view life.”

“Connect, Don’t Network”. The blog is a canvass for exploration and self-expression. It’s a place to be open and vulnerable, to admit that all art has to start somewhere. No one is great at the beginning. Everything takes practice. Don’t be afraid to practice in public.

Use your blog to connect. Use it as you. Don’t ‘network’ or ‘promote.’ Just talk.

Also notable reads: