What Are You Reading?

A pace layer model for readers (and writers):

By social media I mean Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, et al. Content is fast, abundant, easy. Ephemeral.

By blogs I mean recurrent long(er) form writing published under an individual’s fixed identity so you can get a sense of their commitment to (and understanding of) the ideas. Lots of people do this on Medium these days, although independent blogs (such as this one) still exist.

By periodicals I mean magazines, journals, and other venues for recurrent publishing under a branded (group) identity. They have more skin in the game than bloggers, and this gives them more credibility. Think of The New Yorker, The Economist, and Slate.

You know what books are. I’m partial to the ones still in active circulation 20+ years after they were first published; that’s the market’s way of filtering out the chaff.

As with Stewart Brand’s “healthy societies” model:

  • the layers move (and change) slower as you go down the stack;
  • the top layers are where we experiment with new ideas;
  • the bottom layers are where the worthwhile ones are reified;
  • worthwhile ideas make their way down to the the lower layers.

As you go down the stack, the signal-to-noise ratio improves.

If you’re looking to build your character, the best texts are the ones at the very bottom. Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, written between 161 and 180 AD, is still in active circulation. Why? Because it’s proven to be universally useful to many generations of people living in very different times. It’s likely to be useful to you, too.

Much of the stuff in the top layers is only good for raising your heart rate, and there are more effective (and fun) ways of doing that. Still, you can sometimes find gold there — mostly in the form of pointers to information published in the lower layers.

Caveat lector.