Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

launch and iterate

I enjoyed this brief interview with Rob Horning of The New Inquiry, and was particularly taken with this passage:

What do you think is good about the way we interact with information today? How has your internet consumption changed your brain, and writing, for the better?

I can only speak for myself, but I find that the Internet has made me far more productive than I was before as a reader and a writer. It seems to offer an alternative to academic protocols for making “knowledge.” But I was never very systematic before about my “research” and am even less so now; only now this doesn’t seem like such a draw back. Working in fragments and unfolding ideas over time in fragments seems a more viable way of proceeding. I’ve grown incapable of researching as preparation for some writing project — I post everything, write immediately as a way to digest what I am reading, make spontaneous arguments and connections from what is at hand. Then if I feel encouraged, I go back and try to synthesize some of this material later. That seems a very Internet-inspired approach.

Let me pause to note that I am fundamentally against productivity and then move on to the more important point, which is that online life has changed my ways of working along the lines that Horning describes — and I like it.

There’s a mantra among some software developers, most notably at Google: Launch and iterate. Get your app out there even with bugs, let your customers report and complain about those bugs, apologize profusely, fix, release a new version. Then do it again, and again. (Some developers hate this model, but never mind.) Over the past few years I’ve been doing something like this with my major projects: throw an idea out there in incomplete or even inchoate form and see what responses it gets; learn from your respondents’ skepticism or criticism; follow the links people give you; go back to the idea and, armed with this feedback, make it better.

Of course, writers have always done something like this: for example, going to the local pub and making people listen to you pontificate on some crack-brained intellectual scheme and then tell you that you’re full of it. And I’ve used that method too, which has certain advantages ... but: it’s easy to forget what people say, you have a narrow range of responses, and it can’t happen very often or according to immediate need. The best venue I’ve found to support the launch-and-iterate model of the intellectual life: Twitter.