Welcome to the first issue of OVERLAP ⧉
There’s something wrong with Instagram.
To be fair, it’s more than one thing, and it’s more than just Instagram. But that’s where I notice it the most. Instagram has become a place for overzealous algorithms, aspiring influencers, and performative perfection. When I log in, I feel … exhausted.
Instagram isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s an “engagement powerhouse” with 1 billion users — and it’s growing. But its inescapable connection to parent company Facebook and its uniquely powerful ability to make people feel like crap is prompting some of us to reconsider our social habits.
Many people extol the virtues of digital detoxing; fewer people are talking about alternative ways of being online. But the futurists are eyeing the horizon, and the pioneers are looking for new gathering places. So what’s next? New apps and platforms could surprise us, but it may be more interesting to look at existing options in new ways. I’m starting to see a few different paths out of — or perhaps into — the wilderness.
Digital homesteading. Blogs and websites never died, but the personal online hub has fallen out of fashion in recent years. Will this early-aughts approach make a comeback? Frank Chimero made an argument for homesteading in late 2013; it resonated with me then, and makes even more sense now. If the platforms are toxic, why do we work so hard (for free) to feed them? We crave connection (or at least an audience), and personal sites aren’t as visible. And for some, a standard Squarespace or WordPress template isn’t ideal for self-expression. But I like the idea of a personal site as a hub or a home base, even if creative experiments flourish on other channels.
Audio experimentation. Voice memos are trending (and way more personal than a casual DM), and the potential of podcasts is obvious but untapped. New experimental formats — from Mary H.K. Choi’s micropod to Jon Mooallem’s ambient walking sounds — are helping us think beyond talk shows and high-production narratives. The homegrown, lo-fi feeling of these new shows could make audio more accessible to newcomers.
The inbox as a customized news feed. The best content on the internet is increasingly offered in the form of an email newsletter, and the barrier to starting your own is extremely low. At the same time, more work-related conversations are filtered to other channels like chat, Slack, and Google Docs. If you’re disciplined about unsubscribing from emails that fail to “spark joy,” the inbox can be a reasonable place to keep up with people and publications. Craig Mod describes email as “the oldest networked publishing platform” and observes that “newsletters and newsletter startups these days are like mushrooms in an open field after a good spring rain.” There may be more newsletters than ever, but there’s also a renewed sense of enthusiasm for them. Newsletters like Fermentation & Formation, Dense Discovery, and Year of the Meteor deliver genuine delight that’s hard to come by online.
Private messaging and groups. Slack and group chats aren’t only for work; for many of us, it’s “the new (old) social network.” Niche communities and friend groups are finding ways to get around the ads and algorithms that render posts from real people invisible. (As more meaningful exchanges happen in private, social media will become more about performing for a crowd of strangers. We haven’t seen the worst of influencer culture yet.)
Back to our IRL roots. The cranky skeptic in me sees the rise of “pop-up experiences” as tied to a shallow desire to look cool on Instagram. But it could be something deeper — the need to be out in the world, alongside fellow humans. The various Museums of Instagrammable Content™ aren’t for me, but I’ve made satisfying connections at local events like Creative Mornings Field Trips, Women in Innovation, and the Orchard Street Reading Society. Sometimes finding your people means leaving the house.
For now, I’m keeping my Instagram account. But this year I’m investing more energy in exploring better ways to be online.
17 people signed up for this email newsletter before I had even published anything. I’m amazed by your intrepid curiosity and thankful for your confidence! If this isn’t what you had in mind, don’t feel bad about unsubscribing — I don’t take it personally.
If you do plan to stick around, I’d love to hear what you think. Reply to this email or send a note through my website. You can also forward this to a friend or two and invite them to subscribe.
Auntie Jess recommends:
Ginger. This spicy rhizome is the only winter health lifehack I really believe in. My colleague Mahala introduced me to a recipe for lemon-ginger brew. Then my colleague Ben told us you can peel ginger with a spoon! My life will never be the same.
Fox 8. This George Saunders story is charming and thoughtful, and Chelsea Cardinal’s illustrations make it even more delightful. The mere existence of this small book makes me feel better about the world.
Border collies named after parts of speech. With a name like Verb, this dog was destined for greatness.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear from you — hit reply to share newsletter recommendations, ginger recipes, border collie videos, or anything else that’s on your mind.
Until next time,