Fifteen years ago I registered the domain “drjasonfox.com”. I actually wanted to secure jasonfox.com, but it was already taken. At the time I was completing my PhD so I thought I might as well snag the ‘dr’ qualifier. ‘Dr Jason Fox’ became henceforth the go-to proxy for all social media accounts. And whilst the domain and hadle of ‘drjasonfox’ has served me quite well, it’s come time for a change.
The naïve young hedge-wizard who secured that domain is not the seasoned wizard I am today. And besides; I’ve long since lost the SEO battle for “jason fox”—the celebrity soldier can have it.
If ever there were a time for new beginnings—it is now. Robin Sloan, a writer I admire, aptly states that the platforms of the last decade are done. I tend to agree. At the heart of these web2 platforms are a distorted nest of incentives that seem only to perpetuate a general discordance. They bring us together, yes. But also in a manner in which it is a much better engagement strategy to be outraged or to be in vehement disagreement than it is to find mutual accord. (This is the Internet of Beefs, as Venkatesh Rao puts it).
I’ve never been particularly good at playing in this arena. As one whose curiosity eclipses their conviction, I usually find myself baffled and intrigued by the perspectives I encounter, and mostly disinclined to argue or proselytise my own perspective. This has seen me warm to discord and the cozyweb—places removed from the vanity metrics of conventional social media. It has also seen me write mostly via my museletter, which has been through its own journey—from Mailchimp, to Substack and Squarespace. And now: here on Ghost.
The decision to move to Ghost brings with it a sense of liberation and excitement. Ghost is an independent not-for-profit and open source platform—all money raised goes back to making Ghost better. It has a sense of the independent web to it, and the spirit of web1 (something most of us are nostalgic for—that time of innocence before social media came along).
And yet—I still like Substack. I was one of the early ones to the platform, and I admire what has been built. They have made it incredibly easy for anyone to spin up a newsletter/blog/podcast. The (social-)network effects of their recommendations are compelling—and this may be one of the hardest things for me to leave behind. I am a paying subscriber to publications on Substack. I love what they have done, and mostly what they are doing—but I worry for the amount of funding they’ve raised from various rounds of venture capital. True to my fox-like personal House Words—“First to Leave”—I sense Substack becoming yet another monolithic platform. This gravitational accretion will bring much convenience and efficiency—but at what cost?
It’s hard to say. At some point the VCs will need to make a return on their investment, and there’s something a little Orwellian about where this could potentially go. Or perhaps I’m overthinking it. There are certainly going to be some inconveniences to favouring an independent open source platform like Ghost over the relatively smooth running networked beast that is now Substack. I’m also going to have to deal with the messiness of leaving yet another platform in my wake.
I’ve felt discombobulated and spread too thin for too long. The attention economy is a dark forest, with will o’ the wisps aplenty. Shining lights that attract your attention, luring you astray. Sirens that coo sweet nothings to your ego, transporting you to worlds where time loses relevance and meaning. It takes some perspicacity and wit to see through the illusions. And what I’ve come to realise is: I’d really like to build a body of work. To write in a manner that could be considered a little more ‘evergreen’—rather than hiding gems of deep inside museletters only available to subscribers.
I also yearn to simply share more; to shine a light on that which I find to be useful, enchanting, wondrous and apt. Ours is a time of great disillusion and disenchantment. These are necessary steps in the quest—but it’s not the destination. There’s the rekindling of illusion and enchantment that is needed—only this time with the knowingness we didn’t have before.
There’s a sentiment in Robin Sloan’s A Year of New Avenues that resonates:
I am thinking specifically of experimentation around “ways of relating online”. I’ve used that phrase before, and I acknowledge it might be a bit obscure … but, for me, it captures the rich overlap of publishing and networking, media and conviviality. It’s this domain that was so decisively captured in the 2010s, and it’s this domain that is newly up for grabs.
It is 2003 again. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram haven’t been invented yet … except, it’s also 2023, and they have, so you can learn from their rise and ruin.
This doesn’t mean you ought to start a company.
As the platforms of the last decade crumble, we might put “founder” culture back on the shelf. Startup finance works fine for building a business of a very particular kind; and, like, thank you for Shopify! Seriously! But, for a decade, this very particular kind of business had a lock not only on internet commerce, but internet culture, too, with only ill effect.
I want to insist on an amateur internet; a garage internet; a public library internet; a kitchen table internet. At last, in 2023, I want to tell the tech CEOs and venture capitalists: pipe down. Buzz off. Go fave each other’s tweets.
Artificial intelligence will increasingly take the reigns of mediocre mainstream writing; ergo it behooves us to lean into the esoteric, and frolic in the periphery and the penumbra—just outside of its gaze. That’s where all the fun is to be had, anyway.
These introductory posts are always an indulgent affair, and rather solipsistic. At over 1,000 words in, I don’t know that I have shared anything of particular merit or value—and that’s okay, perhaps. I know that, personally, I relish the glimpse into the workings of one’s reasoning. Give me thinking-in-draft over polished thoughts, any day.
It’s simply nice to be writing in one’s own domain again. If a personal website is like a temple for the deity that is you—with social media being the shrines to which your followers might pay homage to your avatar, and vice versa—is is good to ensure your temple is on your own land, and not in someone else’s empire. Even if it means some folk must trek uphill via a twisted path in a dark forest to find you.
The artist and designer Laurel Schwulst once wrote a wonderful article, titled My website is a shifting house next to a river of knowledge. What could yours be?
This invitation to world-build is compelling. It sets the foundations for your own mythopoeisis—the genesis of the kinds of stories that might emerge. This, in turn, comes down to a lot of little details (the font, the colours, the voice and tone, and so on), but ultimately it is a imaginal disposition. How do we relate to the creation and cultivation of a website? “What can a website be?” Laurel asks.
At this stage I would like to think of this website being a campfire amidst a dark forest. A small open glade, a step removed from the dangers of the open web. Here we can see the glimmering cosmos and contemplate the matters of our times, by the fire.