Thank you for being here. You are receiving this email because you subscribed to Idée Fixe - the newsletter for curious minds. If you are new to Idée Fixe, welcome.
I’m Toni Cowan-Brown and each week I share with you insights from tech, politics, and internet culture that matter and dominate our minds. I also have a section on the latest in the F1 2020 season. And once in a while, I’ll dig into a specific idea that is particularly top of mind. 🧠.
🎙 Can a co-working company build community? (Unapologetic Women w/ Sorcha Rochford)
Co-working spaces were at the height of their boom when the pandemic hit. WeWork was a leader in this industry and invested in the likes of The Wing. We discuss the illusion in WeWork's business model - i.e. they are selling desks but are branding their business as building community. Should co-working companies even be in the business of building community?
We also examine what it looks like when women attempt to adapt this existing business model to their own needs, and I share my experience as a former Wing member. We know women are held to a higher standard, which also means that the failures are exponentially felt. The Wing's failure is the latest addition to a plethora of women-led companies being canceled (whether rightly so or not). So what does this mean for companies led by women in the future?
🎙 Trying to understand Ad Tech (Another Podcast w/ Benedict Evans)
Online advertising is worth $300bn a year, and yet almost no-one that doesn't work on an ad team really understands much of it. So what is the cookie apocalypse, what does it mean, and where is the money and power moving? No, we don't know either.
Speaking of ads, Brian Morrissey wrote a great piece about how ads are still a great business model, and points to the Not Boring newsletter as an example of a one-person company looks to diversify its revenue - subscriptions and ads are on the table.
⏳ For those who’ve been asking, Benedict and I are taking time to rethink the podcast structure, identify the next topics we want to dive into and potential guest speakers, all so we can come back with a season that is better than the last one. And the concept of ‘thinking’ is actually the topic of this week’s main piece.
What I’m reading.
🐦 Twitter is reinventing itself. 📚 The book club business is booming online and they are being held across all social media channels. Kaia, Kendall and EmRata Are Taking a Page From Oprah. 🍿 And talking of book clubs, did this TikToker find a new way to get us hyped about a novel and help us pick our next one? She created her account just a week ago and already has more than 1M likes and over 100k followers. 🎮 Video Games: My new frontier. 🗞 Is Substack a threat to journalism or is it that the difference between news and opinions is blurrier than ever? 💉 Inside Pfizer’s Fast, Fraught, and Lucrative Vaccine Distribution. 🖼 How a 10-second video clip sold for $6.6 million.
No time to think 🧠
During this past month, I struggled to pen more than a few sentences for this newsletter that felt either interesting, exciting, or even remotely insightful. This was due to a few things - the ever-present impostor syndrome, multitasking so many tasks that I lost my ability to think through things, and a feeling of content creator and consumer fatigue.
The impostor syndrome is one that many of us - especially women or so it would seem - experience. More often than not, I’m able to shake it off. Partly because over the years I’ve successfully trained myself to snap out of it, but more crucially because I’m surrounded by incredible women, and men, who tell me when I’m being too hard on myself.
Impostor syndrome aside, I was left with the lack of ‘thinking space’ and this feeling of being stuck in a content creator loop - which involves both creator and consumer fatigue. Let me explain.
Room to think
It wasn’t until I came across this piece about How to Think: The Skill You’ve Never Been Taught, that I realised just how rare those ‘thinking moments’ have become.
And at the heart of this piece (which I highly recommend you read), is the idea that the absolute best way to improve our ability to think is to “actually spend time thinking.” Sounds simple enough, and yet it’s indeed not a skill we were most likely ever taught, nor something we probably practice nearly enough.
It’s also not an act that is appreciated or celebrated in the existing workforce - or very rarely. There are obviously a few industry verticals where needing time alone to think is not only welcomed but very much needed. But for the rest of us, we celebrate how many non-stop calls we’ve been on, how many zoom meetings we’ve crammed into one day and how many emails sit unopened in our inboxes. Leaving us very little to no time alone to think.
In today’s social world where there is a heavy focus on output and speed, I’ve recently found it hard to stand still long enough to think about the big questions. And in the words of William Deresiewicz;
I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing. [link to full piece]
As such I’m now consciously trying to leave enough time in every day to give my headspace to think, and with no immediate output necessary.
The content creator loop - creator and consumer fatigue.
I also realised that I do most of my thinking as I consume content. I’ll be reading a book and an idea will occur and because I have the time, I’ll close the book and start jotting down thoughts. The same happens while listening to podcasts, watching documentaries, scrolling through newsletters… However, as I’ve recently focused heavily on creating content, I actually forgot to consume it - and more importantly, enjoy it.
"Reading great authors improves your writing by making you desperately unhappy with it" - this quote by Aaron Haspel, also hit a nerve. I realise that one of the reasons I’m avoiding consuming content is precisely because the more great writing I read, the more I become deeply unhappy with my own writing. I will start to question every paragraph, sentence, and word I write. I will then look back at my writing and think it’s either pointless, obvious or too far-fetched.
This is also true for the content I produce and deliver on social platforms. In my case, social media platforms seem to be either a tool for consumption or creation - but they require a whole new habit and skill set for them to become one and the same.
The more I consume content on TikTok, for example, the more I end up second-guessing my own content. And so I avoid my FYP* altogether and focus on my own content creation. But as I continue to avoid consuming this content, my creativity tank gets empty. And I need to be ‘refueled’ one way or the other.
*FYP stands for ‘For You Page’ and acts as a unique landing page for users with curated videos that the TikTok algorithm thinks I might like, and better interact with.
It would seem, I struggle to divide the creation and consumption parts equally and end up in this endless creation/consumption loop where I’m in consumption overload or creation overdrive.
We’ve heard of consumer fatigue - specifically recently in the wake of the newsletter boom. But I do believe we will start to see increasingly more creator fatigue as well. Especially as more creators use social platforms as their content hub with algorithms that are unforgiving to creators who take a break. And obviously, as I finish writing this piece I’m second-guessing if it’s insightful, interesting and even remotely useful.
Note: The normal format will return next week.