I sort of thought (or hoped, anyway) Univision would leave the Onion alone, but nope, they moved it over to the Kinja layout. I figured that’d happen after they moved over the A.V. Club a couple months ago, and yet it strikes me as such a questionable, and almost authoritarian decision. (And not just because Kinja is drab and was supposedly designed to foster better engagement but actually makes it, like, so much harder to read and keep track of comments than any other CMS I’ve ever seen.)

One of my big hobbyhorses is the innate value of diversity, and I don’t just mean in the demographic/social justice sense, although that matters too. Basically, there are smart reasons to limit homogenization. Homogenization makes a lot of things easier, sure. For instance, to use Kinja as a specific example, Univision owns around a dozen different websites with overlapping audiences now (the former Gawker Media sites and now the Onion’s sites) and obviously wants to cross-promote stories across all of them. Using the same content management system makes that easier. It makes it easier for editors to work on multiple sites. It makes it easier (and this is undoubtedly the big reason for getting the Onion sites onto Kinja) for the same ads to appear across multiple sites. And granted, it would indeed be kind of dumb to require different ad formats from a single advertiser who was a good fit for both the A.V. Club and Gizmodo. As a publisher, you want to sell them one package that puts them on as many sites as possible while asking them to do as little work as possible.

And yet. Homogenization also makes you vulnerable. There are some excellent explanations of this in James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State. He talks about how the earliest lumber farms — managed forests, essentially — were a huge success inasmuch as they made it easy for their owners to raise, cut down, and sell wood. The trees were planted in evenly spaced rows. The best soil could be selected to encourage growth. Other species of plant and animal were minimized. As a result, you had nice big trees that were easy to get to and cut down, and that produced lumber of relatively consistent quality.

But these forests were also more vulnerable to disease. If one tree got infected, there was little other vegetation to get in the way and stop the spread of the ailment. Soil quality also tended to decline over time — it turned out that fertile soil required all kinds of ingredients that sort of chaotically accreted over time: animal waste, a dense variety of microorganisms, and so forth. The upshot is, there were all these important inputs that humans not only couldn’t replicate artificially — we hadn’t even noticed them in the first place.

The parallels here aren’t exact, of course. But I wonder if the ad revenue and other benefits of homogenization are going to help or hurt Univision in the long run. The A.V. Club and the Onion each had a strong brand of their own that they’d built up over years; they had loyal audiences. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only reader who has stopped going to the A.V. Club several times a day since they made the switch. So there were already costs. Now what happens if some new development makes the Kinja platform less viable? Mightn’t there have been value in having a couple of popular websites that stood apart? This is pretty straightforward “It’s wise to diversify your portfolio” thinking, so I assume Univision gave it some thought. On the other hand, these days you will not go broke betting on media companies’ lack of foresight and analysis.

About this blog

This weekend a friend asked why I was deleting my Twitter account and starting a new one. Because I use Twitter too compulsively, I said, and it eats up too much time. And if I just sign out of my current account, then sooner rather than later, I will come back to it and to all of the interesting and likable people I follow. So I’m making a new account that won’t follow anyone, I said. But I will write things on a blog and post links to those things on the new Twitter, for people who might want to know about the things that I write.

But won’t writing blog posts eat up time just like Twitter did? he asked.

No, I said. Twitter is like a busy street in a big city, full of smart, poetic, funny and crazy and scary people. All of them are talking loudly, having conversations that you want to jump into. Or you want to start a conversation yourself. Or you just want a soapbox. Or maybe you want to fight about something. It’s very entertaining but equally ephemeral (which is part of the attraction).

A blog is like a small farm, though, outside the city. It’s much quieter on the farm, and you hope to produce something, I think, more nourishing than tweets. For your efforts to yield much, you do need to tend to your work with regularity. Not with urgency — but the farming/blogging must be more or less routine, more or less consistent. It is good if it is done with some care, some appreciation or even love for the environment which makes it possible. If you do it with enough care, people will visit your farm, your blog, and take something away with them when they go. They can come back later and find that a new crop has come in, but otherwise, little has changed. There is some calm, some peace to be found. There is a satisfying energy that comes from farming, a sense of time well spent. Twitter is delightful, but has it ever left anyone feeling that way?


The title of this blog comes from Roger Zelazny’s novel Lord of Light. The main character, who is the Buddha on a planet settled by humans in the far future, is preaching a sermon about the nature of reality. He calls the universe “the thing that has never happened before.” Even if other universes have been formed, each is unique; each is a thing that has never happened before.

Later, the preacher reminds his audience: “The thing that has never happened before is still happening.” We would do well to keep this in mind. After all, we are on a fearsome and magnificent cusp, all of us, learning to live at light speed, humanity awakening unto itself, more aware of our awareness than ever before. Historians will say many things about us, but never that this wasn’t quite a time to be alive. It often feels terrifying. There’s a lot of pain and confusion and rage in the world at present, quite close to the surface. We understandably declare this state of things “bad.”

And yet — the truth is, we’re currently living through the development of the first internet we’ve ever encountered. We don’t know what it’s supposed to look like when a worldwide sentient species suddenly begins communicating with itself at near-instant speeds. But from watching my 13-month-old daughters, I do know that coming to grips with our own consciousness and autonomy — an inheritance so terrifyingly profound, most of us are doomed to spend decades reckoning with it — involves a fair amount of pain, confusion, and rage. Is that “bad”? Or is it just an inescapable part of growth? The old Taoist story about the farmer comes to mind. As awful as everything feels right now, we don’t know how it’s all going to turn out.

But I do know that in tumultuous and violent times, it is wise to take a step back when possible, to remove yourself from the commotion if you feel the need, no matter how enthralling it may be, so that you can focus on the work that matters, on something more sustainable, with rigor and composure and direction. It seems to me that we need to create a culture that values slowing down, moving at a more human speed, a speed that allows for real thought, if we want to live in a happier future; and the first step is necessarily that some of us must actually slow down. That’s what this is. I hope it works.