August 29, 2022

Generating Agency Through Blogging

Blogging as economic and social opportunity

Lately I’ve been framing all of my work through the lens of increasing agency. (See: notes on agency at work).

So it’s no surprise that this piece from Nadia struck a chord:

If “grit” – the desire to persevere when faced with a challenge, popularized by psychologist Angela Duckworth – has been the human trait du jour of the last fifteen-odd years, I suspect that “agency” – a belief in one’s ability to influence their circumstances – could be the defining trait of the next generation.

We can think of agency in a few different ways. But I particularly like the idea that blogging is an engine for cultivating agency. In my experience blogging is an incredible force for both economic and social opportunity.

Blogging as economic opportunity

The Web 2.0 era created a lot of rich bloggers. But it also cemented this view that making money from blogging is hard work (spoiler alert: making money in any way tends to be hard work). But our view of “making money from blogging” is too narrow. When I look across the people I know who are bloggers - I think they tend to have greater economic opportunities than those that don’t.

I only know a handful of people directly making money from blogging (via ads, subscriptions etc) but I know many more who:

  • Got a better career because of blogging (new job, better pay etc)
  • Negotiated better contracts (e.g. with a publisher or platform) because they had “an audience”
  • Sold their own courses / ebooks / books / merchandise / music

Blogging is this kind of engine that opens up economic opportunity and advantage. Being visible in the networked economy has real value.

Blogging as social opportunity

But blogging is more than economic opportunity - it’s an engine for social connection too. As Henrik says:

A blog post is a very long and complex search query to find fascinating people and make them route interesting stuff to your inbox.

It is like summoning an alien intelligence. I post at night, after putting my kids to bed, and wake in the morning to find my inbox filled with weird and alien-brained stuff. Some of it is hallucinogenic crazy, of course. But more often than not, what people have sent helps me accelerate my research by weeks: reading lists; introductions to other researchers; corrections of flaws in my reasoning. I’ve been able to progress faster over the last year, since starting my Substack, than in the five previous years combined.

It’s common to think of blogging as “building an audience”, but this can sound negative, self-serving, sleazy and promotional. Instead we can think of blogging as “finding your people”, which sounds much more wholesome, generative and positive.

The truth is that maybe it’s a bit of both - but that increasing your social surface area can have real positive effects. From finding peers to building friendships to, yes, influence and audience.

So if blogging is a real force for economic and social opportunity, why don’t more people do it?

What is the GDP of blogging?

Stripe’s mission is to “increase the GDP of the internet”. Their recent investor letter mentions writer, walker and book maker Craig Mod.

Craig is a great example of someone who has leveraged online writing into economic and social opportunity. From funding and distributing his books, to paid writing gigs to building a special projects revenue stream to enable long walks.

Stripe is interested in the GDP of the internet and Stripe understands that writing is an economic engine. Maybe it’s not so crazy to ask what the GDP of blogging is?

Perhaps un-ironically you could invest in growing the small business economy by investing in blogging.

Teaching Agency via Blogging

Let’s return to Nadia’s quote from the top - I think this is part of why I’m weirdly passionate and excited about blogging. Because the barrier to entry is almost zero, blogging is this very accessible tool for teaching people about personal agency. A simple platform for increasing people’s economic and social opportunities.

There’s something here - it’s partly why, despite the narrative that “blogging is dead” we see things like Write of Passage and Ship 30 for 30 being incredibly popular.

Squad Wealth, Squad Publishing

Agency of course is a social condition. You can have an individual sense of agency, but your degrees of freedom are always influenced by your environment. Which is why squads are so important. The seminal piece Squad Wealth talks about the emerging entwining of the social and financial economies.

But can squads scale? Squads are first and foremost cultures, not businesses. Financial maximization is not their primary objective—squads just want to keep the vibes going. Stable revenue is a worthy accomplishment in and of itself.

Instead, squads can extend themselves horizontally by inventing new aesthetics, organizational forms, and creative products that become the template for others. When squad vibes transmit they take on a life of their own. While the material value of these patterns may be limited, the significance of memeing a new bottom-up economic model into existence cannot be understated.

Maybe, for squad wealth, for squad agency, we need squad publishing?

Even in today’s hyper-media environment almost all acts of creation are 1:1 between author and work. Publishing on the internet is inherently an individual act - there are vanishingly few examples (though they do exist in oddball corners of the internet!) of squad publishing.

We used to use the term blogosphere - an organic sounding term. But what if we took the idea of ecosystem seriously. How might we enable our digital gardens to commingle and run wild? How can we build shared community gardens, with co-authors and shared ownership?

Update #1 - Lovely response from CJ Eller: Being the Cause of a Blog. This one nicely examines the raw primal desire to affect the world around you. Blogging is digital but still feels like doing something in a way that tweeting isn’t.

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This post was written by Tom Critchlow - blogger and independent consultant. Subscribe to join my occassional newsletter: