Welcome to Criticalist!
Who am I?
My name is Jonathon Platt. I started blogging in 2006, when I was in middle school, and have continued it off-and-on for 13 years (with most articles thankfully lost into the ether). I’m now a journalism master’s candidate at Baylor University, studying postmodern critical theory as it relates to media. Specifically, I find two periods of time most interesting: 50 years ago and 50 years from now. I also produce and consult on podcasts, teach mass communications, lecture on story structure, and love talking about the relationship between life and technology. In short, I consider myself a digital guide. Maybe I can be yours.
I currently live in downtown Waco, Texas, with my Dalmatian, Penny.
What do I write about?
This newsletter is focused on two key questions:
How can we do meaningful work, again and again, without sacrificing quality for quantity?
How can that work be done sustainably, without taking over our life, happiness, and aspirations?
I explore these questions using a combination of self-experimenting, self-observation, and self-reflection, as well as through case studies, literature reviews, interviews, and unjustifiably confident (but filtered!) pontification.
I find motivation to pursue answers to these questions because I’m naturally curious, I find I learn best when I teach, I want to continue a level of high-quality writing and production as an academic, I don’t want to be stingy with what I learn and, rather selfishly, because these topics just truly fascinate me. I don’t have definitive answers and probably never will, but readers of Hack Attack will see I’ve identified three ideas in particular that I think are important…
Idea No. 1: Short-term fixes can’t fix long-term problems.
We’re absorbed in a culture filled with quick hacks, with the website LifeHacker – one of the top 1,000 sites on the Internet – garnering millions of views on articles about “tips, tricks, and downloads for getting things done.”These, I’ve found are utterly short-sighted and fruitless. We should instead focus, instead, on a longstanding mathematical theory, explored by Benoit Mandelbrot and popularized by Chris Anderson, called the “long-tail.” Simply put, this means we forsake immediate results in place of lasting, meaningful, and determined contributions in our pursuits. This is not only a means of production, but an approach to life. Ultimately, my argument is that those who pursue solving big, long-term problems will find more fulfillment and success than those who spend time focused on the short-term or “getting things done.” (This approach can also apply to simpler things, like calling a plumber now, instead of just putting putty over the leak every few weeks until the pipe blows.)
Idea No. 2: Doing good work is not the same as being productive.
In academia, there is a lot of importance placed on publishing. Writing a lot of articles is not worth it, though, if these articles are not cited. If they do nothing to contribute to the field, instead, only “enhancing” (a stretch of the word) my CV, they’re not worth doing. Many have said, being busy (for instance: sending a lot of email) is not the same as being productive (writing an article). My extension to this is: Being productive (those articles) is not the same as doing good work (changing someone’s mind). Work that matters always takes precedent. When we continue to show up, do good work, help others, and show that we care, we’ll not only contribute to our bottom line but to the eventual breakthroughs, enhancements, and betterment of the world. Good work matters, now more than ever.
Idea No. 3: Technology can help complete work, but you are the only way it will be good work.
I’ve always been an early-adopter, when it comes to technology. Recently, though, I started turning my back on it, embracing a movement called “digital minimalism.” This, ultimately, is why I’m back to writing these essays. Jello thrown at a wall doesn’t always stick and technology as a means to an end is that Jello. Every now and then it will stick, but I can’t (and you shouldn’t) have to rely on those outliers. Good work is done intentionally. These essays are about sacrificing short-term successes (including the dopamine hits provided by technological connectivity and advancements) for long-term sustainability.
How can you follow along?
I’m excited to share this journey with you. There are a few ways you can follow along. I’ve listed them below from least commitment to most:
Option No. 1: You can check back here periodically for new essays, reading as many of the public posts as you wish. If this is good for you, I’ll see you soon!
Option No. 2: You can subscribe to my newsletter for free. It goes out to your email inbox every other week as a link to the most recent public essay I’ve published and some other links to other articles I’ve come across that I think are worth reading, along with some critical commentary on them by me.
Option No. 3: You can become a founding member of my little VIP club for just $6/month. This is a super fun adventure for me and I owe credit to Nick Quah and Shawn Blanc for planting the idea in my head. VIP members get both the public and members-only updates, plus access to the community forums.
I don’t do social media and refuse to adopt a catch-all email address. I’ll be here in the comments and also in the members-only arenas. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback, your suggestions on topics to tackle, or your criticisms about my latest hairstyle. Regardless, I want to hear your voice in this ongoing attempt to codify my ideas and experiments.
If you’re tired of keeping up with all the latest hacks and looking for something with meaning and a lasting impact, you’ve come to the right place.
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