Here is the order of conscientiousness, in order from most base to the noblest:
- Uninformed complaining. Everyone has someone in their life who seems poorly read or uninquisitive that still feels empowered to complain about a state of affairs. They complain in conversation or on social media. This is distinct from people who don’t have skin in the game because many are not fortunate enough to afford the skin.
- Informed fandom. Some people are well read or inquisitive in nature, though it’s often obvious that they’re always arguing from priors and they tend to focus much more on what’s wrong with the world than what can be done in a definite, actionable way. Supporting anything that moves the needle for a cause is mere fandom, even if you’re well read. Folks who fall in this camp are prone to prattling and engaging, which is better than hiding behind mere slogans, but are disinclined to listen.
- Informed exposition. These are people who are well read, inquisitive, and generally present a positive, definite, and actionable vision of the future. But they express themselves in a fairly straightforward manner and sometimes across as combative or obstinate with people who disagree. Don’t get me wrong, this is on the noble end of the spectrum. Everything Derek Thompson is writing and podcasting these days to help us understand and improve our world is extraordinarily noble and never combative. It’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient.
- Shitposting. There’s an unusually intuitive framework for learning called Bloom’s Taxonomy, which emphasizes that Creation and Evaluation are the highest form of learning. Why? Because exposition often, but not always, relies on regurgitation and repetition (the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy), whereas creating something new based on the subject matter relies not only on a fundamental understanding of that subject but also the opposing opinions on that subject (also see Bryan Caplan’s Ideological Turing Test). It’s impossible to tell good jokes about subjects you don’t fully understand, and very difficult to tell jokes that people with opposing opinions will enjoy and grapple with. To accomplish the latter you need to be informed enough about opposing opinion, generous enough to take it seriously, and above all confident enough to tell a joke that, taken at face value, inverts your actual opinion. This is shitposting.
An important distinction between Informed Exposition and Shitposting, the two more noble forms of consciousness, is the generosity expressed by crafting your opinion in the form of a puzzle. From Wordle to buying JPEG’s to DAO’s to game shows with strategic elements (Survivor, Top Chef) to gaining clout on social media to strategy games (Factorio, Monopoly), people love puzzles. They bring humor and joy through manufactured friction; they bring us together.
From the internet's founding until quite recently (Netscape through TikTok), the battleground for puzzle was mostly in user experience. One of the most useful investing theses of all time ran its course through the mid 2010’s. The game back then was this: How do you craft interactions between people and data that so effectively remove friction from computing that you can suck in an entire ecosystem? This was true from Snapchat to Salesforce.
But now we’ve solved just about all of the user experience problems. There’s a playbook and even a Figma library of components for whatever kind of experience you want to craft. With user experience solved, those puzzles have moved up the stack to content and social systems. Namely, how do you manufacture content that’s challenging and frictionful (think: puzzles) enough to engage?
In the realm of engagement and persuasion on the internet, that now takes the form shitposting, and its name belies its generosity.
Shameless but earned plug: Raising consciousness through shitposting is at the very core of the learning platform we’re building at Antimatter. Here's our Physics Teacher by Day/Front End Engineer by Night on Antimatter and Bloom's Taxonomy. In particular we’re hiring designers (see here and here) — we’d love to talk.