David Heinemeier Hansson

December 21, 2021

Email is the antidote

It's easy to get down on the internet as a medium for reasoned debate. Every discussion on social media that touch controversial topics seems to descent into the depths of hell in less than sixty seconds. But social media is not the internet. It's merely one distorted expression of it. There are other ways to connect, to reason, to learn. Like email!

I don't just mean newsletters, though I love them dearly. In fact, I'd say the majority part part of my media diet now consists of newsletters. Both from the mastodons like The New York Times and Washington Post, but just as importantly from individual journalists and writers, like Matt Levine, Glenn Loury, Bari Weiss, Ben Thompson, Zaid Jilani, Andrew Sullivan, Bob Lefsetz, Michael Shellenberger, Matt Taibbi, and Glenn Greenwald.

I also mean the debates that are possible between strangers over email. I've had far more delightful, insightful, and respectful debates with people over email in the last year or so writing my thoughts in long form on here than I can recall in a decade's worth of fighting on Twitter. Even when I engage with people who are clearly on the diametrically opposite side of whatever issue I touch.

Without the stage of social media, there's just none of the performative bullshit. No one to impress with your superlative dunks. No retweets or likes to egg you on. Just two people engaging directly, humanely. It's solidly reassuring that the whole world has indeed not gone mad (either in general or at each other), and that the internet can still facilitate meaningful exchange.

It's funny how intrinsically linked the concept of "going viral" has become with social media. Because it's an eerily apt description of what most of the time seems like a collective brain virus eating our humanity.

And I'm not exempting myself from that disease. My own social media engagement over the years was just as driven by the virus as anyones.

But that's what's interesting about climbing out of that pit. Writing here, like this, engaging directly, reminds me of what it was like on the early internet that us old timers like to so fondly reminiscence about. It's still there! It wasn't all just the rose-colored glasses of a time past. It wasn't hiraeth.

The antidote is here. It's just not widely distributed.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.