David Heinemeier Hansson

December 7, 2022

We can't have good faith on a flat social battery

After several covid years without, I've returned to speak at quite a few conferences and seminars this year. From OMR in Hamburg to Swiss Startup Nights near Zurich to Nordic Perspectives & Fingerprints in Copenhagen. But it was the session last night at the Copenhagen Townhall gathering of startup founders and investors that really cemented the impression: This is just better. A better way for minds to mingle, a better way for discourse to flow freely, a better way to open new perspectives. Better than online.

That's one of the reasons I've mostly given up on Twitter as a medium for my original thoughts and attempts at active persuasion. Everyone's guards are up so high when they engage in online, public forums. It feels exceedingly difficult to have a good-faith debate these days, and actually see a possibility to change someone's perspective or opinion (or your own!). Twitter is a reinforcement engine for existing beliefs and tribes.

The reverse is true when you attend a conference or seminar in person. The ideological guards are down, the mind is opened to new ideas, and most people show up with a genuine curiosity about the topics in play. This intellectual stance makes it a joy to engage, even on big, difficult topics.

Perhaps it's ironic that I should be singing the praises of in-person events after two decades of preaching the virtues of remote, but I don't actually think there's a conflict here. Just like with our biyearly company meet-ups at 37signals, these industry events recharge social and intellectual batteries. Storing energy that can sustain working remotely and engaging with strangers over the internet in a healthier way for months afterwards.

Maybe that really is part of the way we start healing the divisions and acrimony across the many communities and ecosystems that might have teetered on the point of no return. Groups that could be brought back from the brink if people connected physically. It's obviously no panacea, as the trouble in academia with invited speakers show, but I'm still optimistic that it can work in other intellectual realms. Be they technical, entrepreneurial, or otherwise.

The strength of online communities is drawn from the good faith of its participants. Building that faith, broadly and deeply, just happens much faster when we tap into the human connections established by a disarming smile, eye contact, and the open minds that follow.

Let's recharge.

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.