Charting the Course
New beginnings for 2023. Or, on infinite games.
Welcome to New World Same Humans, a newsletter on trends, technology, and society by David Mattin.
If you’re reading this and haven’t yet subscribed, join 24,000+ curious souls on a journey to build a better future 🚀🔮
Here we are again, at the start of it all. Well, almost; I can’t believe we’re already 22 days into 2023.
I took something of an extended break from the newsletter over the holidays. But now NWSH is back, and a whole new year lies ahead of us.
In London we’re amid another cold snap; close to zero degrees during the day. And across the northern hemisphere winter, nature is in frozen stasis. It’s a familiar yet always — to me, at least — strange and ghostly-seeming pause. Listen carefully and you can hear its whispered message: the journey is beginning again.
It’s a time to consider what has passed, and look to what is ahead. How can we make this year even better than the last?
This is the question I want to examine — as it pertains to New World Same Humans — in this note. That means first, and briefly, a review of 2022. And then, more important: what’s coming this year?
This first instalment of the year, then, is more about our community than it is about the world out there, which is our usual subject. There’s some thinking aloud going on here; an attempt on my part to make sense of where the newsletter has been and where it’s going. But given the precious attention you spend on NWSH — and I’m so grateful you do — I hope it’s valuable for you to ride along as I figure all this out. And, of course, all feedback and suggestions are welcome.
What’s more, without drinking any self-help kool aid, it seems to me that there’s a lesson in the journey I went on with the newsletter last year. One about defeating perfectionism, being adaptable, and playing infinite games.
But we can get to that at the end. First, let’s dive into a review of 2022.
What’s past is prologue
Before we can think coherently about where to take NWSH in 2023, we need to understand what just happened.
This is where things get a little awkward.
Back in January 2022, as many of you will remember, I set sail towards a renewed vision for the newsletter. I wanted to double-down on what makes NWSH unique; to accelerate the newsletter’s journey towards itself.
Conceptually, that meant a project animated by three questions:
What is the nature of technological modernity?
What is the nature of a human being, and the human collective?
What new forms of life are possible, and desirable?
And when it came to content, it meant the launch of a new schedule. While the flagship mid-week update would continue, the weekly note on Sunday was to be killed and replaced with monthly longform essays.
We’ll come back to the conceptual part. As for the new content schedule — as many of you noticed, it didn’t work quite as planned. What happened?
Essentially, my pandemic and post-pandemic realities collided. This newsletter was born at the start of Covid; the first year was produced inside the strange empty-yet-also-frenzied deadzone that were the 2020 lockdowns, and that produced a particular set of working practises around writing instalments and getting them out. In 2022, the world opened up again. That meant a return, for me, to a frenetic schedule of working with clients and speaking at events. Which was great in lots of ways. But it brought disruption to the way I worked on NWSH.
Meanwhile, the first essay I’d planned, The Worlds to Come, ballooned to something far beyond what I’d intended for the monthly essays. Having published just two instalments (embarrassing) of a projected five, it’s clear this work is something closer to a short book than an essay. I’m excited to keep putting these ideas into the world. But as this piece expanded before my eyes, any remaining chance of sticking to planned the monthly essays format slipped away.
The mid-week instalments are what rescued all this. They are the engine of the newsletter and the product most people associate with NWSH. And they stayed strong, growing longer and deeper without me ever really intending that. After some of you requested it I started recording them as a podcast; thousands now listen rather than read. These instalments found their way into the inboxes of thousands of new (and cherished!) readers, including some influential people, and ensured that our community continued to grow. Overall — and despite the monthly essays misfire — it was a great year for NWSH. That’s thanks to the mid-week update, and all of you who share it.
That’s a two-minute summary of the last 12 months. The big question, then: what next?
Coming in 2023
My first thought is that the fundamental positioning I outlined last year is one I still stand by.
As loathe as I am to quote myself, it’s worth revisiting that briefly. Around one year ago to the day, I wrote this on the point of view that NWSH would bring to its mission to understand our shared future.
We live amid a white-hot technological revolution, a culture war, and a crisis of ecological collapse. Amid that, our systems of liberal democracy and technologically mediated consumerism are exhausted. We all know we must change course, yet we continue to march in the same old direction. In 2022, as Gramsci observed of his own society in the early 1930s, ‘the old is dying, but the new cannot be born’. Except it is being born somewhere out there, on the fringes. I want us to travel to those places, literally and figuratively.
I’d still go along with all that.
So it’s not the destination that needs to change; only the steps we’re taking to get there. Over the Christmas break I sat with that challenge. Here’s what I decided:
The mid-week update remains the flagship instalment
Longform essays will remain, but they’ll be occasional rather than monthly
Shorter notes will return; also on occasional schedule, typically on a Sunday
When it comes to the mid-week update, the decision was automatic: if it ain’t broke.
On longform essays: I still want space for the deeper thinking and exploration they allow. A monthly cadence didn’t work out, but occasional essays can. The first mission here is to finish The Worlds to Come.
The return of shorter notes is the biggest change. I really miss writing the kinds of notes I used to send on a Sunday. And the newsletter needs a space for thoughts that are too long for a segment in the mid-week update, but too short and maybe too fuzzy to make an essay.
But it goes deeper than that. Part of what I love about newsletters — about the email newsletter as a new literary mode — is its intimacy. Sure, we’re now amid a newsletter explosion, and I’m sending this to you via a platform created in Silicon Valley and funded by mega-VCs. But despite all that, there’s still something going on here that echoes the the medium’s origins in the long emails from one friend to another that we used to do in the 90s. Last year, NWSH lost touch with that intimacy. This year I want to recover it.
Short notes will allow me to send more personal reflections and do more exploratory thinking. And they can mean new kinds of content, such as reflections on the books I’m reading. This could even spell the beginning of a NWSH book club, which is something people have asked for in the Slack group.
But there I go again, piling on more before we’ve even started.
There we have it; the roadmap for 2023.
Sure, 2022 didn’t work quite as planned. But while I might have expected that to bother me massively, in truth it doesn’t. Sitting with that over the break, I realised that this truth is a product of perspective. More particularly, of the perspective you necessarily take on something when you commit to if for life.
Writing this newsletter, and building this community, is something I’ll do forever. Not, in the end, because of the outcomes it produces, but for the meaning and simple joy I find in thinking through ideas about our shared future and then sharing those ideas with others.
And given that, the monthly essays misfire seems only a tiny blip on a long journey.
The lesson here? From my POV, it’s that when you embark on a project for the long haul, and when that project is an end it itself rather than only a means to some other end, you’re liberated into a new and fruitful way of seeing. One that helps you defeat perfectionism, stay adaptable, and find meaning in the process rather than only the results.
When there’s always tomorrow, and next year, and, I hope, next decade — when you’re playing what has became known as an infinite game — you have freedom to experiment, and mistakes don’t matter that much. In fact, if you aren’t making mistakes, that’s probably be a sign you’re playing too safe.
That’s not a perspective many of us get to enjoy in our work, which is so often target and deadline driven. But it’s a powerful one. So I recommend asking yourself: what infinite game are you playing in 2023?
The plan for this year is set. All that remains is to get to work.
And given the moment we’re living in from a world-historical perspective — by turns weird, exhilarating, and scary — I couldn’t more excited about what is ahead for our community. Our mission to make sense of a changing world and its collision human nature — new world, same humans — has never been more urgent.
I’ll send the first New Week update next week. And expect the first short note in the coming days, too. One of which will launch a new project that I can’t wait to tell you more about.
In the meantime, thanks for joining me on this adventure for another year; it’s deeply appreciated 🙏. And I hope you’re off to a great start on your journey through 2023, too.
Until next week, be well,