"Coviducation", Burger King's face masks, how to speak, and how to build a serendipity machine on the internet

The 1st edition of For The Curious.

Welcome to the first proper edition of For The Curious!

It's been exciting to see the initial sign-ups roll in after the announcement of FTC a week and a half ago. We're already quite a tribe, so I'm looking forwards to seeing where this goes from here. If you know a friend or two who might enjoy this, feel free to forward this email to them.

These first few weeks of the newsletter will be experimental, as I try out various formats to see what you fine folks resonate with. In this first edition, you’ll find a combination of interestingness I’ve come across on the internet lately, a few recommended books and articles to check out, and, at the bottom, a longer form essay on something I’ve been thinking about lately.

Feel free to click reply and let me know the brutally honest truth about what worked and what sucked in this email! 🙏

Seen and heard on the web

Burger King – the King of face masks?

We should all be wearing face masks while out in public at this point, but as always, a critical mass of people need to go first to make it socialle acceptable for the average Joe to join in. Burger King (!), of all places, might be where the face mask adoption curve gets its proper kickstart towards normalisation, following this brilliant marketing campaign. Orders printed on face masks – the utopian dream of all immunologically paranoid introverts among us is finally here!

Twitter’s bold move to label #propaganda

Twitter has started labelling accounts that "belonging to state-affiliated media entities, their editors-in-chief, and/or their senior staff". It’s kind of like the #ad trend on Instagram, but for politics, (fake) news and propaganda. "State-affiliated media is defined as outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution," says Twitter.”

Google’s employees to work from home until next summer

Google announced that its employees ought to stay at home for the next 12 months. This seems to confirm at least two things:

  1. Google’s prediction models don’t think COVID is going away anytime soon.

  2. Their work-from-home-setup works fairly well (perhaps they’re using the methods we teach through RemoteWork.no? 😉).

Google is good at data-driven predictions. Work from home is here to stay for a long, long time.

Weekly recommendations

A shortlist of weekly recommendations for what you can read, listen to or watch this coming week.

  • 📚 Read (book): Smartcuts, the Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking, by Shane Snow. This is all about learning and developing your career prospects through untraditional means. Smartcuts is a light read, and will open your mind to the idea that the most obvious path to any destination is often the most crowded, and hence the least likely to work (one example: the worst possible approach to getting a job is to apply for one).

  • 🎧 Listen: “Internet Famous with Patrick McKenzie” on the North Star podcast. This podcast episode is all about how to build your own serendipity machine on the internet. The overarching thesis is simple: you can use the web to find opportunities, connect with extraordinary people, get jobs, learn new things, and live a more interesting life. The most effective way to do this is to take small steps towards becoming “internet famous”, so people and opportunities come to you automagically, like a magnet. If you’re interested in X, start writing, vlogging, podcasting or tweeting about X. Now, magic can happen. People who resonate with your views on X can reach out to you. Companies who look for experts on X can give you job offers. Media outlets who need a perspective on X for a journalistic piece can ask for your opinion. Startups in the field of X can ask you to join their advisory board. Repeat ad infinitum. The upside is hidden, but endless. This line of argumentation may or may not have contributed to the long overdue launch of this very newsletter…

  • 📺 Watch:How to speak” by Patrick Winston. An introductory lecture to a legendary communications course which has been taught for over 40 years (!) at MIT. No matter what you do or aspire to, there’s something in these 63 minutes that can help you get there faster.

On my mind this week:

“Coviducation” – should students go to university this semester?

A bunch of freshers’ week students with colourful t-shirts have occupied the parks all over the city lately, which got me thinking back to a question I was asked by a friend earlier this summer – what should his 19 year old sister do this autumn?

She’s ambitious, clever, curious and a little confused – it’s finally her time to start university, but then COVID, Zoom classes and group size restrictions happened. What to do?

Well, good question. I’ve thought about this for some time, and my answer seems to be no for most people. Here’s the rationale:

1) University without campus life isn’t worth it

College campuses are partly or fully closed off in many parts of the world, and campus life has been replaced by Zoom classes. The main value of time spent in university comes from the extracurriculars and the social life that happens outside the classroom – the actual teaching is just the icing on the cake (particularly in business school, which is essentially a multi-year networking event). Without these out-of-classroom experiences, the cost-benefit analysis of spending all that time studying seems to come out negative.

2) Academia is not rigged to teach well online

Teaching effectively via the internet does not mean “digitizing the lecture”, or putting the professor’s monologue in front of a webcam. Effective online education must be tailored to the medium of delivery – but universities have neither the competency nor the time to figure out how to do that by the time this autumn semester starts (if ever!).

3) You can learn anything you want online for free, at your own pace

If you are going to spend a year learning online, the last thing you should do is to spend that time on terrible online lectures created in a rush by your university of choice. The internet is already full of amazing resources to learn just about anything you want, so seek out the best resources and get to work.

What young, ambitious people should do instead

Dear 19-year old: don’t start university this year.

Defer your entry to next year if you can.

Then spend 12 months on something more valuable: start a business, create something, learn to code, or curate your own 12-month curriculum based on free/cheap online courses. Build a network of interesting people on Twitter/LinkedIn, get an apprenticeship under someone you admire, start a newsletter, start a Youtube channel, cook every single recipe in a cookbook you love, get a perfectly normal job and save up some money, learn to play guitar, learn how to learn, get to know yourself better.

Don’t spend a year on mediocre zoom classes. Experiment, create, build, fail, explore and learn on your own.

Norway-specific addendum: The “free college hack” – do what you want, and get college credit anyway

All the arguments laid out above are doubly true if you go to a college you have to pay for. Paying $70,000,- for a year of Zoom classes from a top-tier US college is ludicrous, of course. But even if university is “free”, as here in Norway, students still pay a high price with their most valuable resources – their time, energy and attention.

That being said, free college provides the opportunity to get the best of both worlds this year. Here’s the hack: sign up for a free college program in something you’re interested in, something you already know a bit about, or something that’s easy to learn about on your own (e.g. humanities subjects). Then skip all the Zoom classes unless they’re genuinely interesting to you (there won’t be any attendance requirements!). Instead, spend your time on whatever you’re actually curious about, as outlined above.

At the end of the year, set aside 1-2 weeks to panic read just enough to pass your college exams. Congratulations, you just got yourself a full year’s worth of college credits for doing whatever you wanted to do anyway.

Further reading/listening, from most to least digestible: 
- These tweets by Naval Ravikant.
- Diane Klein: A twenty-year professor on starting college this fall: Don’t.
- David Perell: Don't go to college this fall. 
- Prof. Galloway: Higher Ed Enough Already.
- The Prof G Show podcast: Town hall on higher education.
- EconTalk podcast: Michael Munger on the future of higher education.

The End

That’s all folks. If you have any feedback, feel free to reply and say hello. Have a great weekend! 👋