Finding Your Purpose, The Art of Writing, and Money in Media | Iona Italia
Why Your Curiosity Is Your Creative Purpose
ABOUT IONA ITALIA
Iona Italia is a writer, translator, podcaster and Editor for Areo Magazine. She speaks multiple languages and writes deeply about the topics of race, culture and identity, though from a refreshing and non-ideological perspective.
Our interview was quite a joy, we spoke on everything from how money works in todays media ecosystem (and how alternative creators are positioning themselves as opposed to mainstream media), how to find your voice and curiosity as a writer, and about her work for the terrific AREO Magazine.
FOLLOW YOUR CURIOSITY AND TRUST YOUR GUT
One thing every creative person I've ever spoke with has told me is to "follow your curiosity." They say that you never know where your interests might take you, but it's always productive in the end.
I regard it as a similar function to "trusting your gut." When you see some strange character performing irregular or threatening actions, you get a gut instinct to not walk near them. There's a reason we've evolve to have that reflex. Our "gut" is does perform the function of the second brain. There are 500 million neurons in your gut: ( SOURCE: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-brain-connection#:~:text=Interestingly%2C%20your%20gut%20contains%20500,directions%20(%206%20%2C%207%20 )
Your gut does in fact "think" for you. And it thinks deeply. I regard your curiosity as a similar function. There's a "gut feeling" that researching, exploring and playing in a certain subject, skill or place will yield pleasure and benefit.
This podcast started for me as a source of curiosity, and I'd vouch by the message.
THE YOUTUBE RABBIT HOLE AND THE PURPOSE OF LIFE
The YouTube Rabbit Hole is a prime example of "following your curiosity." YouTube will notice if you tend to watch videos in a certain subject matter. It will recommend you increasingly niche videos in that field the more you watch.
Many feel like this is going "down a rabbit hole." The neurochemistry behind it is decently documented by now. Dopamine, the reward-anticipation chemical will see videos being recommended and give an anticipatory signal to the brain indicating compulsive action: "Click on that! Something valuable might be hiding in that video!"
To some degree social media companies exploit this function. They addict us to content. "One more video" It's something to beware of certainly. However, it's also an indication of genuine interest.
James Altucher said in his recent book "Skip The Line" (which is tremendous) that "whatever you have a lot of pictures of in your phone might be what you should start a business for."
Well - whatever you find yourself watching for hours on YouTube might be a source of great curiosity. Excellent content of your own might follow. Join the conversation!
When you do join the conversation, that dopamine signal will become a serotonin signal. Making accomplishments, fulfilling goals, and sharing things publicly will switch the "reward-anticipation" signal to a "fulfilment" signal. Creation gives a sense of purpose. Your curiosity and obsessions are the source of your purpose, if you'd let them be.
THE ECONOMICS OF SUBSTACK AND OUR COLLECTIVE COGNITIVE HEALTH
As media distribution and creation becomes fully democratized, the financial models in various creative and media industries are changing radically. Firms in the Mainstream Media like the New York Times do not like this.
Every creative field follows a pareto distribution. Only 20% of creators will capture the attention of 80% of the audience. In the past, this was the Mainstream Media. They re-enforced that Pareto loop by control on access to broadcast and publication. Individual stars/voices changed with the times and the shifts from radio to tv to cable, sure. But it was always the same megacorporations that controlled who was in the 20% of influential voices.
This generated a 2-way transaction between the public and the media companies. The public will pay for the ability to gain information, giving control to these big companies. But in return, the big companies are supposed to curate truly great creators. But in our current age, that control is gone. And I'm certainly not the first to recognize that they're no longer curating greatness. Greatness is controlling itself on platforms like Substack, YouTube, Podcasting, TikTok, etc.
I regard this as better for the social health of our nation in many ways. The central sense making apparatus was incredibly sick and cancerous to the system. This opening of the media industry is "opening the mind" of our social organism in a good way - even if it's painful sometimes. It's interesting that 40 years ago someone in my generation could pay for their family off of a writing job at a newspaper.
Now writers who freelance for magazines make close to no money and get half the attention. Audiences are migrating to new platforms. Substack is a small platform right now (but growing quick) so the chance to standout there and become one of the first "20% of influencers" over that audience is high. Being influential over a small group of niche people is much better than being anonymous to a giant crowd. It also pays better.
Hence, more writers and creators will abandon institutions and seek funding from the people. In this way, we are voting with our dollar to finance the curing of our culture.
Obviously doctors make more money than most. I am proud to say I use that money to send money to Patreons, Substacks and product purchases for many small creators. I regard it as a civic duty. Maybe one day the world will reciprocate if I keep at this podcast!
DECENTRALIZING THE NARRATIVE
In the world of media, financial incentives determine sensemaking for the audience. As honest, self-driven writers leave mainstream media the institutions will continue to push a totalitarian narrative.
They're saying in equal parts "You have to believe us like you used to" as well as "You have to pay us like you used to." Centralized sensemaking is going away with centralized media economics. Writers are finding success in small collectives, performing services and in building their own audience. But to that same degree that means censors no longer have control over the narrative. No central financing means no central narrative. It also means no shared sensemaking.
My producer and I often discuss how the Overton Window in America is undergoing cellular mitosis, or splitting into two off-shoots. The overton window describes the scope of acceptable ideas (usually embodied by the kind of people who are allowed on media). As the central grasp on the narrative and media economics split up, so too will the overton window. People will continue to live in echo chambers and media silos, but they will be completely separate from each other. The left and right used to have overlap, but increasingly they will not.
In the coming world people will lack the ability to understand the worldview of people in other media silos.
Scott Adams talks about "Two movies on one screen" but perhaps it will soon be thousands of movies on many screens, still forced to occupy the same movie theater.