In early 2023, I was inspired by Jacky Zhao’s approach to Networked Thought and decided to start my own garden using their excellent Quartz project. (Thanks Jacky!)

The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on. — Ursula K. Le Guin

Much to my dismay, however, the manicured garden of ideas I’d envisioned quickly got overgrown with random weeds,#todos , tangles and tangents. The tension between the newfound freedom of digital gardens and the desire to just get things done left me discouraged and frustrated. For a while I tried to shore up the structure, but ultimately I’ve accepted that I’m most productively at ease here when I just let my thinking rewild. Rather than tending a delicate garden, I like to think of the research process like managing a forest I have no hope of fully taming.

Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible. — Richard Feynman


Stewarding the Dark Forest 🌲

In the physical world, there is a complex relationship between land development and land stewardship. For my purposes I think of land development as ‘changing the landscape for a utilitarian purpose, like agriculture or housing’.

Similarly, in the virtual world, the language we often use to describe the roles we play and the methods we use are a reflection of our values (eg the creation of software artifacts is carried out under the title developer)

Stewardship, however is more nuanced. Its definition is always context-dependent but a consistent theme is caring for a piece of land, regardless of its ownership; caring about the biodiversity of species that belong to the land; its people, their culture and their customs.

Are the beings that people the internet healthy? happy? thriving? What does good stewardship look like on the complex frontiers of our virtual world? What practices engender care for the health and wellbeing of the planetary cyber-physical systems our technologies shape?

Illustration from Maggie Appleton’s AI Dark Forest