Jason Becker
November 28, 2022

I have decided to work on a new project on this blog in 2023. This is risky, because I need other people to participate and I came up with the idea this morning. So this serves as both an announcement and a call for participants.

Letters will involve me corresponding with someone else on the internet over the course of a month. Each week, we will each write a letter to each other. There are no set topics. The rules will be:

  1. The person I’m corresponding with will write the first letter.
  2. I will respond during the same week. They do not have to write again until the next week.
  3. Each letter will be at least 250 words.
  4. I will post the correspondent’s letter followed by my response on my blog. If they have a blog, they can do the same and I will gladly link to them.

If you’d be interested in participating in Letters, email me at hello@jbecker.co and provide me with two months in 2023 that could work for you. Feel free to link me to your personal webpage or provide a short bit about yourself (but no pressure on any idea of topics).

Why am I interested in this project? I was thinking about how much of our history (in the West at least) comes from important figures having extensive private correspondences that were saved, catalogued, and released after their deaths. And while I’d love some private pen pals, it just got me thinking that public letters are a rich way to discuss complex issues. What’s the point of having a blog and not restricting my online presence and interactions to 280 characters if not engaging in richer, complex conversation?

My favorite world online was that of personal blogs and journals in conversation with each other. I’m hoping Letters can jump start that for me. I’m also hoping to build some deeper relationships online with folks who are in my orbit enough to see this post, but I don’t really feel like I know them in a meaningful way.

So that’s the idea for 2023. I hope some of you will be interested in participating so that I don’t have to spend late December scrambling to convince folks to write a letter to me each week or cancel the project all together.

Let’s make something fun on the internet.

I already have one confirmed, and three “maybes” for my Letters project.

Although I was not inspired by Substack, who it turns out I was ripping off, I thought I should share what set me on this train of thought.

Jess shared a tweet thread by Michelle Huang about training GPT-3 on her diary. The result was the ability to have what Michelle felt were uncanny conversations with her younger self. It was an interesting example of using what I normally deem to be pretty creepy machine learning in a therapeutic context. As per usual for me, instead of coming away with thinking about all the things I bet I was supposed to think about, my takeaway was this– I don’t have much, if any, writing from my younger self. What journaling or writing I did is all lost to deleted LiveJournals, bulletin board forums, blogs, or hard drives erased and dumped. I don’t often mourn for this material, but this was the first time in a long while I thought, “If I knew about this possible future application, I might have saved more of what I wrote, even if it was just somewhere for me.”

A few hours later, I read about yet another famous, respected actor defending their colleagues who hold disgusting views. “We can’t ban people!” or some such “anti-woke” nonsense was their response, I believe. And my thought was, “One of the ways that our modern media climate is a mistake has been the direct access to artists.” Of course, this isn’t really true; direct access has enabled entirely knew ways to get paid to do art and build a large audience. But my thought stemmed from the idea that it is so much harder to separate the art from the artists these days. We have an all too direct line to the thoughts and feelings of famous people we admire, whether through social media or the expectations that they will speak to traditional media. And I wondered, would we be better off if all most of us ever knew of the artist was their work and how we understand it, at least until their death when their records and letters are released revealing all of their horrifying and deplorable beliefs? The thought was that I am almost more comfortable letting history understand people posthumously, while letting those of us who are the artist’s contemporaries experience only their output.

It is so much harder to believe the artist is dead when they won’t shut up.

It was these two thoughts, disconnected by several hours, that had me thinking about letters. I had the distinct idea of correspondence as this important way that people are revealed to us when they are gone. This also reminded me of the so-called Republic of Letters, which seemed to have been en vogue to reference during the “Will he or won’t he?” period of Elon Musk’s Twitter purchase.

And so I thought, “In some ways, my blog represents my correspondence.” I publish on my own site to be in control of my content. This is the largest and most personal repository of my writing1. It would be better if this blog was in conversation with others. That’s a part of the early web that I miss. We still link to other people, but rarely do I find blogs in conversation with each other.

Letters come from this.

  1. Ok, to be honest, I did start journaling a few years ago, although a lot of the content is on this site as well. But I’m not sure I’d ever want someone to have access to the unpublished entries in my Day One. That’s a level of intimacy that feels almost profane. ↩︎