A barrage of bottom-up innovation is changing how knowledge is created and reproduced on the internet.

As an anthropologist, I study the early adopters of this change. I do ethnographic work looking at people who push the edges of technology so they can learn and do research in new ways. People who use social media to curate cultures, or prompt GPT-3 to teach them new domains. Independent researchers. Twitch streamers that allow viewers to pick up tacit knowledge. Online apprenticeships. Open research notebooks. 

This rapidly evolving world resembles a sort of distributed university. But it looks nothing like the top-down attempts to build universities online, such as Coursera or Lambda School. It is stranger, murkier, and, often, much more efficient. Like the memes of 4chan, the most efficient of these practices will eventually bubble up into the clear web and change how we all go about learning and researching.

Escaping Flatland are my dispatches from this world. I aim to extract useful new ideas, put words to patterns that the practitioners have just tinkered themselves into, and spot bottlenecks that keep new ideas from scaling. I also do occasional pieces looking at older learning infrastructure, such as Sweden’s popular education system or Christopher Alexander’s network of learning, which I think can inform the development online.

(In the name of social proof, I should perhaps mention that Gwern and Erik Hoel both recommend their readers to subscribe. I’ve also been complimented for being a very slow writer. I only publish about once a month—whenever I have an idea good enough to spend at least 50 hours researching and writing.)

This work is enabled by my generous patrons (and my patient wife). If you find the work valuable, consider signing a paid subscription to give me a monthly micro-grant. All posts are free to read, but I might give you a treat at times for your support. And I vow to live frugally and go full-time on this research when I get within striking distance of the poverty line.

Finally, you can also find me on Twitter, where I tend to incubate ideas before they are ready to spawn here. And don’t hesitate to reach out if anything I write resonates: p.h.o.karlsson [at] gmail.com


Henrik Olof Karlsson