Steph Smith

I love the Internet. Hopefully if you’re reading this, you do too.

And since this newsletter is called, “words that matter”, I wanted to share the many different levels of information that the Internet allows us to read, hear, ogle over, dispute, share, and more – starting with 1 word all the way up to nearly a billion – and maybe even the unsolvable?

1 word: an untranslatable word

Without the Internet, most of us would have no idea what unique ideas lie in the soundbites of other languages. Lucky for us, words like ikigai (🇯🇵), schadenfreude (🇩🇪), and ubuntu (🇿🇦) now have a ring of familiarity. One of my favorite untranslatables? Ichi-go ichi-e, meaning "one time, one meeting". Applying to this very moment, whether or not this is the first time you are reading this term on digital paper, you will never experience it quite like this again; at this exact time, in this exact place, with the exact psychology you have now.

10 words: a digit

Sometimes a single statistic means so much more than meets the eye. And despite our human brains not being well equipped to digest exponentials, some people spot these trends earlier than others, like Arthur C Clarke predicting remote work on the shores of Bali way back in... 1964! (FWIW, this was the masses in 1995) Some of my favorite newsletters for catching these exponentials are Chartr, Numlock, and Exponential View - the latter of which just shared an all important digit on just how much data is being produced.

100 words: a tweet

This one, and its definition of magic, continues to live rent-free in my brain. And I feel like this challenge of pushing yourself to be as much a magician in your own right – pushing past the obvious creativity on the surface – is all the more relevant in the era of AI. Step 1 to getting there? Surround yourself with other “magicians”, like Nicholas Britell, who composed the impeccable Succession theme song and treated us to this incredible interview breaking down its 𝗀̶𝖾̶𝗇̶𝗂̶𝗎̶𝗌̶ magic.

690 words: a dictionary upgrade

We often think of dictionaries as static corpuses, but just like the rest of society, our shared vocabulary is constantly shifting. In September, for example, Merriam Webster added 690 words! Some of the new additions include "jump scare", "edgelord", "rage quit" (and "quiet quit" FWIW), and "chef's kiss" – plus, a new definition for "hallucination.” And for a reminder of how quickly something can go from brand new to old news, here are more words introduced over the last ~decade: fist bump, catfish, earworm, emoji, selfie, photobomb, facepalm, meme. Long live Internet culture!

1,000 words: a deck

In another stroke of Internet genius, someone put together this hysterically funny slide deck of "I Headlines" like "I quit showering" or "I wore a tail for 1 week and learned nothing". In other words, a compilation that no one needed to put together, of things that no one needed to do, but are unequivocally celebrated on the Internet. Every bit of the deck makes me want to do way more ridiculous experiments, even if I also learn nothing.

10,000 words: a moving infographic

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a moving infographic is surely worth 10,000. I love this new format’s ability to tell stories; just like a meme is not just a JPEG, a moving infographic is not just a video. For example, think about all the stories embedded within this moving infographic around how population has changed with time. Some other favorites: the rise of eSports, the fall of ringtones, and the exponential in technology. If you want to create your own, Flourish is a great (and free!) tool to do so!

100,000 words: a book

Keeping the Internet theme going, here are two great books – Dataclysm and Everybody Lies – which illuminate truths that we could only validate through online data. Dataclysm is written by one of the founders of OkCupid, who had access to data about how people really date, and sometimes the harsh realities that we don’t want to accept. Everybody Lies takes a similar approach to Google Search data and while the title signals 

cynicism, the reality is that we have more tools than ever to understand what people really think.

1,000,000+ words: a subreddit

Us mammals are also not great with big numbers and the kind of scale that comes with the Internet. For example, did you know there are over 7000 subreddits with more members than can fit in Yankee Stadium? These communities span numerous not-so-niche topics like r/mapporn (3.6m), r/3Dprinting (2.2m), and r/nootropics (300k). If you want to explore this immense web of connectivity, I’d recommend this amazing tool or this map by the same creator.

860,341,500 words: a lifetime

In the 80s, Gyles Brandreth, estimated that people speak ~860m words across a lifetime. Whether that’s accurate or off by an order of magnitude, the culmination of these words are mapped to events. I love how Buster Benson has charted his Life in Weeks – almost like a barcode for his ~47 years of life so far, and reminds me of a personalized version of this well-known post from Tim Urban. Others have endeavored in similar exercises, like this year in data or this animated visualization. Buster also keeps a "codex vitae", or a running list of his beliefs broken down by topic -- ranging from aliens to government to technology. Pretty cool for someone to document their beliefs so concretely.

♾️(maybe?) words: humanities unsolved problems

 If the words above didn’t provide you enough fodder to noodle on, look no further than Wikipedia’s list of unsolved problems. As Lucas Crespo said, “This is the perfect place for finding a mission.” I couldn’t agree more. From protein folding to the photic sneeze effect to understanding dark matter… there is so much white space to explore. Truly, what a time to be alive!

13 more words: For some bonus rabbit holes… enjoy: Depths of Wikipedia, Pessimist's Archive, and