In November last year I signed up for Justin Murphy’s IndieThinkers. My main reason for doing this was to give the final stretch of my part-time PhD thesis writing an extra productivity boost, but also to put some impetus into a blogging/vlogging/podcast experiment I called Primitive Accumulation, or PrimAcc for short.
Coming up to the one-year mark I thought it would help me take stock if I was to review my progress so far via IndieThinkers and my experience of using the platform for a year. I feel that my review may be insightful because if IndieThinkers works, then it should work for someone like me: an average guy of average smarts but who has always loved to read and who is interested in ideas, and who if I really concentrate can write something half-decent. I also have a job, studies (my PhD) and a family. If I can make progress via IndieThinkers then anyone can.
One important caveat was that my goal in improving my productivity via IndieThinkers was very much based in the creative sense rather than through seeing it as work. Coming off the back of the Deleuze vs. Heidegger seminars with Johannes Neiderhauser, I very much wanted to make my engagement with IndieThinkers about the need to liberate my energy from being tied to work. Writing my PhD is hard, as it should be, but it still feels more like an enjoyable creative endeavour rather than work. Then, my Primitive Accumulation experiment gives an even more freewheeling sense of creativity to my writing.
So, before going into the review of IndieThinkers itself I wanted to outline what I have completed so far this year while using the platform.
Front and centre is my PhD thesis. Over the last year on IndieThinkers I completed the penultimate chapter of my thesis, and I am now writing the conclusion. I will take my viva in the Spring.
The following are some Primitive accumulation metrics. Although they are very modest, they are growing and ‘primitively accumulating’ all the while. In terms of creating, I have found the mental models of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good (Murphy), and seeing my PrimAcc content as being like a small café that regulars like to attend rather than being a massive conglomerate (Davood Gozli), as very liberating. In any case, I enjoy creating the content and receiving comments from people. So, over the last year on IndieThinkers my goal was to create one piece of PrimAcc content each week. So far, this has accumulated to:
· 19 Medium blog posts (I’m particularly proud of these) (10 followers)
· 9 podcasts (296 listens, 14 regular listeners)
· 7 YouTube vlogs, 17 hours of Read & Relax: War & Peace (see below) (17 subscribers)
· I did not keep track of my main Twitter follower count since I joined IndieThinkers, but I feel like it did begin to grow more quickly as I started feeling more confident in posting on a wider range of issues. I would say that a year ago my follower count was under 200 but now it stands at 386. I’ve been gained 5–10 new followers a month.
· I also have a dedicated PrimAcc Twitter account which has 17 followers.
· One of the more unusual things that I have run with on YouTube over the past several months is what I called Read & Relax. I put an open invitation out via Twitter asking people to take an hour out for themselves and read along with me or whatever they’re reading, point the camera at myself and silently read War and Peace for an hour. Then at the end of the hour I give a verbal summary and tweet that out. So far this has generated 17 hours of reading. I can read about 30 pages in an hour so at 1,215 pages it will take around 40 hours of reading to complete. There are a couple of people who turn up each time and this has given a big boost to my viewing figures which now stand at 9 hours a month. With a book like War and Peace which I feel like I should read but would not probably do so for pleasure, this method of reading (verbal then tweet summary) has made the narrative and characters stick in my mind much better. Having read the book I intend to put all the Tweets together into a summary and put it out there as free PrimAcc content.
· 7 blog posts giving a serialised digest of Gregoire Chamayou’s Drone Theory (2015) entitled Necro-Ethics. I’ve had some great feedback about this.
So, how did Indie Thinkers help me achieve all this?
Of greatest help with writing my PhD thesis have been the weekly work sessions. I find that I will always be more productive in those than 4 hours spent working under my own steam. I think what helps these sessions be more productive is the subtle social accountability of being in a virtual place where others are working. It does help to keep you away from social media. One feels that even though when one is working one has the camera minimised and cannot see anyone, the feeling of a social presence is palpable. Coupled with this, of great help have been the Ultrawork spreadsheets. I have logged over 200 hours of thesis writing using this template alone.
Then the monthly progress seminars help set some social accountability with achieving goals across time. Posting one’s work on the forum is then a great way to find motivation as one gets feedback from one’s peers. Indeed, this can work a little too well. I found that I was getting such a buzz from reading positive feedback from other members that I was spending too much time on the forum and on the PrimAcc side of things and this was distracting from my PhD a little. In this case I stepped back from the forum in order to refocus on my thesis.
One other more general challenge I feel platforms like IndieThinkers may face is that of scalability. Part of the appeal of platforms like IndieThinkers is being able to interact with the founder to get constructive feedback and encouragement. I wonder if some of this appeal would be lost if platforms like IndieThinkers grew to have hundreds if not thousands or tens of thousands of users wanting to attend a work session, say, or a seminar?
As for what I’d like to do with my PhD once I’ve finished it, I’ve thought about that a lot, but I’ll leave that for a later discussion.
However, in general terms, going into the 2nd year of Indie Thinkers I will:
· Continue to use the Friday work sessions and monthly progress seminars to complete my PhD by spring 2021.
· Continue to create one piece of PrimAcc content each week.
· Finish parts 8 and 9 of my Drone Theory summary and turn it into a free flipbook pamphlet created via the free options on Canva and Anyflip, alongside 5–10 minute pre-recorded video lessons elaborating on each theme. Offer for free on Gumroad.
· Set up my own website using the How To videos on Indiethinkers.
· Re-engage with the forum perhaps only checking in once a week to post content/read others.
· Gain more than 500 Twitter followers.
· Complete reading War & Peace, collate tweets into a document. Start a new Read & Relax, maybe Moby Dick or the Bible.
· Possibly set up a Patreon. I feel this would be a cool experiment, but I’m a little wary as the pressure to create regular content for patrons might be stressful and make it more like work rather than the joy of creating.
· Possibly some kind of free or pay as you feel online short course based around exotic military technology with the title Hypervelocity.
· One of my main thoughts concerns what to do with PrimAcc going forward? At the moment it is just like a multimedia blog held together by the common thread of nothing more than ‘what I’m into’. However, while I enjoy writing about my lay interest in philosophy, I’ve noticed that the best feedback I’ve had related more to military technology tangential to missile defence (the Drone Theory digests), which is the subject of my thesis. I wonder if I should re-orient PrimAcc more towards this and carve a niche for myself in an area that I can speak of with some knowledge?
To conclude, I feel that IndieThinkers has been very helpful in increasing my productivity in writing my PhD thesis and also in freeing me up to feel more confident with regards to blogging/vlogging and podcasting.