Traversing bits instead of atoms

We travel to different places to have new experiences: meet new people, relish their local food, art and architecture, and marinate in their culture. Experience is the building block of physical travel.

The Internet has given us a whole new virtual world to travel in; travel is not restricted to the physical dimension anymore. Let us call this type of travel Digital Travel.

People and their content (their ideas/perspectives) are the building blocks of Digital Travel. You read what others have to say via blogs, essays and newsletters, listen to what people have to say via podcasts, and see what people have to show via YouTube videos.

The purpose of Digital Travel is edification — to learn, to find interesting people, and to discover striking ideas/perspectives. Watching random cat videos on YouTube for hours, binging on Fleabag, and endlessly scrolling Reddit do not constitute Digital Travel for the same reason that going to a different country and staying in a hotel room 24/7 does not count as having traveled to that country.

While there a lot of books, travel vlogs and blogs that you can refer to for physical travel, there is a dearth of such guides when it comes to Digital Travel¹. Below are some things that can help.

Curiosity

Curiosity is the digital equivalent of cash— the more curious you are, the more places you can visit in the digital world. Maximizing the number of places you visit maximizes the chances of finding interesting people, ideas and perspectives.

Be curious. If you come across an article you like, you should find similar articles or authors. People do this all the time when it comes to entertainment. If they finished a really good TV show, they try to find similar TV shows. If they really liked a song, they try to find more songs by the same artist. But very few want to ‘binge’ on articles or podcasts.

Nevertheless, curiosity is passive. Exploration is its active counterpart.

Hunt

An obvious but uncommon exploration strategy is to go ‘Link Hunting’. ‘Hunting’ as opposed to ‘exploring’ because hunting is a targeted activity and it has specificity. To explore is to wander and wandering is not aggressive enough.

Say you read a blog that you thoroughly enjoyed. How do you hunt from there?

Visit the ‘About’ page. ‘About’ is the place where you get to know the creator: who they are (example), how they think (example), their interests and their accomplishments (example). More importantly, you get more content to binge on — many times authors leave links to places where they publish more of their content: their twitter handle, Substack newsletter, and their podcast. For example:

‘About’ page of Sriram K

If an article gave you intellectual-orgasms, you most likely wonder ‘How does she think the way she thinks? Where does she get her ideas from?!’ The answers are right there in the article in the form of links and references. Through them, the author is literally telling you ‘These are the people I admire, these are the blogs and books I read to learn, and these are the places that helped me form my opinion’.

Hyperlinks and references are the ‘Since you liked this, you might also like’ list, albeit curated by real people instead of algorithm-based recommendation engines². Since the article gave you mindgasms, it is highly likely that you would mindgasm to at least one link that the author has included in her article. Why would you want to miss out on that?

Say you really liked a podcast episode. How do you hunt from there?

Check the show notes. They are a gold mine of terrific places to visit. For example:

Tim Ferriss Show Ep #473

In the above shown notes, there are 7 people-recommendations (Jerzy Gregorek, Nick Szabo, Susan Cain, Yuval Noah Harari, Jamie Foxx, Richard Feyman and Nassim Nicholas Taleb), 7 podcast episode recommendations, and a book recommendation. You also have links to the Guest’s twitter handle and their blog. This is not even the complete show notes by the way. Like I said, gold mine.

Twitter is a great place for discovering people that you can fan-girl to.

Say you admire someone and you already follow them. How do you hunt from there? See who they mention in their tweets. This could be people they admire or people they collaborate with or in most cases, both.

Link to the tweet

Click on the profiles mentioned in the tweet, read their tweets, visit their website (mentioned in their Twitter bio), visit the ‘About’ page in their website, read their blog-posts and listen to their podcast episodes. Like what you see? Then hit follow on Twitter and hit subscribe on their blog.

If you like something, remember that there is more where that came from. Hunt fiercely. Be an infovore. Browse the internet with the intent to curate your feed, not just with the intent to consume.

Digital Hikes

The physical world is full of trails to hike. The internet is full of rabbit holes to dive into. I call it ‘Digital Hiking’. It is a simple 3 step process.

Step one is to zero-in on a rabbit hole to dive into. Pick a topic that you want to explore and learn more about. Set an objective for yourself. It could be anything from deciding on an investment strategy and finding a note-taking app that suits your needs to building a second brain and drafting a meal plan and a workout plan to get in shape.

Step two is to take an entire week-off from work. This will give you 9 days (2 weekends + 5 weekdays) to work with. Sweet. This is not ‘free time’ that you can spend binging on Netflix. This time should be spent working; only, you would be working for your own life instead of for a company.

Step three is to research. Read, read and read more. Hunt down links.

Then spend time implementing it. If you were researching about setting up a note taking system, go ahead and set it up. You should start using the new system after this Digital Hike.

It is 9 days of intense research about a topic that you care about. The geek in you is going to have a baller time.

Misc

When you travel physically, you carry a camera with you to capture landscapes and important moments. Similarly, carry a note-taking tool to capture articles, quotes, ideas and anecdotes during your Digital Travel. Consider having a commonplace book.

Take some time out to purge. Otherwise, your feed overwhelms you. Your inbox overflows with newsletters you subscribed to but you do not have the time to read each one of them. So, you skip reading all of them. That defeats the whole purpose.

Too much of sitting causes butt-ache and eye fatigue. It is important to take a break. Follow the Pomodoro technique: for every 25 mins of Digital Travel, take 5 mins of break; rest your eyes, hydrate and most importantly, move. Get your butt off of the chair and walk. Also, consider getting a standing desk. Sitting is really harmful.

One word of caution when it comes to social media: watch out for cynics. The internet is full of them. All they do is complain and express outrage. They do not add anything constructive to your feed. Avoid them.

Travel of any kind helps us discover our unknown unknowns. Physical and Digital Travel each help you discover different kinds of them. It is a matter of preference and laziness.

How many links in this article did you click on?

Footnotes

  1. Understandably so. Physical travel is a lot more complex, more resource intensive and has existed for way longer than the internet has.
  2. While algorithms are getting better, thanks to deep learning and what not, humans are the best recommendation engines. No algorithm can beat the recommendations from someone you admire and look up to.
  3. This guide is platform and medium agnostic. You can apply the same principles to discover artists on Instagram and build your network in LinkedIn too for example.

Thanks to Subasini for reading drafts of this article.

Writer. Reader. Philomath. Optimist. Figuring out life one article at a time at bitsoveratoms.substack.com