Welcome to Wicked Problems

Social media is awful.

It doesn’t reach the people I need it to when I need it to. It’s a toxic playground of the worst human behaviors. It doesn’t work for me anymore.

And yet... it rules everything around us. My day job relies on social media. My creative projects require it to promote their release and raise funds for their production.

In the last fourteen years – somehow – people have started referring to me as a social media “expert.” Thankfully, I know that’s a misnomer. I know just enough about social media for the Certainty Paradox to take hold; I know that I’m not an expert and there’s plenty out there I do not (and probably do not want to) understand.

But back in 2012 my friend Cliff Landis and I used to run a workshop for academics and students called “Mastering Your Presence Online.” I had a section in it where I talked about the importance of what I called the Five C’s: content, curation, collaboration, crowdsourcing and conversation. What I’m getting from social media ten years later doesn’t fall under any of these anymore.

You haven’t received one of these newsletters from me since October of 2020. Looking back at the ones I sent previously, they were all over the place. I never had a specific goal or function in mind for them; they were just where I went to communicate long form ideas in writing. After 2020 I needed time to recover. Supercontext ended that spring. Then starting and promoting Corridor wiped out the rest of my year.

That year the person I looked to as a role model for newsletters turned out to be a serial predator. When everyone and their cousin launched a Substack I was even more turned off by the medium. I tried subscribing to several of the people who were paid 6 figures in grant funding to launch substacks last year. Almost all of them were a tediously boring churn of "content."

But here I am, crawling back to email newsletters, hoping to find what I’ve been missing here. I’m inspired to give the format another shot because of a few people. David Lynch’s daily weather report gives me something routine to cling to, I suppose the way some people go to church or watch network news. I like knowing he’ll be there every morning to tell me about blue skies and golden sunshine all along the way.

Also, Mark Fisher’s Complete K-Punk Collection recently drove me back to the golden years of blogging, when a philosopher could sustainably throw 1,500 words online about his thoughts on J.G. Ballard, Batman's capitalist realism or the setting for The Prisoner.

But the real spark for resurrecting this newsletter came to me from drag clown Carla Rossi on Friday, June 24. Just hours after the Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade, Carla took the stage here in Portland at the Hollywood Theater at a Queer Horror screening of Peaches Christs’ All About Evil. Hundreds of protesters took to downtown Portland that evening, but Rossi said she was thankful for the community at the movie. She described the gathering as a version of church, where people came together to commiserate and support one another. Afterwards I thought about how social media used to serve that role for me over a decade ago. But it’s no longer does.

Maybe this will. If you read something I wrote and want to engage, feel free to reply and let me know what you’re thinking. If we get enough subscribers to justify the additional costs, I'll also turn the comments feature on.

To begin with, this newsletter will come out every other week on Tuesdays. My goal is to try to keep each edition between 500 and 1,000 words. You’ll receive each one through a platform called Ghost. I liked them the best of all the Substack alternatives out there because they have easy integrations and operate as an open source non-profit.

I’m planning to format the newsletter around Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Each edition will probably have an intro, followed by short sections filed under each of the five needs: physiological, security, social belonging, esteem, and cognition.

Anyone close to me can tell you I think about Maslow’s needs a lot, sort of as a classification system to prioritize in the middle of chaos. I decided to lean into that recently when a colleague asked me at the end of a meeting: “What do you need?” I work with trauma-informed social work academics, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising of a question. But I was dumbstruck, because no one’s ever asked me that before.

Short version: what you’ll read in this newsletter will be my attempts to make sense of the world by thinking more closely about my human needs.

There might be a coda as well, where I track three things to be grateful for each issue. We’ll see.

I don’t plan to monetize this newsletter, at least not yet. There’s only 150 of you receiving it right now (Dunbar's number). Sure I’ll try to grow that audience. But I don’t think we’ll reach the industry requisite of 1,000 subscribers to justify me adding a paid edition anytime soon.

So, that’s already ~900+ words on the future of this newsletter. Next time (Tuesday, August 16) I’ll kick us off with an evergreen edition, because some of you (especially new subscribers) might be wondering, “Who the hell is this Christian Sager person anyway?”

I’ll fill you in next time on the basics about who I am, what I’m up to and why I write these things. If you don't find it of interest, please feel free to unsubscribe.

Oh, and if you have any good newsletter recommendations send them my way! I'd like to see more of what works in this medium.