The medium is the message.
Right now, the internet medium enables short-term viral memes as a message, but not much else.
Think about TikTok. Every day, users spend an hour in the app, scrolling through the FYP. But if you ask me what I watched last week on TikTok, I couldn't tell you. Hot trends have a short half-life:
This is because memes are optimized for acquisition and transmission, not retention.
It's the same with COVID. As Trevor notes below, selection pressure has driven increased transmissibility. Replicators gonna replicate.
How Can We Make Memes Optimized For Retention?
Still, some of the internet is optimized for retention, or what Kei calls "memory-gathering institutions." Archive.org, Wikipedia, IPFS are all good examples.
Meanwhile, this same retention vs. virality tension is playing out in our brains too. Memes need a home to live in. Catchy songs, for example, live in our phonological loop (our "mind's ear").
That's just short-term memory though. What about the bottom part of that image above, long-term memory? This memory comes naturally in many ways, but is supercharged by tactics like spaced repetition.
Unfortunately, most of our memetic content is optimized for virality, not retention. If I tried to use spaced repetition for Charli D'amelio's TikTok dance videos, it wouldn't really work.
The internet protocol stack is optimized for transport, not for retention. Transport is even the name of one of the layers!
We can copy and send information all around the world for free, but we can't remember anything.
The internet needs a native layer for retention, not just transmission. This is where Orbit comes in.
Orbit is a library that allows writers to insert spaced repetition prompts (i.e. notecards) into a webpage. It looks like this:
Right now, almost none of the internet has embedded Orbit prompts. But this layer should be built out, just like Stripe/crypto has retroactively built out the payments layer.
In the future, a Wiki page might be full of embedded Orbit prompts:
I'm not exactly sure where this battle between transmission and retention will go. All I know is that I'm happy to support the "retentionification" of the internet.
Today, we're starting with a small experiment. We've added Orbit prompts to Marriage Counseling With Capitalism. We're also experimenting with a #LearnToEarn model by selling NFTs to pay for a proof-of-memory pool for readers who study the notecards.
Thanks to Nick Torba for kicking off this line of work!
Check out the updated piece and get to studying! For inspiration, here are the days I've studied Anki in 2021: