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Old Drama, Replayed 🎭

Old Drama, Replayed 🎭
By Ernie Smith • Issue #119 • View online
That feeling when one of my blood-boilingest rants appeared on Hacker News more than three years after I originally wrote it—and long after the conflict was settled.

(Mark Timberlake/Unsplash)
(Mark Timberlake/Unsplash)
I’ve written so many things over the years that sometimes rants from my weaker moments resurface in ways I didn’t even expect, completely out of the context of my original thinking.
I think a lot of people have this problem. We write things that seemed good at the time, but once we actually see them in retrospect they seem like really bad ideas.
I feel this way about this 2018 article I wrote about, a startup that aimed to charge people money for the right to receive an email from that user. I still think it’s a bad idea for a lot of reasons—it generates a lot of unnecessary messages that feel presumptive, can feel elitist, and takes a passive-aggressive approach to the inbox—but I think the way that I portrayed those ideas was very much of the time in which I wrote it.
During that period, email newsletters were still fairly novel. While they had started to pick up interest, they weren’t anywhere near the level of mainstream attention that they are now. Substack hadn’t broken out yet, for example. I think there was a bit of a chip on my shoulder because I saw it as a bit of an attack on those acting in good faith. But my tone was way off the charts, and I think it’s because of the passive-aggressiveness of the message.
(Brett Jordan/Unsplash)
(Brett Jordan/Unsplash)
Now, the concept I was railing against, failed. It failed hard. It was consumed many years ago like many startups, and the company that bought it, Coinbase, does not do anything quite like this. (The guy who created that company, Balaji Srinivasan, is by no means struggling.) But that didn’t stop this three-year-old rant from appearing on Hacker News, out of nowhere, last week.
Out of the context of that period, it reads like an overly hyperbolic, over-the-top rant that doesn’t help anyone. It just feels like I needed to dial it back a whole freaking lot.
Emotions can catch you at the tippy-top of the scale, and while it feels like you’re saying something that matters or speaking up for a group of people, sometimes that ranting can feel completely over the top outside of its original setting. The conflict feels small now, but at the same time, I can understand why it felt big: It seemed like a threat to my business model, and I imagined not one person doing this, but hundreds. And as someone who likes the open nature of email newsletters, that worried me.
Still, I think the tone was unnecessary. I needed to think about the issue at a deeper level without the level of blood-to-the-brain rage that was clearly running out of my fingers at the time I wrote it.
Sometimes, what seems like life and death turns out to be a modest pin prick from a distance. So no, that wasn’t the way I should have responded to that.
Related Reads:
The psychology of rage: Why we're so angry
Why the Eternal September Mindset Needs to End
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Hot takes in 30 minutes or less. A newsletter with an unforgiving deadline, written by Ernie Smith—who’s best known for another newsletter, Tedium.

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