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We're all living on the frontier now
On the strange, uncertain years ahead, and banding together so we can thrive
A few weeks back, as the AI hype was reaching its 2022 crescendo, I ran a little experiment.
I told ChatGPT that I’d been thinking about water as a metaphor for self-renewal, then asked it to write five haikus on that theme. I took the haiku I liked most, and plugged it straight into Midjourney, with zero additional prompting. Here’s what it came out with.
I was also curious if ChatGPT could spin up more complex forms of poetry. So I gave my new chatbot companion some information about my cat, Swanson, mentioning that he'd been frustrating me with his behavior lately. Then I asked for a villanelle—a poetic form with a strict rhyme and repetition scheme. Fifteen seconds later, I had myself a lovely ode to my cat.
The whole process—from initial idea to multimedia tweet and cat poem—took about five minutes. You might be thinking that both the poems and image are fairly generic, and I’d agree. That villanelle, sadly, doesn't come close to the heights of the form. But they’re better than anything I would have produced myself. I haven’t written poetry since I was an angsty teen, scribbling emo song lyrics into a notebook covered in stickers from my favorite bands. And drawing or illustration? Forget about it. I struggle with stick figures. So for me, this process felt like pure magic. As I work to grow my creative output and business in the years to come, I suspect these tools will help me be prolific in ways I’d never imagined possible.
But truthfully, I also came away from that experiment with an uneasy sense that we'd crossed the threshold into a new world. Soon, millions of us will have these creative tools at our fingertips, then billions. Generative AI will continue to get more powerful and precise, and its output will be increasingly indistinguishable from human work. The resulting flood of media will radically alter the digital landscape, along with our collective relationship to media. This is uncharted territory for humanity. And for creators, marketers, and media organizations of all types, the years ahead are certain to be full of new possibilities, while being equally strange, frustrating, and difficult to navigate using the playbooks of the past.
Buckle up, friends. We’re all living on the frontier now.
In the first week of November, nestled into a secluded house in the hills of upstate New York, the Foster Collective came together for the first time. Our core team had been meeting weekly on Zoom for eight months, but this was our first time connecting in person. It should have been a celebratory moment. But I went into that weekend feeling apprehensive and anxious. I wasn't sure if I belonged in Foster anymore. It felt like we were on the verge of parting ways.
Though I've been a creator and marketer for nearly a decade, my work these last two years has revolved around unlearning much of what I practiced in the past, along with exploring a handful of big questions about the future.
How can we make the 1,000 true fans model a cultural norm?
How can we each be the change we want to see in internet media?
How can we build a more beautiful internet?
As I begin to live these questions, instead of just intellectualizing them, the more it feels impossible to return to the status quo. These days, the only places I feel at home are the frontiers of media and marketing. For me, there's no returning to the old ways without damaging my soul.
Which brings us back to the Foster retreat. Somewhere in mid-2022, I'd begun to feel disenchanted with the work we were publishing on our blog. It felt like we were running the standard startup content playbook, instead of innovating and striving for work we could all be proud of. I sensed that Foster needed more of my past self—content marketer Rob, or conversion copywriter Rob—instead of the digital media frontiersman I'm becoming. And it weighed on me.
As the orange and gold leaves piled up around our house, I shared my apprehensions and doubts with the group, and was welcomed wholeheartedly. We went on to have deep discussions around what’s true for us as individuals, along with what’s true for Foster as a collective. In between heated games of ping pong, we talked excitedly about how we're evolving in our creative ambitions, and what Foster could become in the years ahead. And then we began to chart our path forward.
The truth that emerged that weekend is that I do belong in Foster. It's undeniable. All of us are acutely aware of how the status quo of internet media is failing us. And we're all committed, in our own ways, to be the change we want to see. What started out as a tenuous trip, quickly morphed into a commitment to step beyond myself, and play a bigger role in Foster.
In the weeks after the retreat, I threw my energy into writing a proposal to reinvent our media strategy at Foster. The goal was for us to become fluid and adaptable in the years ahead, and lean into being the change we want to see, instead of just talking about it.
The proposal felt risky and bold, and it broke many of the rules of the status quo. Yet at our next meeting, we adopted the proposal unanimously, and committed to produce eight editions of a scrappy digital magazine in 2023. This is the first.
A few months ago, I was certain I'd be living on the media frontier myself. But now, it feels like we've set out on a collective expedition into this strange new territory.
Truthfully, that’s the scariest frontier for me, because I've been going it alone my whole life. The ideology of rugged individualism has been rattling around in my psyche these past six weeks, as I've poured every ounce of myself into bringing this first edition to life. The voice in my head says I'm foolish to trust, and foolish for giving my gifts so fully to something communal.
But deep within me, I can sense that I'm entering a new chapter of my life. I find myself wanting to find the others and collaborate on those big, unwieldy questions I mentioned above. I'm confident we'll be more capable, creative, and courageous when working together, and that our cooperative efforts will ripple outwards, and create a more beautiful internet for us all.
Seeking courageous writers & editors | Safety not guaranteed
The frontier ahead is vast and unknowable, full of opportunity and peril. We're looking for like-minded creatives to forge ahead with us and help us shape the future of internet media. If you'd like to build Foster alongside us, help writers tell their stories, and make the internet more human, we humbly invite you to apply to join our collective.