It's astonishing how, when you find the right metaphor, what was once confusing and opaque suddenly becomes obvious and clear. This recently happened for me about *gestures vaguely* all this online stuff.
I was introduced to the idea of an online oasis by Rob Hardy, who I consider it my very good fortune to get to know over the last few months:
An oasis is a small patch of fertile ground in a desert. It’s a refuge from a hostile world. A place where one can let their guard down. Where they can finally, if only for a brief time, be themselves. The internet is just such a desert.
The idea of cultivating an oasis on the Internet in which people can take refuge, explore and perhaps get a little lost appealed to me immediately. At first my idea was for Expanding Awareness, my new Alexander Technique blog, to be its own oasis. That was a step in the right direction, but something still didn’t feel quite right.
But last night, while talking to Rob, it all came together: everythingI publish is the oasis. All of it.
Going a level deeper, perhaps I am the oasis. That may sound a little self-aggrandising, but what I mean to point to is the perspective that everything I publish is building an interconnected little world of stories, ideas and adventures.
This has become increasingly clear as I’ve seen many people pop up across my different channels and engage with a broad range of topics I talk about, rather than sticking to specific ones. They’re wandering around and exploring my oasis.
The idea that it’s all one cohesive, continuous oasis is a powerful shift for me, but the metaphor is still slightly incomplete. It needs one small addition, which is that my oasis contains a number of gardens that I cultivate.
These gardens are unique. They have their own style and vibe, there are different types of trees. Some have water, some have projector screens and music, some have sculptures while some have mazes and playgrounds. Some have a fence around them, with keys to the gates available for purchase.
There are paths that lead from garden to garden, some obvious and signposted, others hidden and surprising. Different people may choose to gather in different gardens, guided by their own desires. They may follow different paths.
And I shall tend to the gardens, creating spaces where people can take refuge from the desert of the Internet, planting new seeds and laying down paths of interconnection.
What does this mean in practice? It means a couple of things.
It means behaving as if ‘the people in the oasis’ share that fact in common. While they may be in different gardens, they are still in the same oasis. No longer will I think of “YouTube subscribers”, “Thinking Out Loud subscribers” and “Twitter followers” as different groups. They are all already in the oasis, they just either haven’t discovered the other gardens, or they have and those gardens simply do not interest them, and this is fine. This is a non-coercive oasis.
One simple step bringing newsletter subscribers onto one master email list, segmented by garden, of course. At some point soon I will import Thinking Out Loud subscribers into ConvertKit. I have some hangups to work through here around ‘becoming or being seen to be Internet Marketing Guy’ (I am not that), but those are not dealbreakers and I can navigate my way through them. I will still do all this my way.
And I will make all this clear so that people can opt out and leave whenever they want. My oasis is not the Hotel California; you can check out any time you like and you can always leave.
This shift also liberates me from worrying about the ‘scope’ for each garden. No, it’s all one oasis. Where it’s right for there to be a path from one garden to another, I will create that path. I will make the boundaries blurry, encouraging people to leave gardens and explore the others.
Finally, I want to focus on delighting visitors to my oasis (another of Rob’s ideas) at every opportunity. That feeling when you’re wandering along a hidden path and you discover that tiny, thoughtful sculpture that speaks directly to your heart. I want those experiences to be everywhere.
I think that’s all on this for now. It may not sound like much from the insight, but from the inside it clarifies so much and gives me permission to keep playing. I’m excited to see how this grows! Who knows, maybe one day, before too long, there’ll be gardens in the real world as well, and the digital and physical will blend together cohesively.
For the record, here are the current gardens as I see them:
I publish a newsletter called Thinking Out Loud, which chronicles my journey as an online maker of things, but it's also is where I talk about whatever I'm interested in at the time. There are 900 of us now, come play!