Coffee With James (2/26/20)

Social capital, writing, Airplane rides (poem), corporate speak, Instagram.

Hello everyone — it’s Wednesday!

Hope you enjoy this week’s edition.

The how of social capital

Social capital is a fascinating topic. This read explores why building social capital is so powerful, network influences outside of communication, and more. A great read for anyone who likes reading about human interaction.

“4) emotions: C&F note that emotions actually affect our physical being — our voices, our faces, our posture.  In experiments, people actually “catch emotions”: others become happier by spending time around happy people or sadder by hanging out with depressed individuals.  In experiments, smiling waiters get bigger tips.  It seems quite plausible that cascades like loneliness, happiness, depression, etc. could spread simply from emotional states, independent of any information flowing through these friendships.”

How to Write Usefully

This thought-provoking essay delves into an interesting question: what should an essay be, and how should you write a good one? Paul Graham explores how to write usefully, how to get started, and why even well-thought-out essays can attract scrutiny.

“Let's put them all together. Useful writing tells people something true and important that they didn't already know, and tells them as unequivocally as possible.

Notice these are all a matter of degree. For example, you can't expect an idea to be novel to everyone. Any insight that you have will probably have already been had by at least one of the world's 7 billion people. But it's sufficient if an idea is novel to a lot of readers.

Ditto for correctness, importance, and strength. In effect the four components are like numbers you can multiply together to get a score for usefulness. Which I realize is almost awkwardly reductive, but nonetheless true.”

For Those Who Can Still Ride In An Airplane For The First Time (aka Quentin)

This is the first poem I have shared in this newsletter, but it deserves a mention. Read the whole thing in its entirety for full effect.

“And in a place where oil always takes precedence over life,
I find myself sitting on a bus, watching this small boy float down like fresh water,
carrying a book I used to,
asking if I want to see what he sees if only for a little while, and I do.
And then asks if I want to give to him what I see if only for a little while, and I read to him.
Then says to me he's going to show me the world.”

Why do corporations speak the way they do?

Reading this essay encouraged me to consider the “garbage language” which has made its way into my life. Over the last few days, I have found that corporate-speak is engrained into my vocabulary, and so many terms have become second-nature. I’m not sure how long it will take to stop proposing that we “sync up” and “grab a time to chat.”

“I like Anna Wiener’s term for this kind of talk: garbage language. It’s more descriptive than corporatespeak or buzzwords or jargon.Corporatespeak is dated; buzzword is autological, since it is arguably an example of what it describes; and jargon conflates stupid usages with specialist languages that are actually purposeful, like those of law or science or medicine. Wiener’s garbage language works because garbage is what we produce mindlessly in the course of our days and because it smells horrible and looks ugly and we don’t think about it except when we’re saying that it’s bad, as I am right now.”

Teens are hacking Instagram into a modern-day eBay

The teen entrepreneurial spirit never ceases to amaze me. Even though many of the activities in which people are engaged on Instagram to make money are not immensely profitable, young people seem to love the work. For some, selling thrifty clothing on Instagram is not just a way to make money, but a passion.

“Owners might also give one-on-one advice to customers about what to wear to school, or talk more generally about classes, sports, and life. “It’s not just a thrift account where we just sell clothes,” Shipman said. “[On Instagram], it’s like we actually have interactions with people.”"

My update:

  • I’m working hard on a new project.

  • Thinking about the question “What is writing?”

Thanks for reading,


If you want to find me around the internet, you can read my writing at, or follow me on Twitter @jamesg_oca.

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