Intimate recollections on one of the first Interintellect series by one of our most popular hosts.
Helena Ng on Down the Rabbit Hole, curiosity, challenges, friendship, and community.
Almost a year has gone by since I stumbled into a loving community of curious individuals who were looking to engage with each other in a long-forgotten way — frivolously and aimlessly, ready for the spores of curiosity to drift and land where they may.
Our armchair travels took us far and wide: From tools of thought, neuroscience, human emotions, tech wellness to the great question of what we should do with our bookmarks or Pocket articles. All this, paired with farm-to-table metaphors ranging from the garden to the swamp…
Here’s a recollection of all the amazing experiences and friendships that emerged.
Hitting Entropy in COVID-19
I had no business in inspiring curiosity. I was hitting entropy in my life, worn down by the anxiety of COVID-19 and the emerging roles I had to play during the pandemic. I longed for a sense of connection I couldn’t find in my immediate surroundings. For a long time, I consumed newsletter subscriptions, YouTube videos and used social media as a numbing agent for the ennui I felt. The relationship was starting to feel one-sided and I wondered if I could speak into the void.
Foraging, Not Grazing
Lurking behind Twitter and experimental communities that mushroomed during the pandemic, I started noticing a group of prolific newsletter writers — free agents with no affiliation to the press, academia or publication. Instead, individuals on Substack who wrote passionately about their track of chosen curiosities — topics that gave them great joy to ruminate on, filing progress reports for personal projects, or just a place to brain dump and think in public.
I started to understand that this was more about seeking catharsis than gaining attention; generation rather than consumption. A large following mattered far less than a select few who were willing to engage in great depth, not to mention establishing accountability to keep writing and learning. I started to understand the terrain of the cozy web and its inhabitants.
The term “curiosity trails” brewed in my head. I thought about the ways in which we signal for connection on the web, for building both knowledge and friendship. I thought about the jolly, chaotic, eventually manic conversations I’ve had with friendly internet strangers. What if there was a whimsical, raggedy map that could visualise this voyage?
A conversation with one friend would lead to a dozen or so recommendations, which would then synthesise into written notes and lead to more research trails. Revelations could be passed to new conversations. We’re unknowingly cross-pollinating each other’s consciousness, becoming the aggregate of something greater. The question was, how could I get closer to this conglomerate? And can we meet every third Saturday of the month?
And then, as luck would have it, I found the people like me: People who had wide-ranging interests and knew all the shiny crevices of the internet. These people were lifelong learners, citizen researchers, librarians and neurodivergent folk who needed to devise their own curriculum, gather with friends, and play aimlessly.
For us, curiosity is better sated together. Playtime is much better when you have friends spanning across ten time zones that you can pass the baton to. It is a reclamation of our playful nature, and a counterargument to you can’t make new friends as a grown-up.
Each time we gathered, we put our precious links together on a Miro board. Often, less-known and Very Curious Indeed corners of the Internet would emerge from these boards. No two Miro boards are ever the same, and they represent all the rabbit holes and chaotic energy from our gatherings.
Surfing the Waves of Curiosity
Chasing curiosity trails is a bit like surfing. Depending on everybody’s energy levels, and how many people were interested in a particular topic, it can be a hit or miss. With so many people involved from every part of the globe, all variables from our internal microbiomes to the external ecosystem play a role in how each session turned out.
In some salons, we surfed great waves of curiosity but some days were slower than others. Particularly, we acknowledged that the bleak sentiments from 2020 made it challenging to keep ourselves curious. But one thing remained constant: the same folks kept coming back to gather, and so I realised the importance of being curious together, even when the going gets hard. I always felt better after showing up.
Many of us found a new way to live, a new way to play, and a group of new friends who were willing to meet us where we needed. We developed the ethos of “play with whatever we want, so long as we are together” very early into the series. We stayed open-minded and ready to be surprised.
We played with Figma Jam, Miro, Roam Research, and even abandoned them once in a while. Sometimes the magnetism of our conversations can charm us into leaving behind our scheduled activities, and we’re proud of that.
Thinking about the camaraderie that has developed, the artefacts we left behind… I think this series of salons helped a lot of us through the thick of the pandemic. While we have never met each other in person, and span across close to ten time zones, the warm promise of our next meeting always brought comfort and joy. Not to mention accountability for our dedication to play!
These salons have been the highlight of my pandemic, and I can’t wait to see how each of us will go on to inspire more people in their lives to be more curious and playful.
Camp Curiosity Continues…
To be alive is to celebrate our imagination together.
While the Down the Rabbit Hole series is over, it has inspired many of our Interintellect members to go about new adventures and experiments, and they pay tribute to all the chaotic conversations and pet theories we have been playing with for the past year.
A weekly play date is held on Wednesdays 12PM BST. Campers gather to relax, mingle, and play with their hands, i.e. building LEGO blocks, macrame, juggling, or woodwork. All Interintellect members are welcome to join.
Roam Multiplayer Graph meets once a month. It’s a place and time for voracious note-takers to write and think out loud.
A select few also meet once a month for a private Shared Narrative of Emotions tea party. In this series, connection-curious friends gather to exchange metaphors in making sense of emotions and feelings.