There’s an essay making the rounds called The Age of Average. It’s worth your time to read it, but here’s the quick version.
Across our creative landscape, from media to fashion to architecture, there’s an inescapable, pervasive sense of averageness everywhere you look. And it seems to be accelerating. Creative works that inspire awe, and that speak to the depths of the human spirit, feel like an endangered species. It's so rare to spot them in the wild anymore. Instead, most everything we encounter is predictable, safe, sterile. Perhaps you’ve noticed it, too?
As writers, most of us are well aware of how the digital world pushes us to conform. For the past 10 years, centralized platforms and their algorithms have visibly rewarded writing that adheres to a narrow set of rules. We’re told that if we want to succeed, we have to write skimmable pieces with catchy headlines. We’re told we have to optimize for search engines and social media virality. We’re told to niche down, add value, and create a personal brand.
In the Age of Average, we’re led to believe writers get ahead not by caring about the subtleties of our craft or voice, but by transforming ourselves into industrialized assembly lines, so that we can churn out commodified work at scale.
It may not feel like it yet, but the Age of Average is nearing its climax. Generative AI will be the nail in the coffin. These new tools will produce average writing better, faster, cheaper. They will do it at a scale none of us can fathom. Soon our social feeds and search engines will be engulfed beneath a tidal wave of mechanistic mediocrity. It’ll be impossible to sift through it all. People will begin tuning out and retreating into quieter, safer corners of the internet, populated by the small handful of humans they trust.
In this fragmented digital landscape, the old playbooks for how to succeed on centralized platforms will stop working. Average writing will cease to spread, and producing it will no longer be profitable. In this new world, the only writing that will reliably cut through the noise, and reach people in their isolated corners of the internet, will be writing that’s thoughtfully crafted and unmistakably human.
To some, the word artisan feels antiquated, like an artifact of a bygone era. It brings to mind blacksmiths and butchers, sculptors and stonemasons, professions that seem to offer little guidance for our complex modern world. At Foster, we don’t believe in scrapping modernity for some naive, nostalgic return to the past. Instead, we believe the best way for writers to navigate an uncertain future and flourish—creatively, economically, and communally—is to combine modern tools with an artisanal approach.
We call this path The Artisan’s Way
Artisans root themselves in tradition, building on the great works that preceded them, yet aren’t afraid to innovate. They use the right tools for the job, including those on the cutting edge, yet don't allow trends or hype to cloud their vision or divert their path.
Artisans strive to produce singular work that could never emerge from anyone else, let alone a factory. They create work that’s durable, and that’s meant for humans to cherish. Artisanal writing, for instance, is worth revisiting again and again, because it gets deeper and richer with time.
Artisans don’t pander, telling people what they want to hear, but instead speak their truth and trust their taste. Artisans strive for mastery and sweat the details, but don’t chase perfection, because perfection is the domain of machines. In fact, like humans, it’s the small imperfections and inconsistencies that make a piece of work feel charming, captivating, alive.
Above all, artisans care about connection. Connection to themselves, to their craft, to their traditions, and to the places and people they serve. They don't treat themselves, their collaborators, or their customers as impersonal, economic units. Artisans understand that a creative life is a long game, and the only way to win such games is by honoring the humanity and dignity of everyone in the ecosystem.
In a world of atomization and disconnection, where the Age of Average surrounds us and dampens our spirit, we believe this approach is how we reverse the tides. We can choose the path of less, but better. We can reject the incentives nudging us to behave more like machines and factories. We can reclaim our humanity, approach our work as artisans, and focus not on shouting louder, but mattering more.
We can choose The Artisan's Way.
On May 30th, 2023, the Foster Collective is kicking off Season 3: The Artisan's Way, a five-week communal experience for writers, where we will collectively break the chains of average, embrace the artisanal approach, and ship the best writing of our lives.
You can learn more, and apply to join us, on the Season 3 landing page.