One of the most influential books I have read is The Power of Moments. The authors, Chip and Dan Heath, discuss how when people think about their lives, they don't think in terms of linear timelines — they think in moments. They describe each defining moment as having one or more characteristics: elevation, insight, pride, or connection.
<aside> 💡 Elevation: they rise above the everyday. Insight: they rewrite our understanding of the world. Pride: they capture us at our best. Connection: they are social.
When I reflect on my time in college I don't remember every day, in fact a lot of days blur together, but I do remember specific moments, big and small, dotted throughout my four years. I remember driving through Tunnel View at Yosemite after a twelve hour road trip with some of my best friends (elevation). I remember the phone call when I was told I got my first job out of college (pride). I remember the "this is what I want to do with my life" moment that led to me switching my major for the last time (insight). I remember feeling lucky that I had two of my biggest mentors working on my campus, so whenever I needed to talk I could just swing by their offices (connection).
Moments combining more than one characteristic have a chance for even greater impact. In fact, many of our moments are usually some combination of the four. My Yosemite trip had breathtaking views and experiences, and also happened to be a major bonding experience for the whole group (elevation + connection). When I received my job offer I was filled with pride, and it also hit me for the first time that I would be leaving my home town soon and moving to Atlanta with my new wife (pride + insight). My mentors would often give me advice, probably without realizing it, that would influence the decisions I was about to make, as well as give me encouragement around who I was and who I was becoming (insight + pride + connection). When I changed my degree for the last time I felt like I finally had some clarity around where I wanted to go, but I also had chosen a cohort of students that I would try and go there with (insight + connection).
Chip and Dan Heath make specific mention of one particularly striking moment in education: graduation day. Graduation day has all the great characteristics that make something into a moment. It's a day you've been building toward for four plus years (elevation). You wear a cap and gown and walk across the stage where they say your name on the loud speakers and hand you a piece of paper with your name on it (pride). That piece of paper represents everything you have learned in your time there (insight). Then you hear your family yell somewhere in the sea of families and walk back down the steps to join all the other people you made this journey with (connection). It's really no wonder why some remember their graduation day so vividly.
Moments also tend to overshadow the negative parts of our journey. In the book, Chip and Dan Heath talk about many people's experience at Disney World. The majority of people's time is spent waiting in line, sometimes for hours, for a ride that lasts a few minutes, or for half an hour to gain the privilege of spending thirty dollars on a churro. But when we leave we always say we had such a great time. Why? Because when we think back we remember Space Mountain, not necessarily the long wait, or we remember how cute our kid looked in their Mickey ears, and not the meltdown that happened right after.
Even some of my moments were surrounded by less than inspiring scenarios. The day after we went through Tunnel View for the first time, Yosemite received so much snow that we couldn't go back for the second day we had planned and traveled so far for. Even though we still had a blast playing mini golf on Fresno, California, it wasn't quite Half Dome. But, none of that really matters, because the moments are what help remind us that every pit is worth going through because they often lead to some of our best memories.
Not every moment has to be an epic experience, even seemingly small moments can have big impact. One of the most electric moments I've had in a while centered around Spotify's new feature: group listening sessions. Group texts might be hit or miss for some people, but one of my constant joys every week is talking about the new music that drops every Friday in a group text me and a few friends have had going for years now. There's a wide range of musical tastes in the group, but everyone loves John Mayer. When Sob Rock came out in July 2021 everyone waited until 12 AM EST and joined a group listening session so we could all listen for the first time together. Being able to text with each other while we experienced the album in real time made us feel like we were all together having a listening party like we used to. Spotify melted away in the background, and we were just together listening to music.
At its best, I think that's what software should be like — it should be the background to the moments that it creates. Creating moments through software is something I'm passionate about, and it's what I am looking to create with Piraeus. Piraeus is a web application where you can join a reading group with others, read together, take notes, and share those notes with those in your group. You can create a conversation within the book you are reading. I'm an avid reader, and I've been in many reading groups throughout my life.
At one point in college myself and several friends decided to read "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell together, but this time with a twist. One of us would read the book and take notes and highlights throughout, then when we were done we would give the book to the next person for them to add their notes, highlights, and comments to our notes, and so on and so forth. The hope was to have a book at the end with all of our notes in it that we could reflect and talk about each others ideas. In practice, this failed in a variety of ways. First off it took the first guy (me) a little longer to read than I expected, so by the time I passed the book off we had kind of already lost some steam. When our second group member finished reading and adding his thoughts he passed it off to the third group member. But, hey, wait! I want to see what you added to my notes! I realized I was going to have to wait for everyone to be done until I could see any additions from the other members. Sadly, this is where the farce ended because the third group member lost the book and never ended up finishing.
Piraeus is what I wish I had back then, and it's the only way I want to read books now. What I wish we could have done is all read the book at the same time, but whenever I took a note or highlight it would magically appear in everyone else's books. And whenever someone added their little scribble onto my little scribble in the margin, that would magically appear in my book too. My first user for Piraeus was myself and one of my best friends. We've since moved to different states, but some of the best book clubs I've been in are the one's I've been in with him. We decided we wanted to try reading a book together and have some bi-weekly discussions, and we used Piraeus to do the reading along with each other. Even though we never got in a room together, we had one of the best book club experiences I've ever had, and some of the best conversations over a book I've ever had. There was a lot less of the classic, "so what did you think of this chapter?" or "what stuck out to you?" I already knew what stuck out to him, and we had already had some preliminary conversations in the sidebar about some interesting topics. Whenever we had our phone calls we just hit the ground running. We turned "so what did you think" into "I want to dive more into this topic; what did you mean by this and what do you think about that?" We got to have the type of conversation that you usually only get to hit 30 minutes into the meeting after everyone gets on the same page. With Piraeus we were able to start on the same page.
This summer I decided to launch again, and I was able to get twenty people over two groups to read two books with me. Not only did it help keep me accountable on my reading, it was fun. There's nothing like taking a note on a certain passage that really resonates with you, and a few hours later reading someones response and insights on your note. I never thought I would be able to have a deep reading group online with people I had never met before.
The reading schedule for both groups was ten weeks. The first week I had a great amount of engagement. Several people were making notes and highlights and interacting with other users, but as time went on interactions slowed down. I want to add some gamification to the application to give people more excitement around creating conversations within their groups, as well as ways to discover reading groups that are available, or start groups for books they are planning on reading. However, even if no one ends up as a regular Piraeus user except for myself I'm going to count that as a win, because Piraeus makes the internet a little bit more like the future I want to help create. After all, the best problems to solve are the ones we have ourselves.