Sane Is Helping You Reclaim Your Attention Online
In theory, the internet enables anybody with access to a smartphone or computer to become an expert on any topic, from philosophy to DIY soap-making to playing the piano. As Ida Josefiina sees it, the sheer volume of content available online means our greater challenge in making knowledge more accessible is in helping people discover, organize, digest, and retain information they find.
A perpetual learner who has lived in nine different countries but did not attend university, Ida never had easy access to the resources that are ensconced in academic research libraries. Being the architect of her own intellectual journey led her to create Sane, an app that provides users with digestible summaries of nonfiction and academia, helping them build a network of connected knowledge in a way that fits the limitations of our busy, modern lives. Sane’s product is designed not just to introduce you to a new topic — readings range from eloquent, digestible overviews of general relativity to theories on whether we are living in a computer simulation — but as an active exercise to help build a healthy habit for thinking.
We recently sat down with Ida to discuss the problem Sane is solving, why intellectual pursuit is the new social currency for Gen Z, and why she thinks reading is still the best way to learn.
What inspired you to start Sane?
I didn’t go to university myself. I’ve spent the last 10 years reading, traveling, researching, and listening to podcasts. I’ve lived in nine different countries in my adult life — always traveling and exploring my curiosity. I’ve often wished that there was a guide for discovering new things to read and learn about. I’ve been so lost, I’ve Googled “what to read.”
For example, how can you be interested in something like the hard problem of consciousness if you’ve never heard about the hard problem of consciousness?
It’s been a slow process for me to build enough accumulated knowledge to know what other pathways to take, what thinkers to discover, and what ideas to dive deeper into. This process is much more about learning how to think than about learning anything specific.
That’s the problem that Sane is trying to solve. We’re creating a personalized guide to the pursuit of knowledge that is accessible outside of institutions to anyone on their phone.
You’ve said that intellectual pursuit is a new social currency. Where are you seeing evidence of this?
Before the pandemic, we were living in the experience economy. People weren’t going to restaurants just for the food, but for the ambiance and the specific vibe, and they were documenting it on Instagram. I think we’re seeing this be replaced by what we call the internal experience economy, and the pandemic accelerated it like crazy. A more personal, spiritual, and of course intellectual pursuit is replacing the idea of the experience economy.
We’re also seeing the rise of a new generation into consumer power. Gen Z is also called “true gen.” They are hypercognitive, in search of truth, and comfortable adopting different new tools for learning online. They’re also really building their identities and communicating individual expression specifically through the cultivation of ideas.
You’ve shared that you look at memes for market research. How big are trends like theorygram and how do you see them growing?
They’re really huge. E-learning was booming well before the pandemic, but has of course accelerated and is predicted to reach $457.8 billion by 2026.
The demand for short-form educational content has also boomed. TikTok has hugely popularized things like tik philosophy, and they recently invested $15 million into the space, so we’re seeing Gen Z platforms understanding that there is a clear trend. It’s a very significant trademark for this generation.
What are the biggest challenges you see with e-learning and how is Sane solving them?
The internet is full of information and 99% of it is free. It’s all there, so accessibility is not about the availability of information but how to discover, organize, digest, and retain it. The platforms that we have now are reductive in so many ways. Not just for the type of content that’s being shown, but because of the personalized, polarizing algorithms that just show you things that you already know or believe.
Who goes on university websites to look at the research they are publishing, and then downloads a 30-page research PDF that’s full of jargon? It’s technically accessible because it’s there, but it’s not accessible because people have limited time.
That’s where Sane comes in. We’re building a truly accessible way for people to discover new ideas without the burden of those navigational challenges. We’re not dumbing down content, but we’re putting it in a format that gives users much more space to meditate on the ideas themselves rather than get caught up in all the layers of distraction, like overly complex language.
A lot of online learning experiences are presented in interactive formats like video and audio. Why did you decide to build a reading experience?
This gets to the very core of Sane’s product. We’ve designed Sane to be less about consuming content and more about meditating on ideas to really expand your neural networks and generate more of those “a-ha” moments.
You can’t scroll on Sane. There are only a few lines of text per screen that force you to meditate on each word and idea. We’re not just an app for learning pieces of information, but an active exercise to build a healthy habit for thinking.
Gen Z are digital natives who spend almost 3 hours a day social media. What are the most effective ways for you to reach your audience?
There is a clear shift in digital behavior happening where Gen Z are migrating from public podiums into the more intimate nooks and crannies of the internet, where they gather with people who want to talk about similar ideas, topics, or people. Venkatesh Rao calls it the “cozyweb.”
These micro-communities are extremely strong and the opportunity is more massive than anyone can imagine. We’re finding and engaging with people in these communities through our podcast, and it’s interesting to find how interconnected our guests are.
Where do you find your content?
We’re really focused on academia. We want Sane to include content that you don’t find on the airport bestsellers bookshelf. All of our content is quite existential in nature, whether it’s about the future of humanity, technology, psychology, or consciousness, and it’s sourced from those deep rabbit holes of academia that people normally don’t have access to.
What is one thing you wish people better understood about Gen Z?
That if you measure people’s attention spans on platforms that have been created to reduce your attention span, you probably shouldn’t expect unexpected results.
There is an active rebellion going on against big tech. There is a huge group of Gen Zers who are actively practicing this rebellion, rethinking their relationship to technology, and wanting to be much more intentional with their time.
Who inspires you?
Richard Price, who founded academia.edu. It is insanely cool that he created a platform that hosts roughly 22% of the world’s research on it.
Now we need a new version that’s not just for researchers, but that can help anyone learn anything. That’s where Sane comes in.
Sign up for Sane’s private beta by searching for Sane — new ideas daily in the App Store and using the invite code Newideas.