2020 keeps getting better, here in California.
Beside the ash in the air, here's what stuck with me this week:
- The Social Dilemma, a new Netflix documentary about how addiction and privacy breaches are features, not bugs, of social media platforms,
- What is compression progress, and how to use to make information travel more efficiently from creator to consumer,
- How comedian Andrew Schulz managed to build an audience bigger than TV networks, after being rejected by them,
- Some awesome creative work from Ikea and Adobe, Dan Harmon's story framework, and a short film featuring dancers on a New York rooftop.
🧠 Brain Food
Earlier this week I watched The Social Dilemma, Netflix's new documentary-drama hybrid about the dangerous human impact of social networking. I had mixed feelings about it - some parts felt very overly dramatized (there are some particularly cringey PSA-style scenes of a suburban family struggling with social media addiction), but there were some good points being raised.
The main one: we have this narrative that since humans have adapted to all breakthroughs in history, we'll adapt to this one too. But what if there was something unique about the current one? According to the documentary, there is.
- AI is advancing at an exponential pace, yet our brain is roughly the same one we had 10,000 years ago.
- For the first time in human history, our attention has become the most valued commodity, with entire teams of people competing to get it. In the words of former Google designer Tristan Harris, “Never before in history have 50 designers made decisions that would have an impact on two billion people.”
The essence of the problem is this: the ads-based business models that power almost all social networks motivates companies to increase the time we spend on the platform, in order to make more revenue. "Only two organization call their customers users: illegal drugs & software".
The challenge of our time is to understand not just how to regulate those platforms - but WHAT should be regulated in the first place. Take speech, for example. The lines between what is private and what is public are becoming blurry. I've read this interesting piece on Benedict Evans newsletter:
We don’t really know what we think about speech online. We spent hundreds of years evolving complex, mostly implicit social norms, institutional structures and laws around speech, where speech exists in many different spheres, from a private phone call to a bar to a newspaper.
That is, ‘What can you say?' is different depending on where you are, and it’s enforced (or not) by different gatekeepers - by your friends, colleagues or peers, or by a barman, or by a newspaper editor or bookseller or TV station and their peers and conventions, and very occasionally by a judge.
But none of those norms map neatly to the internet. It’s not just that there are no or very different gatekeepers - the spheres of speech don’t map either. An SMS or a WhatsApp message still counts straightforwardly as a private conversation, but at what point does a FB Group become public? With 10 members? 100? If I reply to your tweet, is that public? It depends. If I post to my Facebook feed, how many followers must I have before I’m ‘broadcasting’? Is a tweet from a journalist that goes viral a publication? Who’s their editor? And if you follow me and tap 'like' on all of my posts, and Instagram shows you my latest post at the top of your feed, is Instagram promoting me?
The internet and then social platforms imploded all of our social norms around speech, and yet somehow Facebook / Google / Twitter are supposed to recreate that whole 200-year tapestry of implicit structures and consensus, and answer all of those questions, from office parks in the San Francisco Bay Area, for both the USA and Myanmar, right now. We want them to Fix It, but we don't actually know what that means.
You can see a microcosm of this in the US debate abut political ads on Facebook. Do you run ads that tell lies? Newspapers do, and US TV stations aren’t allowed to block ads from qualifying candidates. Meanwhile a ban on advertising is good for incumbents, who already have organic reach, and populists and trolls, who can get it, but shuts out moderates and new entrants. But a lie on Facebook, spread with money, reaches new people. Who decides? For now, one 36-year-old called Mark.
What do you think? Hit reply anytime.
8 minute read | David Perell
One of the hardest things about writing for you, stranger of the Internet, is to summarize/make sense of what I absorbed during the week.
David Perell offers some good insights by starting from a 2008 paper that argues the following:
People make sense of the world by making it simpler and more beautiful—by making compression progress.
“Compression progress” is Nike when it compresses its entire marketing philosophy into “Just Do It,” or Picasso when he was trying to capture the essence of a bull.
"This, though is the paradox of creativity: your work is done when it looks so simple that the consumer thinks they could've done it, which means they won't appreciate how hard you worked.
Compression can conjure the essence of an experience, but never the real thing. At best, their representations of reality can be useful because they distort reality. Sensing the inevitable shortcoming, artists are often tortured by their inability to describe what they experienced with the detail they felt in the moment.
The more information is compressed, the more efficiently it can travel from creator to consumer. Even if it’s an incomplete representation of reality, few things are more satisfying than concentrated gems of information that express a lot about the world."
6 minute read | Marketing Examples
Harry Dry breaks down beautifully how comedian Andrew Schulz managed to become a sensation after being rejected by TV networks. It's a great blueprint for anyone trying to grow an audience.
After killing it in NY comedy clubs for a over decade, Andrew still wasn't getting a shot by the networks. So he spent $25k filming his own special and handed it to them. They still said no.
He started analyzing how people watch comedy: "I asked all my friends about different specials and they all said the same thing, “Yeah, it was good. But I didn't finish it.” I figured the hour is too long.
So Schulz cut his special down to 16 minutes and put it on YouTube. He'd film every show. Sometimes 7 in one weekend. Hoping to get one electric clip for YouTube.
Between 2018/19 Schulz uploaded 125 bits of live comedy. Contrast this with the comic who puts out one special a year.
"100 clips is 100 ways of discovering me. An hour on Netflix is one.And who wants to listen to a stranger for an hour? But you'll listen to a 2-minute clip if a friend sent it to you."
In two years his channel grew from 140k to 840k.
In March 2020, Schulz was midway through his first worldwide tour. Then Coronavirus hit. Most comedians were screwed. Schulz built a studio and started doing Late Night style monologues. Except, the jokes weren't watered down to please network execs. Schulz was unfiltered. And people resonated.
Schulz put out 17 monologues in 17 weeks averaging 2M views. That's more than the comedy networks who ignored him for 5 years.
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🎁 Box Of Random
Writer/producer Dan Harmon breaks down "The Dark Knight" into an 8 step story framework (9 minute watch):
A new campaign for IKEA highlights the importance of a good night's sleep by using one of Aesop's most famous fables (90 second watch - from shots.net):
Prison or sanctuary? Dancers on a New York Rooftop Explore the Mental Health Impact of Lockdown (5 minute watch - from Little Black Book):
It's not what you are that's holding you back.
A subway commute transforms into a surreal pop art-infused trip in this Adobe film by Antoine Bardou-Jacquet of Partizan:
And if you come across anything interesting this week, send it my way. If there's something I like more than beer, it's finding new things to read through members of this newsletter.
-Gian🍺Buy me a beer