I don't even know what to say about this week. In what seems a century ago we had the ugliest presidential debate ever (greatly summarized here by Tim Urban), which was then rapidly eclipsed by the Covid outbreak at the White House. As usual, memes do a much better job at making sense of this moment.
Last week I commented with disappointment the grand jury decision about the Breonna Taylor. A reader sent me this article, pointing out that the case is more nuanced than how it's been portrayed by most outlets. After reading it, I agree that the true problems of the story are more complex than some bad cops getting away with murder. The target of the public outrage have been those who fired the gun, but according to the reconstruction they followed the existing laws and procedures. The real injustice is that such laws exist in the first place, which means that perhaps this is the area where the outrage should be directed.
This week I want to talk about what is arguably the most distinctive trait of the digital age: abundance. We have abundance of opinions, information, products and data. While this is great on many levels, it has some negative effects as well. So I wanted to share some interesting takes on the topic. Here's what you'll find:
- Why drawing boundaries is becoming the true superpower of our times,
- Why creators are the response to abundance and commoditization,
- What is social cooling, and how data is damaging our social environment,
- Creative work from Squarespace, Playstation, B&Q, and a mixtape of songs from the 90s.
🧠 Brain Food
In an age of abundance of stories and opinions, making sense of them is becoming increasingly harder. I enjoyed these thoughts by David Sherry on the time we're living. A time of unprecedented complexity where drawing boundaries for ourselves is more important than ever.
4 minute read | David Sherry
So in 2020, everything is about mindshare because stories are driving culture and facts are out the window. We respond based on an emotional charge, by what the response of others is.
David makes a good point that we are transitioning from centralized to decentralized authorities. There are great things about this: when you get your news from 1-3 places, there is little variety of thought. But it also comes with challenges: we're splintered into infinite camps.
And it's not about the event, but about the reaction to it. You look across social media for what to think, how to act, who's got the best take. And so the news is a swarm, a cluster of opinions, so many that it's tough to truly know which are your own, opinions that are.
As artists and creators, we constantly need to balance between the need for staying updated and the need for space to synthesize this mass amount of information.
Isn't the true superpower of the day being able to cut yourself off from the noise, have a clear thought, and take action without pulling up a new tab every few minutes?
In the current climate, this seems more difficult than ever. The solution might lie in the idea of leverage touted by Raval Navikant:
Leverage is about making good decisions with the tools available at your fingertips.
And leverage is often not about adding more time or even adding more people.
So no, you don't need to grind it out, in fact, sometimes grinding it out means you're stuck in the old system, repeating what used to be rewarded thinking it will make the difference.
And no, we probably don't need more time either. Better to understand the terrain, understand your leverage, use the dials appropriately, and wait for the right opportunity.
Abundance of choices has led to commoditization. Mario of The Generalist argues that the rise of today's creators is a response to this problem.
9 minute read | The Generalist
It is well understood that the internet has created extraordinary abundance in information and products. Whereas once, consumers might have been restricted to their town paper for information and local mall for apparel, they can now find functionally unlimited amounts of both online.
If abundance is the cause, commoditization is the effect.
Whatever you want to learn today, there are endless sources to choose from. Information itself has been commoditized and made available for free everywhere. The same goes for products as well: whereas in the past you could express status and identity with a particular choice of item, today you can find a vast range of similar ones on Amazon.
Abundance solves problems for humans, but via commoditization, it creates others. In a state of abundance, ownership conveys no status. In a world of commoditized products, little personality is expressed through purchasing.
The rise of the creator, argues Mario, is in large part a response to commoditization.
When these individuals try to sell us something, our perception of the object changes. It is no longer a faceless commodity, but a reliable recommendation. In the act of purchasing through this channel, we restore the status and sense of identity that has been lost elsewhere.
Abundance has made all things equal. Creators are simply aggregating friends to sell products.
We also have abundance of data. This thought-provoking piece explains how our data is used, and how our behavior is changing as a result of this. The thesis is that we are becoming too transparent: this is breeding a society where self-censorship and risk-aversion are the new normal.
8 minute read | Social Cooling
If you feel you are being watched, you change your behavior. Big Data is supercharging this effect. This could limit your desire to take risks or exercise free speech.
Over the long term these 'chilling effects' could 'cool down' society.
Social Cooling is a name for the long-term negative side effects of living in a reputation economy.
This can include:
- A culture of conformity. Have you ever hesitated to click on a link because you thought your visit might be logged, and it could look bad? More and more people feel this pressure, and they are starting to apply self-censorship.
- A culture of risk-aversion. When doctors in New York were given scores, this had unexpected results. Those who tried to help advanced cancer patients had a higher mortality rate, which translated into a lower score. Those who didn't try to help were rewarded with high scores, even though their patients died prematurely.
- Increased social rigidity. We have all heard of China's "social credit score". This represents how well behaved they are, and is based on crime records, what they say on social media, what they buy, and even the scores of their friends. If you have a low score you can't get a government job, visa, cheap loan, or even a nice online date.
When algorithms judge everything we do, we need to protect the right to make mistakes.
When everything is remembered as big data, we need the right to have our mistakes forgotten.
🏅 Stuff I recommend
Do you enjoy this newsletter? Buying from the links below would be a great way to support it. You won't pay a penny more, but I'll get a small commission. You will find products I personally use and sometimes projects from other readers. Want to post your project here? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
💻 Everyone Can Build A Twitter Audience is a video masterclass from ex-Amazon employee Daniel Vassallo. I personally took it and it's the best resource I've found on the subject.
📩 Mailbrew is an app I discovered recently and it's quickly become an essential. It's basically a supercharged RSS reader: you can create personal email digests from a variety of sources like Twitter, Reddit, Youtube, and more. It also comes with an inbox address, so you can send all your newsletter there to have them in one place. It's saving me a ton of time and helps me stay updated without constantly checking my feed. You can try it for free for two weeks.
🎁 Box Of Random
Ian Pons Jewell is one of my favorite commercial directors. His latest campaign for Squarespace, as most of his work, is absolutely nuts.
Samples of more than 60 songs from 1990 mixed together into one 3½-minute song:
Pascal Campion is a digital artist worth checking out:
A library of free 3D shapes for motion design.
A great campaign for a DYI brand. You don’t buy a life, you build one.
In football, you're never alone. A great campaign by Playstation for FIFA 21.
Mood-melting, body-blurring, side-splintering sounds:
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