Chronicle Internet Culture Media

Day 78 and Media Panics.

Skepticism of media and its value isn’t exactly new. The powers that be have disliked letting the masses have a say since we got uppity enough to print and interpret religious texts on our own. The Catholic Church really hated Martin Luther. Yeah, fuck you clergy! Reformation forevah!

The history of moral panics about the negative influence of media is long and we are consistently skeptical of any new medium. From Gutenberg’s printing press, to social media. Even America’s founding fathers were all media skeptics despite being avid users of the eras hottest new medium the pamphlet.

But the skepticism comes at a cost. It’s after we’ve lost our history that we bemoan that more effort didn’t go into saving the Library of Alexandria from Julius Caesar’s troops or celebrating the good fortune that western civilization’s canon was maybe preserved thanks to Irish priests saving books after the Germanic hordes sacked Rome. It cost a fortune to find everything we lost from Roman and Greek antiquity during the Renaissance.

It just seems to me that if we are going to have a panic about the loathsome interests of media to preserve power and harm progress, we should maybe look at the history of who was usually interested in resisting literacy, libraries, and the free flow of information. Popes and Caesars that’s who.

I get it, neo-reactionaries want to burn down the cathedral of soft cultural power, but are sure you aren’t actually Julius Caesar shoring up your literal power? Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. A16z is the nexus of Silicon Valley power after just a decade investing and they are going hard against institutional media by becoming a new media power. Sure, they are historically new powers and think of themselves as scrappy upstarts, but consider for a moment that maybe they are the barbarian hordes about to be in power in our New Rome. The Germanic hordes also won, by the way.

It generally looks like the winners of these media panics are the ones who actually hold the power, even if they perceive themselves as being upstarts. Caesar, the Barbarians, and our founding fathers won and became the entrenched interests. Something about becoming what we once fought against eh?

It turns out archives are important. And it’s expensive to rebuild them during enlightenment eras. So maybe don’t be a fucking derp lord and rather be clear eyed of the motivations you have for “hating media” and desiring to lay seiege to the cathedral. At least Curtis Yarvin is actually honest about wanting non- egalitarian systems, unlike the majority of media skeptics.

I am open to critics who think the media is one-sided and self serving to their interests and political alignments. I also agree that the progress demands excellence from everyone. But how we determine excellence is very much up for debate. Media has generally been the forum through which we reach cultural consensus. And yes, it’s an ugly process and those with distribution usually win: Guttenberg died penniless, the poor entrepreneur didn’t have enough readers, and search engines without users died when browsers picked winners. A fact which I’m sure the team at a16z is aware of given how the browser Netscape made Yahoo a winner in the search wars for a time through distribution.

I don’t actually give a ton of fucks about the motivations of venture capitalists, Dark Enlightenment proponents, or skeptical rural conservatives. I think they all have a point and I’m old enough to remember when the left and labor was the dominant skeptics of media power. Back to Guttenberg, I kinda dig the narrative that he was just a hustler doing speculation, which just proves motivations and actual impact are not as morally crisp as history suggests so judging who the actual “good guys” are may be impossible in the present moment.

So what’s the path forward?

I’m generally on the side of skepticism and decentralization because distribution and archival is crucial to innovation and progress. Decentralization is hardier and less prone to sackings. I am utopian about the value of informational access in the history of achievement. That means more people having more access to information and being allowed to research, weigh in and distribute without fear so we can achieve breakthroughs in technology. That means more media not less. And yes that means significant tensions about truth and facts.

If I’m picking sides I think Balaji Srinivasan is directionally correct about the role of ledgers and citations in the media’s decentralized future. He and I don’t always agree on which players are doing good work and who are most dangerous, but we share a common goal of access to excellence.

Finally, we need to be clear eyed about our motivations and the history of how this has panned out in past media panics. There is a good chance we aren’t Martin Luther or Guttenberg. We want to be Julius Caesar. Or at very least the Germanic hordes. Which is ok. Power is good. Organizing around power can further valuable interests and anyone who has worked at a startup is familiar with the joys of banding together behind one visionary to achieve it. We should admit it. And get on with the future of information and human progress.

Chronicle Internet Culture

Day 77 and Bedtimes

As a dedicated shitposter I have got to learn to keep the takes to myself after 9pm. It’s feels like I’ve been following gossip about the perennial “platform versus editorial” since I was a toddler (in reality maybe since I was in college) so every time a new chapter unfolds I lap it up. Mostly because I’m a sucker for media gossip and this is a personal favorite.

Last night after my bed time I starting reading more Substack hot takes (if you aren’t following people are worked up about a program called Substack Pro and what opinion writers are or are not being paid by the startup) and decided to be a dork and say shit even though I knew I’d regret it. Not the shitposting itself to be clear, I never regret a take, I just regret doing it when I should be asleep. Two hours later I’m way too worked up to sleep. Twitter is a lot of fun and I’m a high energy kind of person. Despite me being dedicated to my healthy routines I ended up not sleeping till midnight and then got woken up at 530am. So I’m a bit of walking nightmare today as I’m really too old for late night goofing off even if it’s just on the internet and not a nightclub (remember those?).

So if you see me goofing off on social media after 9pm please tell me to go to bed. Do not encourage me. Don’t feed the trolls. And by trolls I mean me

Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 76 and Lost Time

I didn’t used to keep much of a routine. Startup life and Manhattan nightlife made for a lot of variability in my days. But the trick of losing your body to sickness means that you don’t need the novelty of nightclubs or the emotional highs of startup life.

My body now provides all kinds of surprises all on its own. I can feel terrific one day and the next for no apparent reason I’m practically immobile from pain. The frequency has gone down significantly this year thanks to modern medicine and a lot of biohacking but let’s just say I’m grateful I work on the internet so no one cares if I’m flat on my back typing in bed.

But one things I’ve found to be extremely helpful in managing the foibles of an unreliable body is a deliberate routine. I honestly wish I had learned the value of routine earlier in life. Maybe I’d be healthy now if I had shown the same dedication to supplements, exercise, meditation and sleep. Objectively that’s probably unlikely as some stuff is just chance and generics but man when you find something that works you want to retcon your whole life.

But there is a downside to routine. You cannot get sucked into work manias because you have to stop to meditate or take a supplement or get in a workout. Routines keep you from meandering as you can fill a whole day with good behavior. But life sometimes needs more randomness than a strict day of check lists. Today I felt like an entire disappeared to my routine and while physically I feel well I’m not entirely sure I got anything done despite having taking all my pills on time. I lost time between all the good things I was going to keep stable. Sometimes I worry that all this effort will keep me from the creativity and serendipity of a life lived without good habits. But then I might end up sick and back in bed so I hope it’s a fair trade. But I still worry I’d rather lose time to work binges or nights out.

Chronicle Startups

Day 75 and Expertise

I’ve been slowly ramping up advising, investing and consulting work into startups. Initially I was quite hesitant to do any type of consulting as I was fearful that I would not be able to produce enough work in a quick enough time. I thought advising and investing was a safer and higher leverage activity than consulting. I might have been wrong.

My expectations for work are high not because I’m a perfectionist but because I’m addicted to the feeling of reaching beyond my limits. As a workaholic I struggle to let go of work that is “good enough” as work functions as my dopamine hit. I can always do more, produce more, refine more…more more more. This means I often will find myself in situations where the expectations of the person I am working for do not align with my own. I regularly over produce. I’ve got a classic, and telling, story from my first year in prep school that says it all.

I attended Waldorf Schools as a child. One of the core pedagogical tenants is to teach to the child not to the classroom. This manifests in unique ways, including making your own textbooks. Teachers will put a lesson on the blackboard and students are expected to fill this into their own “main lesson” books which function as your textbook for reference later. A child is welcome to add as much depth to their book as they desire. Main lesson books are often elaborate illustrated affairs with extensive reference materials all completely done by hand. This is great for pushing beyond personal limits and the stagnating effect of teaching to the mean. It also happens to suck if you have a tendency to overwork yourself.

I didn’t realize this was an unusual method for years. So when our town didn’t have room for me in the single Waldorf high school, my mother enrolled me in the town’s private prep school for 8th grade. My history course was American History. On the first day the teacher passed out a map of the United States and told the class our homework was to “full it in” for tomorrow.

I went home and spent 3 hours illustrating geography relief maps, sketching in local points of interest, labeling each state and capital in cursive with my best penmanship. I started crying around 10pm as I had other homework for other classes and I wailed to my mother that clearly I wasn’t academically prepared for prep school. I imagined my other classmates with better illustrated maps with more creative ways of showing base relief mapping.

I got to class the next day and my teacher looked completely baffled by what I turned in. I panicked. What had I done wrong? I started laying out all the detail work complete with my methodology for measuring altitude. The teacher seeing me spiral out said “Julie, when I said fill it in I meant label all 50 states with their name.” I was dumbfounded.

That the assignment was so simple never occurred to me. What the fuck was even the point of assigning something that was so rote? To 8th grades no less! What kind of bullshit low grade busy work was this! I was furious. What a waste of time if this was the standard of work.

How little did I know at the time. While I was spending 3 hours on work to the best of my ability straining to extend my understanding, most kids were smart enough to realize their homework should be working to the “mean” of the classroom not to their own standards. I really was not prepared for prep school. Just not in the way I imagined.

This is all a very long winded way of saying that I still tend to do this. Someone may ask my opinion on how to run an advertising campaign and I will launch into extensive detail on demographics versus psychographics and the importance of building out multiple permutations of creative in your funnel to determine the most effective content for the best return on investment. I will give you as textured and nuanced an wander as possible. You won’t just get “Colorado” on the map I will show you the trail over the pass. This is often great for founders of startups who swear the small stuff as much as I do.

If anything I should agree to more consulting work as you will get so much more out of my three hours than someone who can sense the parameters of the work you’ve assigned them. They mat give you exactly the map you asked for even if you need more and didn’t know to ask. I will draw you a geographic relief map so you can navigate the treacherous mountains of paid advertising. Or any area where you happen to be interested in my expertise. I know an astonishing amount about narrative, branding, public relations, user acquisition and revenue growth. And I should stop convincing myself that I cannot produce work that is of value in a consulting framework. What I wonder work product may be more involved than someone else but that’s not my call. Anyone who hires me can decide if it’s worth a consulting fee or not. And if this story has any lesson it’s that I’ll probably give you well over the median or mean expectation for the job. This is also why I don’t charge by the hour. But that’s another story for another time.

Chronicle Finance Internet Culture

Day 74 and Unfinished Thoughts

First off I’ll admit that I don’t really feel like writing today but I’ve committed to “putting pen to paper” every day so I’m stuck with it. I have a dozen topics I actually want to discuss but I don’t feel like I’ve got it in me to be coherent.

I’ve been thinking about how the idea that all property rights are a gradient from violence to grift to institutional legitimacy and this is just how civilization codifies worth. I’m particularly interested in it because we’ve reached the NFT is a grift stage of the discourse but I’m not at all convinced that NFTs are a grift for the reasons people think.

And while I’ve made really elaborate jokes about NFTs, finance, crypto and semiotics with I’ve noticed people with vested interests in this category working out, really don’t want anyone to joke about it. It’s likely wise as we all have varying degrees of horror that property rights is always some degree of grift working towards legitimacy.

That we don’t like to touch on it amuses me. I suspect that the internal logic of wealth and money as always being abstraction guarded by state violence is just too much for folks. It hurts too much. It makes us angry. Surely money, wealth and inherent worth must exist in a moral framework? Good hard working people are rewarded with wealth right? If you want a truly excellent read on the subject of property rights, violence and investing I recommend this essay on emerging market investing and Deadwood by Ben Hunt at Epsilon Theory

Another topic I also want to dig into is environmental impact of crypto and energy equity but I don’t think I’ve got all the facts. I’m still very much in a skeptic phase when it comes to moralizing over the energy usage of crypto. As if crypto brought about the carbon apocalypse on its own.

I’m sure “crypto used a lot of energy” is a valid criticism until you remember we subsidize monsoon crops in deserts (they grow rice in California ffs) and we ship plastic trinkets across the globe while a plutocratic elite consumes the majority of our resources. Maybe moralizing about impact should come with some caveats on how many lives it might improve? I haven’t seen much discourse on this topic as American media leans towards a generic tech skepticism stance at the moment which is making them lean in on attacks as it’s the wrong people who are pushing the crypto agenda. But we deserve more than “environmental impact bad” like maybe it’s a net good to use this energy to decentralize finance?

By allowing the global south and the unbanked to have access to capital instruments we actually discover this is the best use of our energy resources and may distribute wealth more equitably. I don’t know yet and I’m not even confident I can find relevant statistics that won’t overstate one tribal position over the other.

At any rate none of these thoughts are coherent or useful yet but I’m thinking about how we codify wealth and property and what energy usages might be valuable for a more equitable planet. Don’t cancel me please.

Chronicle Internet Culture Preparedness

Day 73 and Trutherism

A significant snowstorm has hit the front range of Colorado. In downtown Boulder it looks like we have about two feet of very dense wet snow accumulated at 4pm Mountain Time.

It however came about 36 hours later than predicted. And this has caused significant consternation. A good chunk of social media in Colorado yesterday turned into “snow truthers” dunking on meteorological work being a scam. Some folks made weed jokes. The National Weather Service even took time to scold the skeptics.

Even a slight miscalculation in timing seemed to break trust as it looked like the hype wouldn’t match the reality for a day. This despite the storm arriving with exactly the quantity predicted and blizzard conditions that closed the major freeways including I-25 and I-70.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the skepticism of meteorology and the current distaste for the epidemiology profession. The tone was distinctly similar to culture warrior angst about how scientists continue to get forecasting wrong. And yes getting it wrong is to the detriment of freedom and business. Except that in both this storms case and with Covid19 it’s been directionally correct. The impacts of policy has been the issue but not the direction of the data.

I’m not the first to worry about people bloc distrust of institutions and their information. I engage in plenty of skepticism on a range of issues from medicine to monetary policy. But no longer trusting basic information on timing, duration and impact no matter what the field because “the powers that be” are always inherently untrustworthy is getting to be exhausting. This is going to cost us lives as we begin to distrust even the banal and easily verifiable.

Public policy isn’t the same thing as public forecasting and we’ve lost sight of that. We should always be updating models and assessing impact. It just seems like a shame that we’ve decided any error in predictive work now negates the entire body of work.

The storm came in Colorado. It was a little late. Covid was a global epidemic. I guess the only upside is that it’s a little harder to dismiss two feet of snow. Truthers eventually got snowed in just like the rest of us. We’ve already seen the consequences of not having the evidence right in your face with covid. Whole portions of the population have split out their realities. The chaos of complete institutional distrust will come to be a defining feature of the next decade. I don’t have a clue how we get it back.

Chronicle Internet Culture Startups

Day 72 and Isolation

I’m an introvert. I do not draw energy from crowds or socializing. My energy comes from within. I like to socialize with individuals, in fact I enjoy one on one conversations quite a bit, but can easily be overstimulated by them and require a quiet period afterwards. Engagement with others draws down on my energy whereas with extroverts that engagement sustains and builds their energy. If you are curious about this framework visit the work of Carl Jung.

Despite the skill set being heavily weighted towards people skills, I suspect leaders in startup land tend to lean towards introvert. My suspicion is that it is a function of the heavily generative nature of the work, you are bringing something from nothing. To be able to consistently bring something new about you need quiet mindful time to yourself.

Sadly society, particularly professional society, is weighted for extroverts.

Open office plans, meetings, collaboration and buy in, managing up and down, all assume that that extroverted behaviors are the default positive positions for a team. Add in after office cocktails, team dinners and off site events and you start to see a pattern that privilege people for whom social interaction is enjoyable (not even considering if it’s possible or a family strain like parents).

Modern work is a battle between extroverts and introverts and the extroverts have definitely won. Which is weird as despite the Jungian tradition it may turn out that ambiverts, balanced personalities who exhibit both traits, are actually the largest group.

I’ve always loathed conferences as it depleted my energy stores for at best dubious content benefits. During the pandemic I’ve been much more willing to engage with events as instead of arranging for transit, getting polished for a professional environment, moving my productive work hours around the event, I can simply show up and learn. It’s miraculous and frankly I’m sad so many people want to move on from these accessible events as it probably means I’ll drop attendance entirely. I can say yes to a lot more if the accessibility of an event remains geared toward remote, introvert and disabled. You don’t have to be any of those things to prefer it either. Maybe you have kids and appreciate participating in the culture all those child free extroverted wealthy twenty somethings enjoyed all this time.

I’m afraid that post pandemic the extroverts will win work culture norms again. Even though we are all sick of the over scheduling and the exhausting nature of office and event culture, we miss it a little. And the boomerang back is likely to make it seem more appealing than ever. But I can’t shake the feeling that the pandemic is a bit like a societal hypochondria moment. We needed to be sick to heal our culture. Prioritizing one kind of person and their needs (the extrovert) has led to all kinds of inequalities and tensions. I hope we can come back with a little more respect for the culture and desires of introverts. I know I’ll be coming out swinging for more balance.

Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 71 and Caprice

I felt just terrific this morning. Woke up and had nary a dip all day as I went from work to chore with energy to spare. I often live in a bit of fear of the “bad” days when despite rest, nutrition, medications and supplements I feel like shit. It’s completely unpredictable which makes me feel like I live at the whim of a capricious god. Good days can feel equally bolt from the blue. I feel like I’m dying one day and the next I am hale and hearty.

Living life without much control is something all humans should probably make peace with, but I’m finding it especially crucial as I learn to live with a recovery from my health imploding two years ago. The trajectory of my health is one of continual improvement but scatterplot is jagged as hell as each day vacillates between health and pain. So while I can see that overall trend line is improvement I still get psyched out when the line takes a dip on a bad day. I am equally anxious about the good days as I seek to maximize every minute of feeling well by packing those days with to- dos. I always fear that the good day will never come again. And on the bad days I fear it will never pass. The one thing I can never seem to keep is that the data points themselves don’t matter it’s only the aggregate. And the aggregate says I’m getting better. But oh how the capricious health gods get me with their tricks every single time.

Chronicle Preparedness

Day 70 and The Joy of Preparing

I’ve found a lot of satisfaction in the feeling of being prepared. And I don’t just mean for the apocalypse. Simple preparation for storms are enjoyable for me. I keep an eye on weather so I don’t find myself at the grocery store among panicked last minute shoppers. I love the run up last minute puttering of battening down the hatches before a snowstorm. I use it as an excuse to do errands or chores I would otherwise find a way to put off.

My usual storm routine is to do all the laundry (including sheets and towels), vacuum, run the dishwasher and take a long shower. This routine comes in quite handy if you lose power as having clean underwear and plenty of dishes is something you will appreciate if you are left without electricity or water.

Storms are a terrific way to force the issue of lingering “to do” lists like go to the hardware for more batteries or run by the pharmacy for more Advil. I personally hate running errands until a hurricane or snowstorm is bearing down on me and then I gleefully tick off chores that have been languish for weeks if not months.

Much of these routines are really about self soothing. The illusion of control calms the mind. I know I have little control about much in life (the pandemic really brought home that point) but by engaging our will we can exert a little pressure on the on the parameters of our world. If we put the intention into our work to prepare, then a few days without power sounds manageable our mind should it come to pass. We’ve already told ourselves this uncomfortable or even dangerous situation is one that we are capable of enduring.

It’s not that I think mind over matter is a plan (it’s not you need a plan for emergencies) it’s that building our capacity for experiencing stress makes actual stress much more manageable. Busting out the generator and the camp stove is fun! I’ve said this so many times to myself I genuinely believe it. A snowstorm is predicted to drop up to two feet in Colorado over the weekend. Lots of breathless coverage is in the local papers and on the weather channels that it could be historic. I’m secretly hoping we lose power for just a little bit. Long enough for me to play with some of my gear.

Chronicle Internet Culture

Day 69 and Nice

Memes are the folklore of the digital era They lack narrative arcs in and of themselves, but their accretive nature means they contain in-jokes and stories for the communities that build them. And sometimes their simplicity is the key.

I find myself talking quite a bit about memes, virality, shitposters and internet culture a lot here in my daily writing experiment. So it’s not surprising that on day 69 of writing all I can think of is … nice. It’s big accomplishment to do anything 69 days in a row. It’s definitely nice.

Know your meme has a pretty extensive history of 69ing in general but it’s the additional layer of responding “nice” to the number divorced of any context that I particularly like. Any time a the number 69 is posted online virtually any comments section will have at least one lone “nice” to illicit (hehehe wrong elicit but it’s nice).

I learned today that one of the earliest mass documentation of using “nice” to respond to 69 was a Tweet from President Obama encouraging confirmation of Merrick Garland as a Supreme Court Justice as 69% of Americans favored it. The internet went nuts.

Because coincidence, symbols and personal meaning collide, I enjoy that on my 69th day Merrick Garland got confirmed for the attorney general gig instead. You can read meaning into anything on the internet. Nice right?