Internet Culture Media

Day 95 and Context Collapse

I have reasonably high social intelligence. Yes I’m willing to flex on this. I’m able to suss out the contours of most situations quickly and code switch my language, aesthetic and context cues. Sure as a white woman in America’s vast “upper middle class” many social interactions and norms are designed for my comfort. But I spend time in spaces that are very much designed to exclude like finance. But I rarely feel out of place as I can find some point of intersection that allows me to find purchase with the leader (or norm setter) that sets a group’s context. To say that this is beneficial is an understatement.

I recently came across a piece of writing titled “A Theory of Collision Spaces” written by scientist who goes by the handle Generativist. The intended audience is folks who think probabilistically or at least have a firm grounding in computational thinking but if you have a head for logic you should be fine. The topic is how social media can do often lead to what is called “context collapse” but you might recognize as “people screaming at each other in bad faith in the comments section.”

The premise of context collapses is that online we may theoretically interact with infinite possible audiences. Infinite contexts makes it much harder for us to adjust or code switch such that we can telegraph that we care about the audience to whom we are speaking. It’s not impossible but it’s much harder. This is how one can make a statement that sounds innocuous but will end up pissing off some group that will come down hard on you. If the reaction is bad enough some audiences call it cancel culture.

Because I have a high social intelligence I’m less prone to getting caught in a context collapse situations. A quick scan of a profile and a few sentences of text is generally enough for me to subtly adjust my language and response. Of course, I cannot adjust for how others respond to me but I can respond to how they respond to me.

Think if it as second derivative social signaling. Limiting the possible permutations enables safety driven actions on my part. While I cannot survive an internet mob (no one can) even a tweet that goes reasonably viral is still bounded by social cues. The more adaptive you are at these cues the less likely you are to instigate a context collapse.

A lot of reasonable people have concluded that context collapse and internet mobs make social interactions on the internet too risky. The likelihood of encountering someone who will go splat against your reality and make a fucking thing out of it is none zero.

But I’d argue you have a weighting bias issue for the magnitude of the risk. You are much more likely to build something of worth from being social than you are to become “canceled” and I think this Theory of Collision Spaces essay just might convince even the twitchiest rationalist groupie. Why? Ensemble learning and computer mediated relationships are super powers for humans. Our ability to extend our thinking has two powerful tools in this era. We can learn from others. And our tools like our computers and their application layer act as extensions of our mind. But don’t my word for it. Nothing I can say will remotely compare to the paper as I’m just not as smart as this scientist.

So you get that social media has many opportunities for expanding our mind. So how do we become comfortable with the perceived risk? One point I want to get across here is that assuming all interactions online are bad makes for poor heuristics. So why is it not as risky as you think?

Social cues mal-adaptively increase the unconditional variance of expressions while minimizing the group-conditioned variance.

Basically social media makes you lean into identity cues. We fight with negative identity opponents and align with positive identity proponents. The only issue? You might be talking to someone like me that code switches. “You cannot easily distinguish between unreliable counterparties, deceptive ones, and whether or not you are wrong.” So you could be talking to someone deliberately fucking with you, someone who legitimately just misunderstand or you yourself might be wrong. How do you know? You don’t really. All this “in group” signaling doesn’t make a ton of difference. It’s just the environment of the internet honing some badly social engineered aspects that are not inherent to the human mind or social behavior.

So go read that piece. Tell me what you think. And then go enjoy being social on the internet! Don’t let being wrong or being polarized scare you. We are still figuring out how being part machine mediated. A few bumps are to be expected

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Day 89 and The Real Fake Fendi

What is real? Do originals exist? Can we determine the source of creative genesis when we stew in the folklore of cultural memetics? A knockoff has its own reality steeped in the accretion of culture.

I was once was asked by a tourist for direction’s to find “a real fake Fendi” when I lived in Manhattan’s Chinatown. I was honestly stumped by this inquiry. Was there a fake that had inherent realness that other knockoffs did not possess? Was there a vendor who sold the most authentic mimicry of Fendi which the tourist wished to find? I had no clue how to answer. Did they mean the realness one sees on the catwalks overseen by RuPaul? But which kind of realness? The creation that evokes the spirit of its inspiration? A realness so over the top and yet absolutely true to its essence. Or perhaps the blunt direct feedback that no construction no matter how convincing is the original artifact. Is is serving realness? I honestly didn’t know. I just told them Canal was one block north.

But perhaps authenticity isn’t the issue. In drag authenticity is manufactured. In fashions’ knockoff districts the question of authenticity is a layered confect of replication adhering to the aesthetics of the original. In some cases it actually is the original conveniently lost from some faraway inventory count. The real fake Fendi might in fact be real.

I bring this all up because in Illegal.Auction’s second collection we have curated a selection of the most outrageous instances of authenticity being the commodity sold in the NFT space. None of what we have posted are originals. They are all knockoffs. But like the real fake Fendi how can you tell? What makes something original in digital spaces. All is perfectly replicable. And no we have no new answers from Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction either. But maybe you will. You can buy a token of these real fake NFTs. Like the real Fake Fendi realness is in the eye of the beholder.

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Day 85 and Collective Progress

I am extremely online. I think it’s the best place to spend time if you want to thrive. Hands down nothing has ever beaten internet communities at improving the quality of my life on every metric. I know it sounds a little utopian but every skill I’ve acquired, job I’ve had and crucial piece of knowledge can be tracked back to the web.

I could have had a slower path in life with regular credentials and prestige building jobs with the right signals but none of those old rules have hung around long enough that I’m confident I would have made it as far in life. I needed the extra edge from living extremely online. I think we all do.

Life moves too quickly in modernity for us not to come together to survive it. Progress is going to be collaborative. Individual efforts and silos with us all competing for place and resources. Competition maybe served its purpose in a world of resource scarcity but as wealth is less dependent on rent seeking and property ownership and more on innovation and technical progress, then collaborative work has better incentives.

This may sound a little stupid but every time I ask Twitter for a ridiculous piece of advice like “ does anyone lift while high” I get incredible pieces of insight. It sounds like a dumb question and like click bait but I’m probing for similar cases of physiological response, chronic pain and a desire to biohack to better health. And yes it turns out if you have inflammation lifting weights while stoned is a great way to encourage a behavior that promotes lower inflammation with an inflammation lowering drug. It’s a virtuous cycle. And I would never have known without shitposting health nuts on Twitter. I’m not going to get that nuanced a piece of information with specific context out of a doctor or any credentialed body that works to reduce risk. I’d love to see a double blonde study proving the benefits of toking and squatting. Some knowledge is meant to be epistemic. The internet is our culture now. So share your weird finds with your tribe. It gives us all a better shot at better lives.

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Day 84 and The Thursday Styles Problem

The Thursdays Styles problem is about zeitgeist, wealth, perception and power. The New York Times publishes its “styles” section on Thursdays and Sundays. Generally speaking if you work in media, public relations or culture, you are aware of the general trends that will emerge on Thursday ahead of time. For the sake of argument let’s say I know directionally on Tuesday in private what will be featured on Thursday in public.

If you know “what everyone knows everyone else knows” ahead of time, there is a lot of money to be made as Tuesday person. For more on the second derivative issues in zeitgeist I highly recommend Epsilon Theory. If you can sense the zeitgeist ahead of time & move to take advantage of it you can be a Tuesday person.

Alas it’s not as lucrative as you may imagine to be a Tuesday person. A Thursday person who lives exactly on the zeitgeist can take advantage of “in the moment” culture moves. Good entrepreneurs do this well. Most consumer companies hit “right on time.”

This is why venture capitalists will ask “why now” as they may have invested in a Tuesday Person who hit the zeitgeist too early and couldn’t capitalize on it. It really pisses off the founder who knows “but I was first.”

As a Tuesday person, I hate when this happens. I loathe seeing people I perceive as less capable or intelligent than me hit a zeitgeist moment exactly on Thursday. The trouble is they are right. They won. They got the timing right. I didn’t.

And yes being a Thursday mover is good. But it’s crucial to understand who can win this game. The only way to win the Thursday Styles problem is to be in finance, media or culture work that can place a call option on the Thursday future on Tuesday. You have to be able to hold an opinion on the future zeitgeist long enough for Thursday to get published.

If you cannot hold your zeitgeist long enough for Tuesday to become Thursday when “everyone knows everyone knows” being right early serves no benefit. You need diamond hands. And yes, you will be wrong 9 times out of 10.

So you need to ask yourself if the New York Times cuts a piece and it takes another week to run can you hold out? If the markets don’t make a Tuesday idea hit, can you wait till it becomes common knowledge on that metaphorical Thursday? It’s a question for all long holds to ask themselves.

It requires patience to be a Tuesday person. And it takes resources. Knowing you will look wrong for a bit. Knowing that you will lose money when Tuesday knowledge takes longer to become Thursday Style’s common knowledge. If you can hold it’s the ultimate form of future leverage. That’s alpha.

And better yet, it’s “possible” to influence. Publicists make their clients on Tuesday shine on Thursday. And capture the upside. Folks who are extremely online spot how market makers make zeitgeist hit. Cathie Wood at ARK Innovations has been playing the media in exactly this way. The largest experiment in making Tuesday thinkers hit before Thursday is Margit Wennmachers at a16z.

Centralizing zeitgeist and monetizing it with future calls with narratives they tell on platforms they own stakes in has massive potential. The smart money is turning their Tuesday zeitgeist into Thursday Styles and taking it to the bank.

Chronicle Media Politics

Day 83 and Tribalism

For what are probably obvious reasons (a mass shooting inside a grocery store a few miles from my home) I’ve been trying to keep off of political media the past day or so.

I’ve mostly succeeded but it’s a challenge when my primary relaxation space, Twitter, is saturated with commentary on a topic I don’t want to discuss with anyone that isn’t also living through the trauma personally. It’s not even that I don’t want to hear from folks it’s more that even if you have had a similar tragedy in your community your reaction may not be the same as ours. Every trauma is unique even when cultural circumstances may not be.

I bring this up only because I realized today when a new app claiming to analyze your news bubble filter went viral I didn’t know what folks “thought that I thought” about politics. The app said I was 100% leftist in my filter. My immediate reaction was “bullshit” in that I probably tweet once a day “as a libertarian” and regularly discuss my views on small government. So I asked folks what direction they thought I leaned. There is not a lot of consensus so far.

I follow and am followed by a very diverse group of people. I probably follow everything from alt-right fanatics to avowed socialists. I socialize with bro-science masculine fitness folks and queer chronic disease and disability advocates. So I’m not surprised I am hard to place. If you are a trad life carnivore on a homestead your opinion on my politics is probably pretty different than if you are a healthcare for all anti-ableism urbanite. I work with Silicon Valley folks and venture capitalists and the New York media establishment. Finance and the press corp are not generally politically aligned so unsurprisingly those two groups may also think I’m in a very different place on the spectrum. To someone at war with the media I may look left wing. To someone in the media I may look right wing. And yes this comes out in the wash as centrist.

The reality is that I have fairly nuanced views and your take on my leanings may say more about how much you like me and thus how much you want me to agree with you. This is for a nice reason. We tend to like the people we agree with more.

So it’s possible if you want me to like you then you may assign me views that are more aligned with yours than I am in reality. Don’t fret though we can strongly disagree and I will still like you. If we have fun together on social media I don’t need you to agree with me on social or political issues. I spend time on social precisely because I do like all kinds of people and I want to enjoy that incredible diversity of humanity. And we are all here because in the end the only thing that keeps the loneliness at bay is each other.

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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

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?

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Day 67 and Virality

There are few more satisfying feelings in the world than seeing your emotions mirrored back to you. It’s what makes us fall in love, form communities, build anything that takes the work of more than one person. I’m not sure that anything matters more to humans than feeling seen.

Feeling seen is valuable. Finance knows it, marketers know it, fashion designers know it and the algorithms really know it. A switch flips when the outside world mirrors us back. The cold reality of being atomistic individuals dissolves just a little with the prospect that the other might not be so far away after all

This is why going viral on social media is such an ecstatic feeling for people. Being mirrored at mass scale is beyond pleasure and pain. Virality is existential. This fact is not lost on Silicon Valley and various expatriates of the culture and even current citizens question the morality. Creating virtual existential experiences feels wrong to us. And I can’t argue that the consequences of virality hasn’t done significant damage to the fabric of civilization. Facebook has more blood on its hands than a small government. But I’m not sold that synthetic experiences are morally worth less than natural ones. Social media replicates religious and cultural experiences but whether it’s “worse” than the other existential experiences is a bit like questioning if opium or fentanyl is worse because plants are morally superior to chemistry labs. The effect is the same more or less. Sure the dosing is what gets you but arguing scale gets you into a “good of the many or good of the one” debates and I’m not the crew of the Enterprise or Spock.

I can tell you that it’s probably best to be cautious about anything that can get you hooked if you know you are an addict. I’ve gone viral on Twitter several times in the past week and probably going on double digits now in the last year. Each time I get a new appreciation for how much it can feel like a god has messed with your reality. If it goes poorly you feel like you got hit by a bolt from the blue. Even if it goes well you worry if maybe Aries has decided to make you his tool. I’m a Christian so I’m no stranger to the feeling of surrender to a higher power, but watching a machine algorithm play like the left hand of God in your life is fucking weird.

By Silicon Valley standards I’m a minor clerical authority in some backwater. I’ve been initiated into the rights but I’m not close to the Vatican or Mecca. Being swept up in the miracle of virality makes some amount of sense to me and I appreciate the benefits of status that it confers. But I know it’s a ritualized way of bringing us closer to the divine that’s not about the individual and is ultimately about the institution. Fortunately I’m also a Calvinist so I have very few illusions about my place in the experience. I’m still a sinner and whether I’m damned or not hasn’t got much to do with human rituals. But I’m not immune to the awesome either.

So if you are inclined to use social media be careful what weight you assign to your actions and words. At any moment a miracle facilitated by the rites of machines can and will occur. I made a stupid joke about a monarchy in decline and a television show about a witch in a massive universe of superheroes. But 31,000 accounts decided to like it and a million discrete instances of it were produced to “others” willing to mirror it back to me. Which is about as stupid a thing as I can imagine happening and also as close to the random miraculously nature of God as I can possibly imagine. Just don’t read too much into it or your faith might have an existential crisis as well.

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Day 65 and Shitposting

Being emotionally vulnerable in public is one of best things I’ve ever done in my life. The second best is easily shitposting.

If you are not extremely online (how did you get here) shitposting is the deliberate act of soliciting a response online. It’s traditionally used as a lower effort way to shape engagement and discourse. Partially because social media has made sharing opinions so easy, the act of crafting a nuanced argument and presenting it to an interested audience has become equally weighted to attracting supporters and advocates.

This isn’t as terrible as it sounds. Audiences can be built by anyone now. Shitposting allows creators who have a firm grasp on concise and comprehensible language to get across their point to anyone. Rather than suffering through pontification by elevated voices protected by institutional gatekeepers, we can hear bursts of truthful hilarity from nobodies. Think of it as somewhere between “the emperor has no clothes” and “from the mouth of babes.”

Having a firm grasp of the shitpost has elevated my voice in a way I’m not sure any amount of power or prestige could have done. Sure on the internet no one knows you are a dog but also don’t know you are a woman either (avatars aside). Quick bursts of wit can penetrate in a way that centuries of systemic bias simply can’t do.

The shitpost is always provocative but generally the best ones are in service to an obvious truth. This is culturally a part of meme sharing. Memes gain traction because they are immediately comprehensible despite containing layers and layers of deep context. In this way they resemble our richest multimedia experiences. It isn’t quite “a picture is worth a thousand words” because shitposta can often be Tweets but there is something to the truth that descriptors and adjectives just can’t reach. Meme and shitposts are often quite funny as humor is the fastest way to be legible to a large audience. But it isn’t necessarily a prerequisite.

Shitposting is also inherently anti-authority. It makes no calls to justice or power. It implodes sacred cows. I suspect one of the reasons I don’t believe in cancel-culture as a massive threat is because any anonymous asshole can put out the fever of a mob.

I highly recommend doing more Shitposting. Start in your private chats if you aren’t brave enough to do it on named profiles. Or create an anonymous account. Just start getting your truest stupidest thoughts out there. You won’t regret it.

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Day 62 And Who Can Make Art

My ego dislikes debate, but my heart leaps at tension.

Over the weekend, my friend Phil and I decided to make a functional art installation called Illegal.Auction. The premise is simple: we are selling Fungible Tokens (or NFTs) of Culture. 

Unsettled ideas of generation and representations colliding with abstractions like finance are important issues both culturally and practically.

Art is for itself, so who cares either way. A certain dogmatic insistence that “medium is the message” is pervasive in the critiques. Are movies different than books? I don’t think they have anything to do with the price of milk. It reminds me of the classic Annie Hall scene (speaking of artistic intent and harm) where Marshal McLuhan explodes on a chattering group “you know nothing of my work.” Woody Allen’s character concludes the scene if only real life were like this. Well on Twitter you can recreate this scene everyday!

It is funny because commentary is distinct from creation. And a lot of people have takes on McLuhan that he himself doesn’t agree with. But who cares right? Interpretation of art is ostensibly art.

It’s very interesting to see just how angry people get about the worth and value of culture in particular. As if it’s some monstrosity to comment on the abstract financial value of some creation with worth that cannot be extracted.

If it were so easy to make value judgments about art then we would trade it on the Chicago exchange like pork bellies and orange juice. Not that we don’t already sell art and trade it and frankly it has been a massive tension through the history of human creation how we value that work, but now many have decided to insist that art is non-fungible. Not interchangeable on a one to one basis like an apple. And yet we are acting like everything can be valued and traded so easily with NFTs. By making art tradeable on exchanges, we have made some thing inherently non-fungible, fungible.

This is ultimately where Illegal.Auction came from. These conversations are important and transformative. That we choose to represent the tensions with representations of reproductions of jpgs of art is part of the art installation. That it is a functional sale is in inherent to the tension.

There is a part of me that is really worried that because I am not a practicing artist that is paid for work or represented in a gallery, that I don’t have a right to comment on these issues. I am a technologist and I do work in finance and the overlap of disciplines makes this an inter-disciplinary question in my mind. It seems like some people disagree with my right to create art (and certainly the morality of remuneration).

But if we insist that only artists can make art I don’t have any right to make installations remixing software and representations. But I’m not sure anyone reading this is comfortable with that world. I am not.

I think people want there to be simple yes no questions to these things. Is it legal? Did you steal? Is it a transformative remixing of a cultural artifact? Is it worth $1 million? And the truth is is that there is no easy answer to what political system is best or how much some thing is worth. Trillion dollar industries are based around the fact that we don’t have clear answers. Irate commentary doesn’t help any of us understand the infinite questions of worth and creation. It is good to do and helps further understanding but its crucial to remember indignation and moralizing is a function of ego.

Personally I don’t think that wealth has any moral value. I don’t want to have to be wealthy in order to be valuable. Or if a piece of art I make does make money do you have a right to tell me it is objectionable because this isn’t how you make money? I guess you do. Whether you can stop me from doing it is a central questions for the ages and also literally why it is important to create pieces like Illegal.Auction in the first place.

This commentary I think is worth having. Not whether speculative infinite land grabs with financial instruments make you worth more to billionaires. They probably do. That’s fine! I think people are mostly offended by the idea that non-artists can make art. Especially if a transaction takes place. If we had stamped illegal on the jpgs and blocked out NOT ART on them would it have made it better? Conceptually I’m not sure that that’s true and probably reflects the viewer’s own sense of value and worth more than a legal, political or moral reality. Also I personally think it cheapens the point just to make concessions to dogmatic insistence on ownership in a space that isn’t settled because frankly it cannot be.

Much of the narrative and coverage around NFTs is that they delineate ownership, value and origination more cleanly. I’d argue that they are actually having the opposite effect. NFT’s are ripping away edifice and abstractions that we use to assign value and worth. And that makes people uncomfortable.