Categories
Internet Culture

Day 520 and A Thousand Words

I’ve done a lot of writing that isn’t for this blog recently. And it’s mostly been about DAOs and corporate governance. My talk for Consensus involved a fair amount of original writing and research. If you want a preview of it it just went up today. To be honest I was tempted to just repost here to count for today as it’s very good. I hope you will read it.

And then this morning I decided why not jump into Jami Attenberg’s #1000WordsofSummer. It’s a two week community exercise in putting the proverbial pen to paper. I’ve been wanting to play around with writing science fiction as it’s my favorite genre.

I got down a thousand words about a a woman who is a sentiment analyst for a a bunch of DAOs in the 2070s. I wanted to explore what an alternative corporate governance structure fork from hierarchical limited liability corporations into decentralized autonomous organizations might look like practically. I’m not sure if it’s any good but I had fun with laying out some thought experiments.

She was probably stuck with low yield yoga and step side quests which wouldn’t do much to make up for the loss of her analyst pay. Investment DAOs paid better than scientific ones. Anyone that contributed to price discovery remained well remunerated. That had been true in her grandma’s day too.

My protagonist is trying to take a break from her workload but still needs to earn some side hustle to make up for the shortfall. I take you through her thought process on what to do. It’s mostly an excuse to riff on how we will sell different kinds of our personal data but maybe also get more in return. Lots of theory of labor value goofing off that I hopefully find a way to put into an enjoyable narrative structure.

It seems a bit crazy to take on an additional writing experiment when I already opt into writing every single day. But this blog has really evolved into a personal space to explore how I feel and what I’m working on. It doesn’t really build on itself in a natural narrative fashion. So I’ll keep poking away at a thousand words of fiction and see what happens. I can’t promise I’ll publish it but I may just put it out there for fun.

Categories
Startups

Day 468 and Small Moves

One of my favorite movies as a kid was Carl Sagan’s Contact. It’s not a great movie but it’s heart is in the right place. It’s a beautiful story about human curiosity and the long timeline of history. In one of the closing sequences the protagonist is told by alien intelligence as embodied by a representation of her dead father that all next steps are “small moves Ellie.”

I never feel like I’m moving fast enough. Every day presses against me. I long to slog through them with speed and alacrity. It’s almost embarrassing how inadequate I find my progress. But then I remember that I move fast. I live ahead of the mainstream. I get to sit in the future that William Gibson said was not evenly distributed. Even if I don’t think I’m particularly good it’s hard to deny just how much of my life is lived in a tiny sliver of humanity.

Someone recently asked me how I moved so fast when I’m dealing with a chronic illness. I found it to be such a shocking question. I feel like I’m glacial compared to the reach of my desires and imagination. But then I’m reminded that even in shorter hours I’m forced to hone my crafts. I can’t afford to waste energy or focus so I simply do not. I imagine this focusing out of need is similar to what parents of young children operate in. The subtle art of not giving a fuck.

And so what if I am slow on a day to day basis. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’m not a market trader. I invest in ten year cycles. Everything in venture is actually small moves. But as time adds up so do the aggregate of the moves. Compounding interest is up there with gravity as a force. So even when I yearn for more and for it to arrive faster I have to trust the numbers.

Categories
Finance Internet Culture

Day 359 and SOS

A few days ago I wondered what project or cultural artifact was going to grab our mutual cultural attention during the Christmas vacation week? Something always does. One year it was fucking Quora if you can believe it. This year I’m ready to call it for $SOS at least if you are into Web3 and crypto economics.

On fucking Christmas Day these degenerates drop a contract to let anyone claim tokens who has ever purchased an NFT on the OpenSea marketplace. And people went ape shit. Suddenly someone had taken all the visible contributions from OpenSea and manifested them in a token and said this is ours. Fuck corporate dominance of profit your users hold the real value. I’ve never seen anything so ballsy. Last year when Wall Street Bets decided to taken on hedge funds I felt like we had entered a new era of community behavior.

An emergent community has swum up from the sea and eaten the lunch of a supposedly greedy centralized platform. Web3 just attacked what we didn’t even realize was Web2. A crypto darling turned parable for centralization in the space of a few years. $SOS seemed to say community owned this value all along. The airdrop showed us the balance of power in a web3 community if we all work together. I’m so impressed by the sheer cultural force of the statement. It could all go horribly awry but god damn if it isn’t utopian.

I’ve got not fucking clue if this is a legitimate contract or not. I’m not going to FUD. But from a first principles, we are building a new internet where the incentives of the users align with the technology statement, then this is quite a shot across the bow. Also I’m pretty sure this makes it harder for OpenSea to IPO if their user base is in open rebellion against who gets rewarded.

The thing is I believe Devin to be a well meaning and genuinely forward thinking guy. He’s a terrific communicator that set out with the utopian intentions that we all do. But we are moving so fast with breaking cultural norms and acceptable societal level rewards for contributions to an economy that I think we might have just spiraled up to some kind of cultural singularity. Crypto might just be moving that fast. Whatever happens this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen from a startup. Score one for the anonymous degens.

Categories
Internet Culture Startups

Day 319 and Chaotic Labor Markets

If you follow me on other social media you may have noticed that I recently launched and am fundraising seed stage venture capital rolling fund we’ve named chaotic.capital. Since this is a blog for my friends if you are an accredited investor I’d love for you wander on over to take a looksy. Or feel free to send me a DM on Twitter or slide into my email inbox which is just julie AT chaotic dot capital.

The TL:DR on the fund is that the world is getting exponentially more complex and that is making living life chaotic as fuck. Humans don’t like chaotic. We like predictable. So we invest in seed stage technology startups that help individuals, families, organizations, and even whole communities, adapt to living with chaos.

I’ll be talking about all the areas we invest I’m sure but today’s post is about about how we might adapt to a more chaotic labor market and what kinds of companies we’d like to see in the space to capitalize on the chaos of the future of work.

The pandemic has accelerated a lot in the labor markets. Hiring in developed economies has been getting harder. The great resignation has a large chunk of the skilled workforce in movement. But student debt is making it less appealing to pursue traditional credentials like a four year college degree. Skilled workers have at once never been more competitive in the labor market but it’s also never been more expensive to pursue those skills. Where there is tension there is opportunity.

So how do we get more people skilled and let those with existing skills deploy their labor more effectively? I think that web3, or if you prefer the decentralized web, presents a unique opportunity to decouple skills & compensation from identity and corporations. Flexibility drives innovation. Web3 let’s us step clear of concepts like one full time job per person.

Workers are seeking replacements for the centralized stores of skills & proof, socializing, and networking we’ve used in the past. The hodge podge of self reported credentials and certificates we put up on LinkedIn or a personal website is a mess and only allows us one centralized identity. That sucks for privacy and also for people with a diverse set of skills. Recruiters see what we present but that’s never the whole picture.

Some would argue that political polarization will require we either prove identity and in-group or lead us to pseudonyms (identity on/off switch) that let us be judged by work product and proof of skills rather than in group approvals and social validation. Regardless, regulatory capture and special interest groups are now being viewed negatively as younger workers see them as expensive obstacles to career progression. If Kim Kardashian can take the bar without ever going to law school why should you go to law school?

One reason that chaotic is particularly interested in is stores of identity, proof of skills and proof of work capacity is that Web3 and decentralization will pick up the slack in labor markets for younger people.

We won’t want to polish our entire lives in order to get one job with a single employer when we know corporations shows us little loyalty. We’d rather find ways to optimize for our preferred compensation package. That could be flexible contracts and hours, remote first work arrangements, healthcare subsidies, or maximum pay; whatever we chose there should be a recruiter that can find us a job and a workplace that will leverage our skills. If you want inspiration on how this might work I’ve got a list of crypto science fiction to read.

In order to avoid falling into low level service jobs we will need to pick up proof of work and proof of skill jobs. Automation is less of a threat than low level service jobs and dead end work for most young people. Finding ways to get get paid for learning is going to make the jump from play to earn video games to play to learn universities one day.

Portable and “fractional” identities will be required in a future where one person with one job isn’t the norm. So how do we build different identities that keep us safe from context collapse while still giving flexibility and portability on our achievements and documented skills?

All of the above is food for thought. If these problems interest you hit me up. I’ve got a request for startups below. If you want to talk about any of them find me on @AlmostMedia on Twitter.

Request for Startups

  • Skills repository Github for provable disciplines beyond coding
  • Web3 LinkedIn where we can turn on and off elements of our credentials
  • An identity wallet
  • A social capital wallet
  • Influence & social capital graphing & portability
  • Fractional identity platforms

Categories
Aesthetics Internet Culture

Day 304 and Higher Resolution

I finally watched the new Dune today. This post probably has spoilers. I liked it a lot even if it breaks no new aesthetic ground. It’s just a higher resolution envisioning of David Lynch. I’m no film critic. I don’t give a lot of thoughts to cinema. I prefer TV. But it’s fascinating to see just how much the Denis Villeneuve version matched it’s predecessor. It’s got the same muscular Christianity that tosses up messiah myths in the desert but this time with Baudrillard’s hyper reality.

It’s fantastic to see really. Dave Bautista is a great aesthetic match for the grotesque petrodollar plutocracy. You love to see it. Timothée Chalamet is a terrific white savior. Zendaya is Pocahontas. Also great gear fetish work too. Apocalypse fashions are functional just like in cyberpunk. But now with water filters!

It’s all a look and I’m so glad the director of the Fifth Element isn’t being asked to break any new ground on his own aesthetic brand. It’s even got pandemic masks baked in! And the best villains are as always environmentalists. And just like Star Wars it’s mostly a movie about trade policy. All our best movies are about money in modernity. End of empire is our favorite romance. The death of empathy is about seeing numbers in humanity because going from authoritarian to communitarian must involve proud patrilineal martial men.

If you walk without rhythm then you won’t attract the worm!”

I felt the same way about Mad Max Fury Road. Everyone was raving about it as an aesthetic achievement and all I could see was that it had simply polished up the mood board of the original. It’s a miracle it got made said the reviews. And I’m like no this seems like the system working as designed.

Of course we get to consume a new hyper reality. We get a better version of our childhood beamed back to us. Also parables about feminism because someone feels guilty about all those princes movies that rotted our brains.

South Park called it ‘memberberies and made fun of the culture of nostalgia. It’s astonishing how much of our current entertainment is just better versions of what we’ve already had. We are so spoiled for choice and it’s all the same.

Baron Harkonnen is still fat and flying over rooms. It’s just all a lot slicker than on the first go. It’s all sexier and smoother and utterly absolutely the same. No wonder none of us can imagine the future anymore. The future’s aesthetics haven’t changed in two decades. We stopped in the aughts and went hard into refinement culture. Skalla the Lindy Man got this aesthetic nuance just right and I feel like I’m only just noticing how much I hate it.

It’s enough to make me want to stop wearing clean lines just as some desperate attempt to break free from the inexorable horizon of the long now. Ben Hunt points out that we’ve broken ourselves off from investing in our future so we never get there.

And it’s all very good. And it’s all well executed. And I enjoy it all. But it’s just a fraction off from being authentically good. It’s not quite the reality you’d hoped for but it’s somehow crisper than you’d imagined. It’s polished and it’s boring. No wonder Gen Gen Z is over all this shit. Crystal clarity in all our media makes the soul despair. I say let’s clutter up the web with financialized jpgs. At least the vibe is different.

Everything else feels decadent and rooted in the cannibal consumption of the late empire’s transition to capitalism. And I mean America not Arrakis. The slice of people commenting on any of this are necessarily removed from the reality of day to day life. My asshole take on shit is just the most removed crap and it’s comical I even take the time to signal it into the abyss. That’s excess labor value in the form of a social class. It wouldn’t be any surprise if we brought on our own apocalypse because we couldn’t face a future with consequences. The spice must flow.

Categories
Internet Culture Reading

Day 244 and Crypto Fiction

Science fiction has often been the proving ground for reality. Without Star Trek I doubt I’d be typing this out on my own personal tricorder (mine is called an iPhone). Imagination begets reality. Much of the internet was charted in the genre of cyberpunk long before the rest of us got online.

I think we are entering a new phase with crypto and I’d like to compile a list of foundational texts that have given us the imaginative framework for concepts like the metaverse, DAOs, and smart contracts. I believe this to be a distinct genre from cyberpunk even though classics like Snowcrash transcend both genres.

For instance I don’t think Neuromancer is a crypto novel even though it is an internet novel. I’ll have to work through my logic and categorization on that front but my instinct is that novels that explore networking and computing are not in and of themselves crypto novels. They have to include some aspect of decentralization to qualify. Further aspects like self executing logic for corporations, societal organization, peer to peer and permission-less code and other similar themes I think all fall under decentralization.

Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson – the original metaverse novel. Hiro Protagonist literally inspired Stack’s Hiro. Full disclosure my husband is the COO. Ironically he has not read the book.

Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge – what is basically boomer has to adjust to economic life that is organized around what are functionally DAOs with the help of his granddaughter. This grossly oversimplified plot shouldn’t be used to judge the book which is actually a singularity story.

Daemon & Freedom by Daniel Suarez – the predictive text finisher for Gmail takes over the planet by creating a smart contract. If you ever wondered what would happen if what if Grammarly becomes Putin this is for you. But I do think it is an excellent exploration of how DAO (decentralized autonomous organizations) could replace the corporation.

Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow – you could include any of the books in his Homeland universe but this one pushes home a bit harder how centralized services destroy privacy which is core to why we need peer to peer permission-less systems.

Analog by Elliot Pepper – While it is technically a thriller trilogy there is an augmented persistent metaverse that is run by an organization that transcends the corporation to be something much more. Plus it has lobbyists, self destructive energy billionaire and engineer heroes.

Acellerando by Charles Stross – it starts in the home of the corporation Amsterdam and pans out from there to include things that look like smart contracts that are in fact too smart, lobsters, shell corporations, and the eventual end logic and utility issues brought on by the logic of “always be growing.” Also snag Neptune’s Brood which deals with the monetary policy implications of faster than light travel in a galactic civilization that needs slow stores of value. Cold wallets!

Categories
Internet Culture Startups

Day 101 and Closed Ecosystems

The One of the most important novellas in the formation of my technical philosophy was actually written by a science fiction author Neal Stephenson. “In the Beginning there was the Command Line” should be taught in every history of computer science course. Go download it now for free and enjoy 70 pages of riffing on the utopian possibilities of open systems, the accessibility of closed systems and who is the ultimate winners of computing becoming a closed system (surprise it’s Disney).

The premise of the essay is simple. There are two core tensions in how computing has been distributed: open versus closed. The basic manifestations of which philosophy you pick have significant impact on what your users can build but also how accessible your machine or application will be to users. Stephenson focuses on the GUI or graphical user interface, perfected by the closed Apple computer universe, and how it has made computing infinitely more accessible to the masses while also taking away some of the power and flexibility of the original command line interface of prior generations.

In the battle for powerful and hard versus easy but more limited, Americans chose easy and the rise of the GUI began. Dicking around with your computer, let alone your phone, almost isn’t possible without graphical representations of computer programs. Even though said programs are ultimately manipulated several systems down on a command line (you know the “hello world” text interface you might have seen on some NCIS dad cop procedural hacker show) most of us have thoroughly bought into the desktop metaphor of the original Apple GUI. And yes this is old news. This problem of the GUI got won in the eighties. But the basic problem of open versus closed still rages on with us.

The current debate is most vivid on in the financial world with crypto, Bitcoin and decentralized finance as we all yammer on about DAOs and NFTs. But you see it in social media as creators become locked into closed platforms from which export of their content is almost not an option as without distribution and audience access their work means nothing. Creator economy businesses can make money from individual closed platforms but struggle to build businesses as they are too tied to one type of revenue stream. If they are big on say YouTube or TikTok but can’t take their audience elsewhere that’s an issue. Imagine a world where they could take their business with them not be locked into one revenue stream for a platform they cannot change.

What I’ve written here is more like an appetizer course for the philosophy debate and not an argument. I have an opinion in the debate which is that open ecosystems are better for more types of people but I’m also writing this on an iPhone. But I’m writing using WordPress on my own domain rather than choosing a closed platform like Substack. So it’s not exactly a simple binary outcome for anyone ever. Which is all the more reason to go read the novella now.

Categories
Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 60 and Never Saving Anything For The Swim Back

I’m feeling scrambled today as I’m not quite in a place where I can push myself without consequences but I’m also not so sick that I can’t work at all. It’s an awful liminal state where I’m working what is probably the actual productive output of an average person but still need to buffer in time for medical shit.

I honestly contemplate just lying about being sick some days. I could hide the disability of chronic illness and no one would be any wiser. Well minus the public posts about being sick but you get my meaning. I’d probably have to get a little bit better at scheduling work during consistent productive hours, push through when I feel like shit, and then crash when I wasn’t on the clock. I’d be seen as a little unreliable but definitely enough that I could manage as a director at some company.

I’m not sure if this says something bad about me or about the expectations of the American workplace. Probably a little of both. I’m clearly a bit of an outlier and we don’t actually expect that much output from the average worker. When I’m operating at my full capacity I blow away workloads. I sometimes doubt if I’ve ever been at full capacity and I’ve been faking it my entire life. I’ve never been completely hale and hearty. I’ve always had a tendency to put on a show when I’m in public and then retreat into recovery when in private. I’ve been a very boom and bust person.

I don’t really want to live this way though. I’d rather run a marathon than be a sprinter that is collapsing after each race. I recognize that in some way this pattern of intense work and recovery isn’t sustainable. It’s also clearly an addictive pattern. But I’m too scared to admit that I don’t really know what a consistent healthy working life looks like. I’ve been an addictive compulsive worker my whole life because I never trust that I can rely on my good hours to be consistent. I gulp at each hour of feeling well like I’ll never get them again. The fear that this is my last shot at feeling well is palpable.

One of the most formative pieces of art in my narrative self is the movie Gattaca. In a dystopian future, children have their genes edited before they are born. The protagonist of the film “Vincent” played Ethan Hawke is an “old fashioned” human conceived without any edits. He has a heart condition and other frailties. His brother Anton was given edits. Despite being an “in-valid” Ethan Hawke is able to find his way in to a space program using contraband genetics. His brother is furious and cannot figure out how his disabled brother is able to beat him. This fraternal tension plays out in two swimming competitions. The invalid brother Vincent bests his genetically superior brother Anton. Twice. How did he do any of this!?!

“You wanna know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton; I never saved anything for the swim back!”

I really internalized this logic as a teenager. There is no gene for the human soul. Winning is not about being superior it’s about giving it your all. I bought this. So I never saved anything for the swim back. Except that maybe this is a shitty strategy for anything but races. That if you need more than to win a swimming match you can’t go all out every single day. That this is actually a strategy that will kill you.

Of course, I am petrified that this isn’t true and I should be swimming like Vincent every day. That he was right that greatness is forged in extreme effort. That I should give my all till I collapse. But then what?

I’m stuck in a behavioral pattern of self limiting fear that I must always be striving or I will literally be dead. It’s live at the edge till I win. But win what? Sometimes you fail. That’s how you learn. Failure is a crucial part of success. But if I am always swimming to failure I’ll never recover enough to learn from my failures. I’ll literally be dead in the water. So I’m stuck in this place of fear where I know I can’t always give my all but I don’t really yet believe that there is any other way to succeed.

Categories
Reading

Best Political and Economic Science Fiction Of The Last Decade

With the cynicism pervading American democracy in 2020 there is no finer time to imagine what comes next. While much of the science fiction that explores new political and economic systems tends to be dystopian in nature, not all of it is corporate nation states or socialist panopticons run amok. Indeed many authors are exploring concepts like the decentralized state, hyper local democracy, and currency systems. Here are some of the more recent novels that are guiding my imagination from the last decade of fiction

The Centenal Cycle series by Malka Older is a political optimist’s future disguised as a thriller. Infomacracy, the first in the series, is particularly relevant for those who want to explore a thought experiment on hyper-local government and a post-nation world.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz is strictly speaking a biohacker thriller but the underlying exploration of ownership, property and patents will appeal to libertarians and its skeptics.

Distraction by Bruce Sterling is explicitly a political novel focused on the impending dissolution of America during an election year. While not particularly optimistic it is an excellent look at the motivation of corporate actors in nation states

The Expanse is having a cultural moment with the premier of its 5th season on Prime and the impending publication of its 9th and final novel. Humanity has populated Mars and the outer planets leaving humans (and Earth) to grapple with classism, trade tensions, a new colonial economics and the possibility of interplanetary war.

The Analog Series by Eliot Pepper looks like a classical political thriller that pits a jaded lobbyist against tech and energy executives but has a deeper exploration of an information economy that relies on total transparency. An excellent companion to Infomacracy that pits centralization against individual autonomy.

Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross is more economic fiction than political but worth a read for its concept of slow money alone. How do stores of value function in a future with faster than light travel?

The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver is economic fiction about a family that is torn apart by a currency crisis. A bit meandering but worth it for cryptocurrency enthusiasts.

Further references to economic fiction can be found in this excellent overview by Rick Liebling. I have also put up a Twitter thread that has more options that are classics in the genre.