Aesthetics Internet Culture

Day 167 and the Naughties

I arrived in New York City in January of 2006. The aughts were an interesting time to be in New York. The recovery from 9/11 gave the city a sense of resilience but the Great Recession hadn’t reshaped the financial landscape of the country just yet.

I moved to Manhattan because I wanted to work in fashion. I didn’t have any relevant experience. I’d studied economics. But I was a blogger and that turned out to be enough to find a way in.

I met a man in the comments section of our respective fashion blogs as back then back links were an acceptable form of socializing. We both moved to the city the same week. He would become my cofounder on a fashion media startup and also my boyfriend. Yes it’s as dysfunctional as it sounds. Don’t worry we are still friends.

We’ve got a lot of fond memories of the Aughts. New media was just coming into its own. The possibility that it might change industries like fashion seemed exciting and democratic for style. No one had figured out how to grift by “influencing” yet. Which meant actual influence was still possible.

That first generation of bloggers was more influential in moving industries like culture than the commercial milieu we have now. Less lucrative certainly but the impact was significant. Good stuff actually emerged from living instead of someone imitating living.

My friend (the ex and cofounder) are considering writing a chronicle of our time. Partially it’s an exercise in nostalgia. It was a lot of fun. Maybe it’s a bit of an ego trip to think we could’ve even write some fiction that ties together the ethos and the aesthetics of that moment.

Back then we hadn’t cracked up the media industrial complex into algorithms and big automated ads dollars. A lot more got done in restaurants, bars and parties. The city itself hadn’t turned over into the complete plutocracy that dominates now. The kleptocrats needed the financial industry to implode and get bailed out for that kind of real estate takeover. Before the bailouts maybe the rest of us good maintain the delusion that we too could strike it rich. Now the distance is too great.

It was an era when Condé Nast mattered. Finance was a thing the cute guys with ambitions for money did, not yet a space that was entirely populated by Hedge Fund guys set on moving to Planet Billionaire.

And holy fuck the parties were great. Classes mingled more without the stratification that came out of the Great Recession. You could be someone even if you lived in a shitty barely heated no hot water squat loft on Bowery. It still cost $1600 but better than the 16K a month I saw it go for recently. You could get into club if you had some style. Instead of convincing people you mattered because you had a bunch of followers you had to convince someone you were cool.

I know this all sounds like bullshit old person nonsense mumbling about past good times. So if we do write about the Aughts it will take a lot better writing to make it compelling. I think it’s possible as I still retain a sense of place that I think is worth sharing. I’ve got ridiculous stories that could make for a fun read. So I’m putting the energy into the universe that I’ll capture those moments and share.


Day 163 and Favors

Some professional arenas are driven by the favor trading of social capital.

I’ve got a gut sense that this is true on the two poles of commodity products and services. The middle ground has a lot more nuance and is thus less susceptible to favor trading, as it’s clear what drives price and value of service. With complete commodities (identical replacement value) and the non-fungible (not interchangeable or replaceable) there are not simple price or value anchors. This makes it more likely your purchase or choice will be driven by the perception of social capital. We will do favors for those with higher status or by the recommendation of those we trust.

Interchangeable commodity products trade on price, which means favors from across the ecosystem act as the grease in otherwise equivalent deals. Think suppliers of everything from lumber to textiles. If the price is the same maybe you buy from someone you like who took you out to dinner. Or you buy because that person has a good reputation in the community so you use the person your neighbor recommended. This seems intuitively true of commodity services like accounting, plumbing or roofing. Within certain bounds of quality, a 2×4 or a roofing bid should fall into the same bucket so it’s ok to pick whoever feels best. That’s why it’s susceptible to favors and social capital exchange.

On the other end, extremely differentiated non commodity products are equally prone to being tipped by favors. Think professional services like public relations that are very hard to compare. A publicist with favors to trade gets their clients the best coverage. A reporter who has a lot of sources can trade them in to get a quote for a story. Venture capital is one of the least commodified types of capital, a founder will pick one firm over another not just based on the price of a term sheet but whether others recommend them. Reputation matters a lot. Social capital is what gets a deal done, a nudge to consider someone will push you into a cap table.

Not convinced? Think about a product that exists in the middle like clothing from a brand you know but isn’t connected to you in any other way. This is the least susceptible to favor trading or the pressures of social capital.

We can intuit a dress made from quality fabrics and a recognizable brand has a set cost because the brand of the designer is not interchangeable (maybe with others in their category but Prada isn’t the same as Old Navy) and the cost of the fabric is transparent. A silk blouse can’t ever get too cheap on a one off basis. Both the brand and the fabrics set the bounds of the prices.

I didn’t really have a point in writing this other than being curious about what impacts how we pick what to purchase and what sets the bounds of our pricing. We are in a narrative cycle around inflation and work shortages which is having an impact on how willingness to to spend or hire.

So be careful if something seems too expensive but comes highly recommended. Be equally wary if something is particularly cheap even if a friend likes it. Look for the sweet spot of pricing and reputation that is based on market price beyond your in-group.

Finance Internet Culture Startups

Day 119 and Status Narratives

I’ve mostly worked inside insular industries. There is something about disdaining a club and then slowly forcing it to adapt to me that I find appealing. My handle on Twitter “AlmostMedia” wasn’t actually meant to be a joke about the ephemeral nature of timeline driven content (though it is now) but was an inside joke about my first personal blog.

I wasn’t as comfortable being an outsider when I was younger so a common theme on my blog was about how I “almost” achieved insider totems and status but never quite did it right. I never felt like I was stylish enough, cool enough, rich enough or had enough status symbols. Now I kinda laugh at myself as I realize semiotics is as driven by the out group as the in group. I always had the power to be enough.

But thanks to this insecurity about being “almost” but not quite right I’ve achieved a pretty valuable skill set. I’m able to see what is coming, what will resonate, and most importantly what will have status. I’m not always great at the timing (I’m often too early) but I am very good at nudging narratives into the popular conception. I call this the Thursday Styles problem. Timing what is next is as much about knowing what is coming as when it will hit and doing what you can to control the pace.

I particularly like fashion and startups as as success is often a Thursday Style problem. Status narratives are driven by people who like to show off that they knew something cool was coming. Think of the trope of venture capitalists publishing a post about when they first met a founder timed with a company’s IPO. Music used to be like this too with snobs insisting “I knew them before they were cool” when a band blew up.

Status narratives often revolve around being first. Much of crypto is obsessed with showing off how early they were while also insisting to everyone that “it’s never too late” as they need to drive a status narrative that brings in more adoption. Being early generally only matters if you are also still around when it’s “late” and you always need more people to push you further into early. Even if most of the benefits are seen by late adoption we all want to feel like we won the status game of being early. But it’s important to remember we are all a little too early or too late. We are almost right. Which is enough for plenty of success.