Maybe we're already too far gone
This week: HGTV, NFTs, the tyranny of streaming services, beauty influencers, vaccine sites and Big Ships have a moment
This was one of those weeks when I found myself saying “… who asked for this?” out loud, to no one in particular, at more points throughout the day than I’d care to admit. Slack DMs from anyone: Who asked for this? An AI that can argue: Who asked for that? The grand-daddy of all of these, at least in my mind: emoji reactions, including downvotes, on Twitter. “To add more nuance to conversations.” Nothing more nuanced than a downvote!
Incidentally, news of the (potential) emoji reactions reminded me of Twitter’s long-lost faves-to-hearts drama, in which the company essentially changed that function from a bookmarking tool (denoted by a star, or “favorite”) to a mode for expressing affinity/agreement (hence all the tired disclaimers re: likes and endorsements.)
When you look back at the many small ways social media platforms encouraged a culture of outrage and polarization online, that switch feels particularly ominous. As this week’s second featured link puts it, the tyranny of likes on social media have “reduced [the world] to vectors of attraction and revulsion.” It’s hard for me, at least — admittedly not a $$ Silicon Valley technologist! — to see how the additions of anger, sadness, surprise and confusion solve that problem. Maybe get rid of likes all together…? (Or maybe we’re already too far gone.)
P.S. A few weeks ago I shared a pandemic journal made entirely of my Google searches, a loooong and tedious project I justified to myself as important personal reflection. But Links reader Jon Packles wrote in to inform me he has developed a *tool* that turns your search history into poems and other creative projects, which … would have saved me a hell of a lot of time? And which is also extremely cool?? Please send me your search poems; that would be an amazing future issue!
If you read anything this weekend
“HGTV is Getting a Renovation,” by Ian Parker in The New Yorker. I struggle to articulate how much joy I derived from this *deeply* condescending and hilarious dive into HGTV’s desperate attempts to adapt to the streaming age. There are meth houses. There are drunk realtors. There are descriptions of the Property Brothers so unsparing that I read them all aloud to Jason. Anyway, I’m sold! I’ll watch HGTV’s streaming product.
“The Logic of the Like,” by Dan Silver in The Point. Warning: This piece does contain extensive references to French philosophers, which you can take or leave according to your personal tolerance. But every so often I read a piece that I know is gonna influence how I see a lot of things in the future, and this is one of them! Silver’s argument is essentially that “like” buttons have reoriented our entire culture and … collapsed our understanding of each other/ourselves. 🙃
“Some artists found a lifeline selling NFTs. Others worry it’s a trap,” by Abby Ohlheiser in MIT Technology Review. “Is the NFT craze benefiting digital artists, or are artists helping to make wealthy cryptocurrency holders even richer?” That is *the* question, and I am very glad my friend Abby is the one asking it. See also this good Charlie Warzel piece on why people buy NFTs (“crypto is, for lack of a better term, performance art”) and this list of the most expensive NFTs sold thus far.
“Islands in the Stream,” by David Dayen in The American Prospect. I like this mostly as a foil to the NFT discussion, because so much of the “triumphalist bullshit” rhetoric around music streaming can now be heard in the hype around crypto tokens. But streaming advanced a model where fans never owned anything … and NFTs propose the exact opposite.
“Where Are Those Shoes You Ordered? Check the Ocean Floor,” by Aarian Marshall in Wired. Cargo ships are having a real moment right now, which is a phrase I … never thought I’d type? But I’m really interested in reading more about the real-life consequences of online shopping — like this uptick in cargo loss! — as it becomes more entrenched in our lives.
🎧 On Opinion — the podcast *about* Opinions. What are opinions? Why do we believe what we do? And why, particularly today, do we disagree so violently? Psychologists, philosophers and political scientists explain... listen here.
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Cruel Summer Book Club — Going through it? Subscribe to Cruel Summer Book Club, a free newsletter about change, heartbreak and healing. Jillian Anthony writes personal essays, interviews authors and shares reads about loss, love and living well.
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File under things that do not really surprise me: The man who threw an online fit about his sugary cereal is also … a bona fide asshole who allegedly abused and threatened his ex-partners! Also in this category: Patreon and YouTube still don’t pay the rent; junk food companies target kids on Tiktok.
The languages that defy auto-translate. The mess at Medium. (Earnest personal side note: I am bummed about this one.) “There are 6-year-olds on [YouTube] who draw larger daily audiences than Tucker Carlson.” There are 12 people largely responsible for vax disinformation. Last but not least: non-English versions of Wikipedia have a serious misinformation problem.
That’s it for this week! Until the next one. Warmest virtual regards.