In Between Days
Living in a constant state of flux.
Welcome to People vs Algorithms #49.
I look for patterns in media, business and culture. My POV is informed by 30 years of leadership in media and advertising businesses, most recently as global President of Hearst Magazines, one of the largest publishers in the world.
I might be me, but I doubt it.
Things feel unstable, the pace of change relentless, disorienting.
If you ask around, there's not a lot of optimism right now, even if, by any historical measure, things are pretty good. You may challenge me on this and that is fine. I lean optimistic. Optimism takes work right now.
Brian Morrissey calls the current state of negativity "catastrophism." I am not entirely sure this is the right word but that doesn't matter. You get the idea. We decided to have a conversation to understand it better on the PvA podcast (out now!). It's a good episode. I hope you find time to listen.
Our perceptions about how good or bad things are right now, the reasons why, or where you see our moment along a continuum of positive or negative transformation... are subjective. We project personal feelings onto the world around us. The internet enables perpetual debate. Our present is a subjective reality born of a thousand points of light, all seen and debated from personal perspectives. The internet has made a connection to a shared reality ever more fleeting. Which makes understanding our times that much more difficult.
Needless to say, the world is navigating a overwhelming wave of change and with that comes fear and apprehension. Anxiety fuels more discourse, more speculation, tribal behavior, more uncertainty.
Elon will be the focus of our obsessions today. The Twitter drama is moving to the next chapter, bringing the end to months of speculation. It will absorb a new wave of speculation, of optimistic or pessimistic narratives, a canvas for endless points of view. It's the perfect modern story and Elon is internet's perfect protagonist. Is he virtuous or evil, his motivations noble or suspect? How will he surprise us next? Should we trust one person with this much power? Or his thirst for attention. The internet made Elon—a new breed of stan business hero designed for a digital age.
So I spent the last couple of days reflecting where we are at. Are things historically bad? Or does our modern media ecosystem make things feel like they are much worse that they actually are? How much of it sits with me and the struggles I am having navigating my own personal change?
After we recorded the episode I took a walk. Setting aside the need to adjudicate where the moment is entirely good or bad, or assess the reasons for a current state of negativity, I came to the conclusion that what I was feeling was a state of "in between." Again, this is no doubt personal, but as I thought about it more, it seemed to me that there are so many things in play, that the defining quality of the moment was its position between one state and another.
This may also be a time of life, a signal of generational handoff. I am Gen X. Our generation is slowly being elbowed from center stage by the next.
It may be more permanent, as in the modern equilibrium is a perpetual condition of change. I am not sure.
So I started making a list of the “in between”, things in state of transition from one state to another. The list got long pretty quickly. Here’s what came out, in no particular order:
American century / post-America world order
neoliberal globalism / something after that
Covid isolation / life after Covid
capitalism as aspirational beacon / late-stage capitalism as time before its end
structured work routines / new work hybrids
the weather / climate crisis
fossil fuel / decarbonization
gender determination / gender fluidity
wealth as achievement / wealth as exploitation
inherited religion / new spirituality
retail / omnichannel fulfillment networks
institutional media / creator communities
social order pre TikTok / social unraveling post TikTok
linear TV oligopoly / new streaming oligopoly
trust in news / trust in personalities
AI as concept / AI as disruptive force
technology outside of us / us inside of technology
algorithms / communities
advertising / transactions
text / video
cookie / post cookie
data piracy / data privacy
private data / blockchain
national currencies / crypto
endless expansion / endless inflation
proprietary connections / usb-c
booze / weed
sleep deprivation / sleep as medicine
Elon as genius/ Elon as megalomaniac
Meanwhile, I keep waiting for the next resting point, a period of stability.
The state of “in between” creates anxiety around what's next. I think we all crave some certainty right now, exhausted by a need to comprehend our own personal journeys between fleeting moments of stability.
I asked my friend Alex Schleifer about it. He suggested this is just how we live now: "The bandwidth for change is near infinite now. It used to be that we could only absorb a few things. We talked about the same thing at once. Things used to feel big. Now we can follow all change at once, making enough space for it to make us anxious but not enough for us to acclimatize. Church was an easy hack. It won’t cut it anymore. But people need community. They also just want to be able to be themselves. Which church didn’t allow them to be. Homogeneity makes things easier. Even forced. But I do think it’s interesting to think about our bandwidth being so wide, we no longer sequence things. Everything. Everywhere. All at once."
Food for thought. Have a great weekend..../ Troy
Obviously “in between” has a soundtrack:
Related and notable
1: Re: the list above, let’s add…. Kanye as misunderstood genius / Ye as unhinged racist. Casey Neistat tries to make sense of the change in a video well worth watching.
2: Measured optimism in climate. From the NYT “Beyond Catastrophe A New Climate Reality Is Coming Into View”
“We live in a terrible world, and we live in a wonderful world,” Marvel says. “It’s a terrible world that’s more than a degree Celsius warmer. But also a wonderful world in which we have so many ways to generate electricity that are cheaper and more cost-effective and easier to deploy than I would’ve ever imagined. People are writing credible papers in scientific journals making the case that switching rapidly to renewable energy isn’t a net cost; it will be a net financial benefit,” she says with a head-shake of near-disbelief. “If you had told me five years ago that that would be the case, I would’ve thought, wow, that’s a miracle.”
3: A new optimism on TikTok. From Dirt “The indomitable human spirit”
Awash in a bleak mediascape, I had simply assumed that optimism had been long exiled to the realm of corny naivete, gone the way of “Live, Laugh, Loving” and #Girlbossing. So it came as a shock when my TikTok feed started filling up with posts about the “Indomitable Human Spirit.”
4: Newsletter Perfectly Imperfect celebrates two years of cool kids. From the NYT “What the ‘Cool Kids’ Are Super Into”
5: The debate over AI and artist rights is going to get heated. From Rest of World “AI-generated art sparks furious backlash from Japan’s anime community”
The response was pure disdain. “Kim Jung Gi left us less than [a week ago] and AI bros are already ‘replicating’ his style and demanding credit. Vultures and spineless, untalented losers,” read one viral post from the comic-book writer Dave Scheidt on Twitter. “Artists are not just a ‘style.’ They’re not a product. They’re a breathing, experiencing person,” read another from cartoonist Kori Michele Handwerker.
6: AI is going to change how we discover and navigate. Tyler Cowen at Bloomberg via Wapo: “Get Ready to Relearn How to Use the Internet”
This year has brought a lot of innovation in artificial intelligence, which I have tried to keep up with, but too many people still do not appreciate the import of what is to come. I commonly hear comments such as, “Those are cool images, graphic designers will work with that,” or, “GPT-3 is cool, it will be easier to cheat on term papers.” And then they end by saying: “But it won’t change my life.”
This view is likely to be proven wrong — and soon, as AI is about to revolutionize our entire information architecture. You will have to learn how to use the internet all over again.
7: The entire fashion design and manufacturing process is changing. AI will power the front end of endless choice. A press release from fashion automator, CALA.
CALA unifies the entire design process – from product ideation all the way through e-commerce enablement and order fulfillment – into a single digital platform. CALA scales with any brand from large established retailers, medium-sized fashion houses, and independent designers. Introducing AI capabilities is a natural next step for the product roadmap so that users have more freedom than ever to freely communicate their design ideas into reality.