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Picasso and the "summarize" button.
Welcome to People vs Algorithms #66.
I look for patterns in media, business and culture. My POV is informed by 30 years of leadership in media and advertising businesses.
Sometimes it’s nice to read in the browser.
It's not entirely clear why, but I woke up thinking about Picasso. I had read something the evening before about establishing an intention before going to bed, then consciously turning the mind off to let your subconscious do some overnight excavation work. I half-heartedly tried it. I had been thinking about writing the newsletter. The system had returned "Picasso" by morning. Why was I thinking about Picasso?
The reason would slowly reveal itself. I recalled the contours of a disrespectfully long piece I read on Picasso some 20 plus years ago. Was it in the New Yorker? They do long. I searched but couldn't find it. It must have been the Vanity Fair one by John Richardson. He also writes long things. Like a Picasso biography that clocked in at about 2300 pages across four volumes. Perhaps I would have remembered more if I had read that. But that would not suit my frugal attention span.
Memory can mislead but that really doesn't matter. A memory may be inaccurate but the feeling is real. Here, it was the context of the Picasso story memory that triggered me. It came back more powerfully than the story. I remember reading the article at my girlfriend's (now wife) house. Her dad subscribed to a lot of magazines. I loved going through them when I was over, always scattered across the front room coffee table. The Atlantic, New Yorker, Fortune, Business Week, Vanity Fair. We didn't have those at my house. My mother subscribed to Chatelaine.
I remember little else from the piece. In fact, I remember precious little of most of what I read. Music sticks with me more. A song popped into my head by the other JR, the singer/songwriter one, Jonathan Richman. He also wrote about Picasso:
Well some people try to pick up girls
And get called assholes
This never happened to Pablo Picasso
He could walk down your street
And girls could not resist his stare and
So Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole
Which I doubt is true. It doesn't matter. It's a song.
Picasso was crazy prolific. He made like 30,000 things over a long career, voracious in life as he was in creation. It's a little like how I feel about media now. Too much to consume, ill equipped to deal with the flow. There's got to be a better way to ingest more effectively. To remember more.
The day before I had found a helpful “button” that might help solve the problem. Perhaps this was the connection to Picasso my subconscious was offering to me.
It was a "summarize" button. It appeared on the Artifact news app, that semi-useful new content aggregation app, not unlike the many news aggregation apps that came before it. It's one of those things I typically use for a while and tire of. But they just added the "summarize" button and I like it. It's a little hard to find, but once you do use it I think you will keep using it. What's more, I think you are going to be using buttons like this all over the place in the future.
It works as you would expect a "summarize" button to work. Read a headline. Click to load the story. Realize you are sort of interested but have other things to do. Click the "summarize" button and it dutifully presents the gist of things with three convenient bullets in a little box at the top of a story, lick·e·ty-split.
Like, say if you instead of reading all the crap in this story about Picasso it would just offer up: "AI powered summarize buttons are going to change the way we read content on the internet." And you could move on.
I speculated a few weeks in "Augmented Media" that AI applications like this were going to quickly appear all over the web, offered by a new group of parasitic middleware providers looking to provide useful contextual tools that sit between a publisher and reader. This is a prime example.
It was working for me. I found myself plowing through a ton of stuff. Rarely would I dig in and read the entire story. I was getting smarter, faster. But I could help but wonder, was I cheating? Was I missing vital nuance? Or is most of what I read forgettable filler that I don't remember anyhow.
Several of my friends are unreliable PvA newsletter readers, complain my missives are too long, our friendship notwithstanding. FWIW friends, this will be brief. I am sympathetic. You are busy and have your own interests. Some of you do not like to read. You are not alone. A professional editor made the case to my podcast collaborator, Brian Morrissey, that I need an editor. I would be foolish to ignore the feedback. Clearly, I am no Picasso. Will I get deservedly AI summarized? Does the AI era suggest I need a much more efficient format?
Why do we need all the other filler stuff anyway. Its absence was Twitter's virtue. Or why people like the Axios bullets. Or the tight edit in the Wall Street Journal. In the future, might all content be hyper efficient or fall under the AI knife. Imagine all the applications of the summarizer that will emerge — "summarize from the POV of X," "summarize everything this person wrote this month," "compare this long thing to another long thing in five bullets," "briefly tell me how this fits into the other stuff I read." And on and on.
When will we reserve our attention for longer, more nuanced things? What will we deem worth our time? If AI can dutifully augment our mental capacity with frictionless access to all knowledge at the press of a button, how much do we really even need to know?
Which fittingly brings me full circle to the other thing I remember about Picasso, this one preserved as hustle-culture folklore. The one about the woman who allegedly approached Picasso in a Paris restaurant, asking him to scribble something on a napkin, offering to happily pay whatever he felt it was worth. Picasso complied, recklessly drew a few lines on the napkin, handed it to her and said, "That will be $10,000." Aghast, the woman shot back, "But you did that in thirty seconds." “No,” Picasso replied. “It has taken me forty years to do that.”
At that moment, on a napkin, in a Parisian cafe, Picasso had unwittingly offered the first application of the "summarize" button. He was determined to be the one who profited from it. This time, things are not so clear.
Have a good weekend.../ Troy
It never happened to Pablo Picasso
"Pablo Picasso" is a song written by Jonathan Richman for the proto punk group the Modern Lovers. The song was recorded in 1972 at Whitney Studios in Los Angeles, and produced by John Cale, but was not released until 1976, on the Modern Lovers' self-titled debut album. The recording featured Richman (lead guitar, vocals), Ernie Brooks (second guitar), Jerry Harrison (bass) and David Robinson (drums), with Cale playing the repetitive hammered piano part.
The central character of the song is the charismatic 20th century artist Pablo Picasso. With dry wit, the lyrics suggest that women never rejected Picasso's romantic advances, despite his short stature. "Well he was only five foot three but girls could not resist his stare / Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole / Not in New York". In a 1980 interview, Richman stated that the song was inspired by his own adolescent "self-consciousness" with women.
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