all posts tagged 'community'

The ‘Enshittification’ of TikTok

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Here is how platforms die: First, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.

I call this enshittification, and it is a seemingly inevitable consequence arising from the combination of the ease of changing how a platform allocates value, combined with the nature of a "two-sided market," where a platform sits between buyers and sellers, hold each hostage to the other, raking off an ever-larger share of the value that passes between them.

If you’ve spent much time in the same tech bubbles as me this past year, you’ve probably come across this article already.

At a bare minimum, I’m sure you’ve seen the phrase “enshittification.”

Once you understand the concept, you do start to see the pattern unfold around you constantly. 1

While there are countless examples of this natural platform decay within our virtual world, what about the physical world?

Is enshittification simply human nature, an inescapable fate for any collaborative endeavor above a certain size?

And if enshittification is not inevitable, what are the forces that lead to it, and how can we combat them when building our own communities?

  1. Case in point: the Conde Nast-owned WIRED website on which this article was published. I’m using a Shortcut on my iPad to post this article, and while sitting idle at the top of the post, I've seen three levels of pop ups appear which cover the article content. I haven’t even scrolled the page yet!  

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TikTok and the Fall of the Social-Media Giants

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The era of social-media monopolies has been unhealthy for our collective digital existence. The Internet at its best should be weird, energetic, and exciting—featuring both homegrown idiosyncrasy and sudden trends that flash supernova-bright before exploding into the novel elements that spur future ideas and generate novel connections.

This exuberance was suppressed by the dominance of a small number of social-media networks that consolidated and controlled so much of online culture for so many years. Things will be better once this dominance wanes.

In the end, TikTok’s biggest legacy might be less about its current moment of world-conquering success, which will pass, and more about how, by forcing social-media giants like Facebook to chase its model, it will end up liberating the social Internet.

I saw Cal reference this article in his most recent post, and I’m glad he mentioned it because I must’ve missed it a couple years back.

I have been grossed out by TikTok’s blatant predatory behavior ever since hearing how their algorithms work.

Sure, most major social media companies have resorted to similar tactics, but there was something brazen about the way TikTok does it which feels egregious.

Cal’s analysis seems spot on to me. TikTok represents what happens when you’ve won the race to the bottom, or when the dog catches the tire.

As soon as you’ve got the thing, what else is there to do? Where else is there to go?

It’s all sizzle and no steak.

I’m sick of having my attention stolen from me under the guise of “connectedness.”1 Real connections require compromise, empathy, and growth. Sure, I get some dopamine hits when I see a funny or enraging video, but I don’t seem to get much else.

  1. When viewed under those terms, reflecting on Facebook’s mission to connect the world gives me even more of the heebie jeebies.  

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An Unreasonable Investment

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You want some free leadership advice? You build yourself by building… by helping others. The selfless act of helping humans will teach you more about being a credible leader than any book.

Your career is not your job. It’s the humans you help along the way.

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Will AI eliminate business?

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We also have an opportunity here to stop and ask ourselves what it truly means to be human, and what really matters to us in our own lives and work. Do we want to sit around being fed by robots or do we want to experience life and contribute to society in ways that are uniquely human, meaningful and rewarding?

I think we all know the answer to that question and so we need to explore how we can build lives that are rooted in the essence of what it means to be human and that people wouldn't want to replace with AI, even if it was technically possible.

When I look at the things I’ve used ChatGPT for in the past year, it tends to be one of these two categories:

  1. A reference for something I’d like to know (e.g. the etymology of a phrase, learning a new skill, generate ideas for a project, etc.)
  2. Doing stuff I don’t want to do myself (e.g. summarize meeting notes, write boilerplate code, debug tech problems, draw an icon)

I think most of us knowledge workers have stuff at our work that we don’t like to do, but it’s often that stuff which actually provides the value for the business.

What happens to an economy when businesses can use AI to derive that value that, to this date, only humans could provide?

And what happens to humans when we don’t have to perform meanial tasks anymore? How do we find meaning? How do we care for ourselves and each other?

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The super-rich ‘preppers’ planning to save themselves from the apocalypse

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What I came to realise was that these men are actually the losers. The billionaires who called me out to the desert to evaluate their bunker strategies are not the victors of the economic game so much as the victims of its perversely limited rules. More than anything, they have succumbed to a mindset where “winning” means earning enough money to insulate themselves from the damage they are creating by earning money in that way. It’s as if they want to build a car that goes fast enough to escape from its own exhaust.

Yet this Silicon Valley escapism – let’s call it The Mindset – encourages its adherents to believe that the winners can somehow leave the rest of us behind.

Humans got to where we are by a mix of individuals driven by a bootstrapper mentality and groups driven by a sense of cooperation.

I’d rather take my chances in gen pop than go at it alone in solitary confinement… but to each their own.

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Compounding Optimism

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The core point of this article (incremental progress is vastly underestimated and compound growth is hard to fathom) is solid, but it’s this part that stuck with me:

If you view progress as being driven by the genius of individuals, of course it’s hard to imagine a future where things are dramatically better, because no individual is orders of magnitudes smarter than average.

But when you view it as one person coming up with a small idea, another person copying that idea and tweaking it a little, another taking that insight and manipulating it a bit, another yet taking that product and combining it with something else – incremental, tiny bits, little ideas mixing, joining, blending, mutating, and compounding together – it’s suddenly much more conceivable.

This must be why I’ve been so drawn to finding a community lately.

I find it exhausting and boring being stuck all by myself, chugging through a coding problem with no one to talk to.

Mutating and remixing ideas is what gives me energy. Taking someone’s thought and tweaking it to make it better in some meaningful way. It’s the part of my job I love the most.

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Hope Beyond Rugged Individualism

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Rugged individualism is still deeply enmeshed in American culture.

And its myth is one of our biggest exports to the rest of the world.

What could happen if we replaced the philosophy of rugged individualism with a philosophy of rugged cooperation? What if we swapped out the scripts we’ve learned in an individualist culture with the curiosity and care of a collaborative culture?

And how would your business or career shift if you approached it not as your best way to climb to the top in a flawed system but as a laboratory for experimenting with ruggedly cooperative systems?

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The Inside Story of The Simpsons’ Remarkable Second Life

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Lest you think I’ve just been watching YouTube all night, here’s a really compelling article about The Simpsons.

This pull quote spoke to me:

“America has certainly turned into Springfield,” says Matt Selman, who is, along with Al Jean, the current showrunner. “I’m gonna generously say: Good people are easily misled. Terrifyingly easily misled. That’s always been in the DNA of the show, but now it’s in the DNA of America. It was a show about American groupthink, and how Americans are tricked—by advertising, by corporations, by religion, by all these other institutions that don’t have the best interests of people at heart.”

I’ve been rewatching clips from the first ten seasons sporadically over the past few months, and I think that’s an astute point that I hadn’t really considered.

The pro wrestling world has a term for fans who know quite a bit about the backstage politics which makes the show possible: a “smart mark” (with “mark” being a carny term for someone who can pull one over on).

But much like internet trolls, the only way you could ever “win” as a pro wrestling fan is by not engaging. By consuming the content, you’re still a mark (even if you are a smart one).

Perhaps the reason so many people are drawn to The Simpsons is similar: you feel like you’re in on the joke, even when you can’t escape the gravitational pull of the society which the show is lampooning.

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How Olympians Embraced Mental Health After Biles Showed the Way

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The American ski racer Alice Merryweather sat out the 2020-21 season while confronting an eating disorder. She had gone to a training camp in September, hating the workouts and the time on the mountain, wondering where her love of skiing had gone. A doctor diagnosed her anorexia.

“I just kept pushing and I kept telling myself, ‘You’re supposed to love this, what’s wrong with you?’” Merryweather said. “I’m just trying to be the best athlete that I can be.”

Merryweather said that she began to open up to friends and teammates. Most knew someone else who had gone through a similar experience. “I realized, why do we not talk about this more?” Merryweather said. “I am not alone in this.”

The more I deal with my own pressure and anxieties, I wonder this same question myself.

Why don't we talk about this more?

Why is stoicism the preferred method for dealing with mental health struggles?

Why do we pretend that the things we want at the end of the day are different from most any other human?

And when will we learn that the only truly sustainable way to really get the things that you want (and the things that truly matter) is through cooperation?

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Rewilding your attention

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Instead of crowding your attention with what’s already going viral on the intertubes, focus on the weird stuff. Hunt down the idiosyncratic posts and videos that people are publishing, oftentimes to tiny and niche audiences. It’s decidedly unviral culture — but it’s more likely to plant in your mind the seed of a rare, new idea.

Examples of idiosyncratic communities in which I’ve been trying to increase my participation:

  • an offshoot of a online community I was very into back in the early 2000s
  • a YouTube series where a guy rewatches old episodes of Monday Night Raw and Monday Nitro and compares them head-to-head, deciding who won each week of the Monday night wars
  • a Reddit community who cares deeply about dates being expressed in the ISO-8601 date format
  • another Reddit community that posts highlights from a mobile app football game that I am really into

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