The Decline of Music Journalism

This blog post article by Ted Gioia explores the extent to which all aspects of the creative industries have been disrupted by digital formats.

The Nostalgic Turn in Music Writing

Are music magazines contributing to the stagnancy of the current scene?

By Ted Gioia

My Comment below:

This reality reflects the change in risk-taking behavior across the creative industries (and I would include media news and entertainment) occasioned by the rise of the digital economy. Revenues and profit margins have been squeezed, even as markets have grown. This puts legacy publishers and distributors in an existential crisis to survive. The response has been to reduce the risk of not surviving by reverting to what worked in the past. In music, reselling the catalog is a low-risk endeavor that yields profits through very low marginal costs. Streaming is a short-term boon for publishers and a long-term disaster for innovative new artists (they now bear all the risk and little of the reward).

In media, it means giving the audience exactly what it wants based on past metrics. So, a cover article on Bruce Springsteen is a sure bet relative to some unknown underground artist or new artistic movement. This can only be rectified by rebalancing the market between creators and consumers (and probably eliminating many of the middlemen or at least only rewarding them for value-added).

Art has become a commodity, but true art can never be a commodity, so the road we are on would mean the death of art. However, I am optimistic that the creative spirit cannot and will not ever die. And, with the proper sustainable model, consumers will willingly pay for the real value in art.

The Price of Free

The changes we are seeing with social media platforms reflect the economics of the push-ad-driven model to monetize data networks. If we want free content, we pay for it in other ways; just like with broadcast tv. (And who watches broadcast tv anymore?)

The truth is that the conversion rates for digital ads on social network sites are abysmal, so neither advertisers nor consumers are very happy with push ads. Will I sit through 10 unwanted ads? No. Now I will merely click to different applications until the ads run out = more ad money wasted.

The issue is that with social networks, creators creating content and users sharing it produces much of the value of the data network. “Free” is actually not adequate compensation for social network value, much less worth paying for. But the platforms don’t want users to realize that and hope they have turned their free members into addicts who will now pay with subscription-based models. Perhaps. But there are better ways to create and realize the value of creative content. Word of mouth and trust among like-minded friends is the best advertisement that money can’t buy.

Below we reprint a blog post by Ted Gioia that explains the progressive intrusion of push ads and the Internet “tax.”

The important takeaway is this: The result of all this is that the Internet is turning into the epicenter of crap.”

YouTube May Force You to Watch 10 (or More) Unskippable Ads in a Row
The biggest trick the Devil ever played was convincing people that online stuff is free

Ted Gioia

The biggest trick the Devil ever played was convincing people that online stuff is free. But the Devil always collects, sooner or later—and we are starting to learn the actual terms of this cursed deal.

Consider some recent news stories:

YouTube has been testing users’ willingness to watch 10 unskippable ads on a video. And the ads aren’t spaced out. They come at you, one right after the other, at the outset—because Google wants to be paid first, even if the video sucks.

Nobody wants ads on iPhone, but they’re coming. Executives at Apple are allegedly planning to triple the ad revenue from phones.

“For some Google searches literally the whole screen on Google is ads.”

TikTok can track a user’s every keystroke, and Beijing has “access to everything.”

“Scams are showing up at the top of online searches.”

Snapchat has been forced to pay $35 million for storing and selling users’ biometric information without permission.

Even if you pay for ad-free streaming, Spotify inserts ads in podcasts.

Ads are coming to Netflix too.

Etc. etc. etc.

This is what happens when ‘free’ really isn’t free—but consumers prefer to stay in denial. Go ahead and rob me, just make sure I’m not looking when it happens.

It’s even worse than that. Web users are now hooked on free—and like all addictions, this one is far costlier than you realize at the outset.

You have more leverage when you negotiate an actual price. When I cancel a paid subscription, the corporate provider always comes back with a special offer to get me to reconsider. But how much bargaining power do I have if I refuse to click on those “terms and conditions” that always come with the free stuff?

I’ll answer that for you—none at all.

How bad will it get? YouTube described its ten unskippable ads as a “test”—but this wasn’t done in a laboratory or with volunteers. They just forced it on users, and watched them squirm. And squirm they did.

In fact, one person reported a 12-ad blitz.

This wouldn’t be so bad if it was just one business or sector of the economy that played these games. But this is the de facto business model for the entire digital economy. To maintain the illusion of free, all our online activities are sinking into spam, scam, and sham. Everything from sending an email to sharing a photo gets monitored and monetized by big tech companies—and often you’re the last person to find out what the real price is.

I’ve written elsewhere of how much we would have suffered if AT&T had run the phone network with a Google strategy. You wouldn’t be able to talk on the phone until you first heard a bunch of advertisements first. The restaurant you call for a dinner reservation would have to kickback a share of your meal tab to the phone company. Everything you did on your phone would be more cumbersome and less efficient.

Guess what? That still may happen. The only reason Apple hasn’t already started force-feeding ads on your iPhone is a fear that competitors may not do the same—and they might lose a few market share points. But all it takes is one backroom meeting of dubious legality between smartphone providers, and you will soon start hearing a pitch from the GEICO gecko before you even say hello.

Let me add some comments about advertising—which is one of the most poorly understood phenomena in modern society.

I know more about this than I care to—if only because I spent a lot of time with advertising and marketing people during my lost years, and I learned how they view the world. I even was hired, many years ago, to analyze the financial payback of an expensive TV advertising campaign—a project that took months to complete. I’m probably still tied up in some non-disclosure agreement on that, so all I will say is that I’m not surprised that some of the more powerful brands of the last 30 years (Starbucks, Amazon, etc.) managed to rise to dominance while spending almost nothing on TV commercials.

I would urge you to consider the especially revealing case of the company that sells the most ads (Google). This marketing behemoth waited more than a decade before launching even a single TV ad campaign for its own services.

The bosses at Google are no fools—they understand the value of advertising better than anyone. That’s why they prefer to sell it than buy it.

And then ask yourself: When was the last time you saw an ad agency buy a TV ad for its own business? They have the money to do it, but won’t. Maybe they know something we don’t.

You probably have heard all the familiar critiques and ‘debunkings’ of advertising. I just read another one yesterday by a famous French public intellectual, who almost wept over how marketing deceives and manipulates us. It hypnotizes people with bright colors and broken promises. It enflames our desires for things we don’t need, which we chase after like zombies pursuing a sorority sister in a slasher film—mindlessly grasping for products and services we barely understand.

You’ve probably heard criticisms like this too. But it’s total bunk.

Advertising in the year 2022 doesn’t hypnotize us. It doesn’t stir up our desires. What it actually does is. . . . bore us.

Endlessly. Shamelessly. It annoys us. It irritates us. We would skip it if we could.

That’s why advertisers have to force-feed us these ads—by making me watch the same insurance commercial over and over on YouTube, or clogging up the screen of a webpage with annoying pitches, or (worst of all) spamming my email box with garbage until I’m swimming in spam.

If advertising was really hypnotic and controlling, they wouldn’t need to resort to these tedious tricks.

(By the way, what really enflames our consumer libido isn’t an advertisement, it’s our mimetic desire for what friends and neighbors already own. My buddy at the office has more influence on me than any advertising campaign, and vice versa. This is, once again, a mark of René Girard’s brilliance—he wrote the book on mimetic desire. It’s amazing that some ad agency on Madison Avenue didn’t hire him. He would have risen to name partner faster than Don Draper in a tailored suit, and have earned a lot more than Stanford ever paid him.)

The result of all this is that the Internet is turning into the epicenter of crap. It’s the detention center where force-feeding of marketing messages takes place daily. And when we build up a degree of immunity—learning how to control our irritation while sitting through two or three idiotic YouTube ads—they increase it to five or ten ads before the video even begins.

Here’s another thing the Devil—or the leading web platforms, in this instance—won’t tell you. They want you to be annoyed. That’s right—even if they could make those ads hypnotic, they wouldn’t. Google would love to sell you a premium YouTube subscription in order to avoid all those irritating ads. Spotify wants you to be a paid member. The more boring the ads, the more those technocrats smile.

This brings us to the next misconception about advertising. You are told that rich people with high status pay attention to the advertisements—and run out to buy all that stuff. But the real scoop here is that rich people pay for the premium subscription so they don’t have to watch all that garbage.

That’s real status nowadays—when you don’t watch the ads anymore. Advertising is for the masses, not the elites.

Finally, this explains why so much advertising is for things you’re going to buy anyway—auto insurance, prescription medicine, a beer. This is because even the companies themselves realize they have lost the ability to stir up new demand. All they can really do with ads is reinforce existing behavior patterns.

So if I drank a Budweiser while watching the NFL game last Sunday, maybe I’ll do the same this Sunday. But they could advertise V8 juice at every time out, and I’m still not bringing home a six-pack of that swill to my Super Bowl party.

The bottom line: Advertising in the year 2022 is more Pavlovian than utopian. More a punishment for the masses than a guide to the elites. More an annoyance than a compass for our desires.

This, my friends, is the web we asked for. We wanted everything for free—but what we really got was a swamp where all the costs are still there, just hidden. And the experience we have gained from other industries where prices are mostly hidden from view—healthcare is the most obvious example, but of course, there are others—is that this usually turns out to be the most expensive transaction of them all.

eBook Authors and Publishing Platforms

This is an excellent example of how to use new online platforms to sell and monetize creative content, long-form authors in this case. Musicians, authors, podcasters, videographers, poets, photographers, etc. all need to do this.

10 Reasons Why I’m Publishing My Next Book on Substack
The publishing world is changing, but writers can change too—maybe even for the better

Ted Gioia
Aug 18

I’m a little like Walter White in the TV show Breaking Bad.

As you may recall, White was a high school chemistry teacher, overqualified and underpaid, who turns to the illegal drug business to pay his bills. In season one, White is still a reasonably decent guy, and we sympathize with his plight. He wants to focus just on the laboratory side of the business, leaving all the nasty downstream distribution problems to his young partner Jesse Pinkman.

That’s me and my writing. I enjoy the creative side of it—every aspect of it. My writer’s nook is my shiny white laboratory. It’s all the messy downstream stuff I prefer to avoid.

Dealing with it is painful and time-consuming. I send a manuscript off to a New York publisher, and it takes another year to get the book in the stores. Or more than a year, in some cases.

And what happens during that year? Oh, I could share stories that would make your blood run cold.

But Ted doesn’t tell tales out of school.

The Honest Broker is a reader-supported guide to books, music, and culture. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.
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The key point is, that like Walter White, I’ve learned it’s impossible to avoid getting embroiled in the complexities and competing agendas of downstream activities.

At least until now.

The Internet may be a curse in many regards, but it has given me direct contact with my readers. I cherish that. Things that once took a year now happen instantaneously. Instead of getting feedback from one editor, I learn from thousands of people, many of them very smart with useful things to say. The whole process is energized, streamlined, and turbocharged.

Best of all, I get to stay in the lab—or writer’s library office, in my case—but still have total connectivity with all my readers. Publishing is as simple as pushing a button, and there’s no cartel to worry about.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had great experiences with editors and publishers. I even had one editor (Sheldon Meyer) who was an extraordinary individual, one of the most impressive I’ve met in my life. And I’ve collaborated with many other outstanding people in the publishing business. I’ve worked with them on 15 different books (11 new books plus 4 revised editions) at 6 different publishers over the course of 3 decades, and all parties have benefited from these relationships.

The publishers have done well—all my books are still in print and have, on average, paid off the initial author’s advance four times over—so they have nothing to complain about. And I’ve definitely gained from access to their know-how and downstream distribution expertise. Those smart folks in New York have been my Jesse Pinkman, yet even more on-the-ball and reliable.

Alas, the New York publishing world has changed, and not for the better

The indie publishing business has almost completely disappeared. For decades now, large publishers have swallowed up small publishers. It’s gotten so bad that the Department of Justice had to file an antitrust suit to prevent the acquisition of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House.

Here’s what merging those two publishers would do. The combined Penguin and Random House is on the left, the next 21 publishers are on the right.

Source: US Department of Justice
Can you see what I’m saying?

I still have cordial relationships with those big four publishers. Just a few days ago, an editor at one of them reached out to me about writing a book for his imprint. But I declined, because it wouldn’t have been the right move for me.

But it’s more than just me. This kind of concentration of power can’t be healthy for other writers—or for readers. Or for our culture at large.

And as publishing becomes more monolithic, the process of writing a book changes—sometimes in awkward or even disturbing ways. I said above that I wouldn’t tell tales out of school, and I won’t. But let me simply note the dizzying rise of teams and committees and Zoom meetings in publishing—so many stakeholders with so many competing agendas—and too many crucial decisions made after a group discussion of five minutes. I’m sure the pandemic contributed to this, but the groundwork had already been laid in the previous decade.

Nowadays the team not only judges your book but your entire life—spelled out in the morality clause now inserted in many book contracts. The Author’s Guild is protesting, and for good reason. The wording is extremely vague—and leaves me wondering whether Hunter Thompson or Allen Ginsberg or Anaïs Nin or James Baldwin (or Baudelaire or Wilde or Dostoevsky in an earlier day) could have confidently accepted a book deal with such vague threats hanging over their head. Hey, can the team provide me with a clear definition of moral turpitude? But the penalties are crystal clear. Not only can the team terminate your contract, but can also demand you repay your advance—which might cause problems if, like most writers, you have already used it to pay your rent.

When I was publishing my first three books, I never heard once about what the team decided. My editor had my trust and vice versa. We worked together closely as individuals on every issue, from writing to marketing, even down to the tiniest details. I knew publishing was a business, even back then, but it didn’t feel like one. That started to change in the new millennium, and every aspect of that downstream process became more acutely corporatized.

Fortunately, the rest of the world has changed too, especially technology. And authors have options that didn’t exist years ago. Or, in some instances, they have options that didn’t even exist just a few months ago.

Substack is one of those options.

So I’ve decided to publish my next book on Substack. Maybe I’ll later do a deal with a traditional publisher to issue physical books, but I’ll worry about that in good time. (That’s the downstream stuff and, blessedly, I can defer all that for now).

My subscribers will receive the book in installments. And I will continue to do lots of other articles too—so this is a plus for them. What they call a lagniappe in New Orleans. I hope and expect to pick up more paid subscribers, so I benefit too.

Below I’m listing the 10 reasons why I made this decision. I offer them as a checklist for other authors considering a similar move.

But first let me share the title of my new book.


This is breakthrough research, and it not only tells you extraordinary things about the origins of our music and culture, but it’s also a guide to how music can transform lives and communities today.

I’m very excited about this book, and have to restrain myself from talking more about it now. But I’ll provide more details (and the first installment) soon enough.

For the time being, I’ll limit myself to sharing the chapter titles. The book is every bit as surprising and wide-ranging as the titles might suggest. On almost every page you will discover something you’ve never encountered anywhere else.

I expect to publish at least one chapter every month on Substack, alongside my other articles. I would prefer to send the chapters to all subscribers, paid or unpaid. That’s my current hope—but I need a sufficient number of generous readers to take out a paid subscription to make that possible.

Consider this my equivalent of pledge week. In other words, your support can make it possible for everyone to enjoy this project, and the other offerings from The Honest Broker.

So let me insert one of those subscription buttons here.
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And now here’s the checklist of ten reasons why authors should consider publishing their books on Substack.

(1) Substack is an accelerating platform:

A few days ago, I had a chance to sit down with Substack’s founders while they were visiting Austin. I told them that I was initially skeptical about the platform, but a moment arrived when I finally grasped the way Substack empowered me.

“What made the difference for you?” CEO Chris Best asked.

“The lightbulb went on when I saw that Substack was an accelerating platform,” I replied. “I initially thought that I would gain some early subscribers and then growth would flatten. In fact, the opposite occurred—my subscriber growth and impact have accelerated over time. I had no idea this would happen, or in such a dramatic way.”

I started out on Substack attracting around one thousand new subscribers per month. But within a short while I was gaining around one thousand subscribers per week. In other words, not only do I continue to gain an audience on the platform, but the pace at which it grows gets faster and faster all the time.

Below is a mind-blowing chart. A few months ago, I would have told you that the best decision I made in expanding my audience was by getting into direct contact with my readers on Twitter. But check out this comparison between my Twitter followers and Substack subscribers.

Here are three observations:

It took me eight years to reach via Twitter the audience Substack got me in just a few months;

Publishing on Substack turbocharged my audience on every social media platform (and visibility in traditional outlets too); but…

My Substack audience is growing five times faster than my Twitter presence, which was already expanding rapidly, but not at the post-Substack rate.

This is not a small thing. There’s a huge difference being on an accelerating platform versus a flattening or shrinking one. But most media people rarely (or never) experience it—the audience for almost every media outlet has flattened or declined in recent years.

As a result, I will reach 50,000 total Substack subsribers within the next several months, and probably surpass 100,000 sometime next year. In other words, I will soon have a larger subscription presence as a freelancer on Substack than many magazines enjoy after decades.

This is genuinely a game-changer for writers. Especially for someone like me, who (according to several experienced NY editors) writes articles that are poorly suited for commercial success—they are too long, too dense, too strange.

But the numbers don’t lie. I always believed there were readers who didn’t want writing downsized or dumbed down. And now I see it confirmed in the metrics every day.

I get some credit for all this. But the larger truth is that Substack is an accelerating platform for writing. There aren’t many of these, and I may have stumbled upon the best of them all.

(2) The Money is better:

It’s shameful to talk about this, but even Walter White had to pay attention to accounting. Substack only retains 10% of subscription revenues. Authors keeps 90% (minus some tiny transaction fees). That’s almost the exact opposite of a traditional publishing deal.

I like math, so let me calculate the payoff. If we make some reasonable assumptions, an author can generate the equivalent of a $100,000 publishing advance with fewer than a thousand new paid subscribers.

Did that catch your attention?

To be more precise, the number of breakeven new paid subscribers to reach that six-figure level is actually 901.

Here’s how I arrived at that:

Many of my readers are active in the music world, and might wonder how this compares to the way musicians are paid. I’m glad you asked that. Here’s a quick summary, from a recent analysis by Billboard.

That’s quite a contrast between business models—one provides the creator with 90%, the other with 16%. (And let me give three cheers for Bandcamp at this point, which has a payout model for music similar to Substack’s.) I suspect this approach will spread further, not just in publishing and music but other fields where creative professionals have been locked into trickle-down formulas of this sort.

(3) Translation and audiobook rights are mine:

Previously I shared these revenues with my publisher. If I publish myself on Substack, I retain 100% of all these rights and revenues. There are a bunch of other income streams (book club revenues, etc.), which I’ll skip over here, but also won’t have to be shared.

(4) I can still sell physical book rights:

Publishing on Substack doesn’t prevent me from subsequently releasing a physical book with a traditional publisher. I can even refer you to case studies of books achieving an even larger audience in print because they first found readers online. So I’m not foreclosing any other options by publishing on Substack.

I note that it’s not quite so easy working in the opposite direction. Try telling a big commercial publisher that you want to share your book for free online after they have released it in print, and just see what happens. But the beauty of the Substack model is that I can do whatever I want with the text after publishing on the platform—I can remove the book from Substack, or put it behind their paywall, or license it, or change the font to Comic Sans, or anything else I fancy.

(5) Speed to market is much, much faster:

I no longer lose a year, as invariably happens when dealing with a mainstream publisher. I find that attractive in itself, even without considering all the many ways that time is money. But if I dug into the details, I could certainly show how the shortening of time-to-market has many positive financial ramifications for the author. Yet even if we only consider the psychological benefit of faster publishing, this is a big positive for me.

(6) I have more direct contact with my readers

This is an intangible, but it’s a very important consideration for me. I will get direct feedback from thousands of smart people. This leads to the next advantage. . . .

(7) I can improve the book after getting feedback from readers:

I can fix a mistake on Substack in a few seconds. If someone sends me an interesting piece of information about a story I’ve published, I can add it to the text in a flash. (I’ve done this on several occasions already—that’s why it’s always best to read the article online even if you have received it via email.) I anticipate getting all these benefits for my new book. Put simply, it will improve after publication.

(8) I can easily add links, graphics, and videos to my book:

I am excited about the potential for embedding YouTube videos, links, images, and other enhancements into the book. This is an extraordinary advantage of online publishing, and I’m still at the beginning stage of tapping its potential.

(9) I have access to much better metrics:

Substack provides authors with extremely useful metrics. I will actually be able to measure the dissemination and response to my chapters in real time. I’ve never had that opportunity before.

(10) There’s tremendous symbolic value to making this move right now:

That’s another intangible, but an important one. I believe that it’s important to show other writers, who may be considering such a move, that they can be masters of their own destiny, and don’t need to operate within the often inflexible system of legacy publishing.

Authors deserve more options than they find today in a publishing world dominated by a tiny number of enormous corporations. If anything I do contributes to their freedom or flexibility, I will be quite pleased.

The Degeneration of Culture

I reprint below an excellent substack post by Ted Gioia – a keen cultural observer, especially of music.

He explicates many of the obvious trends in our cultural degeneration. As one who has studied the entertainment industries from the inside and out, I have shown that these trends are primarily driven by technology and economics. Digital tech has minimized the return to risk for publishers and distributors, leading to the depletion of risk capital. Without risk capital on unproven art, there is no investment in the new and innovative. Thus, we get the most risk averse business models that basically regurgitate what worked last time. We see this is movies, music, visual arts, and books.

14 Warning Signs That You Are Living in a Society Without a Counterculture

by Ted Gioia

I’ve occasionally mentioned, in interviews and other settings, that we are living in a society without a counterculture. People ask me what I mean by this.

That’s a a reasonable question, but the new normal defies simple explanation. At some point, I hope to write in-depth on this subject. But today I will simply offer a quick definition, and then share 14 tweets.

These capture the flavor of what I’m trying to express better than any long-winded analysis.

First, here’s a quick definition. These are the key indicators that you might be living in a society without a counterculture:

    • A sense of sameness pervades the creative world
    • The dominant themes feel static and repetitive, not dynamic and impactful
    • Imitation of the conventional is rewarded
    • Movies, music, and other creative pursuits are increasingly evaluated on financial and corporate metrics, with all other considerations having little influence
    • Alternative voices exist—in fact, they are everywhere—but are rarely heard, and their cultural impact is negligible
    • Every year the same stories are retold, and this sameness is considered a plus
    • Creative work is increasingly embedded in genres that feel rigid, not flexible
    • Even avant-garde work often feels like a rehash of 50-60 years ago
    • Etc. etc. etc.

This is a deep matter, and I won’t try to unlock all the nuances here. I will now simply share 14 tweets that capture the stale taste of life without a counterculture. Some of these tweets are my own, others from total strangers—but they all paint the same overall picture.

The Honest Broker is a reader-supported guide to music, books, and culture. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.

You might be living in a society without a counterculture if. . . .

(A story told in 14 tweets)

1. Every screen shows the same movie.

Twitter avatar for @tedgioiaTed Gioia @tedgioia

Shared without comment.


2. Alt Weeklies disappear in every city—along with everything else that’s alternative or outside the norm.

3. The most popular song doesn’t change for three years in a row.

Twitter avatar for @rps_prRock Paper Scissors PR @rps_pr

Are we stuck in a loop? @tedgioia


4. The banal word ‘content’ is used to describe every type of creative work, implying that artistry is generic and interchangeable.

5. There are lots of journalists, but they all seem to be working for the same corporations.

6. The dominant company in the creative culture views everything as a brand extension.

7. Indie music and alt music are marginalized.

8. Telling jokes becomes a dangerous profession.

9. The experts who ‘explain’ the culture to us all seem to be insiders with identical backgrounds.

10. This year’s movies look a lot like last year’s movies.

Twitter avatar for @RPK_NEWS1RPK @RPK_NEWS1

Biggest films/shows of 2022. What are you looking forward to the most?


11. Even elite awards for creativity are dominated by reboots and remakes.

12. Five companies have almost complete control over the book business—where, in an earlier day, dozens of indie publishers thrived.

13. Everybody is encouraged to watch the same TV shows and movies—with niche options gradually removed from the dominant platforms.

14. All those nasty, rebellious songs that defy authorities are now owned by hedge funds.

Anonymity Online: A Two-Edged Sword

The real risk is that we go on getting lost in stupid arguments, over shiny but trivial talking-points, and never get the hang of parsing what actually matters in the torrent of information overload. 


This essay, published in UnHerd examines the downside of anonymity and the pathologies of social media. And also the dangers of censorship. This is why we have no anonymity on tuka so reputational capital can be valued and rewarded. Some excerpts and comments below.

Why Twitter is So Awful

“…the term “attention economy” was coined… by Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon, in a 1971 article. Simon explored how to build organizations in a world saturated by information, arguing that attention is a key bottleneck in human culture. That is, the more abundant information is, the scarcer attention becomes as a resource.”

Yes, the time and energy consumed by attention are the resource constraints we face with too much information.

In the resulting bare-knuckle war for attention, it’s not reason that wins. Nor is everyone saying that the best, sanest, or most constructive ideas will prevail. Rather, it’s the most lurid (or aggressively state-sponsored) ideas that make it to the surface…

Yes, but nature has empowered us to adapt to a changing environment, and this applies to technological change that shapes our social interactions. We are learning how to cope with global social media that has distorted local human interaction. But one might have made a similar case against the introduction of the automobile. Motor vehicles made life more treacherous, where pedestrians were now subject to new risks. But we learned to regulate car traffic on roads and provide guidelines and behaviors for pedestrians. We learned how, when walking through town, to look both ways. We need to learn similar survival skills for navigating the online, virtual world. One must take control of one’s social engagement. Many have chosen to completely unplug.

The real risk is that we go on getting lost in stupid arguments, over shiny but trivial talking-points, and never get the hang of parsing what actually matters in the torrent of information overload. 

Yes, so one must exert judgment over how to spend one’s precious time. Not everyone will get it, but on a societal level it becomes a reflection of cultural values. Cultural values swing and tend toward the mean of humanity. When engaging online makes us feel less human, we will disengage in favor of human interaction. This is why so many people choose not to engage on Twitter and Facebook. And this is how we control the inhuman evolution of technology. Teach your children well.

The MetaVerse?

This editorial by The Guardian takes a critical look at social media and arrives at some of the same conclusions and insights we have here at tuka. Our points of agreement are highlighted with comments below:

The Guardian view on social media’s metaverse: it may remain science fiction

February 7, 2022

The online virtual reality experience that almost every tech giant today wishes to commercially exploit may not catch on

In the 1992 sci-fi dystopia Snow Crash, the author Neal Stephenson imagined a bleak 21st century where the collapse of the global economy had seen governments fall and their power replaced by a few giant businesses. The book is notable for prescience, anticipating the adoption of what was then seen as outlandish technologies like the wireless internet, cryptocurrencies and smartphones, as well as the rise of the gig economy. But it is the book’s prophetic vision of “the metaverse” that has revived interest in the work.

That is because Stephenson described the online virtual reality experience that almost every tech giant today wishes to commercially exploit. Last October, Microsoft announced that users of its Teams online meetings app would be able to turn themselves into avatars – the term Stephenson popularized in Snow Crash – to encourage users into virtual interaction. Days later Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, rebranded his company as Meta, with a focus on the potential for virtual worlds.

Mr Zuckerberg wants to convince the world that he has found new ways to make money – a quest that has become more urgent since last week it was revealed that the company’s user base may not just have plateaued but is starting to decline. This is in part because many Apple iPhone owners choose to opt out of being tracked by applications like Facebook and younger people prefer to spend time on the Chinese-owned social media network TikTok. Facebook users’ engagement provides the personal data used to target advertising. Mr Zuckerberg’s Meta rebrand is meant to signal that he will improve his firm’s targeting and measurement techniques – and extract more revenue from its users.

However, the metaverse may not be the future. The corporate version of social media has been blamed, with some justification, for rotting democracy from within. Because Facebook, Twitter and YouTube loom so large in the public imagination, there exists a “blind spot”, suggests computer scientist Ethan Zuckerman, for alternative models. Yet they are here. Tim Berners-Lee, the web’s inventor, wants to wrest power back from big tech and put people in control of their personal data. [Yes, data is the new gold and personal data is personal property that is valued.]

Other decentralized platforms – such as Mastodon – make it possible to create online communities with different rules. Progressive Twitter users in India switched in 2019 to after a supporter was suspended. However, the biggest decentralized social network is Gab, which serves de-platformed rightwing extremists. There are also social media platforms built around cryptocurrency/blockchain capitalism, which currently has a prohibitively large carbon footprint.

Contributors to such sites are typically rewarded with tokens, theoretically enabling high-quality content to be rewarded. However, this model has its downsides: notably that voting power is proportional to currency holdings [tuka departs from this weakness – there is no voting with tokens. Tukans become the currency with which the user base rewards the value of promotional behaviors through the productive sharing of valued content. The idea is prevent gaming of the human sharing “algorithm.”] When Steemit, one of the original crypto-sites, was bought out, its new owner used his market power to move it his own blockchain system – precipitating a walkout by users.

Mr Zuckerman’s wish is for “lots more social networks” that are explicitly governed by the communities who are working with them and offer tools that give more control over what is seen and how it is seen. [Yes, but in decentralized Web 3.0, platforms like Facebook have no ownership or control over the data networks created by users. So, essentially FB is rendered redundant.] He thinks that a period of fertile creativity may produce a new, more cooperative form of social media. One hopes he is right. [It does, as long as the creators have ownership and control of their content. This is the negation of Zuckerberg’s FB world. Perhaps the recent crash in FB’s tock price is an indirect reflection of that.]

Is Old Music Killing New Music?

No. But that doesn’t mean new music isn’t withering on the vine. This article in The Atlantic addresses many of the problems, which can be reduced down to the drying up of investment risk capital in the industry. This has been a function of digital technology and the explosion of new content across all creative industries.  In the age of physical media, content sales were king, but in the digital information age data is king. The industry must pivot around that reality and it probably means the disintermediation of many industry functions that served the sale of physical media. Article and comments are reprinted in full because we need to understand this new world.

Is Old Music Killing New Music?

Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market. Even worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking.

By Ted Gioia

The Atlantic January 23, 2022.

Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market, according to the latest numbers from MRC Data, a music-analytics firm. Those who make a living from new music—especially that endangered species known as the working musician—should look at these figures with fear and trembling. But the news gets worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking. All the growth in the market is coming from old songs. [Well, the problem is lack of growth, since these revenues are coming from existing catalogs. Record companies are churning their catalogs because it’s costless and risk free.]

Source: MRC Data

The 200 most popular new tracks now regularly account for less than 5 percent of total streams. That rate was twice as high just three years ago. The mix of songs actually purchased by consumers is even more tilted toward older music. The current list of most-downloaded tracks on iTunes is filled with the names of bands from the previous century, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Police.

I encountered this phenomenon myself recently at a retail store, where the youngster at the cash register was singing along with Sting on “Message in a Bottle” (a hit from 1979) as it blasted on the radio. A few days earlier, I had a similar experience at a local diner, where the entire staff was under 30 but every song was more than 40 years old. I asked my server: “Why are you playing this old music?” She looked at me in surprise before answering: “Oh, I like these songs.”

Never before in history have new tracks attained hit status while generating so little cultural impact. [This is likely because the music culture today is so diffused. Diversity of musical tastes and the sheer volume of new music means the audiences are fractured into thousands of pieces.] In fact, the audience seems to be embracing the hits of decades past instead. Success was always short-lived in the music business, but now even new songs that become bona fide hits can pass unnoticed by much of the population.

Only songs released in the past 18 months get classified as “new” in the MRC database, so people could conceivably be listening to a lot of two-year-old songs, rather than 60-year-old ones. But I doubt these old playlists consist of songs from the year before last. Even if they did, that fact would still represent a repudiation of the pop-culture industry, which is almost entirely focused on what’s happening right now.

Every week I hear from hundreds of publicists, record labels, band managers, and other professionals who want to hype the newest new thing. Their livelihoods depend on it. The entire business model of the music industry is built on promoting new songs. [Yes, but this business model is dead. It was built on physical product. The new model is built on data network monetization.] As a music writer, I’m expected to do the same, as are radio stations, retailers, DJs, nightclub owners, editors, playlist curators, and everyone else with skin in the game. Yet all the evidence indicates that few listeners are paying attention. [Digital media and communications have disrupted these professions dedicated to promoting and distributing physical product.]

Consider the recent reaction when the Grammy Awards were postponed. Perhaps I should say the lack of reaction, because the cultural response was little more than a yawn. I follow thousands of music professionals on social media, and I didn’t encounter a single expression of annoyance or regret that the biggest annual event in new music had been put on hold. That’s ominous.

Can you imagine how angry fans would be if the Super Bowl or NBA Finals were delayed? People would riot in the streets. But the Grammy Awards go missing in action, and hardly anyone notices. [Award shows are based on mass markets – those markets have disintegrated.]

The declining TV audience for the Grammy show underscores this shift. In 2021, viewership for the ceremony collapsed 53 percent from the previous year—from 18.7 million to 8.8 million. It was the least-watched Grammy broadcast of all time. Even the core audience for new music couldn’t be bothered—about 98 percent of people ages 18 to 49 had something better to do than watch the biggest music celebration of the year.

A decade ago, 40 million people watched the Grammy Awards. That’s a meaningful audience, but now the devoted fans of this event are starting to resemble a tiny subculture. More people pay attention to streams of video games on Twitch (which now gets 30 million daily visitors) or the latest reality-TV show. In fact, musicians would probably do better getting placement in Fortnite than signing a record deal in 2022. At least they would have access to a growing demographic.

Source: Nielsen/Media Reports

Some would like to believe that this trend is just a short-term blip, perhaps caused by the pandemic. When clubs open up again, and DJs start spinning new records at parties, the world will return to normal, or so we’re told. The hottest songs will again be the newest songs. I’m not so optimistic.

A series of unfortunate events are conspiring to marginalize new music. The pandemic is one of these ugly facts, but hardly the only contributor to the growing crisis.

Consider these other trends:

  • The leading area of investment in the music business is old songs. Investment firms are getting into bidding wars to buy publishing catalogs from aging rock and pop stars. [Yeah, because it’s low risk/high return. Financiers and music companies can’t afford to lose money.]
  • The song catalogs in most demand are by musicians who are in their 70s or 80s (Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen) or already dead (David Bowie, James Brown). [All you have to pay are royalties, and you don’t have to pay those unless you’re selling.] 
  • Even major record labels are participating in the rush to old music: Universal Music, Sony Music, Warner Music, and others are buying up publishing catalogs and investing huge sums in old tunes. In a previous time, that money would have been used to launch new artists. [It’s where the low risk money is.]
  • The best-selling physical format in music is the vinyl LP, which is more than 70 years old. I’ve seen no signs that the record labels are investing in a newer, better alternative—because, here too, old is viewed as superior to new. [Physical media cannot compete with digital media because digital media builds networks without llimit. Those networks get monetized by the digital distributors.]
  • In fact, record labels—once a source of innovation in consumer products—don’t spend any money on research and development to revitalize their business, although every other industry looks to innovation for growth and consumer excitement. [It’s about risk capital – and the collapse in revenues means the evaporation of risk capital.]
  • Record stores are caught up in the same time warp. In an earlier era, they aggressively marketed new music, but now they make more money from vinyl reissues and used LPs.
  • Radio stations are contributing to the stagnation, putting fewer new songs into their rotation, or—judging by the offerings on my satellite-radio lineup—completely ignoring new music in favor of old hits.
  • When a new song overcomes these obstacles and actually becomes a hit, the risk of copyright lawsuits is greater than ever before. The risks have increased enormously since the “Blurred Lines” jury decision of 2015, and the result is that additional cash gets transferred from today’s musicians to old (or deceased) artists. [Copyright is fairly meaningless in the digital world – as most software makers discovered long ago. The record cos. made the mistake of suing their best customers.]
  • Adding to the nightmare, dead musicians are now coming back to life in virtual form—via holograms and “deepfake” music—making it all the harder for young, living artists to compete in the marketplace. [Haha – Night of the Living Dead. Maybe they’re Grateful?]

As record labels lose interest in new music, emerging performers desperately search for other ways to get exposure. They hope to place their self-produced tracks on a curated streaming playlist, or license their songs for use in advertising or the closing credits of a TV show. Those options might generate some royalty income, but they do little to build name recognition. You might hear a cool song on a TV commercial, but do you even know the name of the artist? You love your workout playlist at the health club, but how many song titles and band names do you remember? You stream a Spotify new-music playlist in the background while you work, but did you bother to learn who’s singing the songs?

Decades ago, the composer Erik Satie warned of the arrival of “furniture music,” a kind of song that would blend seamlessly into the background of our lives. His vision seems closer to reality than ever.

Some people—especially Baby Boomers—tell me that this decline in the popularity of new music is simply the result of lousy new songs. Music used to be better, or so they say. The old songs had better melodies, more interesting harmonies, and demonstrated genuine musicianship, not just software loops, Auto-Tuned vocals, and regurgitated samples. [No, the problem is search and discovery. Recommendations from streaming servers are self-interested and worthless, so baby boomers just drop out. The market has become so large and diverse that audiences can’t find music and artists can’t find their audiences.]

There will never be another Sondheim, they tell me. Or Joni Mitchell. Or Bob Dylan. Or Cole Porter. Or Brian Wilson. I almost expect these doomsayers to break out in a stirring rendition of “Old Time Rock and Roll,” much like Tom Cruise in his underpants.

Just take those old records off the shelf

I’ll sit and listen to ’em by myself …

I can understand the frustrations of music lovers who get no satisfaction from current mainstream songs, though they try and they try. I also lament the lack of imagination on many modern hits. But I disagree with my Boomer friends’ larger verdict. I listen to two to three hours of new music every day, and I know that plenty of exceptional young musicians are out there trying to make it. They exist. But the music industry has lost its ability to discover and nurture their talents. [Exactly. There’s no way to pay A&R people anymore. The record cos. depend on social media and streaming services.]

Music-industry bigwigs have plenty of excuses for their inability to discover and adequately promote great new artists. The fear of copyright lawsuits has made many in the industry deathly afraid of listening to unsolicited demo recordings. If you hear a demo today, you might get sued for stealing its melody—or maybe just its rhythmic groove—five years from now. Try mailing a demo to a label or producer, and watch it return unopened. [Probably a function of ‘beats’ and sampling regurgitating proven music.]

The people whose livelihood depends on discovering new musical talent face legal risks if they take their job seriously. That’s only one of the deleterious results of the music industry’s overreliance on lawyers and litigation, a hard-ass approach they once hoped would cure all their problems, but now does more harm than good. Everybody suffers in this litigious environment except for the partners at the entertainment-law firms, who enjoy the abundant fruits of all these lawsuits and legal threats.

The problem goes deeper than just copyright concerns. The people running the music industry have lost confidence in new music. They won’t admit it publicly—that would be like the priests of Jupiter and Apollo in ancient Rome admitting that their gods are dead. Even if they know it’s true, their job titles won’t allow such a humble and abject confession. Yet that is exactly what’s happening. The moguls have lost their faith in the redemptive and life-changing power of new music. How sad is that? Of course, the decision makers need to pretend that they still believe in the future of their business, and want to discover the next revolutionary talent. But that’s not what they really think. Their actions speak much louder than their empty words. [Most existing music co. execs are playing an end game. They been bleeding everything they can from the industry since the advent of the mp3.]

In fact, nothing is less interesting to music executives than a completely radical new kind of music. Who can blame them for feeling this way? The radio stations will play only songs that fit the dominant formulas, which haven’t changed much in decades. [Regurgitate what worked in the recent past.] The algorithms curating so much of our new music are even worse. Music algorithms are designed to be feedback loops, ensuring that the promoted new songs are virtually identical to your favorite old songs. Anything that genuinely breaks the mold is excluded from consideration almost as a rule. That’s actually how the current system has been designed to work. [Recommendation engines running machine algorithms are worthless for subjective art. We need to get humans back in the loop, like tuka.]

Even the music genres famous for shaking up the world—rock or jazz or hip-hop—face this same deadening industry mindset. I love jazz, but many of the radio stations focused on that genre play songs that sound almost the same as what they featured 10 or 20 years ago. In many instances, they actually are the same songs.

This state of affairs is not inevitable. A lot of musicians around the world—especially in Los Angeles and London—are conducting a bold dialogue between jazz and other contemporary styles. They are even bringing jazz back as dance music. But the songs they release sound dangerously different from older jazz, and are thus excluded from many radio stations for that same reason. The very boldness with which they embrace the future becomes the reason they get rejected by the gatekeepers. [The gatekeepers will soon be gone. It’s a failed business model.]

A country record needs to sound a certain way to get played on most country radio stations or playlists, and the sound those DJs and algorithms are looking for dates back to the prior century. And don’t even get me started on the classical-music industry, which works hard to avoid showcasing the creativity of the current generation. We are living in an amazing era of classical composition, with one tiny problem: The institutions controlling the genre don’t want you to hear it. [The only two genres that make money are…you guessed it: Country and Hip-Hop/Rap. So that’s all we hear.]

The problem isn’t a lack of good new music. It’s an institutional failure to discover and nurture it. [This is one of the two major problems that result from digitization. A low cost structure that creates too much supply with an inability to monetize. Streaming doesn’t solve either of these problems.]

I learned the danger of excessive caution long ago, when I consulted for huge Fortune 500 companies. The single biggest problem I encountered—shared by virtually every large company I analyzed—was investing too much of their time and money into defending old ways of doing business, rather than building new ones. [This is what suits and lawyers do.] We even had a proprietary tool for quantifying this misallocation of resources that spelled out the mistakes in precise dollars and cents.

Senior management hated hearing this, and always insisted that defending the old business units was their safest bet. [Of course.] After I encountered this embedded mindset again and again and saw its consequences, I reached the painful conclusion that the safest path is usually the most dangerous. If you pursue a strategy—whether in business or your personal life—that avoids all risk, you might flourish in the short run, but you flounder over the long term. That’s what is now happening in the music business. [Yes, coporate businesses are short-sighted.]

Even so, I refuse to accept that we are in some grim endgame, witnessing the death throes of new music. And I say that because I know how much people crave something that sounds fresh and exciting and different. If they don’t find it from a major record label or algorithm-driven playlist, they will find it somewhere else. Songs can go viral nowadays without the entertainment industry even noticing until it has already happened. That will be how this story ends: not with the marginalization of new music, but with something radical emerging from an unexpected place. [Yup – try]

The apparent dead ends of the past were circumvented the same way. Music-company execs in 1955 had no idea that rock and roll would soon sweep away everything in its path. When Elvis took over the culture—coming from the poorest state in America, lowly Mississippi—they were more shocked than anybody. It happened again the following decade, with the arrival of the British Invasion from lowly Liverpool (again, a working-class place, unnoticed by the entertainment industry). And it happened again when hip-hop, a true grassroots movement that didn’t give a damn how the close-minded CEOs of Sony or Universal viewed the marketplace, emerged from the Bronx and South Central and other impoverished neighborhoods.

If we had the time, I would tell you more about how the same thing has always happened. The troubadours of the 11th century, Sappho, the lyric singers of ancient Greece, and the artisan performers of the Middle Kingdom in ancient Egypt transformed their own cultures in a similar way. Musical revolutions come from the bottom up, not the top down. The CEOs are the last to know. That’s what gives me solace. New music always arises in the least expected place, and when the power brokers aren’t even paying attention. It will happen again. It certainly needs to. The decision makers controlling our music institutions have lost the thread. We’re lucky that the music is too powerful for them to kill.

[Yes, but we’re not talking about human createivity here (which will never die), we’re talking about the business of human creativity. That has changed and maybe broought us back to a digital form of busking. We need to think outside this box.]

This story was adapted from a post on Ted Gioia’s Substack, The Honest Broker


The tuka Platform


NFTs (Non-fungible tokens) are the newest rage in blockchain development. These tokens are issued by the creators of digital assets and then registered on the Ethereum blockchain. The smart contracts associated with the tokens can award ownership rights to the asset with the rights to royalty payments for the marketing or sale of the asset. NFTs seem particularly suited to collectors’ items and can also be applied to physical assets. The sale of the tokens prepays the creator for the value created through his creation. Preselling NFTs for songs could deliver a revenue flow to musicians before the music became a commercial hit. Think of having a digital right of ownership to Happy Birthday or Yesterday or The Mona Lisa. The problem, of course, is that predicting the future value of a creative piece of art today is almost impossible. Remember, Van Gogh couldn’t sell any of his paintings!

This makes NFTs a very speculative asset play.

Click below to view the idea of an NFT art gallery:

The Gallery NFT

How To Fix Social Media (Facebook!)

How to Fix Social Media.

The Wall Street Journal has published a series of articles they call The Facebook Files. One article recently queried a dozen “experts” to discuss their ideas of how to fix social media. We at tuka have been focused on this challenge from the beginning, several years ago, and what these commentators reveal is a converging consensus that the problem with social media is scale and emotional triggering based on the speed of information flow. As Winston Churchill was said to quip, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Social media connections have just made this pathology worse.

Our take has always been summed up with one line: A global gossip network makes no sense. So large, centralized networks of 3 billion users make no sense (i.e, FB). Social networking is person-to-person sharing based on mutual trust. So smaller newworks focused on shared interests make sense. This is what tuka is. Technology can then be harnessed to coordinate these networks in ways that reduce the siloing effect so we can all end up sharing more information based on our trusted networks. So what is needed are policies that break down the network effects of scale to open up the social media space to thousands of competitors, all focused on different community interests. Then the interactions across networks help bring us together willingly.

The other problem we at tuka have cited is the centralization and control of information networks and the immense value they create. Data is gold, and we cannot have a handful of private companies own and control the personal data users create. This is akin to giving your labor away, or slavery. The required changes are to decentralize the network using blockchain technologies so that value created can be measured and distributed accordingly to users.

Several of the experts have accurately recognized the problem and what to do about it. The better ideas have been cut and pasted below.


Clay Shirky: Slow It Down and Make It Smaller

We know how to fix social media. We’ve always known. We were complaining about it when it got worse, so we remember what it was like when it was better. We need to make it smaller and slow it down.

The spread of social media vastly increased how many people any of us can reach with a single photo, video or bit of writing. When we look at who people connect to on social networks—mostly friends, unsurprisingly—the scale of immediate connections seems manageable. But the imperative to turn individual offerings, mostly shared with friends, into viral sensations creates an incentive for social media platforms, and especially Facebook, to amplify bits of content well beyond any friend group.

We’re all potential celebrities now, where anything we say could spread well beyond the group we said it to, an effect that the social media scholar Danah Boyd has called “context collapse.” And once we’re all potential celebrities, some people will respond to the incentives to reach that audience—hot takes, dangerous stunts, fake news, miracle cures, the whole panoply of lies and grift we now behold.

The faster content moves, the likelier it is to be borne on the winds of emotional reaction.

The inhuman scale at which the internet assembles audiences for casually produced material is made worse by the rising speed of viral content. As the behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman observed, human thinking comes in two flavors: fast and slow. Emotions are fast, and deliberation is slow.

The obvious corollary is that the faster content moves, the likelier it is to be borne on the winds of emotional reaction, with any deliberation coming after it has spread, if at all. The spread of smartphones and push notifications has created a whole ecosystem of URGENT! messages, things we are exhorted to amplify by passing them along: Like if you agree, share if you very much agree.

Social media is better, for individuals and for the social fabric, if the groups it assembles are smaller, and if the speed at which content moves through it is slower. Some of this is already happening, as people vote with their feet (well, fingers) to join various group chats, whether via SMS, Slack or Discord.

We know that scale and speed make people crazy. We’ve known this since before the web was invented. Users are increasingly aware that our largest social media platforms are harmful and that their addictive nature makes some sort of coordinated action imperative.

It’s just not clear where that action might come from. Self-regulation is ineffective, and the political arena is too polarized to agree on any such restrictions. There are only two remaining scenarios: regulation from the executive branch or a continuation of the status quo, with only minor changes. Neither of those responses is ideal, but given that even a global pandemic does not seem to have galvanized bipartisanship, it’s hard to see any other set of practical options.

Mr. Shirky is Vice Provost for Educational Technologies at New York University and the author of “Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.”


Jaron Lanier: Topple the New Gods of Data

When we speak of social media, what are we talking about? Is it the broad idea of people connecting over the internet, keeping track of old friends, or sharing funny videos? Or is it the business model that has come to dominate those activities, as implemented by Facebook and a few other companies?

Tech companies have dominated the definition because of the phenomenon known as network effects: The more connected a system is, the more likely it is to produce winner-take-all outcomes. Facebook took all.

The domination is so great that we forget alternatives are possible. There is a wonderful new generation of researchers and critics concerned with problems like damage to teen girls and incitement of racist violence, and their work is indispensable. If all we had to talk about was the more general idea of possible forms of social media, then their work would be what’s needed to improve things.

Unfortunately, what we need to talk about is the dominant business model. This model spews out horrible incentives to make people meaner and crazier. Incentives run the world more than laws, regulations, critiques, or the ideas of researchers.

The current incentives are to “engage” people as much as possible, which means triggering the “lizard brain” and fight-or-flight responses. People have always been a little paranoid, xenophobic, racist, neurotically vain, irritable, selfish, and afraid. And yet putting people under the influence of engagement algorithms has managed to bring out even more of the worst of us.

The current incentives are to ‘engage’ people as much as possible, which means triggering the ‘lizard brain.’

Can we survive being under the ambient influence of behavior modification algorithms that make us stupider?

The business model that makes life worse is based on a particular ideology. This ideology holds that humans as we know ourselves are being replaced by something better that will be brought about by tech companies. Either we’ll become part of a giant collective organism run through algorithms, or artificial intelligence will soon be able to do most jobs, including running society, better than people. The overwhelming imperative is to create something like a universally Facebook-connected society or a giant artificial intelligence.

These “new gods” run on data, so as much data as possible must be gathered, and getting in the middle of human interactions is how you gather that data. If the process makes people crazy, that’s an acceptable price to pay.

The business model, not the algorithms, is also why people have to fear being put out of work by technology. If people were paid fairly for their contributions to algorithms and robots, then more tech would mean more jobs, but the ideology demands that people accept a creeping feeling of human obsolescence. After all, if data coming from people were valued, then it might seem like the big computation gods, like AI, were really just collaborations of people instead of new life forms. That would be a devastating blow to the tech ideology.

Facebook now proposes to change its name and to primarily pursue the “metaverse” instead of “social media,” but the only changes that fundamentally matter are in the business model, ideology, and resulting incentives.

Mr. Lanier is a computer scientist and the author, most recently, of “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.”

Clive Thompson: Online Communities That Actually Work

Are there any digital communities that aren’t plagued by trolling, posturing and terrible behavior? Sure there are. In fact, there are quite a lot of online hubs where strangers talk all day long in a very civil fashion. But these aren’t the sites that we typically think of as social media, like Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. No, I’m thinking of the countless discussion boards and Discord servers devoted to hobbies or passions like fly fishing, cuisine, art, long-distance cycling or niche videogames.

I visit places like this pretty often in reporting on how people use digital tools, and whenever I check one out, I’m often struck by how un-toxic they are. These days, we wonder a lot about why social networks go bad. But it’s equally illuminating to ask about the ones that work well. These communities share one characteristic: They’re small. Generally they have only a few hundred members, or maybe a couple thousand if they’re really popular.

And smallness makes all the difference. First, these groups have a sense of cohesion. The members have joined specifically to talk to people with whom they share an enthusiasm. That creates a type of social glue, a context and a mutual respect that can’t exist on a highly public site like Twitter, where anyone can crash any public conversation.

Smallness makes all the difference. These groups have a sense of cohesion.

Even more important, small groups typically have people who work to keep interactions civil. Sometimes this will be the forum organizer or an active, long-term participant. They’ll greet newcomers to make them feel welcome, draw out quiet people and defuse conflict when they see it emerge. Sometimes they’ll ban serious trolls. But what’s crucial is that these key members model good behavior, illustrating by example the community’s best standards. The internet thinkers Heather Gold, Kevin Marks and Deb Schultz put a name to this: “tummeling,” after the Yiddish “tummeler,” who keeps a party going.

None of these positive elements can exist in a massive, public social network, where millions of people can barge into each other’s spaces—as they do on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. The single biggest problem facing social media is that our dominant networks are obsessed with scale. They want to utterly dominate their fields, so they can kill or absorb rivals and have the ad dollars to themselves. But scale breaks social relations.

Is there any way to mitigate this problem? I’ve never heard of any simple solution. Strong antitrust enforcement for the big networks would be useful, to encourage a greater array of rivals that truly compete with one another. But this likely wouldn’t fully solve the problem of scale, since many users crave scale too. Lusting after massive, global audiences, they will flock to whichever site offers the hugest. Many of the proposed remedies for social media, like increased moderation or modifications to legal liability, might help, but all leave intact the biggest problem of all: Bigness itself.

Mr. Thompson is a journalist who covers science and technology. He is the author, most recently, of “Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World.”