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Life in the Metaverse

This article on the efforts of Big  Tech, specifically META, to corner the market in VR exposes some of the myths of  Web3.0. Zuckerberg’s concept of VR is Web2.0 on steroids, as Jaron Lanier makes clear.

From Tablet:
Life in the Metaverse

Excerpt:

“What’s going on today with a company like Google or Meta is that they’re getting all this data for free from people who don’t understand the meaning or the value of the data and then turning it into these algorithms that are mostly used to manipulate the same people,” Lanier told Kara Swisher on “The Metaverse: Expectations vs. Reality,” a New York Times podcast. For Lanier, the ultimate point of the Quest Pro is not to provide users with a valuable experience but to popularize a tool that can collect their data at the source.

 

The Future Will Soon Be Here

I repost Ted Gioia’s Substack post here because I couldn’t have said it all better myself. As he outlines it,  this has been tuka‘s approach all along. The one thing he doesn’t address is the winner-take-all aspect of creative markets –  why all these YT revenues end up going to a few mass influencers or curators. Blockchain and tokenization are necessary tools to decentralize and distribute rewards for value created.

A Creator-Driven Culture is Coming—and Nobody Can Stop It

By Ted Gioia

“Victory is assured!”

I’m talking about victory for creative professionals—musicians, writers, visual artists, and others who have been squeezed by the digital economy.

You’re probably surprised. Some people think I’m the Dr. Doom of the music scene. And it’s true, I’ve made a lot of depressing predictions over the last few years, Even more depressing, many of these predictions have already come true.

I’ve told horror stories about musicians who lost their gigs during the pandemic, and also saw their music royalties collapse as the audience shifted to streaming. I’ve talked about journalists fired from downsizing newspapers. And filmmakers who can’t get funded to make a movie unless a Marvel superhero is named in the title .

But now I want to tell you the rest of the story. Because the next phase in the cycle is filled with good news.

Victory is assured.

Let’s start by looking at the music business, where the squeeze has been the worst.

Whenever I do a forecast, my first step is to follow the money. And the adage that money talks has never been truer than right now. Those dollars are telling an amazing and unexpected story. Word on the street is that record labels are offering far more attractive terms to musicians than ever before.

“Here’s my craziest prediction. In the future, single individuals will have more impact in launching new artists than major record labels or streaming platforms.”

In the old days, musicians were lucky to get 15% of revenues, but I’m now hearing increasingly about deals that give artists a 50% cut, and in some instances allow them to regain ownership of their master recordings at a future date. The music moguls are positively generous—and (as we shall see) for structural reasons in the business that aren’t going away.

And it’s not just major labels giving more money to musicians. Take a look at Bandcamp, which lets musicians collect almost 90% of revenues from vinyl sales. And I’m hearing constantly from techies and entrepreneurs who are working on similar artist-centric business models. We are only in the early innings of this new game, but the shift is already enough to force huge concessions from legacy music companies.

Artist-friendly platforms are the future of music. And other creative pursuits as well—my own platform, Substack, is also allowing creators to keep close to 90% of revenues. This has spurred a huge talent migration from old media, and not merely for writers—you can find almost every kind of creative professional on Substack, from cartoonists to photographers.

For 25 long, hard years, creative professionals have been told that you must give things away for free on the Internet. But not anymore. Alternative economic models are not only emerging, but are propelling the fastest-growing platforms in arts and entertainment.

This is not only shaking up highbrow and popular culture, but capturing the attention of the next generation of tech visionaries—which is why, in the last year or so, I’ve been constantly approached by startups asking me to evaluate their business plans. This is unprecedented. It simply didn’t happen before the pandemic. But not only are these entrepreneurs trying to figure out what artists want, but they’re actually relying on creator wealth maximization as the focal point for their businesses.

In general, these young techies are smarter than the folks running the music business right now. (That’s a subject I want to discuss at a later date—I call it my ‘idiot nephew theory’ of the music business. But it has to wait.) Of course, many of these entrepreneurs are dreamers who will never go anywhere. That’s always the case with entrepreneurs. But some will succeed, and in a meaningful way.

In fact, it’s inevitable—and for the simple reason that the old institutions have stopped investing in the future. The new guard will take over because the old guard got weak and lazy.

Why is all this happening? Let’s go back to look at the music situation, because this helps us understand the larger picture.

Record labels are getting more generous because they don’t have a choice. They destroyed their own power base and source of influence. They stopped investing in R&D and new consumer technologies back in the 1980s. Twenty years later, they stopped manufacturing and distributing physical albums—and even when vinyl took off, they were asleep at the wheel. Over the same time period, they lost their marketing skills, trusting more in payola and influence peddling of various sorts.

But that’s just a start. Over a fifty-year period, record labels relentlessly dumbed-down their A&R departments. They shut down their recording studios, and let musicians handle that themselves—often even encouraging artists to record entire albums at home. Then they let huge streaming platforms control the relationship with consumers. At every juncture, they opted to do less and less, until they were left doing almost nothing at all.

The music industry’s unstated dream was to exit every part of the business, except cashing the checks. But reality doesn’t work that way. If you don’t add value, those checks eventually start shrinking.

The simple fact is that the legacy music business is living off the past—and will continue to do so until the copyrights expire. For a few more years, they will collect royalties on old songs, and make money on reissues and archival material. They know themselves that they have lost control of the future of music. That’s why, if they have spare cash, they use it to buy up catalogs and publishing rights of music from back in the day. Their favorite artists are dead artists.

But this is not a long-term game. It’s a death wish.

The major labels would like to own the music stars of the future, but they won’t. They would like to act greedy and put the squeeze on the next generation, but they can’t. They simply don’t have the leverage. And never will again.

And who will win if record labels lose? You think it might be the streaming platforms? Think again—because that’s not going to happen. Spotify and Apple Music are even less interested than the major labels in nurturing talent and building the careers of young artists.

Here’s my craziest prediction. In the future, single individuals will have more impact in launching new artists than major record labels or streaming platforms.

Just consider this: There are now 36 different YouTube channels with 50 million or more subscribers—and they’re often run by a single ambitious person, maybe with a little bit of support help. In fact, there are now seven YouTube channels with more than 100 million subscribers. By comparison, the New York Times only has nine million subscribers.

“How could a Substack column outbid major media outlets for new talent? But not only can it happen, it will inevitably happen.”

Most people don’t stop and think about the implications of this. But just ponder what it means when some dude sitting in a basement has ten times as much reach and influence as the New York Times.

If you run one of these channels and have any skill in identifying talent, you can launch the next generation of stars.

And not just in music. This works for everything—comedy, dance, animation, you name it.

Consider the case of MrBeast. Many of you have no idea what I’m talking about, but you need to find out—because MrBeast (or people like him) are going to change popular culture, whether we like it or not. MrBeast, for a start, runs 18 YouTube channels with more than 200 million total subscribers. He now has his videos translated into four languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, and Russian.

What does he do? I’m no expert on MrBeast, but I’m told he’s a good dude, and gives away a lot of money—huge sums, to be blunt. And he can afford to do it, because YouTube channels are low-overhead operations with enormous cash generation potential.

Oh, I forgot to mention that MrBeast is looking to raise capital from financial investors. He claims that his business is worth $1.5 billion, and may sell 10% to get $150 million to fund his future plans.

I’m not even beginning to pretend that MrBeast will use this money to get into the music business. But he might. And if he doesn’t, someone else like him will.

MrBeast has got the cash to shake up the music business—and if he doesn’t, someone like him will
I note that MrBeast only ranks number five in YouTube channel subscriptions. There are other people like him, or will be soon, and they are much better equipped to launch a new music act than any of the major labels.

That’s why musicians can make more money when the distribution model shifts from bloated record labels with huge overhead to alternative web-based platforms. I expect that deals for artists on these web channels will be more like 50/50. MrBeast is known for his generosity, but even if he wasn’t, his business model is much more flexible than anything Sony or Universal Music could ever dream of. These new platforms can afford to offer better terms to creators, and almost certainly will—because if they don’t someone else will.


This didn’t take place during the first wave of YouTube channels, because these influencers (I hate the term, but it’s appropriate in this setting) were focused on making themselves into money-making stars. But the next phase of growth for these people is brand extension, and that’s going to turn them into talent scouts.

I’m focusing on YouTube channels here, but the same story could be told about podcasters—or any other individual with a lock on an audience in the tens of millions. Consider them as the equivalent of the Ed Sullivan Show in the old days. The host of this long-running TV show didn’t have much talent himself, but it hardly mattered—Ed Sullivan was the curator who introduced America to Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and other rising stars. That kind of thing will happen again, but via a web channel or alternative platform.

These individuals can do absolutely everything a record label currently does, and do it better—they can launch new stars, get them instant visibility and gigs, generate millions of views for new songs, attract endorsement deals, etc. The few things they can’t do in-house (for example, press vinyl records) can be easily outsourced.

The same thing will happen in publishing. I’m already seeing a few of the more popular Substack writers using their huge subscriber base to launch the careers of other writers. By my calculations, this can be even more profitable and impactful than a book contract with a New York publisher—benefiting both the sponsoring writer and the new talent.

In fact, I might move in this direction myself. It’s too early, but 2-3 years from now I might start scouting out talented young writers or podcasters and feature them here in The Honest Broker. Everything depends on subscription numbers, but it’s possible that I could pay better than the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.

At first blush, this seems impossible. How could a Substack column outbid major media outlets for new talent? But not only can it happen, it will inevitably happen. It’s the same story as in music. The old guard has stopped defending its base business, and everything is either up for grabs now—or will be very soon.

Newspapers have lost enormous power over the last twenty years. They have lost subscribers. They have lost ad revenues. They have even, in many instances, lost credibility and respect. Up until now, this has hurt writers—who depended on the newspapers for assignments and pay checks. But we are now arriving at the point where the trend reverses.

And this reversal opens up huge opportunities and income potential for smarter, nimbler operators.

I could give many other examples. What I’m describing is also true for Hollywood movie studios, book publishing, and every other field where the old guard has become arteriosclerotic and inflexible.

Okay, let me summarize the whole thing in a diagram.

[Note: tuka is in the blue circle here.]

There’s an elegant irony here. The very same forces putting the squeeze on creators actually serve to accelerate the happy next phase.

This is one reason why I believe karma is at work in the universe. If you run a business that depends on creativity, you can’t punish the creators without consequences. Sometimes it takes a while for the cycle to play out, but it always plays out the same way.

There are many aspects of this story I haven’t covered here. There are all sorts of Web3 angles, and there’s also a story to be told about how platforms such as Spotify will pay a price for squeezing musicians to subsidize their entry into podcasting and other ancillary businesses. But we can look at those on another occasion.

For the time being, I just want you to keep your eyes on the prize. And remember—Victory is Assured!

Creativity and Community

This is the whole purpose [of art], to bring people that don’t agree into the same place where they can agree on their own shared humanity.

This Matt Taibbi interview with Tim Robbins is interesting for Robbins’s views on art and creativity. Emphases in BOLD.

Tim Robbins and the Lost Art of Finding Common Ground

The star of films like The Producer and Bull Durham opens up about two tough years of pandemic politics, and worries society is purposefully phasing out the common meeting space
Matt Taibbi
3 hr ago

After the Covid-19 crisis began, actor Tim Robbins was like everyone else in suddenly having both more time to think, and more unpleasant things to think about. Among other things, as a leader of The Actors’ Gang theater company, Robbins had to work through what living in a world of mandated long-term isolation might mean. What if people were no longer forced into contact with one another?

“I wondered,” he recalls now, “‘What happens when you eliminate the water cooler conversation?’”

Would we miss that “difficult conversation with someone who’s not one of your friends, but a coworker and a human being,” who’s “saying something that is not the way you see the world, but he’s right there and you have to hear it”? Robbins felt we might, because confronting a live human being forces people to use parts of their brain the Internet encourages them to bypass.

“When you eliminate that conversation, and everyone goes into isolation, and has their own little silos of thought, that’s incredibly dangerous for society. Because now you’re isolated to the point where you’ll no longer have any kind of discussion,” he says. Instead, he worries, “You’ll just have that little room you go into where everyone agrees with you, and we all say, ‘Fuck those other people.’”

Years later, the Oscar-winning actor known for left-liberal advocacy finds his thinking has shifted in significant ways. In part this is because the entertainment business remains mired in high-vigilance mode when it comes to pandemic restrictions, with an omerta still hovering over vaccine-related questions. Robbins himself was with the program early, which he now seems to regret. “I was guilty of everything that I came to understand was not healthy,” he says now. “I demonized people.”

However, he soon began to wonder why certain rules were being kept long after they lost real-world utility. For instance, deals struck in 2021 between studios and powerful unions like SAG-AFTRA, the Directors’ Guild of America, and Actors’ Equity barred the unvaccinated not just from working, but auditioning. This maybe, possibly made sense when the vaccines were thought to prevent transmission. But now?

“I get it. I understand the fear. I was there,” Robbins says. “But we’ve restricted people from working for too long.”

For decades Robbins occupied a unique role in American popular culture as a writer, director, and polarizing counterculture figure, like a taller, cheerier cross of Orson Welles and Peter Fonda. His acting reputation for a long time was inextricably (and unfairly, I always thought) tied to his status as a bugbear of the Gingrich/Bush Republican right. I knew without looking that Robbins had to be a central figure in Fox host Laura Ingraham’s 2006 best-selling insta-book about heathen lib entertainers who don’t know their place, Shut Up and Sing. Ingraham in fact described Robbins and former partner Susan Sarandon as “the leading stars of today’s Hollywood elite,” a compliment on the order of being called Mr. and Mrs. Satan. Ironically, Ingraham was mad at Robbins for talking about a “chill wind” of intellectual conformity that began blowing after 9/11, the same phenomenon she herself began railing against when it started to affect conservatives in recent years, and which Robbins is still criticizing now.

Though he’s won acclaim for serious films like Shawshank Redemption and Dead Man Walking, the Robbins filmography is also packed with performances where he goofs on himself by pitching in a garter belt (Bull Durham) or wearing absurd hair extensions (in Erik the Viking — I hope those were extensions)or by giving America maybe its best-ever a portrait of a Hollywood douchebag, a performance that almost had to be career-imperiling in its accuracy (The Player). Robbins always had strong views and was especially vocal during the Iraq period, but his politics never got in the way of helping deliver some of the generation’s most enjoyable films. He even had fun with his own lefty reputation when he played a PBS newscaster taking a break between pledge drives to throw down in the Anchorman brawl.

Nonetheless, he now finds himself mixed up in controversies that place him at least somewhat on the outs with the same Hollywood political culture where he was once a leading figure. Areas of contention include the mandates and the passage of AB 5, a piece of California legislation originally aimed at gig-worker corporations like Lyft and Uber that ultimately forced hundreds of businesses, including theater companies, to offer minimum wages and benefits many claim they can’t afford. It’s a repeat of a controversy from the mid-2010s, when the Actors’ Equity union beat back a lawsuit filed by the likes of Ed Harris and Ed Asner and overrode a 2-1 vote by thousands of its members, who wanted to retain the ability to play for peanuts in a city where exposure is worth more than a few extra bucks on a paycheck.

Robbins worries that in this slew of new shibboleths about everything from vaccines to regulation of cake decorators, music arrangers and theater companies, society is revealing troubling changes in its ideas about what art and creativity are for. He sees hostility to the idea of bringing people together both in the physical sense, as in opening the doors to a theater, but also in the figurative sense of making sure art and entertainment are for everyone, not just for people with correct opinions. With bookstores, museums, theaters, and even water coolers disappearing all over the country, America seems to have it in for common spaces, as if keeping people from talking to one another is someone’s intentional political goal.

“I almost feel like there are forces within our society that just want art to die,” Robbins says.

The interview you’re about to read isn’t a red-pilling story, since Robbins isn’t and won’t ever be anyone’s idea of a conservative. It is however a warning from someone with an extensive enough track record as a progressive activist that he ought at least to have earned a hearing if he now feels he has to say a few uncomfortable things. Mostly, he’s warning about a didactic meanness he senses creeping into both politics and art. This he felt especially during the Covid-19 period, when we drifted from mere health policy into a bizarre Freaks-style collective shaming reflex, stressing the moral and mental unworthiness of people who for whatever reason — there were many — refused official advice.

“I heard people saying, ‘If you didn’t take the vaccine and you get sick, you don’t have a right to a hospital bed,” he says. “It made me think about returning to a society where we care about each other. Your neighbor would be sick, and you’d bring over some soup. It didn’t matter what their politics were, you’re their fucking neighbor,” he says, shaking his head.

“I think we lost a lot of ourselves during this time.”

More below (interview edited for length and clarity):

Matt Taibbi: When Covid-19 arrived, what happened with The Actors’ Gang?

Tim Robbins: We had to shut down, obviously. We went on to a Zoom workshop kind of mode. As an organization, we decided that we weren’t going to lay anyone off or furlough anyone. A lot of arts organizations did. We kept everyone on staff and on health insurance. We found other ways to do our work online with our education programs. Then for our prison project, we started communicating by mail. We would send them packets every month with outlines of exercises they could do on their own. A lot of them would write, and send it back to us, because we wanted to keep the relationship going with the people that we were working with before the pandemic.

So that was great. It provided us an opportunity to hire more returning citizens, the ones that had done their time and were being paroled, which was another bizarre thing — you had guys that were in jail for 30 years that got out right during Covid, and went right back into isolation. Isn’t that insane? But overall, it was a difficult two years.

Matt Taibbi: As re-opening approached, what happened?

Tim Robbins: We were capable of opening last September, but there were still all of these restrictions. I had a problem with this idea of having a litmus test at the door for entry. I understood the health concerns, but I also understand that theater is a forum and it has to be open to everybody. If you start specifying reasons why people can’t be in a theater, I don’t think it’s a theater anymore. Not in the tradition of what it has always been historically, which is a forum where stories are told and disparate elements come together and figure it out.

That’s what it’s been for. People figure out their relationship with the gods, with society, with each other. But at the door, you don’t say you can’t come in, because you haven’t done this or that. I had a problem with that. So I waited until everyone could be allowed in the theater. We opened up with a show called Can’t Pay Don’t Pay in April last year.

I think a lot of theaters had a problem rebounding, because the audiences are either skittish about being in rooms with other people, or (laughs) they just don’t like theater that much anyway. The pandemic was a good excuse to not go!

But the most challenging thing has been dealing with the actors themselves, because there is this skittishness and fear, and it’s still in people. Unlike England — I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time last year in London, and they got back a lot sooner than we did. There was an attitude there, it’s that “keep calm and carry on” thing. You know, we got bombed last night, but we’re getting up today. When they reopened their theaters, they reopened them for everybody. They never excluded anybody. And when they got back to it, their West End was thriving, and continues to thrive today.

Maybe the reason we have problems is that some people are still skittish about being in a crowd with other people, but it could also be that maybe 30 to 40% of theater audiences were told they weren’t welcome. And maybe there’s something in that: when you’re told you’re not welcome, you might not necessarily want to go back.

Matt Taibbi: When you started to question these things, what was the reaction?

Tim Robbins: I totally understood it in the first year. I was compliant with everything. I locked down, I isolated, I was away from people for seven months. I bought into it. I demonized people. I was guilty of everything that I came to understand was not healthy. I was angry at people that weren’t wearing masks, and protesting about it in Orange County. Yet, a month later I was protesting for BLM in the streets with a mask on. A week after that, I kind of had to do a self-check on that. I knew there was a little bit of hypocrisy going on there.

I had a really good friend that died from it early on. I was angry. I was fearful, and I did everything I could to help stop the spread, but also I kept my eyes open and at my age, I think one of the most important things that I’ve been able to do is understand that I’m not right all the time, and I have to check myself and see where the hypocrisy lay. So I started having more questions.

Soon it’s a year on, and two years on, and people are still stuck with these restrictions despite the fact that we now know that the vaccine didn’t stop transmission and didn’t stop people from getting it. Once the CDC changes policy and says basically that both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated are capable of getting Covid, the restrictions don’t make sense anymore, particularly regarding employment.

And there were a lot of people in SAG-AFTRA and Actors’ Equity that were kept from auditioning for the past two and a half years, and really still are today. Their livelihoods are threatened. They can’t participate yet. There’s no rhyme or reason with it. I think people are holding on because there’s still a fear, but it’s too long now.

I’m not against the vaccine, I’m just of the belief that your health is determined by your relationship with your body and your mind. And if you believe that the vaccines have helped you, then all power to you. If for some reason you didn’t vaccinate and you made it through this, all power to you too. You shouldn’t be excluded from society for doing that. I am a hundred percent sure of that. I think that was a mistake. I think it was done out of fear. I forgive it, but to continue it at this point is irrational, in my opinion.

No one has stood up for people who might be immuno-compromised or couldn’t take the vaccine, or people that are just holistic and don’t take any kind of medicine at all. Or people — this is the most important one — people that have had Covid and have natural immunity.

The other thing is, where does this end? How many boosters do you have to get to remain eligible for work? How long do we extend this?

Matt Taibbi: You feel something important has been lost in the last few years. Can you elaborate?

Tim Robbins: These last few years, they’ve taught me so much, about what is right, what is wrong. There’s so much empowerment of people that feel that they are being incredibly virtuous and generous, yet are doing things that are not very kind to other people. I think we’ve lost ourselves during this time. Just a brief stroll through social media and you’ll find that out. (laughs) The internet has become like a bar that you go to, and you open the door, and everyone yells, “Fuck you! Get out!”

Matt Taibbi: (laughs) I’m vaguely familiar…

Tim Robbins: It’s amazing. It’s taught me a lot about human nature, about how easy it is for people to turn on other people, and that when people do things that are destructive to other people, they often think they’re being virtuous. It’s been that way throughout history.

That’s something I already knew as a writer. When you’re making a character, you try not to make it all black and white, good and evil. I really understood much more profoundly what happens with the turn, how people turn. You go from someone that is inclusive, altruistic, generous, empathetic, to a monster. Where you want to freeze people’s bank accounts because they disagree with you. That’s a dangerous thing. That’s a dangerous world that we’ve created. And I say ‘we,’ because I was part of that. I bought into that whole idea early on.

Matt Taibbi: There’s also been a phenomenon of bureaucratic mission creep. Could you talk about how that’s affected your industry?

Tim Robbins: Our union out here, Actors Equity, decided about five years ago to end an agreement that the union had with local theaters here that were under 99 seats. We had a thriving small theater scene in Los Angeles, and Actors Equity decided that they wanted to end that 99-seat agreement. Then they had a vote, and two-thirds of their membership voted to keep the agreement, but the AEA ended it regardless. Producers couldn’t make money off of productions. I think Actors’ Equity has a fantasy that if they close all the small theaters in Los Angeles, a bunch of mid-level theaters will rise up, and there will be more contracts…

On top of that, we had a bill pass called AB 5, which was intended to target gig workers like Uber and Lyft drivers. And Uber and Lyft were wealthy enough to lobby in Sacramento to get a carve-out from that legislation. What was left were small theaters and musicians. They said, “Listen, are you going to try to keep us from rehearsing, or just jamming?”

I almost feel like there are forces within our society that just want art to die. It’s now not only just the scolds from the right, like in the old days when the Moral Majority wanted art to die. Now it’s unions and people that are, again, claiming virtuous reasons for all of this. The truth is a lot of local theater has failed, and the pandemic helped put the nail in the coffin.

Small theater companies of people who just want a way in, in a business that’s so devoid of content. If you’re lucky, you get an audition for a walk-on in a sitcom, and how’s that feeding your artistic soul? So you had a huge amount of actors in Los Angeles that just wanted to do quality work, be in a play where they could get to say real lines by real authors. It was something they were volunteering for, that would keep their instrument sharp. And now they were being told they can’t do that.

Matt Taibbi: To what end, do you think?

Tim Robbins: Listen, Matt, if you told me 20 years ago that there would be no video stores where you could talk to a clerk and see what that person might be recommending, or no record stores where you could go see what’s new in music, or no bookstores in most towns, I would’ve told you you were crazy. But we’re here. This is part of a larger movement away from the gathering place.

Theaters are failing, and movie theaters are not doing so well. Any form of gathering place other than a bar has pretty much been hurting. You know, it’s no surprise to me how well sports have been doing during this whole period. Stadiums are packed because people need community.

I’ve always thought of baseball as a place where I can go and get away from the politics and just sit and high-five some dude that might have voted for someone I don’t like. That’s important.

Matt Taibbi: Art and movies used to play that role, too, but are they being discouraged in that function?

Tim Robbins: Yes. This is the whole purpose of theater, to bring people that don’t agree into the same place where they can agree on their own shared humanity.

That’s the other problem. It got incredibly politicized here. It wasn’t that way in London. What I felt there wasn’t the divide that there was here. I attended a couple of the marches that were happening in [early] 2021, which was when they were under their lockdown. There was a street presence of people who were coming out already, against mandates and passports. I went down and I talked to some of those people and I realized: it’s not a left-right thing there. These weren’t a bunch of National Front-type people. These were old hippies and homeopaths. I tweeted about it and I got this hellish response. I realized that we have been programmed in a different way in this country, to think that if someone doesn’t get the vaccine, they must be a Nazi.

Tim Robbins: I’m trying to understand why we’re in the situation we’re in, socially, with each other. That’s what concerns me the most. I believe that if the vaccine helps you, that’s great. But, I have kind of a hard line on freedom. You can’t over-regulate people’s lives. I don’t know what that makes me, what label that puts on me, but I am an absolutist on freedom.

I’ve done a lot of work in organizing and in protest movements and in building coalitions. Community building is always about an organizer walking into the room and knowing that the people in this room do not agree on everything. But I, as an organizer, have to find the linchpin, find the common thread. And when I find that, I’m going to build the movement around that.

What I’ve been seeing over the past few years has been the opposite of that. It’s going into a room and saying, “You don’t have the right to speak because you don’t agree with our way of thinking.” Or it’s, “You’re an idiot for thinking this or that. Shut up. Get your vaccination.”

You’re not going to build any movement that way. All you’ll do is alienate people. And whether it’s organizing around social justice or criminal justice reform or creating more equity — all legitimate important things that need to be done — organizers who know how to do it don’t create division. They don’t cancel people. Because once you’ve done that, you’ve lost those people forever. You’re not getting them back.

Matt Taibbi: Don’t art and movies try to do the same thing? You’re looking for the unifying theme, the thing everyone thinks is funny, or everybody enjoys? The linchpin that holds an audience together?

Tim Robbins: Trying to find the thing that unites us. Exactly. Right. You’re trying to find something that we all can laugh at or a shared feeling that we can all have.

Dead Man Walking was a real challenge because it was a dance we had to do. I didn’t want to make the movie just for people that were against the death penalty. I wanted to make it for everybody, and I wanted people to have a discussion about it. So we had to give dignity and screen time and respect to the people that had lost their family members, and were for the death penalty. And I thought we did it in a way that was respectful enough so that people, if they did not agree with getting rid of the death penalty, could still watch that film and see their shared humanity in the pain of the mother, of the pain of Sister Helen, in the pain of the killer himself.

That’s the difficult thing to do. But when you do that, then you create dialogue. Helen will tell you that that movie changed the picture for her. Beforehand, everywhere she went, 10 or 15 people showed up. Now she’s got a thousand people coming out, and they have a discussion about the death penalty. You know, we did a play version of it, and we were in 140 universities over the course of 10 years. There would be 30 young people getting together to do a play. And when the play would open, there would be symposiums from the law department, from the divinity school, from sociology departments. They would have discussions and meetings and debates, and the actors themselves would have to play parts that they didn’t necessarily agree with, and have to go into that mindset. And it created a fertile ground for discussion and for growth. People could respect each other and both sides of the opinion.

Throwing your doors open for the public means you throw them open to everybody. And once, no one even thought twice about that. It’s the decent thing to do. Then during the pandemic, I heard people saying, “If you didn’t take the vaccine and you get sick, you don’t have a right to a hospital bed.”

And I just started thinking, “What about all the junkies?” That’s the choice they made, too. It’s their own fucking vein. Are we kicking them out? No. You take care of them.

Matt Taibbi: Smokers, obese people who have diabetes…

Tim Robbins: You save their lives. Because they’re part of us. They may be troubled and they may be having to take these drugs for whatever emotional reasons they are, but what the hell man, you gotta take care of them.

And like you say, it could be that you apply that to obesity, you could apply that to any physical malady that has anything to do with something you put in your body. Well, that’s a choice that you made. Maybe a bad choice, but don’t worry about it. We got you. And then you have the choice as to whether you want to change your life or not.

That, for me, is a functioning society.

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.

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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.

Voila!

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.

10 REASONS TO PUBLISH A BOOK 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.

Image
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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? bit.ly/39awdlpvia: @tedgioia

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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?

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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
Editorial

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 mstdn.social 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.]