Five Things: November 4, 2021

Sign up to get this as a fancy email newsletter every other Thursday: As in Guillotine


Jane Jacobs Versus The Kardashians | Steven Johnson

“Every single day on Twitter I stumble across probably at least a dozen clever or funny or provocative things that total strangers have shared, many with links leading off to longer articles or podcasts or videos. These are not op-ed columnists or television anchors; they’re folks who I would have had no way of eavesdropping on thirty years ago. And now they just drift into my consciousness, day after day, a constant source of discovery and serendipity. But they’re not stars or celebrities in my world; they’re peers.”

Twitter remains my favorite social platform for exactly this reason, and I’d argue that the potential for serendipity has actually improved overall—albeit with **waves at everything** notable caveats.

Filter bubbles are a choice, not an inevitable outcome. Getting the most out of any social platform has always required active maintenance of your feed to offset the algorithms and engagement metrics that incentivize noise over focus. Chasing scale was always a bad idea for the majority of people and brands; following thousands of accounts is simply unsustainable and can ruin the experience as your feed becomes overtaken by the worst of everything and logging on becomes something you dread (but often can’t resist).

I regularly prune my following list to keep it relevant and interesting, actively look for a range of voices (while feeling zero obligation to follow or engage with trolls), and continue to find more value on Twitter than any other platform. I completely ignore trending topics because it’s explicitly designed to goose a specific kind of “engagement,” which also means I happily miss a lot of subtweets and the drama du jour. I use Lists to zero in on topics I’m most interested in via chronological tweets, and I log off whenever “the discourse” veers off into the stupid.

On the downside, Twitter effectively killed my blog years ago when firing off 140-character snippets and the occasional ranty thread started scratching the same itch that blogging used to, and it’s easy to get addicted to the illusion of engagement Twitter offers that generally pales in comparison to a couple of unexpected and insightful comments on a blog post in the old days. Ironically, this newsletter exists because Twitter acquired Revue and I used it as an excuse to go back to the old-school link-blogging I used to love.

PS: Years ago I signed for a Gamergate block list and my feed never suffered the worst of the Trump Error, beyond clueless QT dunks that occasionally snuck some of it through the wall. One of the worst aspects of Twitter is the self-righteous dunking that helps boost their engagement metrics and encourages them. Be the change…


NFTs: What Are They and How Much Should Writers and Publishers Care? | Jane Friedman

“I’ve now spent months reading about NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and the millions of dollars being spent to acquire them, yet I struggle to understand the concept or appeal. Secretly I’ve been hoping they’ll just go away and never be heard from again, along with the pandemic.”

Same, Jane. 100%. It me. Etc…

I’ve said many times before that Jane is one of my favorite people in the industry—smart, intellectually curious, and extremely generous with her time and expertise. I’ve mostly avoided any public commentary about NFTs because they were mostly arms-length from anything I cared about, but they’ve recently been pushed into the publishing world and couldn’t be ignored anymore.

She does an excellent job of putting them in context, and in doing so makes a compelling case for paying attention to Web3, which is mostly theoretical for anyone but hardcore tech nerds for now. Blockchain is another obnoxious not-so-new shiny that keeps popping up, which it has many useful backend niche applications but very few consumer-facing ones of note. (Yet?) NFTs, though? Pretty much total bullshit and hollow hype for now.

A CEO I worked for ages ago had a favorite mantra about being an early adopter of new technologies that I’ve come to embrace: “There’s a lot of blood out on the cutting edge.” YMMV.


Inside Realms of Ruin, YA novelists’ failed NFT project | Amanda Silberling

“In the end, Realms of Ruin was a project that only existed outside of the Wayback Machine for a few hours. But the catastrophe of it all shows what challenges will face Web3 evangelists when they try to sway communities that are rightfully skeptical about how the spirit of their existing internet communities will be protected.”

Realms of Ruin is what finally forced NFTs far enough onto my radar that I broke my rule and stopped lurking. I knew enough about NFTs to be skeptical about any publishing-adjacent initiative, and I also know writers—amateur and professional—are one of the most gullible groups you’ll ever meet.

As mentioned in this excellent explainer, the Discord archive made it clear Ruin was “a turducken of things people don’t understand,” and the people running it were in way over their heads. Interestingly, this is the first thing I’ve read that actually makes the underlying idea sound compelling, while reinforcing it wasn’t the right time, and these weren’t the right people.


Valve is hoping the future doesn’t happen | Colin Campbell

“Right now, game companies sell in-game items and they retain rights over how the income is shared. Some of it might go to a licensee, to a retailer, to a third-party content house, or to the CEO’s bonus. The argument that in-game items don’t have real world value is nonsense. They have plenty of value, but that value is carefully protected.”

As with many things, gaming is well ahead of the curve when it comes to demonstrating the potential for new interactive and collaborative technologies, and Campbell makes a compelling argument for where NFTs and Web3 might have a legit consumer angle. While fan fiction remains a controversial third rail in publishing circles, gaming has already built huge communities and lucrative revenue streams around “exclusive” digital assets and user generated content.

Jaron Lanier is one of my favorite thinkers in this area (You Are Not a Gadget remains one of my all-time, influential favorites), and the idea of individuals getting paid for their digital creations is a core premise of his follow-up, Who Owns the Future? A lot of what I’m seeing in the Web3 / Blockchain / NFT hype has helped crystallize his ideas, most of which I thought were too far-fetched when I first read them. I’m thinking it might be time to revisit it.


Building a Memory, Not an Investment | Don Homuth

“In May, I was able to drive the Corvair at normal speed on a road near the house. It took only a moment for the memories to flood back. The gearshift was right where my hand remembered it being. The lightness of the steering was a full-body experience. The view out the windshield over the hood, the sound of the engine coming from behind—all of that came back. Just for a few moments, I was 25 years old again, home from the war and driving my convertible on a nice day.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum from NFTs, perhaps, are classic cars—tangible assets, where emotion and hype can have a dramatic effect on value; authenticity and ownership can be sketchy and difficult to prove; and many think they’re also a waste of money and time, and bad for the environment. Homuth’s story is more dramatic than most, but also relatable to many, even if you’re not personally into old cars.

My own Corvair journey has been much simpler and far less expensive, but the feelings are similar. Nearing the end of the driving season as threats of snow and the salt that comes with it will mean a month or three in the garage, we celebrated our first anniversary of owning it a couple of weeks ago doing the most important thing you can do with an old car: we drove it around town and enjoyed every throaty, rumbly minute of it.

IMAGE: Photo by Thought Catalog from Pexels.

Discover more from As in guillotine...

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Keep blogs alive! Share your thoughts here.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.