Social Media Mania

I’ve recently been thinking about how the narrative around social media has evolved over the years. What was once considered a fun toy to stalk old classmates has become a propaganda machine threatening the decline of Western liberal democracy. Meanwhile, we’re only just beginning to understand the mental health effects of “growth hacks” embedded in the platform that exploit our natures and generate addictive behavior. While we are growing more self-aware of these effects we’re still trying to figure out how social media controls our minds the way it does

Borrowing Facebook’s first investor Peter Thiel’s analysis — social media amplifies mimetic behavior / envy (why its successful). Envy used to be contained within local communities that formed through geographical proximity (school / work / neighborhood). Facebook managed to connect the network of fragmented local communities but simultaneously unleashed envy on a global scale. When our social feed includes members of the global “community” in addition to our friends we become hyper conscious of them and begin to adapt our behavior in craving of their envy as well. Algorithms emotionally exploit this upsurge in envy leaving the rest of us dazed and confused with no clear object to blame

Harnessing envy on social media for personal benefit however is not a power exclusive to our platform gods. We’ve seen this on platforms such as Youtube, Soundcloud and Twitter where ordinary people have been able to surface their talent, find their niche audiences and create powerful brands from anywhere in the world. Social media essentially democratized access to fame previously reserved for Hollywood generated celebrities when it created a platform that captured global attention. When a bedroom teen builds a following comprising of strangers on the internet she adopts the identity of a small scale celebrity — she becomes part of a new spectrum of celebrity between the local football star and the magazine movie star that has never existed. The natural consequence of this newfound fame however is the psychological decline that has been well-documented in traditional celebrities

“As specialists of apparent life, stars serve as superficial objects that people can identify with in order to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations that they actually live. A star of consumption may campaign for recognition as a pseudopower over life. But the activities of these stars are not really free, and they offer no real choices.” — Guy Debord in The Society of Spectacle


What I’ve been consuming

The Great Stagnation (h/t Ron)

How To Be Successful (@sama)

Visa’s Acquisition of Plaid

Poolside.fm

Kids Turned Out Fine


Personal update

Liberating the Creator Class

Inspired by this iconic Kanye interview, I’ve been thinking about the career progression for creatives in a world where the internet has enabled free distribution but managers / platforms still claim hefty rent. Kanye rightly asserts that “Artists are businesses” although the current dynamic puts artists in a position more similar to an employee of the manager / platform rather than an executive of the brand they’ve built around themselves. He raises an important question of what the goal state looks like in an evolving internet empowered creator economy — how does an artist IPO like a tech company?

While publishing platforms (eg: Youtube) have allowed creators to bypass traditional gatekeepers and identify their own niche fanbases, it appears the top creators are starting to experience the bounds of “renting” their distribution on a platform that wasn’t designed for their upward financial trajectory. When majority of your revenue comes from publishing platforms that you don’t control you become susceptible to platform risk — where platform can pull plug on you overnight and use that leverage to push more oppressive policies

Smartest creators have realized this and figured out that true salvation from platforms lies in branching off and owning your own distribution. They know that the real way to reliably make money is by focusing on the minority of hardcore fans that buy products to signal their fan status (think Kanye’s Yeezy line, Joe Rogan’s merch, David Dobrik’s camera app). The strategy then is for the creator to function as a media company and establish a portfolio of diverse income streams by directly selling products that appeal to different segments of that fanbase (merchandise, tickets to live appearances, online courses, etc). In some cases, creators have managed to use their audience to fuel organic growth for their own startup (such as Michelle Phan’s makeup subscription startup or Casey Neitstat’s Beme). Here the platforms merely function as cheap top of funnel acquisition while the real monetization is in converting passive audiences from the platform into loyal spending fans that you own

While I do think content platforms will always be valuable for aggregating audiences and facilitating discovery, I think their authoritarian rent-sharing model will be disrupted by new models that are designed around the individual progression of the creator. These are platforms that value creators as the businesses that they are and grow with them by offering ways to scale and directly monetize their fanbases (we’ve already started to see this with Twitch for gamers)


What I’ve been consuming

The Tetris Effect

Anxieties of Influence

Why Banks Don’t Stop Savvy Travelers

Diddy & His Mentor Ray Dalio

s p i d e r m a n


Personal update

Glad this thing is still chugging along. Small change — I expect to start sending these out on Sundays (sometime in the evening prob) now instead. Otherwise I’ve been chillin…

Cure for Fatalism

As we enter the new decade I’ve been thinking a lot about the public narratives that attempt to define our near future — climate apocalypse, impending recession, cancel culture, socialist America. While these are undoubtedly challenging problems that possess the magnitude to threaten not only our individual freedoms but our survival as a species, I’m wary of how the media propagation of these ideas influences behavior (and by extension morale) at the local level. When the new generation instead of pondering “What am I going to do when I grow up?” asks “Won’t that only matter if I grow up?” then perhaps we as a society have manifested our alarmism into fatalistic paralysis.

As much as the media contributes to mainstream awareness, my observation with media reported crises is that they tend to breed self-limiting beliefs. When you look around and see the world repenting in the face of a seemingly bleak future it creates these nihilistic restrictions of the mind that rob agency (“what’s the point of doing anything if the world is doomed”). The real concern is when our culture over time creates acceptance for using imagined external circumstances to deflect personal shortcomings (I can already see the Vice headline for “How climate change ruined my marriage” — see also: Hanlon’s razor)

In investing, fund managers tend to be generally optimistic not for some irrational belief in the efficient markets but simply because apocalyptic thinking in investing is a lose-lose since everything goes to nothing. If you bet on the world ending and you’re right, all your riches won’t matter since you and the concept of money will cease to exist anyway. Since it isn’t profitable to think about how you might die, you might as well act like you’re going to live forever. In my view it’d actually be perfectly rational for the average person distressed by the constantly evolving crisis in the external world to adopt a similar view

the cure for fatalism is "act as if you have control over everything because if you don't then it doesn't matter how you act anyway" — @alicemazzy


What I’ve been consuming

What Will Happen In The 2020s

Democracy Is Not A Truth Machine

Why Climate Alarmism Hurts Us All

OFF RCRD with Jake Paul

Snake Drinking Sprite


Personal update

Back from my trip to Europe, I’m currently spending some family time in Mexico. In other news, my little brother in high school got accepted early to NYU for this fall — feel free to send freshman advice (such as how not to dropout of college lol)

Subjective Passage of Time

Reflecting on my recent travels and in anticipation of the new decade I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we experience the passage of time during the various stages of our lives. While there’s plenty of thought around using science to extend life expectancy (i.e. actual number of years lived), I feel there’s not enough about how to extend the perceived length of that time. There’s an interesting philosophical question at play here — would you rather live a day as a lion or a hundred years as a sheep?

My diluted explanation of the science is that our brains are fundamentally hardwired to use extra processing power to understand unfamiliar environments. We constantly process minute new details and identify patterns in our surroundings to optimize how we react to external stimuli — similar to a cache we store unique events in preparation for future events. Repetitive events thus essentially allow our brains to operate in “autopilot” mode as we now have a natural response that we don’t need to overthink (this is basically what athletes in training / people with habits are doing). However, it is when we expend mental energy to process unique events that we experience a “temporal illusion” which is what gives us the perception of slower time (kinda like how we remember the first day of school but not individual days in between). So despite the efficiency of having a streamlined repetitive structure to the day to day it’s worth being aware of the tradeoffs against “experienced” time

Based on this understanding, what are some ways we can “hack” our minds to experience a longer subjective passage of time? We could just do a bunch of LSD. Traveling to new places would seem to work too. Whatever the fix, I believe we’re simply just looking for ways to introduce more unique events into our daily lives. Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. As romantic as it sounds, I believe extending our perceived notion of time is the closest we can get to experiencing immortality

Discussion:

  • What are some other “hacks” you’ve found to extend your perception of time? One example is dressing nice: if you enjoy dressing nice at special events, then dressing well on a more normal basis can make everyday feel special :)

Extended Reading: (for you extra credit types)


What I’ve been consuming recently

The Secret

The Man, The Myth, The Udon

Hustle Is Universal

BASTARD IS 10

Many custard tarts


Personal update

I’ve been enjoying my time in Europe — great food, fun people and a refreshingly laidback culture. I recently spent a few days in the French countryside in a small town south of Bordeaux. After some nights I’m still trying to remember in Barcelona, I’m currently exploring Lisbon (which actually feels a lot like SF — they got hills, cable cars and their own Golden Gate). Hope you’re having a great holiday!

les jours sont longs, mais les décennies sont courtes

Labor Power Laws

Inspired by this tweet from @balajis who introduces the term labor power laws — basically illustrates the asymmetry in outcomes not only in venture portfolios but more notably in the labor market in general

Conventional wisdom has conditioned us from a young age to view the world linearly as a series of checkpoints. Work to reward typically follows a near 1:1 relationship in this model (more checkpoints / more time worked = more $$). So if the ultimate goal is financial freedom the common strategy is to simply optimize personal savings rate — as long as cash inflow is appropriately higher than cash outflow there will be a path to independence over a viable timeframe. However if circumstances are such that current savings rate is too low to reasonably hit inflection point, the only active lever is to reduce spending (since salaries typically only increase in annual cycles) which directly correlates to reducing quality of life

Reality is the world is non-linear and tends to operate under the power law. This implies that often it’s a small % of time / work investment that generates a large % of total outcome. In this context, someone who’s worked fewer years / fewer hours per week could actually have earned 10x more than her equally skilled linearly tracked counterpart in the same timeframe. The key defining feature of such a non-linearly rewarded worker is their equity in some outlier success

Equity here isn’t necessarily referring to owning stock in your employer it could also be in the form of personal equity (eg: reinvesting marginal savings into dropshipping business) or career equity (gaining skills and notoriety by working around highly reputed people — think Yves Saint Laurent with Christian Dior) — any mechanism that offers opportunity for some small chance of outlier success that you can actively influence. Think of equity as a tool for capturing the value you create from your work — in a lot of ways typical salary for wage workers is really a fraction of the value created from work after subtracting a “risk removal tax”. So while equity does expose you to more risk and ambiguity ever present in a random world it also gives you access to unbounded upside that is far less attainable otherwise

The modified financial strategy abiding by the non-linearity in the world would instead be to optimize for outlier success. Instead of having to carefully adjust the personal savings rate the real path to independence now lies in increasing the likelihood of some fortuitous event. The active lever now is to radically focus work towards creating the conditions that allow for more “luck” to find your way. For example, instead of penny pinching at a service job in his hometown an aspiring actor would strive to move to LA, spend on classes to refine acting skills and build social capital necessary to land that first major gig. Despite the downside in the short term, landing the first gig is an outlier event that levels and far exceeds the expected outcome in the longer term

Accepting the power law in strategizing labor requires a change in mindset to one that is optimized for personal growth over loss aversion which must first be internally reconciled (fundamentally: would you bet on yourself?)

Discussion: 

  • Is it rational for people to have an internal threshold for time / work investment vs expected return? Does outlier success in this model almost require an irrational persistence to see return?

  • What are ways industries that don’t have explicit equity incentives can introduce opportunities for outlier success for its labor pool?


What I've been consuming recently

Spinning the Globe

How Venture Capital is Inflating Valuations

The Paradox by Sarah Kay

How Hood by Air Changed Fashion in the 2010s

Watch the Throne


Personal Update

I'm taking a couple weeks off from work to reset and return fresh for the new year. I'm backpacking through Europe and currently in Paris (let me know if you or someone you think I should meet is around - would love to get in touch!)

p.s. speaking of Paris this tik tok made me laugh uncontrollably loud in the airport (u might enjoy if u have the same weird ass sense of humor)

https://www.tiktok.com/@thecadenturner/video/6749279931152289030

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