The Devil Knows We're Dead
The wealthy have killed shame and they have been working on it for some time.
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The nature of the 2010s Platform bubble popping, or at least deflating, was certainly carried out without emotion and without care. Ol’ Elon shuffled into Twitter HQ carrying a sink and then fired everyone without much logic or purpose. But that is capitalism. You All Get Fired Eventually.
And so Musk has succeeded in one thing, and that is becoming the ultimate story of the past few months. We’re in the middle of a World Cup that was awarded under obvious corruption – so much so that it put a bullet through the central nervous system of FIFA – and yet it somehow did not effect the Qatar2022 event taking place. We have Trump’s return to politics. We have a revolution happening in Iran. And yet… the world’s richest man is all we want to talk about. Not that there’s anything bad in caring about Tony Stark; but even he had to fix his own heart. That’s a midlife crisis we can all get around.
At a certain point it feels like an edge of the cliff moment: that Twitter perhaps didn’t need 6000+ employees, and that Facebook didn’t need 100,000+, either. Neither option is nice or fair, and both decisions do plenty of damage to Quality. But who told you it was about that, anyway? That was a promise we made to ourselves – no one steering the ship said it was going to be smooth sailing. We’ll get to wherever they’re taking us soon enough.
Instead, we are set to face a harsh reality: things work. Perhaps not well, and perhaps not without damaging consequences. But for all the sad cries over the death of Twitter, it is not going anywhere. Twitter Is Going To Die: that phrase became a meme quicker than it fell into any sort of real Movement.
Many who spent the last few months using Twitter’s apparent demise as an Audience Growth Tool have this to reconcile with. We are left with a gross new version of the website, where those who policed cringe like High School Jocks have all logged off or left the app for good. In their place we have journalists on all sides, using Twitter growth hacks everyone rolled their eyes at in 2016. They have convinced the class that if enough of them commit… it’s cool. A bunch of people desperate to hang onto the audiences they have grown, and to also port them over to other platforms quickly. I have written about all of this before.
So we are filled up with the brutal reality of the early social internet – and the platforms we built on it. There are many robust and simple components that could – it turns out – just work. It was nice to have someone spinning that wheel, but there’s enough momentum to keep it going without a hand on the gears. Or at least fewer hands than previously expected.
I have sad news for the folks in Tech: eventually, there will be no more free lunches and no more coffee. Your salary was an idea and an expectation that you made for yourself. All bubbles burst, even yours. A decade-long turfwar for your talent that resulted in many of you not having much to do other than Not Work For The Other Company. Truthfully, few in that industry would be all that surprised by what has transpired. And as someone from media – where cuts are a feature not a bug – I welcome you to the happy middle. You don’t get used to it, but you tell yourself you will. Every few years someone might get excited. That’s what you have to look forward to. Innovation? Your kids will get a turn.
As fractured and dangerous and painful as it was, the early social internet will be remembered as almost heavenly by comparison. Millions of people with millions of ideas, not yet tied down or flung back into the cage. These last few months have felt like a speedrun of all of the good and bad that came in the decade preceding it. May we all be in heaven at least 10 years before the devil knows we're dead.
And we could all get better at being ashamed. That starts with the World’s Richest Man. Elon Musk runs from shame the way a goat scrambles from a mountain lion: desperate and clawing and, truthfully, impressive. The world we built online is attractive to all of us because we can avoid such an awful feeling. You are going to be wrong and you are going to be embarrassed, but the social internet has allowed you to recover from Ego Death by finding a new community each time. They don’t know and they don’t care. If you’re lucky, they may even come to idolise you. And if you’re talented, you may be able to spin this Shame into some sort of injustice. Yes, the wealthy have killed shame… and they have been working on it for some time.
That is something to be concerned about. The rich and damned in the Venture Capital bubble aren’t just creating the future, they’re trying to control it, too. Here is the outlook: if you own the news company, and only read the news from the company you own, you can eventually drum up enough glassy-eyed support from sycophants who still believe in trickle down economics. When you control the media platform, you can also control who you suggest to follow; to read; to engage with. Hell, if we want to break the glass entirely, you can just smack the Big Red Button that says BOOST for any individual creator you want to become an identity. And don’t act like that hasn’t happened elsewhere, kiddo. These are not new ideas. We have all played this game before.
So good luck if you’re out there. At least we have options, now.
Oh, but I never said they were good…