Jams

Music can bring back memories, reminiscent of a time or a place. Those rememberings often take you by surprise, when a song comes on the radio. When I recently came across a playlist compiled and shared years ago by a former colleague, I was transported back to those days of late spreadsheet nights.

Perhaps inspired, I recently decided to give my audio diary a little more structure, and started compiling the songs I listened to or encountered into weekly playlists of my own. A mixture of old favourites revisited and new discoveries, from friends, chance encounters, Hype Machine, Spotify. I have enjoyed bringing a bit more consideration and curation to my listening.

Unrelated, I was discussing a jam-related side-project with my sister, who suggested that there might be an opportunity for a musical tie-in. For my sins I enjoy a play on words. Next thing you know, I sent out an email with my latest weekly playlist with accompanying notes – SweetChilliJams was born.

If you want new tunes with accompanying words in your inbox on a hopefully weekly basis, please subscribe! At the very least you get to witness me trying to articulate why I think different songs are good, which turns out to be difficult when you can’t just sing along, dance, mime instruments or say things like “that bassline”. Musical criticism → actually quite hard.

If your question is “what kind of music will it be?”, I don’t know quite yet but hopefully good music?

Assume Forms

I wrote a few months ago about how books might evolve as a medium. Since then I have found myself reflecting more on some of the new mediums of communication the internet has afforded us.

Twitter looms large in public discourse, serving as a President’s soapbox, a VC Café philosophique and a place to do jokes, among others. The form itself is real menagerie, from banal one-liners to threaded diatribes. It feels ephemeral and is hard to search or organise; it is unstructured. It is highly contextual, to be experienced in the moment, rather than after-the-fact. A conversation, not a historic record (though surely Tweets will become cited artefacts soon enough). Twitter is perhaps the platform these confused times deserve (one might posit that the blue bird had a causal role, but that is best left for another time).

Email newsletters feel like quite an old format, but I find myself subscribing to more and more these days. Also a real mixed bag of content, from professional organisations’ weekly updates to the idle wonderings of creative minds. I enjoy newsletters because people seem able to be themselves – Yancey Strickler describes newsletters as part of the dark forest of the internet.

“These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments.”

There is something private about a newsletter, not just read in your browser but invited into your inbox, placed on your implied to-read list. I find that there are some I archive almost automatically (I should unsubscribe), while there are others I look forward to, just as I look forward to the bi-weekly arrival of Private Eye.

The third form I have been thinking about is by far the most niche, but is also the one which led me to write this post – blogchains. Described and invented at Ribbonfarm:

“A blogchain is longform by other means. Containerized longform if you like. A themed blog-within-a-blog, built as a series of short, ideally fixed-length posts (we’re trying to standardize on 300 words as one container size).”

Distinct from a series, more improvisational, responsive and evolutionary. In writing this blog, I have developed a few larger ideas that I want to build out, but I haven’t felt I have the will (or the audience) to write a big old essay. So maybe I will try blogchains on for size, with this the first one, inspired by James Blake – Assume Forms, on internet mediums.

Going online

The internet has transformed our relationship with the physical world. We are no longer confined to our immediate surroundings, in terms of what we are aware of, what we can do, and who we can interact with.

As drastic as it has been, that transformation is not done. I am interested in the ways in which technology facilitates even greater connection, between our atoms and the internet’s bits. I am sure that we will interact and communicate in ways that feel like science fiction today.

But I am also interested in the internet as a place unto itself, as we become more able to create substantive worlds online (a start). Whether we detach ourselves from our physical forms, and have a meaningful existence in bits or qubits. Whether we will be able to do that. Whether we will want to.

“Going online” sounds like you are there, and not here. It can feel like that, when you are engrossed in your smartphone. We should be thoughtful about the worlds we make, and how we choose to visit them.

Product Lost by @HipCityReg is consistently excellent on this topic in particular. You should subscribe.

Crypto’s sprung?

I’m going to break the fourth wall here for a second, or whatever the equivalent is for writing. I have a working list of “things I might write about”, which I keep in Notion (of course). One thing that has been on that list since March 11th is the topic of Crypto Spring – the idea that we might be recovering from the bear market of 2018 and early 2019, into the next cycle of crypto ebullience. Indeed Fred Wilson decided to call the same thing in May. I can’t remember why I didn’t get round to writing about it in March, but I do remember the reason I was thinking about it, as the ecosystem seemed to worry less about the price of things, and focus more on building things. For me, the excitement around Austin Griffith’s burner wallet was emblematic of the new wave of optimism.

In the last couple of months the market seems to have noticed as well, and this week the price of Bitcoin once again surpassed $10,000 (update: $12,000), so perhaps I am too late already, and Crypto Spring has sprung.

The early days of this new run have some of the hallmarks of the last – news outlets reporting on it, people saying the institutions are coming, eToro adverts in my Gmail. And some things are different – certainly Facebook’s Libra announcement has thrown an interesting spanner into the works. I just hope that this time round a little more has been built when the dust settles. I hope there are more actual users or even customers on these new platforms. And I hope that excitement for building with the technology that I saw in March continues.

Needless to say, yes, it would have been smart to put everything I owned into Bitcoin on March 11th, next question please.

Perspective

Two things that made me think today.

The quoted tweet is from 2015. What was a hilarious punchline four years ago looks like it may become our reality by the end of the year (give or take a ball pool). Certainly disquieting, in terms of where we are. But it is also kind of amazing – anything is possible, in the words of Kevin Garnett.

The second is this article by Tanner Green (hat tip to Matt Clifford), which sketches out a potential table of contents for an imagined history of our time, from 2004 until 2020, which Tanner anticipates will be a type of turning point. It is the coming of age story of my generation. Speculative for sure, and US-centric – I think the primary challenge is knowing which proposed chapters will stand the test of time, and which will simply be quirks of history. And the latter sections have quite a few question marks (“The Trials of Donald Trump, 2018-202? (? pages)”). But always sobering to try and see today through tomorrow’s eyes.

Rose to green?

Market sentiment is tricky, particularly when it turns. You could argue that Tech (capital T, whatever that means) had a good run, but it has certainly stumbled in recent years, as the halo of promise made way for a shadow of uncertainty.

Responses to that Tweet raised some good tipping points, including a trend-leading article from the New Yorker, as well as reminders of some of most high-profile stories (Fowler and Uber, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook around the 2016 Election). More recently there has been controversy at YouTube around their treatment of complaints by Vox’s Carlos Maza, Twitter is accused of providing a platform for white nationalists, while Facebook’s approach to altered videos has been scrutinized. Meanwhile fear of Deepfakes abounds, and Elizabeth Warren wants to break up Big Tech. Everything indicates that the rosy glasses have finally been removed, and may even have been replaced by green tinted spectacles*, revealing an unhealthy pallor of unforeseen consequences.

And yet I write mid-way through a banner year for tech IPOs, as stalwarts continue their strong 2019 and new direct-listing Slack closes its second day of trading to general acclaim.

One could argue that there are larger macro factors at play. But regardless, the financial markets at least are out of step with the popular narrative on Tech, and it will be interesting to see whether that divergence continues. There is a line of thinking that the industry still hasn’t taken ownership of the problems it faces; I wonder if a reckoning in the stock market would be required for Tech executives to take notice.

* I don’t know whether this phrase exists so please indulge me.

An ordinary legacy

I saw a Tweet by Eugene Wei a while back about words that can mean both one thing and almost the opposite thing.

I responded with an old favourite of mine, “quite”:

I was at a session today where I came across another in “legacy”. Legacy has a general meaning, “something left or handed down by a predecessor”, which can obviously go one way or the other. But it also has some slightly more specific definitions.

In legal terms, a legacy is a gift of property, especially personal property, as money, by will; a bequest. Which is generally considered a good thing, both to leave and to receive.

However when you are talking about software or computing (which was the topic today), if something is described as legacy (“a legacy system”), that almost certainly means it is bad, but somehow still in use. That meaning is also invoked in more general settings (“legacy banks” are a particularly popular target in Fintech London-town).

It might be tempting to attribute this to simple neophilia, out with the old, in with the new. But I think it is actually that fundamentally human trait Jeff Bezos describes in a recent shareholder letter, describing human beings as…

“divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static – they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary’.”

We don’t appreciate the work and the sweat and the “of its time” imagination of these legacy things – they have been normalised, they are ordinary. And surely we can improve on ordinary.

It is humbling that the best case scenario for technologists is to create something that is ultimately considered ordinary. But maybe it should also give us a renewed appreciation for things we think of as “legacy” right now.