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Diplo has successfully escaped the arena
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Are You In The Arena?
Last month, Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive and current venture capitalist and theoretically a Serious Person In Tech, got into a Twitter spat with an account that only has 93 followers. The account accused Palihapitiya of being a “pump and dumper” after promoting — and then selling — shares of Virgin Galactic. (Palihapitiya was also a big Gamestop guy.)
“I’m in the arena trying stuff. Some will work, some won’t. But always learning,” Palihapitiya replied.
My fellow Silicon Valley bully Ed Zitron has a good piece about what Palihapitiya was trying to reference by claiming he was in “the arena”. It’s a botched quote from a 1910 Theodore Roosevelt speech: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood,” etc., etc. As Zitron points out, Roosevelt’s arena was not a SAAS startup hoping to destabilize labor unions or whatever, but actually a metaphor for civic engagement.
In the last couple weeks, though, “I’m in the arena trying stuff. Some will work, some won’t.” has become a meme across Twitter. It is also, seemingly, being used semi-genuinely by a Certain Kind Of Guy. For instance, last week, an AI developer named Emmet Halm created an app called SmashOrPassAI. You hit “smash” or “pass” on AI-generated women. There was a chorus of complaints about how dumb and gross this was, to which Halm replied, “We’ll see if ppl like it. In the arena trying stuff.”
And then, this week, users were quick to start calling Burning Man, “the arena,” which thanks to freak torrential rains, turned into a genuine climate disaster. One festival goer died due to a suspected drug intoxication and emergency services were delayed in responding because of the flooding. Attendees are still trying to make their way out of Black Rock Desert as of today.
Meanwhile, on Musk’s Twitter, the digital equivalent of Burning Man (derogatory), misinformation swirled together with news reports and official emergency response info, making ot impossible to know if there was actually an ebola outbreak — there wasn’t. Or if LAX was quarantining planes containing fleeing burners — it wasn’t.
“Say what you will about the 70,000 people stuck at Burning Man but they’re in the arena and you’re on the sidelines,” Twitter user tolstoybb wrote. It’s a funny bit, but it’s also the perfect physical representation of the “arena” that Silicon Valley is so obsessed with. Esther Crawford, the former Twitter executive who slept under her desk after Musk took over and still ended up getting fired, is in the arena. Oliver Anthony probably wasn’t even though a bunch of places said he was… including me in a previous version of this post. As is with Neal Katyal, the self-described “extremist centrist” lawyer who has defended companies that use child slaves. And all of them are sitting in a flooded playa full of human waste waiting out the undeniable effects of climate change. Diplo was also there, but he escaped with Chris Rock. If you want to see what the next 25 years are going to be like, Burning Man is it. Millionaires and managers ignoring huge structural problems until it starts to impact their libertarian freak fests and then escaping to somewhere safe when they get the chance. Well, until there aren’t any safe places to escape to, I guess…
Garbage Day Live Is Coming!
It’s on October 18th at Elsewhere in Brooklyn, NY. I’ll be starting to announce a few special guests in the coming weeks. If you’ve never been to a Garbage Day show or meetup, I promise you they’re a lot of fun and this one is going to be a real big party. Head here to pick up tickets.
A Good Tweet
We’re Doing The Virtual Influencer Thing Again
This is noonoouri, a virtual influencer created by an art director named Joerg Zuber. She’s an avatar with an “AI-powered” voice and she signed with Warner Music this week. As Forbes writes, “Noonoouri… won’t get worn out from touring and promoting her music, and she can be restyled in seconds to keep in step with changing teen trends. And if she makes it to superstar status, she won’t start making diva-like demands or demand an enormous pay rise.” It’s funny how we don’t tap dance anymore around the fact that all these projects are about making money without paying people.
I haven’t found any details about what “AI” is powering noonoouri, but there are a bunch of plugins and apps that can make voices that sound like her. The tech behind projects like this has been around since at least 2007.
Anyways, every few years, one of these virtual influencers makes headlines because they sign some insane deal with a big brand, only to never be heard from again. And every time the press release brags about their Instagram followings. noonoouri is no different. Every writeup I’ve seen mentions her 400,000 followers on the app. And, of course, none of that really translates anywhere else. I have more subscribers on YouTube than noonoouri and her new single only has around 50,000 views. The top comment currently is, “YOU HAVE A HIDDEN TALENT 🗣️🗣️🗣️ KEEP IT HIDDEN 🔥🔥🔥”
Which makes me wonder if this whole thing is about brands hanging on to Instagram as a signifier of status because Twitter’s turned into Burning Man (derogatory), Facebook is for boomers, and TikTok is too chaotic to map over to real life. So you show a company an Instagram page with 100,000 followers and they just give you some money to make themselves feel like they still understand what’s going on.
Seems Like Hyundai Is Using AI For A New Ad Campaign
Hyundai set up a page to advertise their new Santa Fe model. You tell the AI prompt where you want the car to go and it generates a background and a picture of the car. I, of course, did what I also do with any sort of open prompt on a branded website and tried to get it to generate a bunch of nonsense. But it seems it’s pretty limited with what it can generate. I also didn’t realize that my suggestions go into a public gallery, so I apologize in advance for sending the Hyundai Santa Fe to “9/11”.
Over on the Stable Diffusion subreddit, users are trying to reverse engineer how this works because, silly or not, it is a fairly impressive use of generative AI. Particularly because the Hyundai generates accurately in unique angles every time. The best guess is that it’s a custom model of the car based on 3D models working in tandem with a custom library of images for the backgrounds. I don’t totally understand why anyone would do use this, but, either way, it’s really complicated stuff.
Twitter Is Killing My Phone’s Battery
Over the last week, I used Twitter for just under 13 hours. I don’t want to talk about it. I also used Reddit for about 10 hours. According to my phone, Twitter used almost half of my battery, while Reddit, which pretty much shows me the exact same combination of text, images, and videos, used less than 20%.
I know for a fact, this wasn’t the case a year ago. I also haven’t changed my Twitter app’s settings for years. So I know this isn’t a me thing. I’ve also noticed that if I use Twitter for even a couple of minutes, it makes my phone literally heat up. Also, check out how much background battery it’s using.
I have to assume that whatever Musk’s hardcore mode has done to the app has made it absolutely crush my iPhone’s battery. Thanks! Great job!
The Last Big Protesting Subreddit Has Given Up
r/ModCoord, the main subreddit for organizing and tracking the protests on Reddit against the ban of third-party apps, noticed that r/GIFs has pretty much dropped their John Oliver campaign.
If you’re out of the loop on this, thousands of subreddits went private out of protest earlier this summer. Many still are. Others, instead, deleted all their comments. But the largest, due to restrictions Reddit placed on them, had to protest in other ways. The main tactic was requiring every post contain a picture of John Oliver. Most have stopped and r/GIFs was one of the last holdouts.
In June, Reddit’s cringefail CEO Steve Huffman, a guy infamous on the site for never leaving a comment section as peaceful as it was when he entered it, told employees that the plan was to wait out the protests. And, unfortunately, it seems like that’s worked, more or less. Though the site is noticeably much less vibrant of a digital space than it was before the third-party app ban.
Vegas Matt Is The Endpoint Of Digital Video
Fun fact about me: I have an almost reverse-addiction when it comes to gambling. I find the entire experience completely boring and mildly uncomfortable. That said, after discovering Vegas Matt’s YouTube channel, thanks to a viral tweet from user @MyKreal, I have discovered I really like watching other people gamble.
Vegas Matt is a YouTuber that videos himself betting insane sums of money on Vegas slot machines and, folks, it’s good ass content. I also think it’s the dark nexus of all algorithmically sorted video content. You press play, you watch someone do something extreme and inadvisable, you wait for the results, you watch them react to it, repeat.
Only Shooting Stars Break The Mold 💔
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s the bad boy who stays up late at night.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***