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GARBAGE WEEKEND: Charge up your chakras
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Hi there! You’re probably wondering why I’m bugging you on a weekend morning. “You’re that horrible goblin from the computer that torments me on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays,” you’re probably muttering to yourself at the moment. Well, I’ve broken my weekday containment unit to announce something new that I’m pretty excited about. I’ve experimented a lot with what I want to offer paying readers over the last two years and, after going through the recent reader survey, it seems like a whole lot of you would just love something big and digest-y — the internet garbage you know and love, but in a format that’s easier to read hungover in bed on a Saturday. Or on an iPad over coffee if you’re in your 30s. So, I’m excited to introduce Garbage Weekend. It’ll be sent out on Saturday mornings to paying subscribers going forward. I’m still tinkering with the form and format, but the idea is to use this space as a way to track smaller bits I want to keep an eye on and also condense a week’s worth of craziness into something easy for you all to read. I’m sending this first one out to everyone so you can see if you dig it. If you do, hit the green button below and throw in a few bucks. Let me know what you think!
Ever been curious how often your computer sends data to Google? Well, programmer Bert Hubert built a tool that makes a little ding every time it happens and it’s just as disconcerting as you might imagine.
Exactly how freaked out should we be about TikTok? The very excellent New Public newsletter asked that question this week. The verdict? “I think we should demand transparency, enhanced moderation, and as much separation from Chinese influence as possible. But at the same time, we must acknowledge that the single largest factor affecting what American teens watch on TikTok is the content that other American teens are creating for TikTok,” Josh Kramer writes.
Duolingo is updating its app, users be damned. If you’ve never used Duolingo, the old version of the app featured various learning trees that you could progress through. You could learn animal names, then jump over to grammar, then brush up on how to order food, then come back to animals. The idea being that it mirrored the way you learn a language irl. The new version of Duolingo compresses the whole thing into one linear tree. Users are comparing it on to Candy Crush, which seems not ideal.
A short-form video feed may be coming to Amazon. The company is reportedly testing out a TikTok-like feed called “Inspire”. Now, this may sound wildly reductive — and in a sense it is — but I should point out that short-form video apps in China have been connected to e-commerce for years. In fact, there’s even an argument to be made that e-commerce is the sole driving force behind Chinese short-form video apps like Douyin and Xiaohongshu. I mean, think about it. In a short-form video feed, everything just becomes the length of an average ad, which means nothing feels like an ad because everything feels like an ad.
Instagram is escalating its war against TikTok. In a move the platform has deployed against other social networks like Twitter and Vine over the years, Instagram is now beginning to mute Reels downloaded from the app, presumably to make it harder to share on TikTok. It’s aggressive, but also telling. Instagram’s strategy is the same one it’s been using for a decade to shutout competitors, meanwhile TikTok seems to be far more interested in trying new things, like investing in search and geotagging.
Kyle Chayka, the co-founder of Dirt, the super interesting Web3-linked culture site, talked to Peter Kafka on the Recode podcast. It’s a good conversation and I think Dirt is, at this point, the only thing left about Web3 that feels exciting. It’s one of the few places that understands that the cultural moment represented by Web3 is far more permanent and, I think, will be much more impactful than just monkey JPGs.
Binance CCO Patrick Hillmann claims hackers used an “A.I. hologram” to impersonate him on video calls. First, this feels like a perfect story to sum up the state of the crypto industry in 2022. Second, I think going forward any claim that involves “A.I.” needs to be seriously interrogated. But if this is true and this did happen as Hillmann claims it did, I feel like we are just not at all prepared for where this kind of thing is heading.
EDM duo Disclosure launched an NFT collection. Even crazier, it’s integrated into Spotify. Well, sorta. If you click on the collection widget inside of Spotify it just takes you over to NFT marketplace OpenSea. Is decentralization when two centralized platforms cut a deal?
Fox has a department called Blockchain Creative Labs and it is launching an animated show from Dan Harmon called Krapopolis. Ready for an absolutely cursed quote? “Krapopolis is unlike any series I’ve had a creative hand in,” Harmon told Variety. “Building a fully realized world and a cast of zany characters on the blockchain has never been done before, and in terms of fan experience, it will come to life in a way no other show has.” God, everything sucks so much.
There’s finally an augmented reality menu for restaurants. I’m, frankly, sick and tired of looking at descriptions of food on pieces of paper like some kind of god damn caveman. I want to rotate a holographic burger orb next time I go out for dinner.
Rolling Stone published a big feature on El Salvador and Bitcoin this week. It’s really grim and I think it’s safe to say it’s only going to get grimmer once more investors around the world accept that we are firmly in the depths of a crypto winter. Speaking of which, a study conducted by Forbes found that over half of all Bitcoin transactions are fake.
Twitch is ending the exclusivity clause for their Partner Program. What does this mean in practice? Well, partners can stream to other platforms like Facebook and YouTube and they can now simulcast to Instagram and TikTok while streaming on Twitch. They still aren’t allowed, however, to stream on Twitch and YouTube at the same time, which is interesting.
The dismantling of HBO Max continues. The Daily Beast is reporting that the newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery is making strategic cuts to go after “Middle America” and kill diversity inside the company. I, personally, can’t believe, Discovery, the network that invented the open-floor plan and gave us Guy Fieri, would be interested in doing that.
Internet users are reminding each other that online piracy exists. I’ve seen a lot of chatter on Tumblr about this, some of which is actually pretty funny. There’s a couple guides circulating about how to illegally download TV shows without getting a virus. Back in my day, you’d go on Kazaa, hope to god you were actually downloading the right episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion and if it did turn out to be porn or a virus, you just had to make sure it was successfully scrubbed from the family desktop computer before your parents got home.
Matt Damon makes a cogent point about the changing landscape of mass media while participating in an online chicken-eating gameshow. Really couldn’t be fit more firmly into the zeitgeist than this, if you ask me.
Amazon spent $1 billon on their new Lord Of The Rings show and are now saying it’ll “determine the future” of the company’s streaming ambitions. Weird. Why not just not spend $1 billion on one season of TV? And then you wouldn’t have to, you know, gamble your entire corporate strategy on whether or not it reaches some wildly unhealthy level of user engagement. But also I think this whole thing reveals how cynical these companies view science fiction and fantasy franchises. It’s about finding fictional worlds large enough to trap viewers in forever. And there’s something particularly grim about a company like Amazon doing this to a fantasy world like Lord Of The Rings.
Twitter discovered the very gross and weird world of yoga influencer Will Blunderfield. If you’ve never heard of Blunderfield before, he’s a Canadian musician who calls himself The Wild Naked Man. He’s super into “urine therapy,” which means he spends a lot of time sitting around naked and drinking his own piss. Here’s a pretty NSFW video that captures his whole deal if you’re curious. My big take on this is that the world is a terrifying place. It’s easy to feel like you have no real agency in your own life. And it feels like the institutions that were meant to protect us are failing or completely broken. So, yeah, you know what, get naked, go to an anus workshop, charge up your chakras with pre-cum, drink your own pee, whatever.
Andrew Tate was finally deplatformed completely. Even his podcast seems to no longer be on Spotify. If you hate yourself, you can watch his “final message” which was posted right before he was banned from YouTube. It should come as no surprise that Tate then popped up on Tucker Carlson. Based on how this typically goes, the Tucker Carlson interview either means that Tate has been absorbed into the right-wing machine as a one-off cause du jour and will now vanish forever or he’ll be elevated to a level of power and status formerly unthinkable and find some new elaborate way to make us miserable on a much bigger scale. Excited to see which one happens!
Dimes Square, a fake New York City neighborhood invented by fascist podcasters and rich children, is on Google Maps now. This is, of course, bad and dumb. What’s also bad and dumb — but also fairly illuminating in its own way — is this New York Times feature on the woman who does PR for those fascist podcasters and rich children.
AROUND THE WORLD
My buddy Íñigo, a fantastic investigative reporter from Mexico City, worked on this amazing story about privately-owned for-profit ambulances operating in Mexico. The story is wild, just in general, but also has a super fascinating tech angle. The ambulance operators use the Zello walkie-talkie app like a transmitter and have private groups with police officers who, in exchange for bribes, tip off these privately-owned ambulances so they can get to an emergency first.
John Lee, the current Chief Executive of Hong Kong, is trying to break through on Weibo, the preeminent public social network for mainland China. In fact, Lee recently went viral on the platform for condemning Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit. It’s an interesting example of platform nationalism and if you click through on that link there’s some really interesting comparisons to how Lee is treated on Facebook versus on the much more censored Weibo.
A libertarian YouTuber from Brazil is running for state deputy. He’s an anarcho-capitalist who wants people to pay taxes in Bitcoin. OK, after reading all of that, I want you to close your eyes. Now, imagine what this guy might look like. OK, got a good fleshed out mental picture? Now, click this link. I guarantee you it’s exactly what you were imagining.
SOME FUN STUFF
P.S. here’s a good skull meme.
***Any typos in this email are purpose actually, but with more of carefree weekend vibe***