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The metaverse is cooked
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Apple Doesn’t Care About The Metaverse
Last summer, I ended up with two different VR headsets. I first bought Meta’s Quest 2 headset while recording a pilot for a podcast (it would have been a good show, but it never got picked up). Then, a few months later, I reviewed Meta’s Quest Pro for The Information.
I spent a lot of time in these headsets. I threw a Beat Saber party with my family. Turns out my mom is great at it. I recorded an entire podcast segment from inside of VRChat. I even took the Quest Pro on a trip to Europe, booting it up in hotels and airport lounges. It was deeply embarrassing. I looked like LinkedIn influencer Robocop and it also doesn’t really work on public Wi-Fi connections.
And I spent even more time talking to folks who have been working in VR for a long time. The smartest person I met last year was Wagner James Au. And I’ve cited him a few times in Garbage Day since. If I had to condense his point of view into one main idea it would be: Corporate attempts at creating a “metaverse” are inherently antagonistic to virtual reality’s true promise of creating an open, accessible, and utopian digital society. So I was curious what his take would be on this week’s debut of Apple’s VisionPro headset at WWDC.
“For me the big reveal is VisionPro has little or no VR capabilities — instead, the overwhelming focus is on displaying photos, video, and audio in an AR space,” he wrote. “Relatedly, there's little or nothing in VisionPro that smacks of the metaverse as it's properly defined — no immersive shared virtual world, no highly customizable avatars, no virtual economy of user-generated, etc. But then that shouldn't be a surprise: Apple CEO Tim Cook has never been a booster of the metaverse concept.”
Last month, I wrote that we should hold off declaring the metaverse truly “dead” until we saw what Apple was working on. If only because during literally every interview I did about it in 2022, everyone told me they were also waiting to see what Apple had planned. Well, I would like to issue a formal apology to writer Ed Zitron, whose essay I disagreed with last month. I was wrong. Yeah, the metaverse is cooked.
Instead of using shitty joycons to maneuver your genital-free cartoon corpo blob through conference calls in VR-recreations of Aspen or whatever, Apple’s VisionPro demo was all about using your big dumb meat hands to move hovering instances of Apple software around in augmented reality. Marques Brownlee did a great video collecting his first reactions to trying it. He seems generally impressed — he confesses it felt kind of magical — but he was also totally befuddled as to why it exists.
It seems like VisionPro will be the first consumer headset since Google Glass to really prioritize mixed reality, or XR, over virtual reality. Meta’s Quest Pro could do XR, but it was still fundamentally a VR device. Will mixed reality really take off? I’m not so sure. I think the $3,500 price tag is way too high and the fact you have to plug it in to really use it seems like a big deal breaker. Also, headsets just look dumb. Here is where I would usually write a big missive about how headsets, in general, won’t really ever catch on because, after COVID lockdowns lifted, the last thing anyone wants to do is sit inside and wear the internet on their face. But I can’t really write that today because the air in New York is full of poison and I can’t go outside without tasting ash and getting lightheaded.
Anyways, I do think Apple has correctly diagnosed that increasingly-integrated hardware/software ecosystems are where we’re headed when it comes to consumer tech. Which actually puts the VisionPro closer to Microsoft’s Bing AI integrations. And that brings us to what was actually the most interesting thing about WWDC this year: There was no big mention of generative AI, but lots of little ones.
Users over at r/ChatGPT made a handy list of all the features that were announced related to AI or machine learning. And the two most common arguments I’ve seen for Apple’s not-saying-AI AI strategy, which you can see prominently in that Reddit thread, are that it’s either because they’re more focused on on-device AI that doesn’t run on the cloud, which is better for privacy. Or it’s because Apple still has Siri and Siri sucks shit. Both could be true tbh.
But it does seem like we now know the answer to one of the most interesting questions of our “post”-pandemic era: What comes after the smart phone? And the answer is a suite of apps and services, buoyed by sophisticated machine learning and generative AI, that exist everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
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Let’s Talk About The Normal TikTok Guy
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There were two big main characters (of TikTok) on Twitter this week. We’ll get to the second one in a bit. The first is a TikTok user that goes by @hubs.life and he makes content that is, “so depressing that” one Twitter user “started tearing up watching it.”
I saw a lot of questions flying around Twitter about what @hubs.life was trying to do. One user I saw claimed it was clearly an ad and Meta’s Tom Gara wrote that it was “as obviously fake as one of those absurdist r/relationships posts or whatever.”
So I did what I always do with little mysteries like this. I scrolled all the back on the account and clicked around for a while.
@hubs.life’s real name is Connor Hubbard, he was running a videography business in Dallas up until 2021. Seems like he was also doing music videos. He made a TikTok account last fall and immediately started posting very chill, calming aesthetic videos about his impossibly boring life. In January, he had a big hit on TikTok doing a “my 5-9 before my 9-5” video. It did about 500,000 views and he seems to have decided to fully lean into the schtick. His views plateaued, he experimented a bunch, and then he had another hit in February with a similar video. And he’s basically been doing the same thing ever since. The video that went viral this week is basically another version of a video he did in April that went also super viral.
And he’s turned his boring videos into an “identity movement” or apparel line which, because it’s 2023, are the same thing. It’s called “normalize the norm” and there are stickers. He’s also an Amazon associate.
So, yes, this is all sort of fake, in the sense that it’s a format that is being actively optimized for virality and, yes, these are ads, in the sense that their virality drives passive traffic to third-party monetization widgets, but, also, it’s just a weird thing a guy is doing.
It’s A Big Week For Crypto
This week, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sued both Binance and Coinbase. As always, please read Bloomberg’s Matt Levine in times like these, who still has the best take on crypto exchanges: “A decent rule of thumb is that all cryptocurrency exchanges are doing crimes, and if you’re lucky your exchange is doing only process crimes.”
The SEC has also filed a motion to freeze assets related to Binance’s staking program.
The market isn’t in free fall yet, but it’s also hard to gauge what a free fall would look like right now amid the long-term crypto winter. One crypto trader, however, is having a very good week.
The Twitter account @unusual_whales noticed some very curious activity. Someone opened a bunch of puts on Coinbase’s stock on Monday and ended up making millions of dollars on the news of the SEC suit against the exchange. How lucky is that?!
Tucker Carlson’s First Twitter “Show” Is Bad
To be clear, I don’t mean it’s “bad” ideologically. It’s genuinely a poorly made and extremely pathetic attempt from a production standpoint. It’s boring and ugly and would not do well on a platform that had real metrics. If it wasn’t being heavily promoted by Elon Musk and his cronies I’m not even sure it would do well on Twitter.
Carlson’s video is 10 minutes of meandering ranting and archival footage and I honestly couldn’t even tell you what it’s about. It doesn’t even have graphics, apart from a “Tucker On Twitter” watermark. Bro, hire a teenaged MrBeast fan to give you some fun subtitles or dynamic zoom cuts or something.
I don’t want to stretch out too far into a theory of everything (I have a tendency to do that), but I can’t help but feel like this sad weird video, Chris Licht getting axed from CNN, and James Corden and Trevor Noah recently leaving their late-night posts are all part of a general End Of A Certain Kind Of TV that no one seems to want to acknowledge?
I also saw a tweet this week about Musk and Carlson launching a proper YouTube competitor called Xvideo, named for Musk’s X, the everything app idea. I tried to google “elon musk xvideo tucker carlson,” though, to find out more about this, but I just got a bunch of very weird porn, so I can’t tell you if that’s true or not.
The BBC Got Rolled By Andrew Tate
The BBC went to Romania and did an on-camera interview with Tate while he’s still on house arrest. The BBC wrote up the interview with the headline, “Influencer challenged on misogyny and rape allegations,” which is an interesting way of looking at how the interview went.
Here’s an example of how most of Tate’s audience viewed the interview:
And more than few folks have compared the Tate interview to the BBC’s disastrous Musk interview from April. But I thought British writer Mic Wright had the most succinct take here, writing, “The BBC — despite its lack of significant commercial pressures — is a tabloid enterprise and BBC News is addicted to news lines spoon-fed into its eager mouth by the Daily Mail.”
Is Baby Gronk The New Drip King?
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As I said, there were two main characters (of TikTok) on Twitter this week. The second one was an account called @h00pify, which I thought was satire, but it turns out, it absolutely isn’t. When I first watched the video above, I assumed the entire thing was fake. Not just the channel, but all of the people involved. I was very mistaken. Baby Gronk is “real,” the Drip King is “real,” and the influencer Livvy Dunne is “real”. SB Nation has a good explainer on all of this.
If you’re wondering what is up with the @h00pify account, it seems like it’s run by a guy and his mom(?) and it’s sort of like a MrBeast-ified video tabloid for sports and sports-adjacent news.
It feels like, just beneath the surface of our normal base reality, there is another layer of American culture. I’ll call it Barstool reality. It’s a place where niche Instagram personalities, OnlyFans models, college athletes, and that guy Hasbulla all intersect. Everyone has the sort of bad tan you get from spending too much time on a lake boat or the golf course or at a midwestern college football tailgate. The only food you ever see is fast food or big salads. Everything is written in a font that I can only describe as Mobile Game Sans. And no one ever blinks. This reality is always trying to figure out what the new drink of the summer is — it was White Claw, then it was ranch water, now it’s those big jugs of vodka and flavor packets, I think. That’s where this video is from. And every time a piece of content like this breaks containment everyone on Twitter loses their minds. But, honestly, all of the weirdly shiny and orange guys with zoomer middle parts wearing soft, over-sized T-shirts in these videos seem very at peace mindlessly jabbering about going to see Diplo at Red Rocks and I’m starting to think I would like to live in this world, as well.
4chan Built A Horny Chatbot
So, the second edition of Garbage Intelligence went out this week. If you’re interested in checking it out, as I wrote above, it costs $150 a year and you can sign up through the Substack subscription page linked to above.
While doing research for our May report, we stumbled across a really interesting subreddit that we realized didn’t quite fit in with the rest of our analytics, but we wanted to share it regardless. We started looking at the fastest-growing subreddits for the month and discovered a huge spike around a subreddit that has since been taken down, but we were able to explore it a bit.
It was called r/VenusAIOfficial and it was a place for users of VenusAI, which was a modified version of OpenAI software that used to create horny chatbots. The service shut down on May 28th after being brigaded by 4chan users. We won’t link to the threads where they were figuring out how to do this, but you can imagine what they might look like. It turns out that the OpenAI access that Venus needed was created via proxies and taken without permission by 4chan users. The most interesting/sad thing about this whole situation was that it seems like users were experiencing actualy real grief after they lost their sexting AI chatbot.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good meme.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***