Trapped forever in the "Fortnite" mall

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The Metaverse Might Not Happen, But The Tchotchke Internet Is Already Here

On Friday, I wrote about Mark Zuckerberg’s new goal of transforming Facebook into a “metaverse” company. The metaverse is a concept popularized by venture capitalist Matthew Ball and it imagines a new version of the internet where you would have an avatar and virtually interact with online platforms — social media as Fortnite, basically. Cryptocurrency enthusiasts like the idea of the metaverse because it builds on a lot of Web3 technology they already evangelize like NFTs. Web3 is a general term most commonly used for blockchain technology that aims to remove any kind of intermediary from financial transactions online, whether it be a bank or Facebook.

I see a massive contradiction in the idea of a “metaverse company”. I’m not saying this is an internet I’d like to see, but if everything’s running on blockchain, what exactly would the company be doing? All of this led me to ultimately conclude last week that there are two possible versions of a metaverse that could materialize, one governed by massive corporations, where the web is a virtual Walmart; or a decentralized one that let’s people better design small, homegrown communities that they care about and get financially compensated doing so. This is how I tend to see all technology. And oftentimes this dichotomy actually happens at the same time — your smartphone is both the ultimate tool of surveillance capitalism and a device that has ushered unparalleled social progress. In other words, shit’s complicated lol.

The Guardian’s UK Technology Editor Alex Hern put me on blast over the weekend for this take, sending thousands of vicious members of his #hernatic stan army at me. lol jk I’ve know Alex for years, but he did offer up an interesting critique of what I had written, arguing that I was overly optimistic and that decentralized technology doesn’t mean powerful people can’t use it to centralize their own power and influence. Or as Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal put it recently, “This claim that crypto has largely boosted the wealth of existing elites. It's only true in reality. In theory it could be different.”

Hern’s vicious cyberbullying of me did lead me to realize that while the metaverse of Zuckerberg’s dreams still seems like a long way away, it does feel like we are firmly now in a new kind of internet, which may be a direct precursor to it. It’s a kind of online experience I’m going to call “The Tchotchke Internet”.

The Tchotchke Internet is a social media landscape of digital flair and knick-knacks, a direct evolution of the freemium user experience. It’s the small ways that users can spend money (or make money) to have a better experience on social media. It’s Reddit Gold, Discord Nitro, Twitter Super Follows, celebrity verified checkmarks, premium Zoom calls, NFT galleries, Ethereum domain names in your bio, Fortnite skins, Roblox Robux, personal Minecraft servers, custom Twitch emotes, Linktree URLs, cryptocoin giveaways, Clubhouse invites, and social media partner programs.

People are spending a lot of money to express themselves online and most of what they’re paying for is basically the digital equivalent of an emo kid’s backpack covered in Hot Topic pins, random little digital artifacts that bely some kind of personal identity. And looked at one-by-one, it just seems like random services people pay for to get a bit more out of their social media, but looked at as a whole, it does feel like a big shift in user behavior. Especially if you think about how radically different this is from the online piracy days of the mid-00s or even the peak of free Facebook viral media consumption five or six years ago.

In a way, this feels tied to the mass adoption of social media that happened globally over the course of the pandemic. With millions of people only being able to safely interact with one another online, suddenly there was a need to attach irl social value to how a person uses the internet. And companies have been more than happy to oblige.

Bu this also feels tied to the growing connection between financial capital and viral traffic. Whether we’re talking about influencer marketing or meme stocks, the assumption now is that digital audience size directly maps to economic capital, an idea that wasn’t always taken for granted. And I suspect that as creator monetization tools continue to roll out across social platforms, this assumption will only grow.

Which means soon there will be very few places left online — if there are any at all anymore — where all users have the same basic set of tools at their disposal and are, in theory, free from some kind of class hierarchy. And as this stratified user experience continues to spread, I think forms of digital flair will only become more popular — your cryptopunk NFT profile pic, your custom Fortnite skin, or your custom short-form video filters.

It’s kind of a huge bummer. At least with the metaverse, in theory, you could fly your avatar around or order Uber Eats from Optimus Prime or something. With the Tchotchke Internet, as it exists right now, it feels like we’re giving up openness and equal access to digital tools just to spend money to use emojis that no one else has access to.


The TikTok Of The Guy Sneaking Into The Kanye West Concert Is Actually Terrifying

If you haven’t seen this video making the rounds at the moment, it depicts a TikTok user named @nonthrot forging a press pass and seeking into Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium during Kanye West’s Donda not-quite-release party. @nonthrot was able to get closer to West, according to his TikTok, than even Kim Kardashian.

He has smartly deleted this video from his TikTok, but photos from the event are still on an Instagram sporting the same username. On the Instagram page, he also claims he “snuck into” the Jake Paul Triller fight in April, also at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He posted a video to Twitter about how he got into the fight. (It was the same way he got into the Kanye event, by photoshopping a press badge.)

If this is all fake and he had a press pass and was able to get into both events legitimately, it’s lame as hell to claim otherwise on social media for clout. And if he did, in fact, sneak in, I actually think that’s genuinely scary. Maybe I’m being a downer, but I feel like this is both a massive security risk and a huge middle finger to credentialed journalists who try to navigate the insane amount of red tape it takes to actually cover one of these events.


A Conspiracy Theory About The Tucker Carlson Confrontation Begins To Form

Over the weekend, a man from Montana named Dan Bailey confronted Tucker Carlson in a fishing store and told Carlson that he’s “the worst human known to mankind.” Even better, Bailey didn’t yell at Carlson, instead, as one Reddit user I saw put it, he talked to Carlson like a disappointed midwestern dad, which is a very specific kind of emotional devastation.

The video clip objectively rules and the aesthetics of it fantastically shatter any notion that anyone on the left or the right may have had that Carlson is some kind of mouthpiece for the fly-over states or whatever. But a bunch of prominent conservatives then spent the weekend peeing their pants on social media about it, with people like Meghan McCain saying that Carlson was “accosted”.

Far-right influencers are now setting the stage for accusations that Bailey was somehow working with the Biden administration to organize the stunt. Per The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer, there are now already rumors circling on conservative social media that the video was some kind of inside job. It’s still unclear if any of this will stick or if this video sort of vanishes from the conversation. It really depends on how Carlson and Fox News respond this week, but I’m going to say this is worth keeping an eye on.


Your Astrological Guide To Bitcoin

Last night, the Bitcoin market saw the first real signs of recovery since it took a massive nosedive in May. There are a few theories as to why it’s starting to pump again, one of which being Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk’s B-Word event last week. Traders could also be reacting to rumors that Amazon might start accepting cryptocurrency payments. Right now, Bitcoin is up about 15%, almost back to where it was in mid-June.

One trader, Maren Altman, started going very viral last night for a tweet she posted in January. If you aren’t familiar with Altman, she gained notoriety by making TikTok videos where she uses astrology to predict Bitcoin movement. She’s been dubbed the “TikTok crypto witch”. Though, beyond the fun occultism, I actually interviewed her in June and found her to just be really genuinely knowledgable analyst. Here’s the prediction she made in January:

All kinds of crypto Twitter accounts found her tweet and it’s gotten a lot of attention. I messaged Altman this morning to get some background on what, astrologically, she was seeing when she tweeted this earlier this year.

“Those were the dates that Jupiter in the sky crossed over 0 degrees and 15 minutes of tropical Pisces, the location of Venus at the moment of bitcoin’s genesis block,” Altman told me. (The genesis block is the first-ever Bitcoin ever mined.)

She said the first date was a massive sell off, while the retrograde date of Jupiter coming back over Bitcoin’s Venus on the 25th of July was bullish. She said her account is blowing up right now, but she’s not too concerned about it because it was a straightforward astrological calculation and she’s currently chilling on a beach in Cabo.

“I approach it like reading any other astrology chart,” she said. “I look to the founding date of an entity and interpret the symbolic position of the planets accordingly. Those interpretations for me lead to making trading calls.”


Olympic TikTok Is The Only Good Thing About The Olympics This Year

Click through and check out this great thread of Olympic TikToks curated by Mashable writer Morgan Sung. It may be logistically impossible to watch, attend, or even share content from the games, but at least the athletes participating in them have figured out a way to actually give people something entertaining to watch.


Mo Dao Zu Shi Goes To The Olympics

Warning: This item gets a bit NSFW.

Mo Dao Zu Shi is an incredibly popular “boys love” franchise from China. It originally started as a web novel, but has been adapted into an animated series, a comic, and a live action TV show, called The Untamed in English. It dominates global social media. Earlier this year, I wrote about how Mo Dao Zu Shi content topped Archive Of Our Own’s metrics for 2020 and, in February, a fan fiction based on the franchise, Sexytimes with Wangxian, crossed over 1.1 million words and was tagged with so much metadata that it was actually breaking the site for users.

It was announced over the weekend that a popular character from Mo Dao Zu Shi, Wei Wuxian, would be a “2D news anchor” covering the Olympics in China starting this week.

Here’s what’s interesting about Mo Dao Zu Shi. Last year, it was ranked the most popular drama on Chinese social network Weibo. The adaptations of the Mo Dao Zu Shi web novels turn down the volume quite a bit on the “boys love” aspects of the original work, but fans, particular outside of China, are extremely aware of how, uh, intense the source material can get. In fact, there are even extra chapters beyond the main novel that get VERY hot-and-heavy.

All of this has led to a very funny reaction from fans on Twitter who will now be able to watch Wei Wuxian host a show about the Olympics:


Did A Furry Design This Australian Olympic Artwork?

Buckle up, folks, we’re going to talk about furries. This was sent to me by a reader named anne. Supermarket chain Woolworths and Australia’s royal mint have released an Olympic-themed coin range and a lot of folks have noticed that it looks, uh, exactly like furry art! Here’s a big Tumblr post of users reacting to the designs.

So, what happened here? Did the Royal Australian Mint make a set of commemorative furry coins? Well, The Daily Dot interviewed Landeg, the artist behind the campaign. They do a lot of anime stuff, but they said they don’t normally do furry art or anything similar.

Though, on their other Twitter account, Landeg tweeted, rather ominously, “Rest assured the people employing me had no idea what furries were. But I did.”


A Good Meme


9gag Made A Meme Museum In Hong Kong

It’s weird how by simply staying online over the years, 9gag has gone from parasitic content farm to something close to almost an elder statesman of internet culture. The company, which I didn’t realize was based in Hong Kong, has set up an exhibit about memes at the city’s K11 Art Mall, which is running from July 16 to Sept 5. You can check out the photos on the art mall’s Instagram. It actually looks pretty neat!


Another Good Meme


Big Horse

lol have you guys see this video of the huge horse? It’s crazy. The horse’s name is Phantom and you can find him on TikTok here. Phantom is like eight-feet tall. That’s a real big horse.


Some Stray Links


P.S. here’s a cool video.

***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***