Two sides of the same coin

Read to the end for Weezer's "Blue Album" in the "Final Fantasy VII" soundfont

Breaking Up The Web To Make A Worse One

We might be in trouble folks. For the first time in my life, it feels like the internet, as an experiment, as it currently functions, may not last. And I don’t have a lot of confidence in what will replace it. The driving force behind this great cracking up of the web is AI, more or less, but it’s also more complex than that.

The internet has been decentralizing for a while. According to my own archives, it became enough of a thing for me to start writing about it back in January 2021, when Twitter bought Revue (RIP). My hunch is that going from the deeply polarized era of centralized feeds from 2015-2020 directly into COVID-19, which quite literally jammed the whole world into those centralized feeds, caused a deep reaction against those centralized feeds. Basically, four companies carved up the internet into easy-to-use silos, then, suddenly, everyone had to use those silos, and found them deeply wanting. And ever since then we’ve been searching, in various ways, for something else. Whether it’s Web3 or Discord communities or Telegram groups or Substack or live audio or whatever. The big winner so far, though, of this mass exodus from “social media” has been AI. Which is especially true if you remember that TikTok runs on AI.

We don’t tend to think of TikTok as being similar to something like ChatGPT, but both products are owned by rising AI companies, ByteDance and OpenAI respectively, and use a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning that is at the root of these tools’ immense popularity and, also, a lot of hysteria. In TikTok’s case, machine learning informs how the app recommends content. We don’t know a lot about its core algorithm, but anyone that’s used it can tell you how much more “alive” and reactive it feels compared to, say, Instagram’s. And ChatGPT runs on GPT-3.5 or GPT-4 at the moment. The “GPT” stands for generative pre-trained transformer, which is a type of large language model that feels just as “alive” and reactive as TikTok.

Both tools are also very good at what I’ll call content colonization, albeit in different ways. TikTok absorbs trends and conversations around the web and funnels them back into its own network only to then, via its downloadable watermarked videos, spit that content back out across the rest of the web. This effectively turns any other social network that allows video uploads into an extension of TikTok. And generative-AI tools like ChatGPT colonize the web more literally, using almost everything on the public internet as a potential source for its machine learning. There are now already whole platforms like Wikipedia, Google News, and Reddit that can be functionally replaced by ChatGPT’s easy-to-use interface. And our institutions seem to have reached a breaking point when it comes to these tools eating the web and, thus, the world. And are utterly lost in a confusing moral panic over how to respond.

Legislators, terrified of China’s cultural influence, are trying to ban TikTok on a federal level, while Montana has already passed a bill which would do that on a state level. Meanwhile, people like Google CEO Sundar Pichai are going on 60 Minutes spewing alarmist bull shit about what generative AI can do while also fundamentally changing its core business model to try and compete against it. And social platforms like Reddit are beginning to restrict their APIs and charge for access so they can start making money off large language models who want to use their sites for training data.

It’s hard not to look at both reactions — Washington’s desire to kill the open internet to defeat TikTok and Silicon Valley’s warnings of some sentient god AI — as two sides of the same coin. And that’s especially true because both panic responses are very clearly just a cover for other projects entirely. Banning TikTok is about finally being able to censor what Americans do online. And a large chunk of the folks who signed that big scary open letter asking for a pause on AI development only did so because they need some time to make their own. (Platforms like Reddit should be charging the shit out of companies like OpenAI though.)

This is not me saying that we should sit back and let super-charged machine-learning platforms devourer our lives. But we also shouldn’t let very scared institutions use our own fear — and lack of tech literacy — to consolidate power and erode what’s left of the open web. We need more user-generated platforms, regardless of whether their owned by Chinese companies, we need more, better search engines, and we need to look for real pragmatic solutions on what to do with increasingly better machine learning. Because if we don’t we’re going to wake up one day and realize we didn’t fix anything and only helped make a lot of already very rich people even richer while making our own lives worse.

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Got Some Events Coming Up!

April 26th — The Observe Summit in London, UK

April 29th — Digital Void in New York, NY

May 10th — Celebrità di internet e studiosi di meme in Milan, Italy

Unfortunately, I actually won’t be able to make it to Web Summit Rio. But I have a few other fun live events that I still haven’t announced yet for the summer. And, as always, if you think there’s a way for Garbage Day to come to where you are, shoot me an email! Let’s see if we can make it work.

AISIS Is The Future

AISIS, pronounced like Oasis, not, uh, ISIS, I assume, is an AI-generated album of fake Oasis songs. If we’re still trying to compare the rise of AI music to the early era of music piracy and mashups, this could be considered similar to something like Danger Mouse’s The Gray Album, which was a combination of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and The Beatles’ The White Album and went viral on early peer-to-peer sites like Kazaa.

The Guardian has a good interview with the band behind the project. “We just got bored waiting for Oasis to re-form,” songwriter Bobby Geraghty told The Guardian. “All we have now is Liam and his brother trying to outdo each other. But that isn’t Oasis. So we got an AI-modeled Liam to step in on some tunes.”

Which actually speaks to the larger trend here that I think is really fascinating. YouTube is not just full of cover bands, but cover bands that cover songs in the styles of other bands. A sort of organic mashup. My favorite is Alex Melton who makes a lot of pop punk covers of non-pop punk songs. His “mashup” of Blink-182 covering “Semi-Charmed Life” goes hard as hell.

And this is exactly how AISIS started. According to the The Guardian, the songs were written for an Oasis cover band called Breezer. No one really cared. So the band switched out Geraghty’s vocals with an AI model of Liam Gallagher. And the album now has around 80,000 views on YouTube.

It’s hard to overstate how revolutionary this is. Mashups and remixes have always been limited by what already exists. The producer and the DJ, now matter how absurd and intricate the sampling gets, were always more of a curatorial role. But now the same production tools can be used to create wholly new material. And things are going to move so fast once this tech becomes easier to use.

Unfortunately, Whatever Is A Real Podcast

I’ve had a few questions about the Whatever podcast, with readers wondering if it’s real or another show that just exists via social clips. Whatever is real, I’m sad to say. If you spend any time on Twitter, chances are you’ve encountered it. It’s sort of like an amalgam of Barstool Sports, Andrew Tate’s TikTok channel, and No Jumper, which is to say, it sucks ass.

“Imagine the least loved man you know putting on a Zara leather jacket to record a podcast with a bunch of 21 year olds he hates. That’s so funny,” Twitter user @freshhel recently wrote of the show.

Which is basically the whole idea. The host’s name is Brian Atlas and Famous Birthdays says he’s 38 years old, even though he looks like if someone spray-painted a beard on the evil doll from Goosebumps. His show is pretty simple. He brings young attractive girls on and embarrasses them. Or he edits clips of the show to make it seem like they’re saying dumb stuff. The show “casts” its guests and it’s popular enough — 4 million subscribers on YouTube — that a lot of OnlyFans models go on it and sit through the humiliation to promote their channels.

To give you the missing context here, Atlas was a pickup artist in the early 2010s. In fact, he hasn’t even bothered to scrub his YouTube channel of his street pickup videos. He would harass women in parks and college campuses and film it. Then he pivoted to “social experiments” and pranks. He disappeared off YouTube (or erased the videos), only to come back and make a bunch videos trolling liberals at various protests. And now he’s pivoted to an unfortunately very popular weird sex podcast.

The Effective Altruist Breeding Couple Used To Be Very Active Redditors

Right, so, every three months, a weird couple named Simone and Malcolm Collins do a magazine profile about how obsessed they are with breeding and making children to save the human race. They both kind of look like Dana Carvey’s Turtle Man and dress like Paddington Bear and usually spend these interviews waxing at length about the importance making genetically-superior super-children. Oh and their daughter’s name is Titan Invictus because they think feminine names will hurt her professional opportunities later in life. Yes, I’m sure Titan is the better way to go.

The Collinses are effective altruists, which is the same strain of totally-not-conservative-but-definitely-conservative-conservatism that disgraced FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried subscribed to, which, as an ideology, has roots in rationalism, a sociopolitical movement obsessed with the AI singularity. Effective altruism’s main idea, and, I would argue, central flaw, is the belief that social good can be optimized and maximized through capitalism. I don’t want to get too in the weeds on all of this, but I think rationalism, effective altruism, and longtermism all eventually boil down to a bunch of weird nerds on message boards hoping they can find a way that sounds ethical to normies of using technology to rebuild feudalism with them on top.

Anyways, all of that is prologue for the important news here. My friend Katie Notopoulos discovered this week that the Collinses were big redditors. The husband, Malcolm Collins, was a brony, obviously. And the wife, Simone, once made an anime body pillow of herself to give to him as an anniversary gift.

Call me old fashioned, but I just don’t want to hear what a weird Reddit couple thinks about breeding. And I think, before you give someone a magazine profile about their plan to save the human race through what is absolutely a weird form of eugenics, it’s probably worth asking a few basic questions like, “were you ever an active user on the r/mylittlepony subreddit?” Or, I suppose, more importantly, “have you, a public proponent of pro-natalism, ever asked Reddit’s r/explainlikeimfive how human genitalia works?”

Hank Green Is Trying To Go Viral On LinkedIn

So this video is funny, but it’s also the closest articulation of something that I’ve actually been trying to describe for years. Green talks about the feeling of building a new presence on a social network and the excitement of trying new things to see how they work. And, importantly, he describes it in a way that doesn’t feel growth-hacky, but rather, in a way where he’s trying to find the parts of himself that fit the best inside an online platform at the right levels.

I think it’s something of a lost art. Playful experimentation inside a social network doesn’t have to be a race to the bottom and I think can actually make the network better. That said, I don’t think he’s going to conquer LinkedIn, but I wish him the best.

You Can Blaze Other People’s Tumblr Posts Now

God help us all, Tumblr has opened up the ability to Blaze anyone’s post. The feature rolls out on 420 (nice) and it means if you see a cool post, you can pay Tumblr a few bucks, and they’ll boost it. Most importantly, if you don’t want this feature, you can turn it off on your account settings.

I think this, overall, though, is cool for the same reasons I talked about above with Hank Green’s LinkedIn experiment. Social networks are, well, social. Which means if you’re not finding new ways to play with them, they get stale. And, actually Green makes this point in his video, but the more socially important important an online space becomes the less likely its users are to play with it. Which has been the core tension inside of Twitter for almost 15 years, but something that I think Tumblr is getting really good at navigating.

Someone Finally Said It

(Tumblr mirror for folks in non-TikTok regions.)

Some Stray Links

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

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