Oligopolies and quantified selves
Welcome to this week’s free edition of The Terminal. If you’d like to become a subscriber, hit the button below.
The Wall Street Journal has a story going behind the scenes on what happened when Facebook briefly yanked news content from Australia during the news media bargaining code episode.
As you might recall, a number of non-news pages were also blocked from Facebook, including government agencies and charities. The general thrust of the story here is that this was an intentional strategy to turn the screws on the government:
Last year when Facebook blocked news in Australia in response to potential legislation making platforms pay publishers for content, it also took down the pages of Australian hospitals, emergency services and charities. It publicly called the resulting chaos “inadvertent.”
Internally, the pre-emptive strike was hailed as a strategic masterstroke.
Facebook documents and testimony filed to U.S. and Australian authorities by whistleblowers allege that the social-media giant deliberately created an overly broad and sloppy process to take down pages—allowing swaths of the Australian government and health services to be caught in its web just as the country was launching Covid vaccinations.
Shocker. Despite the quotes from former ACCC boss Rod Sims in there acting surprised that Facebook wasn’t acting in total good faith here, I think most people realised that something like this was going on.
Regardless of your take on the news media bargaining code and its aims — and obviously the Wall Street Journal is not a neutral player in that argument — it’s another example of how platforms can leverage a particular kind of power in negotiations with states.
A confession. Until yesterday, I had absolutely no idea that multiple slurp juices could be used on a single ape. I was operating on the assumption that only one slurp juice could be applied to a single ape — so you can imagine how stupid I felt seeing the above tweet. Every issue of The Terminal has been written with a wrongheaded one slurp juice / one ape philosophy in mind, and now I’m realising that I was merely denying myself deeper, richer insights by operating under such a blinkered framework. I apologise. I will do better.
In related news, the Wall Street Journal reported this week that the NFT market is flatlining:
The sale of nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, fell to a daily average of about 19,000 this week, a 92% decline from a peak of about 225,000 in September, according to the data website NonFungible.
The number of active wallets in the NFT market fell 88% to about 14,000 last week from a high of 119,000 in November.
That lack of interest isn’t unique. Interest in NFTs measured by the number of searches for the term peaked in January, according to Google Trends, and has fallen roughly 80% since then.
The imbalance between supply and demand is also hurting the NFT market. There are about five NFTs for every buyer, according to data from analytics firm Chainalysis. As of the end of April, there have been 9.2 million NFTs sold, which were bought by 1.8 million people, the firm said.
This story has played out before, and it always invites two responses: jubilance from people who are sick of hearing about NFTs and crypto, and angry denials from people personally, financially and spiritually immersed in the ecosystem.
A couple of counterclaims came out of the crypto press pretty quickly, with Crypto Briefing and CoinTelegraph arguing that the data used by the WSJ misses the whole picture, Yes, they agree, a lot of shitty projects are falling to pieces and once popular NFT games like Axie Infinity have lost their lustre and sales volume, but the so-called ‘blue chip’ projects are in fact thriving.
Plenty of growth in recent days has been driven by digital land speculation on Otherside, the future metaverse promised by Bored Ape Yacht club developer Yuga Labs, which was so popular that it essentially broke Ethereum and sent gas prices hurtling upwards to $5,000 per transaction.
But it’s certainly interesting that the conversation has shifted from the exciting promise of artists and creatives making money by selling NFTs, to five big ticket collections taking the lions share of attention and money. It’s like the dynamics of consolidation and power we saw in media and culture throughout the 20th century might naturally be playing out again, despite the promise of creative empowerment and decentralisation. Funny about that.
And while we’re on that point…
An interesting thread, leading to an interesting newsletter offering some theories as to why it might have happened.
The quantified life
Back in 2007, a pair of WIRED writers, Kevin Kelly and Gavin Wolf started a project they named the Quantified Self, to celebrate and encourage a new and increasingly popular way of looking at the world they described as “self-knowledge through numbers."
Thanks to advances in personal technology and the looming monoculture of the smartphone, it was easier than ever to accumulate quantitative data about one’s own life. You could now track everything from nutrition and sleep to menstrual cycles and your own genetic makeup, and could make decisions to objectively improve your life based on hard numerical data. In a story for WIRED in 2009, Wolf wrote it was a way of living the maxim inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: know thyself.
It has only become easier — and more culturally acceptable — in the years since to use wearables and other tech to quantify, improve and share your life. This led to some inevitable backlash. In an article for Scientific American, Zeynep Tufekci cited a large-scale study which found there was little difference in fitness outcomes between those who tracked their exercise data and those who didn’t. Edith Zimmerman situates the desire for data as something mildly sinister amid the general loneliness of the 21st century. “There’s something about gathering data on my own body that feels like setting up a tea party around myself, comforting myself with at least the illusion of importance,” she writes.
But the most passionate advocates of the quantified self power on. Case in point: this webpage by web developer Felix Krause, which takes the data he has collected over the past ten years and lays it out for public consumption.
Aside from the daily protein intake and mood updates, there’s also detailed location data, lifetime carbon emissions, cashflow and investments.
I’ll stick to whatever step data my iPhone automatically captures.
Good read on the personality clashes inside Netflix as it runs into major speedbumps. Now that the company is in strife, we get more of an insight into who was calling the shots on various decisions over the past few years.
On Chris Cantelmo, the Yale-educated biochemist who started a Reddit DMT cult.
A profile of Brian Johnson, a.k.a. The Liver King, the fitness influencer who encourages a “raw organ meat” diet and a return to the life of the caveman from the confines of his Texas mansion. “A shirt would only muffle the Liver King’s message: that the modern world has made men unconscionably soft, and that the only way to fight back is by living more like our earliest, most-jacked ancestors.”
I have strong memories of watching the Australian cartoon Li'l Elvis and the Truckstoppers as a kid, though I can’t recall any concrete plot or character details. This is a really interesting story on how it got made, and how a local animation infrastructure had to be built from the ground up to make it work. In short, it’s like every bit of Australian content made in the last half-century: some arts office commissar handed out wads of cash to whoever showed up on the day to make whatever they wanted.
An American perspective on buy now, pay later and how it is shifting consumption and debt habits for Gen Z.
From The Guardian, a look at the anti-union efforts at Starbucks.
On the anthropology of duelling: “Duels can be brutal and even lethal. But duels emerged in societies around the world for an important reason: to control and manage violence, not just to celebrate it.”
“This Man Married a Fictional Character. He’d Like You to Hear Him Out.” No, I don’t think I will.
This Verge feature goes some way towards teasing out the growing war between bitcoin and crypto — i.e. the oldschool diehards who think bitcoin is the ultimate financial and political technology, versus the Ethereum-led culture of web3, NFTs and all the rest of it.