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The Week: fallen empires, lost sculptures and stolen music
And: links aplenty.
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Meta’s stock took the biggest single-day hit for a US company in history:
A historic plunge in the stock price of Facebook’s parent company has erased more than $230bn in its market value, easily the biggest one-day loss in history for a US company.
The 26.4% wipeout in Meta comes amid concerns about its future after the company reported its first ever drop in daily user numbers in its Wednesday earnings report. Facebook rebranded to Meta last year as part of its strategic pivot to becoming a virtual-reality based company.
The slump in stock price has reportedly sent Mark Zuckerberg’s personal wealth tumbling by more than $30bn.
This is driven by three things: lower than expected earnings, massive losses in its metaverse division, and — for what seems like the first time — a loss in daily active users.
The company is obviously still making a shitload of money, and it’s still a vast enterprise in terms of daily users. But it’s undeniable that other companies, primarily TikTok, are absolutely eating its lunch with new users. Though Zuckerberg really wants to lean into Instagram Reels, anyone who has spent five minutes looking at that platform knows it is an absolute desert populated with some truly alien content. It doesn’t come close to the frighteningly addictive machine that is TikTok.
The metaverse expenditure, which is the company’s institutional focus right now and happens in large part through its Reality Labs, appears to have led to a general sell-off in metaverse-related stocks, like Nvidia and Roblox. As such, some commentator are basically calling this as evidence that Zuck has made an absolutely catastrophic pivot which will doom his company to t he trashheap.
I shit on Meta’s horrible existing metaverse stuff quite a lot, because it genuinely is shit and augurs a shitty future I want little part of. But I also think that Zuckerberg is probably not wrong when he basically calls on investors to be patient. If I had to pick between literal billions of dollars of Meta’s capital being pumped into building and improving virtual reality tech vs dinky blockchain projects like Decentraland, I’d probably bet on the former, despite not liking either very much.
But it’s definitely a race against the clock. ‘The metaverse’ in the sense that all these companies talk about it is probably a decade away, which they’re all pretty open about. Meta is dumping all its money into that future, but it still needs people using its services in the interim.
As an aside: lol.
While we’re on that…
Leave. Leave your job now.
Roads and crossings
Fun little urban design thought experiment from an academic paper I was alerted to via this tweet. Applies to Australia as well.
Almost without exception in the United States, streets are continuous whereas sidewalks are discontinuous from one block to the next. As a thought experiment, imagine a city in which the sidewalks were continuous; in which the streets were interrupted at every intersection by sidewalks; in which drivers crossed sidewalks rather than pedestrians crossing streets. In effect, such a city would replace every crosswalk for pedestrians with a speed hump for drivers. It would manifest one kind of reversal in the hierarchical ordering of motor-vehicle flows over pedestrian places. Such a city is radical, visionary, or inconceivable because it would constitute the material manifestation of a very different rationality. However, the US city is no such place. Pedestrians cross streets at crosswalks — locations of exception. At busy intersections, pedestrians cross during walk signals — moments of exception. Farmers markets, street fairs, and political protests create similar moments of exception in which streets as conduits are temporarily transformed into places for pedestrians.
There is no spoon
There’s a (very long, probably too long) bit in Current Affairs about the resurgence in the simulation hypothesis:
More and more people are apparently asking the question: “How do we know we’re not all living in a big computer simulation like in The Matrix?” It seems they are asking seriously. Scientific American has run articles on the idea that the world might be some kind of video game being played by someone outside the Universe. (One piece argues—I hope facetiously—that the speed of light proves that a computer made the universe.) Elon Musk evidently believes this idea wholeheartedly, saying there is almost no chance we are not living in a “computer simulation.” David Chalmers’ new book Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy gives the idea very thorough consideration. Chalmers is not fringe; he is one of the world’s leading philosophers of mind, and his views are taken seriously.
I’m currently reading Reality+ and am currently too early to critique it in any substantive way. (I’ll probably write about it for subscribers once I’m done.) But I’m sensing something here that Robinson describes in the piece: a kind of implied political treatise masquerading as an exercise in technophilosophy.
There does seem to be a new generation of simulation theory advocates who have cropped up that use it as a means of justifying our increasingly online lives — online lives that, if tech companies have anything to say about it, will be increasingly experienced through virtual and augmented reality. Its simplest expression is this: if the world is a simulation, or at least has a high enough probability of being one, then it doesn’t matter if we go down another layer of ‘unreality’. Virtual worlds contain as much truth value as our ostensibly real one, so you may as well live in Roblox.
It’s kind of adjacent to the relatively insane ‘Reality Privilege’ spiel I wrote about last month — the idea that preferring reality to constructed virtual worlds is basically a privilege of the global bourgeoise.
Secure, contain, protect IP
I thought this was a fascinating thread on a bit of ongoing internet lore.
The SCP Foundation is a long-running online collective fiction project, organised as a wiki. It’s written from the perspective of a fictional secret organisation which is responsible for capturing, securing and documenting various paranormal and supernatural objects and entities. Each individual page, written in quasi-scientific format, documents the nature and “containment procedures” related to the item in question. In practice, each page is basically a sci-fi/horror/fantasy short story in the house style, and it has spawned a universe of derivative works.
I personally haven’t read it regularly in a long time, but I did in the early days, circa 2009 or so. It’s absolutely enormous project at this point, and a very interesting example of a ruthlessly self-policing and self-editing creative community.
The whole project is covered by an expansive Creative Commons licence which lets anyone create fan projects — even commercial ones — based on individual stories, as long as the creator is duly credited. This has led to art projects, adaptations and video games aplenty. The 2019 video game Control is heavily inspired by The SCP Foundation.
SCP-173 is a perpetual fan favourite. It describes basically a weird-looking statue that snaps your neck if you stop looking at it, which I suppose is reasonably scary to imagine. The page in question has been caught up in a longterm rights dispute for about a decade, as the photo attached to the article is a sculpture named "Untitled 2004" by Japanese artist Izumi Kato.
The artist in question did not consent to his creation being repurposed as a murder statue in a fiction project, though he came to an uneasy agreement with the community that they could leave it up and use it, as long as they didn’t commercialise it. He is apparently “unhappy with the arrangement” which is unfortunate but kind of funny to think about. The page currently contains, in bold, ‘DO NOT contact or negotiate Izumi Kato about anything related to "SCP-173".’ (Sorry, but it’s also funny to imagine this frustrated Japanese artist being constantly harangued by nerds about commercial usage rights.)
Anyway, after basically a decade of it being live, they’re pulling the picture — even though Kato hasn’t actively demanded it. The thread (and plenty of angry responses!) is worth a look.
Hit after hit
Now this is a great scam. A platform named HitPiece popped up purportedly selling NFTs of songs, which it likened to trading cards corresponding to those songs which could be put together into ‘hitlists’.
“HitPiece lets fans collect NFTs of your favourite songs,” a description on the website read. “Each HitPiece NFT is a One of One NFT for each unique song recording. Members build their Hitlist of their favourite songs, get on leaderboard, and receive in real life value such as access and experience with Artists.”
The problem was that this seemed to be just a metadata scraping operation, and did not involve many of the artists or their management, despite claims that these artists would be reimbursed. This screenshot is doing the rounds ostensibly explaining how the system worked — I can’t vouch for its credibility, but it seems to make sense given the senior industry people involved with the company:
Anyway, the main reason I’ve shared this is the incredible apology:
If you visit the website, it’s now a blank page which simply reads: “We Started The Conversation And We’re Listening.” There are brands that stumble into the NFT culture war, and then there’s this.
You like lost treasures on submerged ships don’t you? Well, here you go.
Very interesting on NSO’s Pegasus, the Israeli cyberweapon.
Good one on the rise of the celebrity fitness instructor.
Liked this on the economic background of the Russia/Ukraine conflict.
This epic tale of cracking a hardware wallet with $2 million of crypto.
“There Is No CD Revival”. I wasn’t aware this was on the table, but cool!
EA’s CEO is backing off going hard on NFTs in gaming, presumably due to the current backlash. Thought this was worth a read, on that subject: “Why gamers hate crypto, and music fans don't”. This line in particular very funny:
What happened? Well, the Valorant Twitter account posted a picture of Killjoy looking at a (real) work of art in a museum; it turned out that the artist behind the image sells his works as NFTs. In response, the Valorant team tweeted as if it were begging for its life. “We were not aware the selected work was an NFT,” Valorant said. “In no way did we intend to include NFTs as part of Killjoy’s work and hobbies.” The tweet earned 3,500 likes; Valorant was spared further harm.