Periodical — 11
In his Substack this week, Dave Karpf concludes that the trajectory of any emerging technology bends toward money. Of course it does. Because, capitalism.
Karpf is in the midst of a chronological reread of the entire WIRED magazine corpus — of great interest to me, of course — and came upon some predictions from the January, 2000 issue that are, 23 years later, pretty notable. Two of note:
“I expect science to be conquered by market forces just like the Internet was, so that science becomes indistinguishable from product development.” — Bruce Sterling
“There won’t be TV per se in three decades. There will be video service over the Internet.” — Nathan Myrvhold
Karpf provides some analysis that, especially if you’ve found yourself having had it with streaming media — will be worth a few moments to read.
What I find fascinating about these two particular quotes is that they make it clear that many of the things that we feel like are happening to us right now already happened nearly a quarter of a century ago. We’re on the distant shores of a slow-moving tsunami of tech. We all heard the alert, but the earthquake happened back in the late 1980s.
Take Sterling’s quote, for example. He’s talking about the de-intellectualization of science by the engines of profit — yep, that’s happened — and compares it to that having already happened to the internet. This is in the year 2000, less than a decade from when the public even first experienced it! This was only 9 years after the public launch of America Online. Only 5 years after the first release of Internet Explorer. Only 2 years after Google patented PageRank. Just 1 year after the first file was transferred over Napster. But Sterling saw what was coming. Before Google launched Adsense, Image Search, or Gmail (2004); before Kazaa (2001), Friendster (2002), LinkedIn (2003), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), Reddit (2005), Twitter (2006), and on and on. It’s an amazing insight. And it likely sounded very overblown then.
Myrvhold’s insight is conceptually nested within Sterling’s. On the one hand, bravo — you said this before YouTube or Netflix! On the other, freely accessible anything is contrary to the inexorable consolidation of wealth.
The reason that someone, such as I, might have just about McFucking Had It with streaming services in this, the year of our Lord 2023, is because the pseudo competition among them has surpassed any reasonable burden on the consumer, not to mention the ceiling of maximum-viable content — oh, and, that sometimes things you paid to access just disappear. There’s too much too consume, too many places to do it, it all costs too-damn-much. Back in the day, “cord-cutting” seemed logical compared with $50/month cable fees. Today, that seems quaint. I know plenty of people who pay monthly for upwards of five streaming services, a common collection of them being AmazonPrime (obviously that is somewhat of an outlier), Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, Disney+. If you subscribe to all of those you pay much more than $50/month. Not to mention your wireless carrier bill and whatever you might pay for cloud storage and music streaming. It’s all… a lot.
But it won’t be as much as all that for long. For some people, streaming video and music, cloud storage, wireless service, and even hardware is consolidated under the unholy alliance of Apple and Verizon/AT&T. Makes sense. But, like, don’t call that cord-cutting.
Myrvhold was right that we have the ability to “end TV” as we knew it in 2000. We kind of did for a minute there. But it’s coming back. And honestly, there were some good things about the old way – like, oh I don’t know, not having everything anytime you want it. This might be a marker of my generation, but I haven’t “bonded” as much with a TV show since I last had to wait a week to see the next one.
This one thing, though, is just a symptom of Karpf’s overall diagnosis. The future, in our culture, isn’t imagined: it’s paid for. The culture we are allowed to have, in the broadest sense, is a form of generational wealth. We are given an excess of entertainment – of “choice”, we are told — because it maintains more easily controlled circumstances.
What if — just what if — we were able to imagine a future without the constraints of economy. Some may say that is absurd and/or naive. Perhaps. But still, what might we imagine if we were free to consider the future unencumbered by economic determinism? What if we were the kind of people who thought about resources and community differently. What if personal “wealth” was a concept we simply didn’t value or even understand? As a thought exercise, it difficulty is, on its own, profound.
Speaking of not-cool. This is not cool at all. Sure, the family OK’d it, but permission doesn’t make something permissible.
Our design team has a monthly meeting called “Dream Project,” where each person shares something they made just to stretch their mind and skills. We have only two rules:
- thing must make use of at least one established convention
- thing must take at least one creative risk
The goal, of course, is to try out new things without imposing them improperly on client work.
This was mine last month, and it speaks to my lament over The Web That Could Have Been. It’s a browser (homage to the first one, Mosaic) for a web that was full of books.
I know, I know, this is a frivolous and naive thing. But imagine if, instead of one company controlling the vast majority of all book consumption, the “book” retained its purpose of communicating and educating but was free of the capitalization that controls what it is today. Might something like that look like this?