Aside from a global pandemic, nation-wide protests against racial injustices, killer bees, Brexit, wildfires, TikTokers angel investing, and possibly the weirdest election season of all-time, 2020 has been otherwise your average fever dream sequence.
Some things that happened (to and in spite of) me in 2020, in no particular order:
My music taste was roasted by an “AI” algorithm. As we learned many times this year, AI is the answer to everything and eliminates all problems humans bring to decision-making (not). On the plus side, check out some silver linings and great scientific progress researchers made.
Water coolers and learning. Zoom university has also made a clearer distinction between learning from people, and learning from the "books”. I appreciated the real value of college more, which has a lot to do with reproducing an environment where you get ensnared into a good hallway conversation with people outside your inner circle.
Books, with some effort, can help you learn to walk, but only people can help you orient where to walk. In other (equally vague yet obvious) words, I can’t know (through books), if I don’t know what to know (through people). While I used to prefer the former out of flexibility and access, especially in high school, losing a degree of access to the latter in terms of spontaneity and proximity has been tough. College environments put you in epsilon-greedy exploration modes, regardless of whether you want them to.
I still don’t have a great way to fill in my blind spots in the absence of in-person conversations. Slack and Zoom rescued this year, but they can only do so much. Curated online communities can be great and active, but many aren’t. There still isn’t a good replacement for the “naturalness” of face-to-face work despite the explosion of startups that try to put the "i” back in haptic. I am lucky to be able to do work remotely, but given the choice of in-person or remote work, I would choose to work in person in a heartbeat.
Some smug comment about the nature of college and online friendships here that I would know how to make if I were better at texting.
I am still in the middle of Infinite Jest. So far it reads like losing the plot in a North American superstate, where the reader zone in and out of unending moments. Years are “subsidized” so that corporations can bid on time (try to imagine an entire year dominated by a single product!)
Creating vs. Consuming. Lots of people have written eloquently on the consumption to creation ratio. I don’t have anything interesting to add on why creating is a good mental exercise, even when there isn’t an audience to consume content. One thing I haven’t seen anyone remark on yet is that good viral social media apps make you think you can be a good creator and gain an audience quickly, even when it’s much more likely you will be a consumer. This is especially important when the cost to become a creator is small (consider the difference in energy investment between shooting a 1 minute clip and directing a movie).
People are willing to be consumers without creating when the cost of creation is high (either in knowledge or effort needed), but will not when the cost is low, regardless of the content quality. I would imagine that data would show that YouTube has a much smaller creator to consumer ratio than TikTok does (if you find stats on this, ping me)!
TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, Medium, and Instagram do this well. Media which do not make their consumers feel like good creators lose momentum to those who do. The most evident example of this is Quibi, which neither had the creator elements of YouTube and TikTok, nor met the creative bar TV or movie streaming services set. While I don’t use enough social media to know for sure, my hunch is that Snapchat’s curated ad spots would work much better than Quibi’s “Daily Essentials” (around the same video length), if they had launched at the same time, because of Snapchat’s creative element.
More random thoughts on occupying digital space, and the choice of media format. The internet lets people occupy more space than they would in real life quickly, which is why credentialism is less relied on for gaining audiences (and status). This is great for citizen journalism and hobbyist creators, but bad for disinformation and misinformation.[Note: When I say space, I mean attention. While credentials should not be mistaken as a synonym for qualification, there are many circumstances (e.g. medical training) for which credentials provide useful information.] It’s possible to be unpopular or unknown IRL, but famous online. The reverse is also true. People who find it hard to occupy space in person often use online platforms to do so. Text and other standardised formats make it easier for people to feel like good creators through molding different voices into one format, and letting creators occupy a completely different persona than IRL. Audio text formats such as Clubhouse are closer to interacting with people IRL, and therefore also mimic the way space is occupied IRL. The extreme form of standardisation is anonymisation (both name and voice standardised). Anonymity is the easiest way to occupy space with neither qualifications nor consequences, and lets negativity occupy more space than IRL. This is why the Reddit or Blind version of a particular thread will always be more hate-oriented than the Twitter or Facebook version of the same thread.
I wrote this to kick off my New Year’s resolution. If you’re a human who made it all the way here thank you. Shoot me an email, and I will write you a personalized apology for not making this shorter. If you’re an alien I am writing this to celebrate the full rotation of the planet I live on. I may or may not write more.