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Ciao 2022 and what I want for tech in 2023
Open for the dopest image of the year
Image of Banksy’s Girl With Balloon juxtaposed to photo of a girl reaching for a sunflower fan I shot in the Catalan region of Northern Spain. Fuller story on Instagram.
As usual, there’s a Puck edition of this newsletter that goes beyond what’s below. But the bonus you get here is my photo collage from above. As you likely know (because I wouldn’t shut up about it), I spent two months of 2022 in Europe, and it was dope and refreshing. One one of my tours through Barcelona, I visited a modern art museum that had some Banksy pieces. I photographed Girl with Balloon which you can see on the left. The next day, I found myself in a small village North of Barcelona on the Costa Brava. While waiting outside a shop, I looked down the way and saw a girl reaching for a giant sunflower-shaped fan in a near-perfect copy of the Banksy print. Snap snap, I got it! And now you got it.
I’m spending the holidays in Palm Springs with three generations of family ranging in age from three to 77. As you read this, I’m probably crafting cocktails or chopping veggies or figuring out how to put veggies in my cocktails so they count as a meal. Mostly, I’m proud that I’ve prepared my Wi-Fi network for this influx of demand. Mesh networks, for the win!
Wherever you are, I hope you’re able to wind down from 2022 with people you love (and Wi-Fi you can depend on). Thanks for being in this electronic postal relationship with me and for opening these messages. I know there’s a lot of competition for your inbox attention, and I don’t take yours for granted.
In this dispatch, I’m going to project some hopes and expectations for 2023. Note, there may be some serious divergence between what I want to see happen, and what I expect to see happen.
Have We Reached Peak Elon?
If there is one omnipresent theme that connects all of our work here at Puck, it’s that change is the single constant in our economy and culture. Silicon Valley, like politics and the media business, follows its own sine wave of hype-driven manias, with investors all piling into the next big thing—Mobile gaming! Gig economy! Internet-of-Things! Self-driving cars! Web3!—only to hit a wall, reset, and resume the journey with just a touch of humility. In that spirit, let me use this last column of the year to make a few predictions about which technologies and companies (and people) were the most overhyped, which still have promise, and what might come next.
The Twitter Era Is Over
In 2022, Elon Musk brought Trump and Kanye energy to his stewardship of Twitter. He complained about power while wielding an outsized share of it. He trolled from headquarters. He amplified conspiracy theories. Being the mature, thoughtful, adult leader he is, he kicked his critics off the service falsely claiming they were doxxing him. In the process, he exhausted us all.
I would love to see the Chief Twit fail so badly he doesn’t tweet about it and instead goes quietly into the night, not just from Twitter but from public life more broadly. As Scott Galloway has said many times on Pivot, Musk “brings volatility, not value,” and his behavior as head of Twitter has already begun to infect his other businesses. He’s raided the ranks of those businesses to help him run Twitter, conscripting executives and engineers from Tesla, SpaceX, and The Boring Company. Meanwhile, Tesla stock is down by two-thirds this year and 25 percent since his Twitter takeover. Investors are losing patience with the part-time C.E.O. shtick—which, ironically, is a game that a previous generation of Twitter investors knew all too well.
Perhaps it’s time for him to step back from all leadership roles and focus on his true passions: posting memes, dad jokes, and right-wing misinformation. He’s already indicated he’s ready to hand Twitter off to another C.E.O. Much has been made of his December 18 Twitter poll in which a majority of respondents favored him stepping down. He promised to abide by the results, but like most of his polls, he already knew the answer. On November 16, he told a Delaware court he would find a new leader to run Twitter. He was being sued by a Tesla shareholder who accused him of approving a massive compensation package for himself without board approval, in spite of the fact that he was a part-time C.E.O., and this was well before the Twitter fiasco.
We should look at Elon in 2023 with the level of contempt we’ve reserved for Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos or Anna Delvey née Sorokin of Whatever-Scheme-She-Was-Pimping. I want us to feel disgust toward him the way we were encouraged to feel disgust toward the invented caricature of the Black “welfare queen” of the 1980s. Presidents should rant against him in the State of the Union. Regulators should pre-emptively harass billionaires on the mere suspicion they might pull an Elon. His name should become a verb synonymous with astronomical destruction of economic value and levels of self-ownership so deep they approach the quantum level. Is it clear how I feel yet? While I want to see all the aforementioned comeuppance delivered to Musk, I don’t expect it next year. He’s a successful white man ranting against “the woke mind virus,” so even if we manage to turn the volume down he’s unlikely to be fully muted anytime soon.
For Twitter, I want to see the disrespected and cheated former employees made whole. I want Twitter’s landlord to get their rent payments. I want the service to stop glitching. But I don’t expect any of this either. What I expect to see from Twitter in 2023 is a continued decline into commercial and cultural irrelevance. The advertisers will place their bets on Netflix or other fragmented but less toxic social media, and core segments of heavy users will continue to shift their attention toward other platforms that may even include sleep or child-raising or I.R.L. eye contact with other humans.
Twitter, despite its relatively small user base, reached its heights of relevance because it managed to be a social media home for a diverse ecosystem of people: politicians, journalists, crypto pushers, Black cultural influencers, technologists, academics, right wing meme warriors, and government services, to name a few. Twitter also became a news ticker and wire service, a weather service and political organizing venue, a 24/7 infomercial channel and book club all at once. Like a biological ecosystem, it held together due to the diversity of species that called it home, but now that balance is forever broken. I should say that in an active voice: Elon Musk has broken that balance, and I don’t think anyone can restore it. Journalists are taking their chatter elsewhere. Black Twitter is starting to splinter into Black Mastodon and other places, including a new service called Spill which, get this, is a social media platform founded by Black people! And the crypto kids, well, for some reason they’ve gone quiet of late.
I expect Twitter might technically exist, but the days of it being the de facto water cooler for political, technological, and cultural conversation is over. I expect Elon Musk will still technically exist, but like Kanye and Trump, his fan base will substantially shrink to a smaller, more committed niche. He is clearly not an overall business genius, though it does take a certain special talent to make Twitter feel worse at the end of 2022 than at the beginning.
A.I. Becomes the New Crypto
At the beginning of 2022, it was common to hear brands, banks, content companies, and individual creators talk about figuring out their “web3 strategy.” I was one of them! It was just assumed that if you wanted to be relevant you had to think about how you’d play with NFTs. If you wanted to make money, you needed a crypto strategy. But, as my wife often said about this space, no one really wants to talk about blockchain or non-fungible tokens or “web3.” With the collapse of exchanges, the tanking of the NFT market (Trump couldn’t save it), and the decline in cryptocurrency prices, it’s pretty embarrassing to associate yourself with these labels without a lot of caveats.
As the smoke clears in 2023, we won’t hear the terms “crypto” or “NFT” or “web3” nearly as much, but some problems may actually be solved by distributed ledger technology, scarce digital assets, or increased community ownership of their own economics. There’s still value to the idea that content creators should own more of their I.P. and their fan relationships than was possible in earlier eras of technology and business. That stuff will just happen in the background, like the Hypertext Transport Protocol or the Simple Mail Transport Protocol helping deliver this message to you. And the end of that hype cycle is a good thing. Scammers and speculators are much less likely to flood the zone when the line goes down, instead of up and to the right. \
Another well-hyped area is artificial intelligence. In 2023, I want to see us interrogate the way we build predictive models and generative systems. I want to say that 2023 will bring about an ethical awakening for automated systems built on cloning previously-monetizable human labor. Or that we will pause to ask ourselves, “Who is asking for this?” whether referring to self-driving cars or self-writing essays. But what I expect to see in 2023 is that the investor frenzy previously surrounding crypto and web3 will shift toward A.I. It’s just so very Silicon Valley to invest in automated profit-making schemes.
You can read the rest of this on Puck.
I also encourage you to read Molly Crabapple’s piece on AI art in the LA Times.
Enjoy the end of the year and the beginning of the year, which by the way, we can choose to do any given day because time is a human invention!