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The Delusion of a Super App, and That Melee Down By The River
Plus, I'm on the Rich Roll podcast!!!!
Dramatic image and quote from me in Rich Roll’s studio during my guest appearance on his show
As usual, you can get the full version by subscribing, with money, to Puck. I sent this out on Sunday night and there is a small benefit for you: additional links below because new things happened in the world!
Biggest New Thing: I’m on the Rich Roll podcast!! This is a very big show, and Rich and I had a very big conversation. We sat for several hours. He pressed record on all his cameras and mics. The result is a wide-ranging convo about A.I., citizen-as-a-verb, our relationship with nature, and the great opportunities we have as humans to level the F up! Please check it out.
It feels really good to be home! I was a little sad not to join the giant summer party in Europe along with every other passport-holding American, but I’ve been traveling locally in L.A. through bars and restaurants, tasting and sipping my way around the world. Outside of delicious calories, here’s what else I’ve been consuming lately:
Rebecca Traister’s profile of R.F.K., Jr. convincingly argues that the man who leans into an outsider identity is the most insider-y insider who was ever inside.
The Guardian’s podcast episode on the dual Hollywood strikes features actor Brian Cox in hilarious, sharp, and occasionally profane form.
Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is a three-hour movie that somehow felt efficiently delivered. I opted for the IMAX experience, and it’s worth it. I’ll probably be writing about the parallels between the atomic bomb and today’s A.I. arms race sometime soon.
I found the smartest analysis of Barbie on TikTok, where PopCultureBrain finds powerful and hilarious parallels between the toy movie and Black Panther.
I’m reading my friend Light Watkins’s new book, Spiritual Minimalism. Watkins is a longtime meditation teacher who’s taken the idea of decluttering your physical world to the inner, spiritual place. It’s a physically and spiritually practical guide to simplifying life. Contrary to a lot of spiritual media these days, his book under-promises and over-delivers.
You probably heard by now that there was a melee down by the riverside in Montgomery, Alabama. Here’s the quick and oh-so-dirty based on the facts I could find as of now. A group of shirtless white men attacked a Black dock worker for doing his job: getting their boat out of the way as it was blocking an approaching riverboat. The scene had all the hallmarks of some modern day Rodney King assault (or just another day in
the SouthAmerica based on U.S. history), but the plot unfolded differently this time. Several people, mostly Black, came to the aid of the worker being assaulted, and with the odds evened, the initial assailants found themselves being assailed. One witness from the nearby riverboat leaped into the water, swam to the dock, and began helping the Black man under assault. This was some Django shit. As group violence tends to do, the scene got chaotic. At one point a Black man uses a chair to strike folks. It was shocking, entertaining, at times hilarious, and also scary and sad. Thankfully no serious weapons were used (other than that folding chair). I find that to be shocking in our gun-saturated country, and a relief. Spill, Instagram, and what’s left of Twitter had a field day with memes. The swimmer was dubbed Aquamayne and Scuba Gooding Jr. and more. Police are investigating. Lots of Black folks are celebrating the resistance of those involved. This dock fight means something when we’ve been subjected to modern images of white racial violence targeting Black folks in a nation that has historically condoned, encouraged, and depended on white mob violence to destroy Black humanity. We’ve always resisted, sometimes at our further peril. But Saturday night in Montgomery represented a non-lethal example of folks standing up and saying, “Not today.” Just remember how it started: a group of white men physically assaulted a Black dock worker who was just doing his job. Those white dudes fucked around and found out for sure. Aquanda Forever!
Finally, I’m taking a moment to remember the life of Charles Ogletree Jr., the renowned Harvard Law School professor, lawyer, and civil rights defender. I never met Ogletree, but several friends and schoolmates at Harvard did, and he was a giant of a man who will be missed.
Silicon Valley and the Race for the Everything App
Elon Musk is the latest tech brainiac hoping to build a Chinese-style super app, this time on the bones of Twitter. Too bad Apple already got there first.
Has Elon Musk finally taken a meaningful step towards justifying his still absurdly priced $44 billion acquisition of Twitter? Yes, I’m talking about rebranding the platform as X, ostensibly the foundation for creating a “super app” encompassing not just social media, but banking, too. Last year, Musk reportedly told Twitter staff that he was inspired by China’s WeChat, and wanted to transform Twitter into something similar: messaging, video, microtransactions. In other words: One app to rule them all.
For your sanity and my own, I’m going to temporarily set aside my annoyance and deep exhaustion at the latest antics of the owner, including commandeering existing account handles from active users, and take the concept of a super app idea seriously. Is such an app possible in the United States? And would it ever make it past Lina Khan’s F.T.C.?
Superficially, there is a simple consumer appeal to an all-in-one mobile application that offers a wide range of ostensibly unrelated services, bound by common infrastructure. The most prominent example is the aforementioned WeChat, which was launched in 2011 and has grown to 1.3 billion monthly users. For context, China has an estimated population of 1.4 billion people. WeChat users have access, via a single portal, to services as wide-ranging as food delivery, messaging, peer-to-peer payments, ride hailing, healthcare, and so much more. Some of these services are offered natively by WeChat. Others are created by third-parties and offered as “mini-programs” that leverage WeChat’s user data and payments infrastructure. Other regional examples include Gojek in Indonesia, LINE in Japan, and Grab in Singapore. A super app is essentially a one-stop shop for more than just shopping.
Obviously, this kind of single-app experience has not yet taken hold in the U.S., or in other parts of the English-speaking western world. But is it only a matter of time? Musk surely thinks so. Meta C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg has intimated that’s a direction he’d like to go as well. As someone who previously analyzed digital behaviors in Asia for American businesses, and as a very online person, I find it almost impossible to believe that a super app, even if it made it past regulatory hurdles, would thrive in the U.S. But I do think a consolidation of the user experience in our mobile lives is coming. It just won’t look the way Elon hopes it will.
Get the rest of my analysis and counter-proposal in the full essay in Puck.