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Week 43

October 2022

AT A GLANCE

A quick overview of the items for the week for those who want to know at a glance what’s in the newsletter this time.
  • The Week that Was: How fear can be good for you, Apple adds many adds and iPads, and Ye gets yeeted
  • U and I: The lettuce wins, communication disruptions both literal and proverbial, and the Steam Deck as metaverse console
  • Rules of Engagement: ‘Enragement’ as double-edged sword, capitalist meta narratives in gaming, and Dall-E partners up

FEAR SCIENCE

Here’s some support for those trying to get their horror…fearing friends and family to watch a scary movie with them for Halloween. Experiencing fear and threat responses like those triggered by horror media can bolster mental resilience. Studies have found that recreational fear can improve emotional regulation. This is the ability to deal with intense emotions in a way that is ultimately beneficial to you. It’s funny to think that scaring the shit out of your loved ones may actually be good for them, but on a more serious note, the underlying science here could potentially be used to combat the negative effects of fear and rage mongering that are polarizing society. Thus, if a scalable and consistent means of bolstering people’s emotional resilience and coping skills is found, it could have significant beneficial societal impact down the line. LINK

APPLE'S ADPOCALYPSE

Apple is doubling down on its Appstore advertising in a manner that has sparked complaints of rot setting in. Questions are being raised about whether Apple is now planting weeds in its otherwise perfectly kept walked garden. Some of the immediate effects of these changes have developers particularly rattled, as they complain about supposedly ugly and intrusive ads gaining a dominant presence all across the app store, even on their personal app store pages. This controversy isn’t happening in a vacuum. Apple has just lost another industrial design boss, and there is much confusion about its current iPad Lineup. Lineup confusion is extremely atypical for Apple. Industry insiders are wondering what regulators are going to make of this latest advertising power move. Additionally, there are those that consider it a particularly bad look for Apple to focus on first party ads after the stand it took against third part ads. LINK

BAILING BIRDS AND SPLINTERNETS

Another wild week in the social media world. We saw a Twitter leak that admitted many power users are flying the coop, and Kanye ‘Ye’ West moved to buy controversial social media platform Parler. The Twitter leak is embarrassing for the company, but at least it didn’t dox (reveal the personal information) of its most prominent users. It is widely believed that Ye is the latest to pursue the alt-right’s idealized version of a splinternet. Splinternets are entirely self-contained and self-sufficient ecosystems. Ye, having made a string of fiercely antisemitic comments, found himself dropped by his business partners, and kicked off of sites like, well, twitter. At least part of his reasoning for buying Parler appears to be that he can’t be banned by a platform he owns. However, he was kicked off of mainstream social media for expressions that threatened to chase away the money keeping it afloat. This is a fatal flaw in the economic viability of splinternets. LINK

THE LETTUCE WON

Who would win, the head of state of the United Kingdom, or a head of lettuce? It sounds ridiculous, but this question actually got a great many people (final view count was over 2.3 million) in and beyond the UK to engage with its politics at a time where frustrations are boiling over and confidence is at a historic low point. In case you’re wondering, the lettuce won. A tongue in cheek satirical stream on YouTube has succeeded in making that quote, “the lettuce won,” part of whatever legacy ends up being left behind by the nation’s shortest serving prime minister ever. Social media continues to play a prominent and volatile role in politics, which is usually depressing. Hence why I thought it’d be a nice palette cleanser to highlight a weird and quirky example of it this time. Sadly, the original stream is no longer available, but the comments still are at time of publication. LINK

COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN

There was a 2-hour WhatsApp outage this week which happened to coincide with some internet difficulties at the office. Several colleagues had apparently come to ask whether our office internet was down because WhatsApp was down, which gave me pause. It reminded me of how easy it is to take all our means of communication for granted. Though not a super app, WhatsApp does have that level of importance for some. I covered the singular point of failure issue of ‘super apps’ in last week’s newsletter, but they also serve as a means of control. If you bundle vital services into a super app, being cut off is that much more devastating to users, whether by technical issue or due to a ban. But what if you use direct sharing features to propagate protest material in order to bypass potential censorship? That’s what happened in China during the CCP’s 20th national party congress last week. LINK

ALL HANDS ON THE (STEAM) DECK

I consider the Steam Deck to be the first truly successful metaverse proof of concept. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that video games are one of, if not ‘the’ major battleground right now for big brands. Whilst the possibilities and intellectual ownership of the metaverse are still being fought over, the Steam Deck is a live example of what a single portal for the entire world of gaming could look like. Though some consoles and services are easier to get working on the Steam Deck than others, it is possible to have practically every console and client released so far on this one device via a (mostly) intuitive and relatively uniform user experience. This ubiquitous, unified experience is what most companies seem to mean when speaking of the metaverse. The Steam Deck works, because friction and comfort matter, the user experience is a deciding factor in whether users will accept or reject hardware/software. LINK

ENRAGEMENT METRICS

A lot of the time when we talk about virality, it’s a goal, something to aspire towards for the reputational and financial benefits it brings. Though TikTok is still the talk of the town, the dynamics at play when talking about ‘enragement metrics apply to all facets of our attention economy. Enragement is negative engagement such as hateful comments, downvotes, and sharing content in groups where it is subsequently criticised etc. The big problem with enragement metrics is that they are incredibly lucrative for the platforms, because rage engages better than anything, yet at the same time, devastating for the content creators that have to weather the storms of hate that end up bearing down on them. LINK

DEADER THAN DISCO

Disco Elysium is widely regarded as a great game. It won quite a number of awards, many focused on the game’s writing, which contains plenty of withering critiques of capitalism. With that in mind, it is incredibly ironic that the creators of the game appear to have been forced out of their roles at developer ZA/UM due to corporate machinations. This strange story comes in the same week where a dispute between the previous voice actor of another popular game's protagonist sparked a controversy regarding the treatment of voice actors in the gaming industry. Though the latter case appears to be less sympathetic overall, both highlight issues of fair compensation and intellectual property rights in an industry still struggling with many labour issues. LINK

DALL-E-COMMERCE

As the field of AI content generation continues to witness explosive growth and mounting hype, many conversations are being had about how the algorithms powering the image generators are trained, and who should be credited for the output. Though each of the major players in the space have their own monetisation strategies, OpenAI, the makers of Dall-E 2, are doubling down on corporate partnerships by integrating their services into existing toolkits. We’ve already seen them partner up with other companies such as key investor Microsoft. Now it seems Dall-E will also be integrated into Shutterstock. Whilst proponents of Dall-E and OpenAI see this as a logical and financially lucrative strategy, critics claim that it is weird how the creative tools of the company that calls itself ‘Open’ AI appear to be getting ever more closed down and proprietary. LINK


Anatomy of the mask LINK
Zombie planets LINK
D&D therapy LINK
Assembly not required LINK
Quality over quantity LINK
Night sky map LINK
The plant from hell LINK
Thunder bees LINK
Leaf it alone LINK
Bunkering down: LINK
Gambling hell LINK
Zombie bug shrooms LINK

ONE MORE THING
So USB-C is going to be mandatory for all devices in the EU soon, bringing to an end the last proprietary charging holdouts like the lighting adapter. It’ll also be Halloween before I publish the next letter, so I went out of my way to include a bunch of spooky items in this one! I’m honestly surprised at the prospect of horror movies having such big potential physical and mental health benefits. I’m kind of wondering though, whether I might have shot myself in the foot real bad this time, considering my sister’s always trying to get me to watch horror movies and I am what is commonly referred to as a scaredy cat.
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