I’m still in Paris. I really ought to log off and touch baguette. But I have an update to share, and a couple of article tabs that I’ve been itching to talk about for weeks now. First, the update: Last week, I wrote a Eulogy for the Sierra Student Coalition
"I mean… “Gives up the future” is just a perfect old-WIRED coinage. It brims with confidence, but the harder you stare at it, the less it really says. It’s as though futurity were a quality that one could possess… Like there is some set of behaviors or activities that comprise “the future,” and WIRED is expected to embody, display, or advocate for them. (Or maybe the future is supposed to be a competition - a race that the magazine had once been winning, but would now most certainly lose."
For all the faux-libertarianism that Brand, Kelly, and Rossetto have peddled for decades they have a flinty-eyed view of the workings of power ("Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road"), realized early on that digital technology was going to be a great locus and attractor of power, and that those that could wield that power (engineers, VCs, and CEOs) or could effectively legitimize those that could wield that power (journalists and "thought leaders") would find themselves very well set in the world.
Old WIRED and Kelly here are playing the same role that the priestly caste played in Bronze Age civilizations - stewards of an ideology that justifies the wealth and power held by kings and warriors (nowadays engineers, VCs, and CEOs). In this case "futurity" is the godhead and telos of this particular religion. Technology knows what's best for us and will simply take us where we are meant to be. The idea that democratic bodies could actively evaluate technologies, change how they are used, and alter the sacred Future is simply sacrilegious to them.
"heavily produced narrative podcasts might simply be more expensive than online reporting and commentary. (I don’t know the finances of those two industries, but I have to imagine the one with more moving parts is also more expensive.)"
So, the analogy here is to regular newspapering. It's reasonably straightforward to have reporters on a beat or columnists, in the same way it's relatively straightforward to have a weekly/biweekly podcast that's mostly chat or first-order reporting. Heavily produced podcasts are an expense on the order of investigative journalism, with both requiring a much longer timeline as well as a larger support staff (editors, fact-checkers) and larger budgets (for travel, etc).
"It’s possible that Gimlet’s options were (a) take VC money, adopt VC expectations, eventually go through a VC-induced death spiral, or (b) shut down much earlier, because it’s all just too expensive to produce."
It's tough to say *at the time* but: certainly VC money for media is fruit of the poisoned tree. Media, over centuries, produces good-not-great returns on investment (sometimes very good, sometimes, losing money). This will *never* be good enough for VCs, who despite this (because dumb and greedy) keep not learning that it is actually impossible for a media company to be a 100x or 1000x unicorn. They just don't scale like that.
It's not the case that "it's just too expensive" but you do need *some* seed money to get the engine cranking, and a podcast studio that is *only* making heavily produced, narrative shows is going to have a very high head count and burn rate and a very precarious situation - possibly things will go great but everything needs to be a hit, and probably a big one. Hits are expensive both to produce and to market (ask any Hollywood studio). What you need is a mix of models - both steady, every-week talkers that can deliver regular inventory and revenue, as well as the bigger swing shows that can tell bigger stories (and ultimately generally deliver bigger audiences, when they're hits) but aren't on all the time. But, again: you need the money to get the machine started, and that's really the missing piece these days: investors who are happy with "normal" amounts of return on investment. Maybe this changes with higher interest rates? But it's very unclear, as of now.
Hah, yes, Kevin Kelly.
In 1994 Kelly wrote a book called "Out of Control" wildly hyping a-life (evolving software instead of coding it). Remember that one? Here is a quote, Kelly writing about work by Hillis on evolving a sorting algorithm: "Danny Hillis also found that evolution can surpass ordinary human skills [...] After 10,000 cycles of coevolution, Hillis's creatures evolved a sorting program previously unknown to computer scientists. Most humbling, it was only a step short of the all-time shortest algorithm engineered by humans. Blind dumb evolution had designed an ingenious, and quite useful, software program" and "Each bug in his soup was initially a random sequence of instructions, but over tens of thousands of generations they became a program that sorted a long string of numbers into numerical order.". Except that the 'long' string was 16(!) bytes long and that the 'initial random sequence' consisted of the first 32 operations of the best hand-crafted solution (by Green in 1969). So, A life had been able to produce a solution one step slower than what Green had created on the basis of the first half of Green's work. But we state that the result 'surpassed human skills'.
That Kevin Kelly.
(I researched this tidbit in 1996, never got around to finishing the writing about it)