Nothing is more frustrating to me than YouTube, which decides my front page based on my likes. It seems I can’t have multiple interests — variables — and thus, I must watch certain kinds of videos. In its infinite wisdom, Twitter believes that only the people whose content I like or share are the ones whose content I want to consume. And don’t get me started on online dating services — they could learn a thing or two from Sima Taparia

And that is because the post-social world of today is starting to coalesce around variables that are less humanistic and more biased towards corporate goals. “We live in a world that demands categorization,” I recently read in a newsletter, Tiny Revolutions. “We have to do some self-definition so the world knows what to do with us, and so that we can bond with others who share our interests, values, and concerns.”

While the writer, Sara Campbell, might have been talking about an individual’s desire not to be categorized, her words accurately describe our post-social society’s reality, dilemma, and futility in a handful of lines. 

Categorization is part of the human condition. Our brain uses categories to help us make sense of a lot of facts we experience. It is how we learn. As humans, we need categories to contextualize our world, and that includes each other. What is more important is the intent behind the categories. 

Categories, as such, have bias by intent. The bias allows us to ignore variables we don’t want to deal with and place boundaries around a category. It’s important because by ignoring them, we have to use fewer cognitive resources. The bias itself is not good or bad. It is the intent that leads you in different directions. That intent determines what variables we focus on and the ones we ‘choose’ to ignore. 

And a lot of that intent is determined by the human condition. For example, if you have grown up in a more traditional society, the category that defines you is your lineage for most of your life. The “intent” of that categorization is to find your place in the social hierarchy. Lineage isn’t a primary variable for Americans, but college and money are. That is why in more modern societies, such as America, the college you attend defines your place in society and the workplace.

Ever wondered why most conversations start with a question: what do you do? That question is not only reflective of our fading art of conversation, and it also is a way for us to define the variables and get a quick context on the person. By doing so, we quickly decide to assign a value-metric to the person who is the recipient of our attention. 

At best, in the pre-Internet world, categorization would rear its head in a social context, often giving us cues on how to engage with someone. An attractive single woman gets a different kind of attention from another woman versus a single man. Given the nature of modern consumerist society, it wasn’t a surprise that the emergence of databases allowed marketers to categorize us into “buckets” of those who may or may not buy some products. After all, the early usage of computers had been catalyzed by the demands from governmental agencies and corporations that wanted to use data to create categories. 

However, in our post-social society, these categories have become even more granular and metastasized. Just take Facebook as an example. School, location, gender, relationships, and many more variables have started to create a profile of us that can be bundled no different than the dastardly collateralized debt obligation (CDO.)

And it isn’t just Facebook that is alone in using so many variables. From online dating services to online marketing to banking, most of them feel both antiseptic and plastic. These data variables are what make up an algorithm whose sole job is categorization. At present, the algorithms are relatively simplistic. They lack the rationality and nuance that comes from social science.

The bigger question is, what if all these data variables picked by companies for their own needs don’t define you or your interests. I suspect all of us be trapped in a data prison — forced to live lives that an invisible black box algorithm will decide what is good for us.  


August 24, 2021, San Francisco

Spotify continues its global dominance, adding 27 million net subscribers between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021, more than any other single service. However, it lost two points of market share over the period because its percentage growth rate trailed that of its leading competitors.

Google was the fastest-growing music streaming service in 2020, growing by 60%, with Tencent second on 40%. Amazon continued its steady trajectory, up 27%, while Apple grew by just 12%.

Google’s YouTube Music has been the standout story of the music subscriber market for the last couple of years, resonating both in many emerging markets and with younger audiences across the globe. The early signs are that YouTube Music is becoming to Gen Z what Spotify was to Millennials half a decade ago.

MIDiA Research

Facebook might be the biggest social platform, but it is on the outs with Gen Z. I wonder if Spotify will find itself in the same place in a few years? Despite owning the iOS and Mac platforms, Apple Music is, at best, an average performer. It would be interesting to see how they eventually do in a few years. In case you are wondering, Others include Deezer, Pandora, Yandex, Netease, Tidal, Qobuz, and more.

Read article on MIDiA Research Blog

Moon over San Francisco. Made with iPhone 12 Pro Max

While my week has been noticeably quiet here on my internet homestead, it has been quite the opposite for me out in the real world. 

I had to go to the dental surgeon to remove a couple of wisdom teeth that had become nuisances and were putting the entire neighborhood in distress. I recognize that it was a pretty minor procedure, but like any reasonable adult, I am scared shitless of visiting the dentist. I was in a state of panic for two days leading up to the event, unable to sleep and overcome with anxiety. 

On the day of the procedure, it all turned out to be relatively fast and straightforward — thanks in large part to the surgeon, who kept talking to me about photography and his love of Lindorf technical cameras. Of course, now he is a Canon man. (I wonder why the world still insists that dentists prefer Leica.) He gets full marks for keeping my focus on everything but the surgery as he extracted those getting the troublemakers out.

I was back home in just two hours, but that was followed by two days of pain. I used the prescription pills twice, but given their content (Hint: rhymes with “foxy”), I decided to switch to plain vanilla Tylenol. Between the headaches and the jaw aches, not to mention being restricted to eating only soft food, it hasn’t been fun. But I am feeling better today. Almost normal. I am even looking forward to eating a proper lunch. As I eat, I will likely mull over the question that’s been needling me: does wisdom go when the wisdom teeth do? (Let me know what you think, and the funniest answer will get tweeted on my Twitter.) 

One — and maybe the only — positive side effect of the surgery was that it gave me a lot of forced downtime to do a bunch of reading. I was able to get through both my Safari Reading List and my Pocket Reading Lists. I also got a chance to enjoy a handful of movies and some cricket. Given the mediocrity of the New York Yankees, cricket is proving to be a much-needed salve for my bruised baseball fandom. Due to injuries throughout the league, even my fantasy baseball teams are proving to be disappointments.

I wanted to share some gems I found on the Internet this week while laid out in bed, struggling to will away my aches and pains. These are some perfect time wasters:



Finally, here is what I said on Twitter this week: 

July 22: Washington often conflates “building more infrastructure” with “resilient infrastructure,” a risky proposition in a networked society, argues @ratulm of @intentionet, part of @trueventures community. @SenatorLujan should talk to experts like Ratul.

July 21: A team at Duke University implanted a new-generation artificial heart in a man, the first such procedure in North America. It is an implantable prosthetic that includes biological valves derived from bovine tissue & operates on an external power supply. https://buff.ly/36Rk6FK

July 20:  I wonder if Freud secretly haunts the corridors of Apple’s offices: space autocorrects to SPAC. 

July 19:  We live in a world where you have to (proverbially) scream to get attention & credit for your efforts. It is important to own your narrative. 


Jul 24, 2021, San Francisco 

Happy Sunday, everyone! I have slowly (and unintentionally) slipped into “summer mode.” I have been working only a little and reading quite a lot. Last week, I also met Ken Kocienda, a former Apple software engineer and designer, to talk about art, life, photography, and watches. 

I didn’t spend as much time on Twitter (either perusing or tweeting), so there isn’t a “Tweek” wrap-up for the week. But several articles caught my eye that I probably would have tweeted, and here they are: 

Vinyl Is More Popular Than Ever. Surprisingly, That’s a Problem

During the pandemic, vinyl sales in the U.S. exploded, growing 28.7% in 2020 to $626 million, even beating out CD revenues of $483 million. Vinyl sales have been growing steadily over the years. Everyone (and I mean everyone) is making and selling vinyl records, including Target and Walmart. The annual demand for vinyl is between 320-400 million albums, while the total manufacturing capacity is 160 million albums per year. That is a problem for small labels. And to think, we are in the golden age of streaming — even hi-res streaming! By the way, streaming revenues were up 13.4% to $10.1 billion in 2020.

Back to the Bad Old Days of the Web – Jorge Arango

Indeed, the bad old days of browser wars and conflicting corporate interests are back. 

NFT sales volume surges to $2.5 bln in 2021 first half 

Yes, crypto is hot. NFT is hotter. So is the planet. 

You really need to quit Twitter.

You might have already read this article. It is excellent writing and a good post for everyone to share. It was hard, but I got off Facebook and Instagram, and I even managed to limit my Twitter usage to less than 30 minutes a day. If you are a grown-up (like the author of this piece seems to be), you need to know how to exercise self-control and fight off the addictive tendencies that drive so much social media usage. 

Individuals Now Spend More Time On TikTok Than YouTube, Facebook, Netflix

In a recent report, App Annie, a mobile research and analytics company, points out that the average U.S. android user spent 24.5 hours per month on TikTok, compared with 22 hours on YouTube and 17.5 hours on Facebook. Like I’ve said before, TikTok is coming for YouTube in a big way. 

So Much Money Everywhere

Dan Primack notes many all-time records set in techlandia during the first half of 2021: 

  • VC dollars invested: $288bn 
  • VC dollars invested in U.S. startups: $140bn 
  • Startups sold: $232bn 
  • 410 companies went public (Thanks, SPACs) 
  • 5,248 PE/VC funds looking for $900bn

[Actually, I did tweet this one 🙂 ]

Walkover

I didn’t think the principled India of 1974 described in this article ever existed. That’s just one thing that makes this story so incredible. 

July 11, 2021, San Francisco