I guess I just basically don't buy it
The future is now and it sucks!
Pinboard @Pinboard@jonst0kes @matthewstoller Except there was no equivalent then to the unregulated casino of cryptocurrency speculation, and even archie and gopher did stuff that anyone could see was useful. Where is the NCSA Mosaic for web3, the thing where if you spend ten minutes using it you understand it's huge?
Back in like I dunno 2012 I was at a company retreat where I got to spend some time with the lead product marketer of iPad (I think because my boss was or had been fucking him). Anyway, very smart and approachable guy, generous with his time and insights, and I got to ask him about the difficulty of marketing a product without a clearly established lifestyle niche, e.g. your Macbook is for your work and your phone is where you look up the shoe size of actors while you wait in line for coffee, what is your iPad for? Why do you need medium screen when the combo of big screen+small screen is already the ideal “sitting on the couch” combo?
His answer was about as good as you can do, he said you basically have to demonstrate for the public the many cool ways the product can be used. Sure enough, you see that as the thrust in most iPad commercials:
The ad does its job! I respect that about it. It shows you people using iPads in cool and interesting ways. Ways that just about nobody would ever, ever personally use their iPad, but cool ways nonetheless. As it stands, iPads are used exclusively by my mom to read the Boston Globe, by other moms while watching TV, and by the most annoying IT guy at your company to take notes during meetings. iPad does keep making money for Apple…
Not bad! Of course, its best quarter ever, $11bn in Q1 ‘14? iPhone did $11bn back in Q2 2009 and never looked back. $142bn in iPhone sales in 2019. iPad is like a little baby.
To be fair, there are actually some very useful retail and industry uses for iPads, but that’s really what the product is: a tablet is not an everyday item, even the best selling tablet of all time.
And everyone knew this from day 1. Not a problem, they got a decent amount of people to buy a weird little toy, that rocks, more power to them.
It would be a different story if the message from Apple was, this toy: this is the future. This will be in every home and will sustain the kind of endless growth we’ve gotten used to, as a company, as an industry, as an economy. This thing that most people have no need for, indeed no interest in, this is what we’re staking the future on.
That’s the position from the various Serious People promoting web3, NFTs, the metaverse, and other nonsensical buzzwords, as the future of computing and indeed, the future of our economy.
As a rule I don’t like suggesting I know the future any better than anyone else, both because people are bad at predictions and I personally have the intellect of a dim-witted chimp. But I come back to the Warzel tweet at the top. When computing came into the home it brought genuinely new and transformative tools and opportunities with it that were immediately obvious to most consumers. Ditto when the internet started connecting everyone to email and online shopping, ditto when web 2.0 brought about endless discovery and a (temporary, at least) democratization of media. What does the blockchain, or bitcoin, or VR mean to the average consumer? Nothing, and I’ve never seen a cogent argument that it will at any point. All this shit is iPads.
But Meta and Twitter and Google and every other tech company needs web3 to exist, if only in the hearts and minds of investors, because the industry (and our whole economy by extension) is facing a problem that a very smart man noted a century and a half ago, which is that the rate of profit tends to decline over time as a result of technological change. You could chart basically the entire growth trajectory of the global economy in the past 100 years against major technological innovations, but this proposed next one? I guess I basically just don’t buy it. We committed some time ago to being a consumer-driven global economy; if an innovation lacks consumer application, its unlikely to drive real growth. I don’t see any aspect of web3 doing that.
Meta is actually very much trying the iPad marketing strategy for Oculus, as I’m sure you’ve seen. Those lame, smarmy ads promoting all the cool “non-gaming” things you can do on Oculus, insisting that not only will you want a VR headset, but that you’re actually an asshole for ever thinking otherwise.
This seems like a great strategy: facing near universal distaste for their product, Meta will simply browbeat every naysayer into agreeing that they need the Oculus. Hey, it worked for another famously successful organization!
Here’s a wildly optimistic projection for VR growth over the next few years:
$13bn in 2024. Gaming industry made $104bn in 2019. This is the future?
Who the fuck is interested in this:
Meanwhile about 46 million people in America own bitcoin, close enough of a proxy for “people with any kind of interaction with the blockchain.” This is the future?
But who am I trying to convince here - everyone laughs off this premise, across the board. It is nakedly ridiculous. That theme - I’m just not buying it - seems to be everywhere these days.
Not buying it has roots in American tradition, but as a collective experience it seems to have really caught on in the past twoish years. People are actually not stupid, especially when it comes to devices of distraction. America is incredibly good at rejecting boring things.
What concerns me is that these fucks might actually have enough money and influence to more or less force artificial scarcity into our connected lives, against the will of pretty much everyone. Because we’re in a genuine crisis of capital and these people are out of ideas. The goal is to make people recommit to consumerism just as two years of pandemic, supply chain failures, and mass resignations have made us all seriously reconsider this whole “cheap goods in the place of any kind of safety net” deal that America is premised on. But Bored Apes are not high-def televisions, the blockchain is not Amazon, and the Oculus is just a Nintendo 64 that gives you a headache. These are shallow rewards for living in a broken and failed country, and nobody is buying it.