The Christmas/NYE break provided a great opportunity to catch up with different commentators thoughts on the world. Here are some of the pieces that got me thinking:
Emily Stewart takes a critical look at the casino like investment markets for NFTs, cryptocurrencies and meme stocks and contrasts it with the collective illusion we have with money:
He’s right that NFTs — non-fungible tokens, little digital assets that exist on a blockchain — are having a moment. What’s not really clear is why. Then again, everything about money feels a little strange at the moment. Between NFTs, crypto, and GameStop, AMC, and other meme stocks, money has rarely felt more fake. Or, at the very least, value has rarely felt so disconnected from reality.
Speaking of cryptocurrencies, the shift from proof of work to proof of stake can’t come soon enough going on these figures from Digiconomist:
If you think the numbers for 2021 look bad, consider that with the current energy use the Bitcoin network is set to consume more than 200 TWh in 2022. That’s as much as all data centers around the world (so everything from Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc.). And that’s just Bitcoin.
Stuart Russell’s addresses for the 2021 Reith Lectures provide an insightful and entertaining look at the current and future impact of artificial intelligence including its impact on the economy, warface and humans.
Li Jin and Katie Parrott look at how technologies bundled under the banner of Web3 provide a greater opportunity for content creators to monetise their creations:
The internet was supposed to usher in a Golden Age of media—a world of infinite abundance where anyone can create whatever they want, and everyone can find whatever they’re interested in. But while Gates’ prediction that there was money to be made online through content has proven true, much of that money has bypassed the creators that produce the content, landing instead in the pockets of the platforms that aggregate it.
This is the story of how the web2 internet broke the business model of media, and how the advent of web3 signals a disruption to that business model that tilts the scales in favor of creators. Without native monetization methods built into the web2 internet, the predominant business models were opaque, advertising-based, and dependent on closed-garden networks, which gave an outsized advantage to platforms. On the horizon, new business models and technologies hold promise to unlock the kind of economic opportunity and control that will lead to a true creative Golden Age for artists and creators.
Tim O’Reilly provides a more grounded review contrasting the development of Web3 with those of earlier waves of our digital infrastructure
I suspect it will be the same for crypto. So much is yet to be created. Let’s focus on the parts of the Web3 vision that aren’t about easy riches, on solving hard problems in trust, identity, and decentralized finance. And above all, let’s focus on the interface between crypto and the real world that people live in, where, as Matthew Yglesias put it when talking about housing inequality, “a society becomes wealthy over time by accumulating a stock of long-lasting capital goods.” If, as Sal Delle Palme argues, Web3 heralds the birth of a new economic system, let’s make it one that increases true wealth—not just paper wealth for those lucky enough to get in early but actual life-changing goods and services that make life better for everyone.
I definitely feel there’s a place for more equitable models for supporting the arts with Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurt’s Interdependence podcast providing a great window into current developments. That being said, the burgeoning NFT marketplace in many cases leave something to be desired as Dan Brooks suggests:
And this is why the future, be it NFTs or Memoji or the howling existential horror of the Metaverse, looks so ugly and boring: it reflects the stunted inner lives of the finance and technology professionals who produced it. As the visual manifestation of cryptocurrency, NFT art combines the nuanced social awareness of computer programmers with the soulful whimsy of hedge fund managers. It is art for people whose imaginations have been absolutely captured by a new kind of money you can do on the computer.
Tom McTague takes a personal look at the United Kingdom and the likelihood of it continuing or dissolving into its constituent parts:
The grim reality for Britain as it faces up to 2022 is that no other major power on Earth stands quite as close to its own dissolution. Given its recent record, perhaps this should not be a surprise. In the opening two decades of the 21st century, Britain has effectively lost two wars and seen its grand strategy collapse, first with the 2008 financial crisis, which blew up its social and economic settlement, and, then, in 2016, when the country chose to rip up its long-term foreign policy by leaving the European Union, achieving the rare feat of erecting an economic border with its largest trading partner and with a part of itself, Northern Ireland, while adding fuel to the fire of Scottish independence for good measure. And if this wasn’t enough, it then spectacularly failed in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, combining one of the worst death rates in the developed world with one of the worst economic recessions.
Yet however extraordinary this run of events has been, it seems to me that Britain’s existential threat i s not simply the result of poor governance—an undeniable reality—but of something much deeper: the manifestation of something close to a spiritual crisis.
Dan Wang contrasts the different hubs of Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzen and a declining Hong Kong, providing valuable nuance to our views of China:
There’s a little joke that the ideal company is led by a Beijinger, who would provide the vision, leadership, and government-relations savvy; its finances would be led by someone from Shanghai, and its operations managed by someone from Shenzhen (who would hire people from Sichuan and Anhui to do the actual work). Entrepreneurial friends say that doing business is most straightforward in Shenzhen: people there get together over dinner, discuss how to allocate the workload, and then do things the next day. Dinner in Beijing features lots of drinking, bluffs about one’s connections in high places, and then little follow up.
Recent turmoil in Kazakhstan has taken both Russian and the world’s eyes away from conflict between Russia and the Ukraine. That being said, the issue still remains critical as Russia increasingly backs itself into a corner as Rob Lee details and Dmitri Alperovitch echoes:
They are deliberately backing themselves into a corner where their credibility will be questioned if they don’t achieve concessions or use military force. These are classic elements of a compellence strategy, which usually requires force if the target doesn’t change its behavior.
In a society that has the highest gender wage gap among wealthy countries, Choe Sang-Hun reports on a growing backlash against feminism by young males in South Korea:
“Out with man haters!” they shouted. “Feminism is a mental illness!”
On the streets, such rallies would be easy to dismiss as the extreme rhetoric of a fringe group. But the anti-feminist sentiments are being amplified online, finding a vast audience that is increasingly imposing its agenda on South Korean society and politics.
In the UK, the case of the Colston 4 who were accused of various charges relating to the toppling of the statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston prompted many column inches in the British papers. The Secret Barrister’s analysis of the case sheds some welcome light on the verdict regardless of whether you agree with the result (I do) or not:
The trial has widely been appropriated as a proxy battle in the culture wars. Those who believe it was wrong to pull down Colston’s statue see the verdict as an affront. Their grievance has been inflamed by comments from politicians and media commentators which misunderstand or misrepresent what the case was about, and what the verdicts mean.
The Christmas break has also provided me with time to catch on films and television that are on my watch list. Trailers below for shows or movies that made me smile/laugh/cry…