Ecommerce grows, criticisms of Kalanick and Basecamp, Substack’s impact on journalism and swell vibes

The painting "Strange Currents, EA" by Jessica Rankin

Find some of the stories that have caught my eye over the last fews weeks below reflecting current events and wider trends and changes:

Benedict Evan’s points to Britain’s ecommerce taking around 50% of non grocery retail and suggests this could have a range of impacts on both retail sector and wider society.

Travis Kalanick took a lot of stick for his cut throat management style. Meghan Morris’s reporting on his latest venture, CloudKitchens points to the fact that the criticisms have not led to a change in his approach:

The message was clear: The Kalanick leading CloudKitchens was not changed, humbled, or reformed. He was the same Kalanick who in just a few roller-coaster years had turned Uber into a global juggernaut — at one point the world’s most valuable tech startup — by barreling full speed ahead and ultimately crashing out.

As more Silicon Valley employees champion social justices issues in the workplace, Basecamp management’s attempt to silence political debate hasn’t gone down well:

“We’ve hired opinionated people, we’ve created opinionated software, and now basically the company has said, ‘well, your opinions don’t really matter — unless it’s directly related to business,’” one told me. “A lot of people are gonna have a tough time living with that.

Anne Helen Peterson responds to critics of the unemployed in the US who have in some cases proven reluctant to return to paid work. Workers have found themselves with some degree of agency and some of them are prepared to use it:

The models up and down the American economy are unsustainable. They have been built on the belief that profit — and, in many cases, exponential growth — should, as a rule, supersede labor conditions. In ‘knowledge’ jobs, they have been guided by the false idols of productivity and workism; in the retail and hospitality industry, these conditions have been facilitated by anti-labor campaigns, perverse private equity imperatives, and lax (or non-existent) regulation of the gig economy.

The pandemic did not create these conditions. It simply made them even more impossible to ignore — and created scenarios in which some workers (not all, but some!) have been empowered, perhaps for the first time in their working lives, to opt out.

Will Oremus takes a valuable look at the impact on what Substack and associated offerings are likely to have on an already embattled traditional news media sector:

Leading newsletters such as Heather Cox Richardson’s Letter From an American, Roxane Gay’s the Audacity, and Scott Alexander’s Astral Codex Tenare wildly diverse in their perspectives and subject matter. But one thing they have in common is that they’ve never covered a city council meeting or rushed out to a crime scene to get the scoop. “I haven’t seen one of these independent Substacks that comes close to replicating what most news organizations spend most of their resources doing,” said Bill Grueskin, a professor at Columbia Journalism School and former senior editor at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

Jonn Elledge looks at the role of demographics in Labour’s decline as more of its core supporters concentrate in urban electorates leaving older voters to dominate in many marginal electorates.

Roll the tape forward a couple of decades and you get the situation we’re in now – where Labour is piling up more and more votes in safe seats like Manchester Central or Hackney South, but solid Labour towns are turning Tory because they’re increasingly dominated by older people who, the data suggests, are more likely to vote Conservative. 

Kyle Chayka reports on the ascendancy of vibe driven social meda era as content becomes increasingly driven by audio and visuals:

In the social-media era, though, “vibe” has come to mean something more like a moment of audiovisual eloquence, a “sympathetic resonance” between a person and her environment, as Robin James, a professor of philosophy at U.N.C. Charlotte wrote in a recent newsletter. What a haiku is to language, a vibe is to sensory perception: a concise assemblage of image, sound, and movement. (#Aesthetic is sometimes used to mark vibes, but that term is predominantly visual.) A vibe can be positive, negative, beautiful, ugly, or just unique. It can even become a quality in itself: if something is vibey, it gives off an intense vibe or is particularly amenable to vibes. Vibes are a medium for feeling, the kind of abstract understanding that comes before words put a name to experience. That pre-linguistic quality makes them well suited to a social-media landscape that is increasingly prioritizing audio, video, and images over text. Through our screens, vibes are being constantly emitted and received.

The frequent talk of veganism in the media gives you the impression that meat consumption is going down. Unfortunately global statistics provide a rather different story which is rather concerning given the carbon footprint of meat.

The American television series Pose (Season 1 is great Season 2 less so) definitely left me feeling more sympathetic to the plight of the Trans community. Given this, it has been interesting to read about the role of Mumsnet in fostering anti Trans voices in the UK as Katie M. J. Baker reports:

Mumsnet’s women’s rights forum didn’t just offer women a safe space to organize. By providing a platform that tolerated TERFism, it had also handed users a convenient scapegoat for all of their problems — not austerity, not misogyny, but the relatively tiny and extremely marginalized and oppressed trans population. 

Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland left a great impression and led me on to checking out her earlier film The Rider which also gets the thumbs up. Thomas Flight explores the film and influence of Terrence Malick on Zhao’s work:

Buzzfeed have an interesting series of videos looking at food and drink habits from around the world from a first person perspective. It’s no surprise that the ice cream video was the one that caught my attention:

Cover photo is Strange Currents, EA by Jessica Rankin from the nostalgia for the infinite exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey.

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