Idée Fixe Interlude #16

You can't compare the GOATs across eras.

Thank you for being here. You are receiving this email because you subscribed to Idée Fixe - the weekly newsletter for curious minds. If you are new to Idée Fixe, welcome.

I’m Toni Cowan-Brown and each week I share with you insights from tech, politics, and pop culture that matter and dominate our minds. I’ve also added a section on the latest in the F1 2020 season. And each month I dig into one specific idea that is particularly top of mind. 🧠


Idée Fixe: The Re-sale of Luxury

I spent the past month thinking about the business of fashion and its current evolution - specifically fast fashion vs. sustainably-minded fashion, the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, and the rise of the second-hand fashion industry - otherwise known as the re-sale business. I hope you enjoy the read.


First up. 🎙

I’ve become that person with two podcasts during a lockdown. As a reminder, I co-host a weekly podcast Unapologetic Women with Sorcha Rochford. It’s unscripted conversations about current affairs, politics, tech, and pop culture. We’ve dedicated season two to the US elections and there is a lot to discuss.

I recently started a new podcast called Another Podcast (I know, I know… brilliant right) with my friend and colleague Benedict Evans where we discuss our overlapping experiences and perspectives on what happens in technology and its impact on society.


What I’m reading.

The GOTV efforts across all social platforms have been impressive for 2020; Facebook has apparently helped 4.4M people register to vote, Snapchat has helped 1M users register to vote, and TikTok’s $350k campaign has helped get 21,000 people registered. 📬 So, about the youth vote... and how everyone is a voter-influencer these days. ⏳ You are not alone in thinking it must be harder these days to be a screenwriter. In 2029, It’ll Be Harder to Write Science Fiction Because We’ll Be Living It. 😱 A depressing number that I’m not sure I needed right now - women’s unpaid labour is worth $10,900,000,000,000. 🖼 The incredible story of the missing painting that was found by Met visitor. 👀 How our minds transform linear movements into circular movement, and it’s hypnotizing.


Politics 🗳️

Exciting Politics Are Bad Politics (The Dispatch, October 2020)

This is one statement I can absolutely get behind. Exciting politics makes for bad politics and sadly, great entertainment. This point was made very clear in the Hilary documentary where we saw Bernie Sanders as a good politician but not so great a policy-maker. Hilary, on the other hand, was a phenomenal policy-maker but this didn’t make her the best politician.

In addition, Jonah Goldberg’s description of what October is going to feel like, couldn’t be more on point:

“Which brings me to the next month, which is going to be like riding a mobius strip through an animatronic insane asylum, particularly as he feels more cornered and his backers scramble to come up with a blame-shifting explanation for it.”

Russia Created an Election Disinformation Playbook. Here’s How Americans Evolved It. (NYT, October 2020)

Here’s one statement I wish didn’t exist, but 2020 has been and still is full of surprises. Misinformation and disinformation have been on our radar for years now, specifically as it pertains to election manipulation. However, 2020 has America less focused on misinformation coming from outside the US and is more worried about what is coming from Americans.

Misinformation (which is still false information but isn’t created with the intention to deceive others) has been excessively frustrating (to say the least) during this election where large numbers of well-intended people have found themselves sharing false statements and data, but with the good intention of wanting to help spread the word. And with everyone spending way more time at home and hence far more active on social media channels, this has been a recipe for disaster. And now this disinformation is moving away from social networks and to our texts.

“Russian trolls developed an effective playbook — they used a large network of fake accounts to spread incendiary political content to millions of Americans, took advantage of existing divisions in American society and sowed doubt about the election process. In the years since, the U.S. intelligence community, social media companies and the public have become aware of the threat of foreign disinformation campaigns. But America’s election information problem has evolved. “We see that playbook being used by political operatives in the U.S. and we see that same playbook being used by individuals in their basements who are angry and frustrated with life,””

Watch AOC play Among Us live on Twitch with HasanAbi and Pokimane (The Verge, October 2020)

AOC joining a handful of Twitch streamers for a game of Among Us was the perfect example of how pop culture (specifically internet culture) and politics are now intertwined. There is no going back, and it’s all going to feel a little off and a little gimmicky at first, but the reality is that politics and campaigns are having to embrace these new internet cultures if they want to be relevant and meet the voters where they are at. It’s not about replacing the traditional tactics with the new, but rather about adding to the existing campaigning toolkit.

During the 2020 elections, we experience Bloomberg and his memes, the rise of the political micro-influencer,s and now politicians joining Twitch for a game of Among Us.

Whilst we are on the topic of Twitch, a few weeks ago I witnessed an exchange between Hasan Piker and two NYT journalists who wanted to dip their toes into the Twitch pool. Hasan kindly shared his insights about what it takes to be a successful Twitch creator. Here are some of his suggestions worth sharing: give more than you ask for, understand the culture behind gaming, engage with your audience, it's a community first and foremost, you can't buy the amount of labour that is needed for Twitch, you can't fake authenticity for hours on end every day so don’t pretend to be something you are not, don’t stay in your bubble, get out there and meet people. Hasan was able to build an audience because he is always moving, changing things up, and diversifying his content.


Technology 📱

Silicon Valley’s Crisis of Conscience (New Yorker, August 2019)

I somehow missed this incredible tale of Esalen. If I may, I suggest you listen to it instead of reading it - the audio version packs a punch.

As I listened to the tale, I couldn’t help but wonder what the lobbyists in DC or the politicians in Brussels would think of it. Would they be jealous of such a place and encounters, would they laugh and turn up their noses or would they just stare blankly and mutter “what a load of BS”. I am pleased to say I had no flipping idea what Esalen was, nor had I ever come across the term hot tub diplomacy before. Now I know.

“This isn’t a place,” a staffer told me while rolling a joint on a piece of rough-hewn garden furniture. “It’s a diaspora, a guiding light out of our collective darkness, an arrow pointing us toward the best way to be fully human.”


(Pop) Culture 🍿

Slack Wars: Corporate America’s Woke Insurgency (Quillette, October 2020)

If you have been paying attention to the media industry, you will have noticed a few interesting shifts. For starters, the number of newsroom employment has declined by 23%, and that drop is 50% at newspapers. In addition, the journalists themselves seem to be increasingly in the spotlight. And finally, there seems to be an ongoing call for censorship (for both the right and the wrong reasons) across all industries.

“In normal times, journalists and their unions fight for editorial independence and viewpoint diversity against bosses who push for centralized control. In 2020, it’s the journalists themselves who are championing a rigid ideological monoculture.”

However, what seems far less obvious is which ideological battles need to take place as our society evolves and which battles should really be internal conflicts and not aired for all to see on social media - if they are even conflicts at all.

“After all, who else but society’s most pampered specimens can seriously entertain the delusion that the biggest threat to a worker’s psychological health is a book by JK Rowling or a podcast host who expresses belief in the idea of biological sex? The problem we face isn’t that young workers don’t respect the values of their older bosses. It’s that the most culturally influential and prominent sectors of the economy now operate in an ideological universe that their own customers increasingly find unrecognizable.”

The story of the LEC (LOL Esports Youtube channel, August 2020)

LEC which stands for League of Legends European Championship has a great story that starts with humble beginnings. For anyone who has ever worked on the European (or just non-American) side of an American business, this story will be one that you recognise - lots of internal politics, being managed from America, working odd hours, being an after-thought… But also learning to build great things with little to no resources, and getting creative along the way.

Even if you are not a fan of League of Legends there are some great lessons and some fantastic moments to take about from the LEC that make this video worth watching.


Formula One 🏎

The elite F1 club Hamilton has now joined (The Race, October 2020)

The moment Hamilton broke Schumacher’s record of 91 races won, it was only a matter of time before the debate about who is the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) in F1 kicked off.

Mark Hughes’ essay lays out both succinctly but also in great detail why each of the seven record-holding drivers faced unique challenges throughout the eras where they dominated. And as such, it would be foolish and unhelpful to try and compare them against each other across eras with such different cars and technology. Each driver had just the right combination of skillsets and talent for their era which is what made them the best.

“They cannot therefore be directly compared. But those challenges can certainly be explained and saluted and can be used to provide context that the statistics alone never could.”

Engineers, not racers, are the true drivers of success in motor sport (The Economist, October 2020)

The team at the Economist built a mathematical model (based on a study by Andrew Bell of the University of Sheffield) to measure the impact of all 745 drivers across all eras of F1’s history. The conclusion is somewhat unsurprising in that one of the key components in today’s F1 are the race engineers, and it strikes me that the relationship between engineers and drivers is probably the key to successful races.

“These pioneers had short careers. Fangio started just 51 races, to Mr Schumacher’s 306. However, the model is impressed by them, because the impact of cars relative to drivers has grown over time. On average, it assigns drivers in the 1950s 58% of their teams’ points; today, that share is 19%. Fangio, who was a mechanic by training and won titles using cars from four different firms, was known as “the master”. The masters of modern f1 are engineers who sit behind laptops, not steering wheels.”

Finally, a couple of fun F1 facts worth sharing; this tweet about a clause in Daniel Ricciardo’s contract that stipulates that he gets to keep the original trophies prompted an interesting conversation on Reddit about F1 trophies in general and where they are kept. Will Buxton discovered that although the black flag in F1 is an actual physical entity, there are currently no rules that mention it and there is nothing that a driver could do today that would prompt the black flag being used.


The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)

I’m two episodes in and I’m loving it. So although I have no idea if it’s going to get a lot better, worse, or stay more or less the same, I’m still going to sing its praises. For starters, Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance is mesmerizing. The fact that the story wastes no time introducing gender politics is refreshing. And it’s an overall gripping adventure - both on and off the chessboard.


Center County Elections

For anyone in America right now and eligible to vote, if you still have any unanswered questions, the center county elections website is your go-to source for all questions such as tracking your mail-in ballot, emergency absentee ballots, tracking your registration status and the election results.

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