Idée Fixe Interlude #21

No return to the status quo ante.

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. 🧠


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First up.

🎙 Two Europeans talk about China (Another Podcast w/ Benedict Evans)

Apparently, 'China' is a big deal in tech. But you can't read the language, you can't try the products, and you keep hearing 'X is big in China!' but you can't evaluate that or tell what predictive value it has. How do we look at China if we're *not* China experts?

This was a conversation I was both nervous and excited to have, and one that feels very important and timely to be having as TikTok makes its way into millions of households across the world. I was even more delighted when Lillian Li mentioned that she would listen to the episode and share her thought on ‘ how we should think about Chinese tech’ - her Twitter thread does not disappoint.


What I’m reading.

💰 10 insights about confounding and selling businesses from Austin Rief, the cofounder of the Morning Brew. 🧩 The ultimate guide to unbundling Reddit. 📈Alibaba - from growth to value. 🩺 Health Care As a Human Right. 🧠 Here’s something I wish more people would have told me growing up - being smart is not enough.


Politics 🗳️

Inside a Deadly Siege: How a String of Failures Led to a Dark Day at the Capitol (Janyary 2020, New York Times)

Huddled in a command center on Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington and her aides saw a photograph of blood stains on the temporary grandstands at the Capitol, a makeshift structure built for the inauguration of a new president in two weeks. The enormity of the deadly failure sank in.

In addition, and in an incredible turn of events, ProPublica “reviewed thousands of videos uploaded publicly to the service that were archived by a programmer before Parler was taken offline by its web host.” The final product is a collection of over 500 videos determined to have been taken during the events of January 6th - deemed by ProPublica to be both “relevant and newsworthy”.

I always appreciate a good reminder - especially in the form of an archive - of what history has taught us. The NYT had documented alphabetically every verbal attack Mr. Trump posted on Twitter, from June 2015 to Jan. 8, when Twitter banned him from the platform.


Technology 📱

Internet 3.0 and the beginning of (tech) history (Ben Thompson, January 2020)

I’ve been increasingly thinking about content creation and distribution - specifically the tools we use to create content today, the platforms we use to distribute it, the audiences we are reaching, and how we are consuming this content.

And I’ve been thinking about the evolution of it all over the past ten years. How has our relationship with content creation and consumption changed? And what are the external factors pushing these changes? Is content distribution and consumption reacting to our changing behaviours or are we changing as a result of what and how we consume our content?

And when you add to these questions the layer of current affairs and politics, as well as regulation, the questions are endless. Ben Thompson digs into some of these at length in his recent piece about the evolution of the internet.

It turns out that when it comes to Information Technology, very little is settled; after decades of developing the Internet and realizing its economic potential, the entire world is waking up to the reality that the Internet is not simply a new medium, but a new maker of reality. 


(Pop) Culture 🍿

Quote Tweets Have Turned Us All Into Jerks (November 2020, OneZero)

They really have. Case in point below. Although, I stand by my comment. It was obvious that this quote from Cleo was writing through the lens of the historic US moment that happened today in America.

And yet, I couldn’t help but point out that the statement was missing a key detail and some wider historical and geographical context. Clearly, I felt some reframing was necessary. 🤷‍♀️

But when we quote tweet, we’re also creating a kind of meme. And while memes can be fun, they also can make online conversation a lot more snarky and a lot less civil.


Formula One 🏎

It’s less than two months away from pre-season and Lewis Hamilton still doesn’t have a contract signed. There are so many rumours and speculation going around, but one thing that is top of mind for me is how excited I am that this is taking longer and hopefully it’s because Hamilton knows his worth.

I’m reminded of the story of Steph Curry and how Nike lost him to Under Armour and the story of Shonda Rhimes who recently left ABC to go to Netflix - a decision she made after an executive told her “don’t you have enough?” in response to Disneyland tickets. I share both of these stories for two reasons. Firstly, in both cases these creators and athletes knew their worth and took note of the details as they spoke volumes. Secondly, when I contract negotiations come up with regards to Lewis I have repeatedly seen people say exactly this - “doesn’t he have enough?”. And it’s really not about that but more importantly, this is not a sentence that would be so casually thrown around if these creators and athletes were white men.

Speaking of pre-season testing, it’s now taking place in Bahrain. Racing Point is now officially Astin Martin Cognizant F1 and Renault is officially Alpine F1. McLaren has just announced a collaboration with Rhude - an unlikely or surprising collaboration. Depending on how you look at it.


This was a coup (by Tortoise Media)

The Trump presidency is ending. Except it’s not. What’s happened in the past few years - in the past few weeks - will take years more to fix. This episode tells the story of how ten former defense secretaries recently signed a letter warning about Trump’s attempts to subvert the US election result. Then, on 6 January, we saw more clearly than ever what they meant


Where Is The Cool? (Instagram account and magazine)

Good question. Let this pretentious magazine give you the answer. From McCartney’s crochet cardigan to the miracle recipes for a diet based on eggs and Chablis (one bottle a day they say...) this account has brought me much joy and the escape I need during the lockdown.


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