Idée Fixe Interlude #22

Let's try being brief.

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. 🧠


Subscribe today


First up.

🎙 Why do we care about games? (Another Podcast w/ Benedict Evans)

Benedict and I discuss why games matter, and their place within the tech industry. They've always been a silo, off by themselves, but is that changing? Do games become pop culture? VR?

And whilst we barely scratch the surface of the potential of the Metaverse, this deeper dive and essay by Packy McCormick is a brilliant insight into Web3, NFTs, and the Metaverse.

What I’m reading.

📱 Continuing our ‘tech in China’ trend - this piece about how live-streaming ecommerce works in China is a brilliant read and showcases just how different ecommerce trends are around the world. 💻 We’ve discussed it before, but worth repeating that newsletters are not as widespread as we might think - it’s still very much a bubble and most people have no idea what Substack is. And yet Forbes certainly sees the value of independent newsletters as it will soon “allow journalists to launch their own paid newsletters and split the revenue with the 103-year-old publisher”. ⚠️ A worthy important reminder to never become the person your Twitter followers want you to be. 👀 I very much enjoyed this piece about making the case for Brevity. 🎯 Trump’s Tech Legacy: It’s All Politics Now.


Politics 🗳️

Big Tech bolts politics (Axios, January 2021)

Big Tech fed politics. Then it bled politics. Now it wants to be dead to politics. 

Why it matters: The social platforms that profited massively on politics and free speech suddenly want a way out — or at least a way to hide until the heat cools. 

Yes and no. Again, free speech is only a construct in America. Secondly, politics and campaigns are really not a great business because of how cyclical they are. During the start of an election cycle, you may have half a dozen (or more) candidates using your products, services, or platforms but by the end, you will only have one or none. Especially in the SAAS business, it is worth repeating that politics isn’t actually the lucrative business it’s made out to be.

I certainly don’t want to blindly defend the likes of Facebook in such cases and yet it is worth remembering that the intersection of tech and politics happened still relatively recently and happened fast, and we’ve only recently started to have an agreement as a society that strong regulations might be the way forward.

Be smart: In the long lead-up and then explosive aftermath of a volatile U.S. election, it has slowly dawned on platforms that political speech may be too tough for them to adequately police without themselves getting whacked politically.

Can Political Betting Markets Predict Election Outcomes? (Napkin Math, November 2020)

Why are we so bad at predicting politics? Should we be able to predict politics and elections? How valuable would it be to be able to do so efficiently?

This year, as the election drew near, Nate Silver’s political forecasting site 538—which uses polling and other data sources, like economic indicators, to make predictions—gave Vice President Biden roughly an 89% chance of winning. 538 has a pretty good track record, and though there are disagreements in methodology, another statistical model, from The Economist, put Biden at 91%. But polling models, including 538’s, were wrong in 2016, and looking at the map now, faith in the power of their predictions is falling fast, even if Biden does ultimately prevail, as he now looks likely to.


Technology 📱

Big Tech and Regulation—A Response to the Quillette Editors (Quilette, January 2021)

Content moderation has always been and will always be hard. Censorship very rarely works and often backfires. The rise of misinformation is creating chaos. The first amendment's understanding of free speech is rarely properly used. These are all things most of us can agree on and yet finding adequate and widely agreed-upon solutions seems nearly impossible. And yet it seems to me that the place to start is clear and global regulations from our elected officials. These may be coming but they will take time and they will be far from perfect.

Donald Trump has been permanently suspended from Twitter. And Facebook, Reddit, Twitch, Shopify, Snap, Stripe, Discord, and—most crushingly of all—Pinterest. This was swiftly followed by a swathe of account purges across various platforms, ostensibly on the grounds that terms of service had been violated. Bizarrely, conservatives reacted to this development by lamenting the lack of arbitrary government intervention in private enterprise, while their liberal opponents celebrated corporate squashing of individual expression. If you don’t like it, build your own app.


(Pop) Culture 🍿

How Black users are saving Clubhouse from becoming a drab hangout for tech bros (January 2021, CNBC)

The audio-only (and invite-only) app, Clubhouse, is reported to be raising at a $1 billion valuation. That’s just one part of the story. Another part of the story is how Black users are playing a vital role in saving it from becoming a “drab hangout for tech bros”. At this point, like with many other platforms, the power users are so much more than users - they are the creators making the platform an interesting and worthwhile destination worthy of our attention.

In particular, the app has carved out a niche among Black users, who have innovated new ways for using it.


Formula One 🏎

McLaren set date to unveil 2021 F1 car, the MCL35M (F1.com, January 2021)

Mclaren is making a few changes this year, beyond the new driver line-up which now includes Ricciardo and Norris. It’s also switching engine suppliers, and “their new Mercedes-powered car will be shown off to the world on February 15.” This week McLaren fired up their new power unit and released their footage - clearly something to be proud of.

This week definitely has a ‘back to school’ vibe in F1 with Sainz seen wearing red, lots and lots of red, Vettel in green, and completing his seat fitting at Aston Martin. Ricciardo confirming that it won’t be “a comedy show” and that although he’s all smiles he’s joining McLaren with a determined mindset and a job to do.

As the drivers got back into the swing of things, it got me thinking about what it takes to be an F1 driver. It’s absolutely about passion, determination and skills, but these drivers have something else that allows them week after week to put their life on the line to race these cars at the pinnacle of motorsports doing 300 KPH. This brings me to my book recommendation of the week. 👇

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

The Right Stuff is a lively account of the early American space program and its roots in the subculture of military test pilots that developed after World War II. Wolfe’s eclectic, wide-ranging narrative combines numerous elements: technological advancements in mid-20th-century flight; the generation of daring pilots who pushed innovations to their limits; and reflections on the moral, cultural, and political significance of the first astronauts at the height of the Cold War

The characteristics of these daring pilots and the test flight that preceded them, encapsulate the heroism during a time where society was far from heroic. I feel like there are some parallels to be drawn to the ‘right stuff’ these F1 drivers have today.


Naps by The Mercadantes

Just a collection of beings naping - it’s actually very soothing.


Share Idée Fixe by Toni Cowan-Brown


🚀Follow me on Instagram and Twitter for extras that don’t make the newsletter.