Idée Fixe Interlude #9
"Social media and opinion writing fed off each other."
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’ll share with you some insights on the ideas in tech, politics and pop culture that dominate our minds. And each month I dig into one specific idea that is particularly top of mind at this moment in time. 🧠
Idée Fixe #4: Your guide to Formula 1 🏎
For the past three weeks, the idea that was top of mind for me was Formula One as the 2020 season finally kicked off sans fans. I went over the basics of the sport and what makes it so unique, looking into why it’s such an attractive sponsorship opportunity and big tobacco’s history with the sport. Thank you for all the kind words about this F1 guide. Surprisingly, it’s been one of my most popular idée fixes.
Idée Fixe Interlude 🧠
Until next month’s big idea, here’s what I’ve been reading, watching, and listening to lately. This week’s overview includes journalism is in crisis, the campaigning apps and the data they collect, and Silicon Valley’s office culture post-COVID-19.
What I’m reading.
🔥 You are doomscrolling again. Here’s how to snap out of it, according to health experts. 🧠 How to trick your brain to remember almost anything. 🎭 Emily Kramer shares her story as Carta’s lone women executive in her piece - Equity for all? ✏️ Nathan Baschez's thoughts on writing, business strategy, and the future of content. 🙋♀️ Why WFH isn’t necessarily good for women? 🗽 The 15-Minute City: Can New York Be More Like Paris? 🥳 The delightful Illustrated History of Emojis. 🎙 An interview with Ellen Pao, the executive who briefly led Reddit and started the process of detoxifying the platform, where she talks about content moderation and has some advice for Facebook. 🤢The Group Behind Viral Anti-Trump Ads Wants to Win in November. Its Hyper-Masculine Approach Isn’t Helping. 🎧 And finally, I’ll be listening on repeat to Taylor Swifts’ Folklore - her 8th album which is quite beautiful and perfect for this moment in time.
Twitter hack presages a bumpy election (Axios, July 2020)
“With the election less than four months off, the takeover of high-profile Twitter accounts provided a grim reminder of the vulnerability of our communications platforms, government systems and business networks.”
Information platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have been at the forefront of debates about election hacking. What I always find surprising is how little coverage, in comparison, the actual campaigning tools and software get. And they are equally vulnerable during these times.
There are a few reasons for this; these tools are far less known and hence far less talked about, most people have no idea what software and platforms are being used and there is a massive lack of understanding about how these tools actually work. As such they, more often than not, go undiscussed and we find ourselves focusing solely on the big tech companies who play only a partial role in elections.
Political campaigning today requires a myriad of tech tools to facilitate activities such as volunteer organising, canvassing, phone banking, voter and donor outreach, GOTV activities… In addition, it seems like the 2020 Presidential candidates are using their own campaign apps to collect large amounts of data for targeted messaging and outreach, instead of primarily focusing on collection data through Facebook - as they did in 2016.
With social media becoming increasingly politicised and polarised, and seeing as we are all still hanging out on Twitter, I found the findings of this Pew Research fairly interesting.
“In terms of posts by all Congress members, 73% of all Twitter favorites and 66% of retweets went to Democrats. Similarly, they also received 74% of all Facebook reactions and 66% of reshared posts, the study by Pew Research shows. A typical Democratic member of Congress has upwards of 17,000 followers more than a typical Republican member and tweets about 130 times a month, nearly double the amount of their counterparts.
But a typical Republican gets nearly 14 more retweets and 29 more favorites on Twitter, as well as 38 more reactions and seven more shares on Facebook posts.”
Silicon Valley’s Office Culture Will Survive COVID-19 — Bet On It (Mike Cassidy, July 2020)
Not sure I agree entirely with the whole piece but I did find some interesting points. For example, yes I do believe that silicon valley owes a big part of its existence and success to being able to gather together. I’ve experienced this first-hand since moving here in 2018. But I don’t believe this is only possible through physical gatherings. I believe that those that put in the effort and time are able to create similar successful gatherings online which I have also experienced during this pandemic.
“Early Intel and Apple PR guy Regis McKenna has often said that Silicon Valley is not a place, but a state of mind. Well, yes and no. It is a place and the place that it is, is vital to what Silicon Valley has become.”
(Pop) Culture 🍿
Journalism is in crisis (Fortune, July 2020)
Actually journalism seems to be having a fair few crises recently: trust in the US media is at an all-time low (1), they’re having to diversify their revenue streams more than ever before (2), the so-called ‘cancel culture’ and culture wars have reached journalists, specifically those with a large following and even larger platforms (3) and there has been a lack of plurality declared on the industry (4).
And in case you are not convinced or haven’t been following along, here are just a few of the events that happened in media in the past few weeks:
Two prominent and somewhat polorising US columnists resigned - namely Bari Weiss, a NYT columnist and Andrew Sullivan, a New York magazine columnist. Hadley Freeman has a great take on what we can learn from these resignations.
“So what to learn from this? Well, you can laugh at Weiss and Sullivan, and say their views are irrelevant these days, and hundreds of journalists are losing their jobs because of cutbacks, so who cares? Or you can look at the vilification of a centre-left Jewish woman and a gay, HIV-positive man and think that maybe journalism needs more than ever not to paint itself into tiny corners, and has a greater duty than ever to reflect the world, in all its plurality. Inclusivity doesn’t mean including only those you agree with.”
NYT reporter, Taylor Lorenz and Balaji Srinivasan got into it on Twitter and it wasn’t pretty. Actually it was all a little awkward and embarrassing for all parties involved.
WSJ journalists ask publisher for clearer distinction between news and opinion content. We have seen such opinion-piece controversies also at the NYT and the Washington Post. Opinion pieces are far cheaper and faster to produce (vs. actual reporting) and as such we are most likely seeing more of them. In addition, these opinion pieces are now available online and easily shared on social media - specifically Twitter where they are amplified. Let’s not forget, that for most media outlets today, their business model is clicks, and as such the more polarising the opinion piece the better it is for the business.
“The size of the opinionating class was once constrained by the physical size of a newspaper page. Now, anyone with a cellphone and a nice turn of phrase can roast an anointed opinionator into a corncob.”
Harper’s Magazine published an open missive called ‘A Letter on Justice and Open Debate’. The letter was signed by a number of opinionators, including J.K. Rowling which she signed after she made a handful of what has been described as anti-trans tweets.
Self Care by Leigh Stein
I really enjoyed Stein’s piece in Gen (on Medium) entitled ‘The End of the Girlboss Is Here’ and hence getting her novel was very much high on my to-list. However, it didn’t quite reach my expectations. It was only on page 155 that I really found myself invested and interested in the book and from there it was actually a fast and fun read.
Stein does an incredible job of accurately mocking the current state of well-being as a business model and the influencers that profit from it. My main issue with the book is that the satire could have been pushed a lot further, it’s as if she was holding back a little. Maybe it’s because none of what was described surprised or even shocked me as I saw most of these stories this first-hand. Regardless, it’s a good long look in the mirror that we could all use.
Sex Education (seasons 1 & 2 on Netflix)
A refreshing take on something that is still so taboo - teenagers and sex. It was funny, cringy and an absolute delight to watch. The writing is brilliant but the fantastically eclectic and lovable cast is what really makes it work. Oh, and they don’t hold back.
Anti-racism guides: There have been a handful of very thoughtful and useful anti-racism guides making the rounds. I thought I would share with you a few that I have particularly appreciated. This is also a gentle reminder that if some of this makes you uncomfortable that’s very much okay and normal.
Anti-racist resource guide by Victoria Alexander
Uncomfortable Conversation with A Black Man with Emmanuel Acho
🧐 Shit I Googled this week
Q: How long to drive from Vancouver to San Francisco?
A: Some of you may know this, my husband and I have been stuck in Canada for the past five months. We crossed the border end of February for what was supposed to be a two-week road trip during which we would transfer visas (you need to exit the USA to renew or transfer visas). Well shortly after, COVID-19 hit and all the borders closed, then lockdown happened, and embassies were no longer taking appointments. We might be able to go ‘home’ soon and I’m trying not to be overly excited but I’m definitely mapping out how fast I can get back. It’s a 15-hour drive in case you are wondering.