Idée Fixe Interlude #23

Storming, poetry and the lost art of constructive disagreements.

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.

🎙 Why Joe Rogan is good for Clubhouse‪?‬ (Unapologetic Women w/ Sorcha Rochford)

We kick off our third season of Unapologetic Women talking about the need and the added value of diverse voices. Not just in real life, but also on social platforms - such as the new invite-only social audio app, Clubhouse. We reflect and deliberate on the future of events and conferences, and how society will evolve in a post-pandemic reality.

🎙 Who's in the office? Notes on a year of remote work‪.‬ (Another Podcast w/ Benedict Evans)

We left the office a year ago and haven't been back, but now we're starting to plan a return. What will surprise us? How many planes will we still get on, and why?

In a strange turn of events when I changed jobs in late 2019, I realised that my new employer didn’t really understand the complexities of remote-work and more importantly, were not yet set-up for it to be a success. And I don’t blame them, with remote-work, you were either intentional about it or it just happened to you. And then COVID-19 hit and many of us were forced into the remote-work lifestyle and that’s all anyone could talk about.

I had just left a job that had recently transitioned from being remote-friendly to remote-first, and I decided to write down all my lessons. This actually turned out to be the first few posts of this newsletter and coincidentally written and published just weeks before the pandemic hit.

👋 Join us on Clubhouse for a conversation about the future of work

Benedict and I will be hosting a broader conversation about work after lockdown this Thursday 11 March at 9am PT, 5pm UK time on Clubhouse - friendly hours for our European readers and listeners. We’ll be joined by the brilliant Roy Bahat, Head Bloomberg Beta. Please join us and bring your opinions and questions - we want to hear from you.

What I’m reading.

🧠 Anthony Hopkins remembers it all. 🐦 Jack Dorsey - CEO of both Twitter and Square has been in the news a fair bit recently - Twitter’s Jack Dorsey wants to build an app store for social media algorithms, Square Buys Tidal, Explaining Jay-Z and Jack Dorsey’s New Friendship. 📱People still seem to be wrapping their heads around TikTok - the first social app loved by millions of Americans but built in China. It may be the first, but it certainly won’t be the last. Clubhouse is now blocked in China after a brief uncensored period. 🦸‍♂️ The CDC hopes Harry Potter, Wonder Woman, and Neo can actually convince people to wear masks. It’s painful that it has to come to this but if it works, why not. 🎧 The Era of Audio Creators Has Arrived.


Politics 🗳️

The lost art of constructive disagreements. (Not so much an article, as much as an exert of an email I wrote recently)

As a society, we have certainly lost the art and appreciation for actual debates and hard yet constructive discussions. Where the end goal isn't to prove you are right or even to find the answers but rather appreciate (and hopefully) learn from the exchange of views.

Actively listening is certainly the starting point, which is somewhat counter-intuitive to the pace of today's world, information and content flows. Where it feels like there is no time to stop, digest and listen. Instead our primary focus is about getting our point across at all costs. 

I often think about what effective team collaboration looks like. One stage of effective team development is known as 'storming'. Bruce Tuckman actually identified 5 stages within this development process that enables teammates to become high-performing teams. In my eyes, this applies to just about any relationship and interaction in life. 

The storming stage is by far the most difficult (and no surprise, it's the one people often skip), but it's also the most critical to pass through. It's often marked by conflict, challenge and competition as all our individual personalities emerge. For our society to be effective, we need to be able to work together to contribute collectively to a better outcome. Our global challenges are more complex than ever and will require all of us. So how do we all get together and sit around the proverbial table and storm?


Technology 📱

Snapchat is TikTok is Instagram is Facebook is Snapchat. What do we do now? (Protocol, February 2021)

Snap has originated as many of these features as any other app, and so the newest Snapchat feature feels almost full circle. The company's launching Snapchat Spotlight, a vertically scrolling, never-ending list of full-screen videos that anyone on the platform can make. Which is to say, Snapchat is launching TikTok.

There is certainly a lot happening in the world of social platforms, and whilst some features or even entire platforms may feel like a breath fo fresh air. That ‘new’ sensation - some may call it hype - is often sidelined and quickly gives way to the myriad of copycat features that shortly come along.

However, some plaftorms certainly feel like more than just a fad. And certainly more than the sum of all their features. What they are offering feels different, feels new and feels right for these moments. TikTok came along shortly before the world went into lockdown and we all needed the escapism that its creators were offering. Clubhouse came along during the pandemic and offered us that very real feeling you get when large groups come together - the noisy, the chaotic and the organic value of such interactions.

It’s no surprise that both Facebook and Twitter are launching some of the core Clubhosue features within their own platforms. But it does bring to the forefront the discussion about what makes a platform unique and what allows it to create the network effect it so desperately needs to be more than a hyped fad?


(Pop) Culture 🍿

The Artists Dismantling the Barriers Between Rap and Poetry (New York Times, March 2021)

“Rap is definitely poetry,” Latto tells me. “We just do it on top of a beat.” Many poets would agree with her. Nonetheless, a line of demarcation persists between rap and poetry, born of outmoded assumptions about both forms: that poetry only exists on the page and rap only lives in the music, that poetry is refined and rap is raw, that poetry is art and rap is entertainment. These opinions are rife with bias — against the young, the poor, the Black and brown, the self-educated, the outspoken and sometimes impolite voices that, across five decades, have carried a local tradition from the South Bronx to nearly every part of the world.

Poetry is having a moment and I want that moment to last. Many of us will now know the name Amanda Gorman, and for many of us it was her speech during the US presidential inauguration that will have introduced us to her, and possible even re-introduced us to poetry.

As someone I deeply admire, a talented poet herself, once said, “we might all need a poet in our life”. And I think she might be onto something. As she was doing some research she found and sent me this poem from George The Poet. It was a poem commissioned by Sky Sports to wrap-up and summarise the Formula One season.

George the Poet, also known as George Mpanga, is “a Peabody award-winning, British spoken-word artist, poet, rapper, and podcast host with an interest in social and political issues”. So it’s no surprise that he was able to capture the breath and depth of an entire F1 season. It’s surprising, maybe even a little sad, but also somehow reassuring that the words he spoke nearly 10 years ago still ressonate today both on and off the grid. So when I think about the art of constructive disagreements and bridging our divides, I can’t help but wonder, if we need more poetry in our lives.

Yet today, a new generation of artists, both rappers and poets, are consciously forging closer kinship between the genres. They draw from a common toolbox of language, use the same social media platforms to reach their audiences and respond to the same economic and political provocations to create public art.


Yolk by Mary H. K. Choi

I, like many, have waited patiently for Choi’s third novel - Yolk. With this latest novel, Choi gives us “a funny and emotional story about two estranged sisters and how far they’ll go to save one of their lives — even if it means swapping identities.”

I’ve been a huge fan of Choi’s writing and the characters she creates so effortlessly throughout her books. They aren’t too polished. They are, however, throughful and complex. No two are alike, and yet they all have something in common - they were all so obviously created by Choi.


Mubi - Discover wonderful, hand-picked cinema. A new film every single day.

According to Fast Company, Mubi, launched in 2007, is the kind of streaming service that refers to content as cinema, not movies. It’s different from Netflix, in that it focuses on critically acclaimed, contemporary, and art-house films loved by movie buffs. Life has felt anything but cinematic lately. But a new app from art-house movie streaming service Mubi lets cinephiles bring the movies to them.


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