Settling In

The idea that a new work must come out, be consumed, burn bright before we all collectively move on to the next thing is a crazy one. It’s rotting peoples brains, its rotting culture.

15 minutes

Hope everyone is having a nice sunday. Todays post is on culture cycles and the need for work to ‘Settle In’ to our collective psyches. Very much a first pass at the idea. Comments are open if you have any thoughts.

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Settling In

People have been fretting about the acceleration of culture and new technology for as long as there’s been a culture and new technologies to speed it up. In 1858, an unnamed New York Times correspondent complained:

There can be no rational doubt that the telegraph has caused vast injury. Superficial, sudden, unsifted, too fast for the truth, must be all telegraphic intelligence. Does it not render the popular mind too fast for the truth? Ten days bring us the mails from Europe. What need is there for the scraps of news in ten minutes?

How trivial and paltry is the telegraphic column? It snowed here, it rained there, one man killed, another hanged. 

That was in the 1850’s! Since then we’ve had the influence of the mass paperback novel, film, radio, television, and the Internet. Culture responded to them all, digesting, re-digesting. In my lifetime I’ve seen the rapid acceleration of culture with 24-hour news, the web, then social media, the emergence of fast fashion, music streaming etc.

The rapid feedback loops between creation and consumption work upon each other, spinning the flywheel ever faster. ‘Consumerism’ is what we call the response to this state of affairs. It’s found across the board: Clothing, cars, phones, products, fashion, art, movies, books, comics whatever. Physical goods or otherwise. There’s always a ‘new thing’ someone wants you to buy or consume.

In the current moment, creatives make art (commercial or not), and we the consumers have to try swallow as much of it as we can before the next thing comes along. We sense this in our personal lives, we describe it as ‘information overload’, ‘social overwhelm’ or whatever. But if we’re feeling this as individuals, I can’t help but wonder what its doing to ‘The Culture’ at large.

The rapid creation / consumption cycle leaves no space for anything to ‘settle in’

Despite being my mortal enemy – This week I was happy to see Disney announcing that they are scaling back the release schedule for its Marvel properties:

β€œWe’re slowly going to decrease volume and go to probably about two TV series a year instead of what had become four and reduce our film output from maybe four a year to two, or a maximum of three,” Disney CEO Bob Iger told shareholders during Disney’s quarterly earnings call Tuesday (via Variety

The key line came later in the investor call when he mentioned ‘quality’

Disney CEO Bob Iger told analysts that the company is finally moving away from β€œa vestige, basically a desire in the past to increase volume.

β€œI’ve been working hard with the studio to reduce output and focus more on quality, that’s particularly true with Marvel,”

As per ‘Cultural Fracking‘, Disney has been treating culture like a commodity. Therefor under the logic of consumerism, more product is better product- regardless of quality.

Whats been happening for the best part of a decade, with social media and the explosion of metrics beyond crude numbers like ticket sales etc, is that our cultural overloads owners have managed their releases/products solely towards what they can measure. Engagement online on Twitter became part of a media properties measure of success etc. Not just box office receipts or sales.

The peak of this thinking has got to be from the brain of Spotify CEO Daniel Ek:

Spotify’s billionaire CEO Daniel Ek informed artists that in the streaming age β€œyou can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough. The artists today that are making it realise that it’s about creating a continuous engagement with their fans. It is about putting the work in, about the storytelling around the album, and about keeping a continuous dialogue with your fans.”

When you are a streaming platform, the only cultural quality that matters are the streaming numbers. Under his logic you have to be continually releasing new music and new content in to the fast feedback loops of consumer culture to survive. An artistic practice built around the gesture of the album, a self contained world of sonic ideas once every 4 years isn’t enough according to Ek.

But thats not how culture works – culture needs to marinade. Work needs to settle in to the collective psyche. Albums are super important.

Art takes time to act upon culture

The idea that a new work must come out, be consumed, burn bright before we all collectively move on to the next thing is a crazy one. It’s rotting peoples brains, its rotting culture.

The other week a friend was bemoaning in the group chat telling us about the following interaction Her newest book came out in February, and she was being interviewed on a podcast. During the conversation the host apparently straight up ask the following (I’m paraphrasing): “Why are you still talking about your book? what about AI? what about xyz? whats next for you?”. Translated: Why are you still, 4 months on, talking about the book that took you 3 years to write?

Rapid cycles of media consumption prevent any kind of deep cultural engagement and collective sense making from occurring. True engagement with art requires time, attention and taste – which the current pace of media release does not allow for. ‘Content’ needs time to embed and resonate within societal and individual consciousness. One thing needs to influence another, be juxtaposed and in dialogue with one another and the audience. It’s from this psychic vibration that responses can begin to flower.

Take for example, Netflix and other streaming platforms approach of dropping whole seasons of TV shows at once – the season binge. This release strategy leads to brief, intense periods of discussion followed by a rapid falling away on social media towards the next ‘new thing’. But this only ever leads to confused commentary. Who knows how far any one has got though the series on day one, two, or three after release? Little sense making can occur when just as everyone finally gets on the same page, it gets immediately turned but the industry that funded and created the work.

I don’t watch much TV – but I did binge the new Fallout series whilst I was back home on the chalk at my parents the other week. It’s the first TV show I’ve watched since the last season of The Expanse. I liked it. Nothing more needs saying.

Had the show dropped weekly as ‘appointment viewing’ we’d all still be discussing it. And thats just better for culture. Fallout would have stayed at the edge of the cultural zeitgeist for 8 weeks, not 10 days. Its release would have had a bigger, deeper cultural impact. It would have had a chance to begin the process of ‘settling in’.

Fandom is part of the problem + the solution

What passes of ‘settling in’ in our current media environment has become endless long tail proliferation of SEO optimised articles like the ones that show up in my Google Discover. ‘Culture websites’ baiting me to click on them to read what fucking stupid dross or opinion someone has.

They are always empty of actual information. Articles about speculative fan theories, canon issues, ranking who’s the best, fan drama etc. It’s not digestion or the marination of cultural works, but fan bait to grab eyeballs and show ads. All stuff I couldn’t give a fuck about.

Even Lord of the Rings isn’t safe, look at what showed up on my discover this morning! I didn’t click it.

Dune used to be my favourite of all online fandom. This 2018 article in The Outline was something I identify with very much:

Beyond that, Dune is not a corporate cash cow, and being a fan doesn’t carry with it that icky feeling you’re doing an unpaid PR internship for Disney or AT&T Time Warner. You’re not being cultivated when you make a Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim Appreciation Thread, the way you are when you do something similar for, like, Harley Quinn or Groot. Nor are you helping billionaires whitewash their crimes if you point out politically positive aspects of the series, like its environmentalism or its bone-deep skepticism of leader cults.

I wrote about Dune and people shouting ‘spoilers’ at me over a 60 year old book back in 2020. For literally my whole life online I enjoyed reading things about Dune. Thoughtful essays, critiques, and observations from people newly discovering the book series. Discussion of its themes and characters etc. Dune was influential in our culture for far longer than it has been ‘relevant’. But the new movies have ruined it all. Dune has been sucked into the media consumption cycle like everything else. It’s no longer marinating in the cultural psyche. Google search Dune and you get the movie not the books. This is no way to organise culture.

None of this should be seen by anyone as evidence of ‘settling in’ at all. It’s just the exploitation of ‘fandom culture’ to ensure that every last drop of monetizable attention is rung from an idea before everyone has moved on.

Settle Cycle

The thing is, as works of culture ‘settle in’ their relevancy diminishes, their influence may grow. Which is bad for owners of the IP who need relevance to sell stuff but good for audiences.

Fandoms keep old books, tv shows, movies alive in the long tail of culture. Consider all the podcasts out there with large audiences watching and discussing a 90’s TV show episode by episode or whatever. Or think of the fans that kept Star Wars influential (but not relevant) for 20+ years. These are the people who (rightly) got fucked off when Disney blew up the canon.

Right now, everyone in my extended circle seems to be reading and discussing Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. I don’t think anyone would say that this book is very relevant to the present, but its influence ‘right now’ on people who make and create culture seems to be enormous. Ed Rathke is currently writing a chapter by chapter breakdown on his substack. The Agitator boys talked about it on Getting Lit Pod etc etc.

The Book of the New Sun has settled in. This is 40 year old culture still marinating.

Last week I wrote about competitive Tetris, and the need to go deep on subjects. How paying attention to something for a long time allows you to develop your taste. I don’t want to sound like an again Hipster, but there is immense value in paying attention to things that aren’t mainstream. Taking time with the content and culture you enjoy.

Hopefully Disney slowing down the MCU juggernaut is a sign that culture owners have seen that fast release cycles does a disservice to the art and our culture. No one is still talking about the Barbie movie, but I have (personally) noticed that folks are still talking about Oppenheimer.

Some of my favourite conversations about media I’ve consumed recently has been about books I read decades ago, or albums that I’ve sat with for a few months or years. Prolonged exposure and discussion among audiences allows culture to settle in. It allows us to digest it, consider it, sit with it. Culture that is settled becomes more valuable to us all.

Permanently Moved

React + Re-Consume

Reaction videos were (and still) are considered β€˜low effort’. At worst a parasitic grift. Leveraging the creative work of others for social clout

Full Show Notes: https://www.thejaymo.net/2024/05/11/2408-reaction-re-consumption/

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Permanently moved is a personal podcast 301 seconds in length, written and recorded by @thejaymo

Photo 365

122/365/2024

The Ministry Of My Own Labour

  • I updated my online essay collection worldrunning.guide this week. It now totals 22 Essays. About 23.7k Words.
  • Finished up some feedback for a start up
  • Wrote some more of the impossible object text (next issue of my zine)
  • 1 meeting in town
  • 3 zoom calls about potential projects

I’m currently open to/for work.

Terminal Access

Ol’ buddy ol’ pal Andrew Dana Hudson is currently in Italy. The reason for his visit was a residency at the Sci-Fi Economics Lab. He’s now at the Turin book fair.

In todays newsletter he covered some of the thinking that came up during his residency and raised the idea of a ‘Planetary currency’

So I started asking the economists at the residency, as an icebreaker, how they thought a planetary currency would work.

It was a surprisingly underexplored idea, even in a room full of SF-loving heterodox economists. What would we even call it? GeoDollars? Planetary Pesos? UN-Yuan? AllCoin? Terrabucks? Unicash? β€˜Credits’? Would we even need a name anymore? I’m very open to suggestions.

I would call it Bitcoin imo. Seems like a catchy name.

Dipping the Stacks

Waging Culture Wars Justly

This is all an imperfect analogy, to be sure, but analogies don’t have to be perfect to be helpful. The main thing, I think, is that we who believe that culture matters enough to fight for it ought to have equally strong convictions about how to fight – or not to fight. Otherwise, we’re part of the problem.

The Great Joy of Returning to Your Childhood Hobbies

I started practicing at night in my acoustic-blessed bathroom. Outside the door, my daughter applauded at the end of every stanza. A week later, my husband shyly told me that he was inspired by my renewed creative energy and wanted to take guitar lessons. Between his daily practice and mine, our house is now full of music.

On Jonathan Haidt’s Anxious Generation – by Clinton Ignatov

Squint your eyes, and almost every book or conversation on in this subject can be reduced to four words: β€œIt’s the phone, stupid!”

How WhatsApp became the world’s default communication app

WhatsApp has become the world’s default communications platform. Ten years after it was acquired, its growth shows no sign of stopping. Even in the US, it is finally beginning to break through the green and blue bubble battles and is reportedly one of Meta’s fastest-growing services.

There is way too much serendipity – by Malmesbury

While researching novel uses of sucrose and its synthetic derivatives, Phadnis was told to “test” a chlorinated sugar compound. According to an anecdotal account, Phadnis thought Hough asked him to “taste” it, so he did and found the compound to be exceptionally sweet.

Reading

I finally finished reading The New New Journalism: Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft by Robert Boynton. It’s a 2005 collection of interviews with 19 of the top Non Fiction writers at the time of publication. Lots of New Yorker writers, Atlantic writers, Pulitzer Prize winners and long form non fiction book authors. A theme of the book is around the legacy of Tom Wolfe’s New Journalism of the 60’s and 70’s. The book suffers in 2024 by being produced in the Interregnum between the personal computing revolution and the internet. Especially the questions around the prospects for long form journalism. None of them saw whats coming. It amazes me that some of them wrote two 10k pieces a year and made a living! A big portion of the authors are now dead, some are in their 60’s grinding out Substacks.

On a recommendation from a blog reader Tom, after my post about motivation and todolist woes the other week I started reading “Laziness Does Not Exist: A Defense of the Exhausted, Exploited, and Overworked” by Devon Price Ph.D. I’m afraid I bailed on it after the first 50 pages. The book is mostly for chronic workaholics. There was nothing in it for someone like me with the twin issues of having a self castigatory nature towards not doing enough AND lack of intrinsic motivation. Ditched. DNF

I wanted something to burn though so started the Warhammer novel Harrowmaster by Mike Brooks. its not my favourite subject mater/lore topic but Brooks is a good writer and I’m enjoy it. Nearly done!

Sunshower – Taeko Ohnuki

Suns out here in the London, so I’ve been listening to Japanese 70’s lounge pop legend Taeko Ohnuki. Perfect summer sunshine music.

Remember Kids:


Maybe our favourite quotations say more about us than about the stories and people we’re quoting.

John Green

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3 responses to “Settling In”

  1. Pete Ashton avatar

    Somewhat amusingly I watched a very good video essay about Barbie a the patriarchy this week, which presumably had taken much marinading to get right, and was idly wondering where all the nuanced Oppenheimer takes were (specifically something about the “they’re all communists” subplot – why were they all communists? What was going on?)

    So I guess it’s all going on but out of our personal bubbled? Doesn’t negate anything you’re saying of course, just amused me.

    1. thejaymo avatar

      *of course* theres a long Barbie video essay just out as I write about it lol! Doh.

      But yeah I think this is probably a little filter bubble thing. Nearly a year post launch it seems like the sort of movie thats going to ‘settle in’.

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