Social networks, Phil Collins, coffee and cigarettes
Ephemeral Reviews, Essays and Opinions s°02.ep10 - 2020.05.19
Thanks to the combination of a pandemic that highlighted new social needs, and a work environment now more open to “consumerized” social interactions, 2020 could mark the beginning of a new social era - it’s about time, since the heavyweight social platforms were mostly created in the 2000s. Link (T)
A social buying experience that works: that’s what the Chinese ecommerce service Pinduoduo has managed to nail. Founded in 2015, it generated $144bn in sales through its platform last year. Link (T)
It’s been a while since we last saw a new social network darling flower. Clubhouse just closed its Series A with a $100 million valuation - and the app, still on private beta, isn’t even on the stores yet. The startup is aiming at a new frontier: voice. Digital Freemasonry? A mix between a podcast and a party? Live chats with celebrities like Beyoncé? Pay attention, it looks like this app embryonically encompasses the “4th dimension” identified by Max Read from The New Yorker to describe Facebook: “like a four-dimensional object, we catch slices of it when it passes through the three-dimensional world we recognize”. Link (S)
Facebook, that gigantic four-dimensional object again. In his biography of Zuckerberg, Julien Le Bot develops the idea that Mark (a Roman emperor’s name, who named his own children Maxima and August, other emperors’ names) has an imperial more than an entrepreneurial or political project with Facebook. That could explain the way he accepted to share the power with Facebook’s senate oversight board and compensate its slaves moderators. (S)
Tom set the tone in our previous edition with his essay on Justice and Daft Punk, looking for where the original creators really are.
Be it because of spring or the lockdown, or perhaps because of the lockdown in the spring, one thing is for sure: there is creativity in the air right now. As Phil Collins would sing (I can feel it in the air, oh lord). There is so much creativity in the air the Genesis drummer is actually inspiring me - now that is one thing I would never have imagined.
This week in the Quartz newsletter I read: Phil Collins was the only musician at Live Aid in 1985 who appeared on both the London and Philadelphia stages. He took a helicopter from Wembley to Heathrow Airport, a transcontinental supersonic Concorde jet from London to Philly, and then a helicopter to the stage in Philadelphia upon landing.
It is crazy to think how much everything has changed and how far we’ve been moving back and forth on the axis of progress over 35 years. From Third World famine to covid-19, from a pre-globalization to a post-globalization plague, from Concorde, supersonic aircraft to airlines bankruptcies, … But what about art?
I must confess I am absolutely fed up with concerts at home and lockdown diaries and I wonder why businesses have shown so much creativity while artists seemed… dry and wiped out by teenagers on TikTok.
So where is creativity locked down these days?
1) creativity has gone somewhere else
We’ve been using the rock star qualifier in the Tech industry for years now, Dr Dre made hundreds of millions selling his startup to Apple rather than producing music.
The Pet Shop Boys (yet another 1980’s Pop Music glory) got me thinking with their last album release earlier this year. Without bitterness, the English synth-pop duo highlighted bands that disappeared in the two past decades. “Creative people are elsewhere. Often in tech. Or practicing more solitary activities. There is something about art schools too.”
With the shutdown of art venues everywhere, Epic’s Fortnite and Nintendo’s Animal Crossing, which I have been commenting on here in every Stéréo issue, have become the epicenter of many creations. It wasn’t Wembley or la Scala for sure.
We all saw this joke about who led the digital transformation in our organizations, a) CEO b) CDO c) Covid. The world of culture and its economy were for many reasons in a power balance with the digital economy and covid didn’t accelerate its transformation but scaled its weaknesses. As Woody Allen just said, we are living a strange moment in which we may not be able to support emerging Nouvelle Vague directors but in which we’ll see François Truffaut’s movies join Netflix’ voracious catalog.
2) real creativity is not on demand
But masterpieces need time. And if our 2020’s Picassos have not shown their Guernicas to the world yet, we may doubt Travis Scott’s Fornite gig last month will make history like the Live Aid did in 1985.
If there is a field of human activities that may have the benefit of the doubt and time, it is the arts for sure. And we need certainties and don’t have time these days.
Besides, the lockdown blocks the outreach, not necessarily the creation itself, which means creation might be here already but not distributed yet...
3) it is not about art, it is about artists
We are waiting for new masterworks for sure but even more for a new generation of artists.
This one may be easy and even unfair but are we still dreaming of the stars signing all the recent petitions for the environment or social justice - keeping in mind they are the same who were flaunting the marvels of consumption, air travel, luxuries and futilities of all kinds a few months ago? There is a really strong warning here.
4) creation is often prediction
Yes this is unfair. Art will always be with us to make it through hard times. Albert Camus gave us The Plague and watching The Rolling Stones zooming just like all of us at the Together At Home performance, waiting for Mick’s or Keith’s cam to switch on, was a thrill and a solace.
Art is without a doubt the strongest source of anticipation too. At Fabernovel, we’ve been working hard to benchmark all types of remote interaction designs, including Zoom, Facebook Portal or Fortnite again, looking for new types of experiences to offer in a world of distanciation. And from Star Wars’ senate to Spielberg’s metaverse in Ready Player One, I am fully convinced that the best possible experiences we are waiting for on the Internet are nesting in movies from the past.
5) creation is where coffee and cigarettes are
When I founded two of the very first coworking spaces in the US (Parisoma in SF), and in Europe (La Cantine in Paris), I was always thinking about concert venues and rehearsal rooms to envision and depict this new - at that time - type of space. Often scholars told us what we were building looked very much the same as 19th-century cafés in Vienna.
Does that mean that creation is where the crowd, coffee and cigarettes are? A bit of a cliché, maybe, but this may explain why a lockdown fosters business agility - supplying coffee or cigarettes or their substitutes, where and when needed - but drains artistic energy.
Let’s push this “sharing coffee and cigarettes” argument further to the conclusion. In a 2018 paper, Columbia Business School professor Paul Ingram and his colleague Mitali Banerjee of HEC Paris examine the role that creativity and social networks play for artists. They used MoMA’s findings on the way that the Abstraction artists, a critical period between 1910 and 1925 when Picasso, Kandinsky, Leger and many more left the tradition forever, may have influenced one another. While past studies have suggested that there is a link between creativity and fame, Ingram and Banerjee found, in contrast, that there was no such correlation for these artists. Rather, artists with a large and diverse network of contacts were most likely to be famous, regardless of how creative their art was.
In other words, to succeed as an artist, making friends may be more important than producing novel art.
If creativity lies everywhere, network effects do too.
a) the great acceleration or b) the great depression? (S)
China is leading innovation in fintech with its unique combination of overcentralized regulation and fierce startups. So much so that it is crushing all competition. Just this month, the country began trialling payments in e-RMB, its new digital currency, in four major cities and Jack Ma announced MYBank, its online bank, will issue an amazing 2 trillion yuan ($282 billion) of new loans to small and medium-sized businesses through its algorithms to fight the crisis. (S)
Here we are… As meat got scarcer during the lockdown, its price rose so much plant-based substitutes can now really compete. Link (S)
To paraphrase Peter Thiel, “we wanted flying cars, instead we got DTC brands selling you hydration mixes” (I wonder: couldn’t drinking more water be a more efficient solution?) Link (T)
Forget urban parks. Apartment parks could be the next big thing in city planning. Link (T)
We thought that VR’s moment had come… but nope. At times it looks like VR is poised to be the eternal next big technological platform. Link (T)
It’s 2020 and we still read the same horror stories of corporate innovation done poorly. After £100m thrown in to compete with Monzo, one year to build the product (with technical problems nonetheless in the end) and just 6 months after its public launch, RBS decided to shut down its digital bank Bó. I’d be surprised they learned anything at all as an organization along the way. Link (T)
Where is creativity? Again, but on the web this time. Science confirms websites all look the same now. More specifically, they look more and more alike. Link (S)
There is a lot to learn from Roomba, the vacuum cleaner robot, and its inventor, Joe Jones. One of the main reasons being their humble success while there is so much useless hype and so many failed products in robotics… Link (S)
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Edited by Stéphane Distinguin (S), Founder and CEO of Fabernovel, and Tom Morisse (T), Fabernovel alum and Knowledge Manager at Spendesk, Stéréo is a digital-oriented newsletter highlighting the main developments and weak signals affecting the world’s societies and economies.
Fabernovel is a talent company that creates digital products and services to support companies in their transformation and innovation trajectory.
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