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The decline of mass media
It was somewhat fitting that Forbes did the job of unmasking Beff Jezos, the anonymous X account that became the avatar of a strain of techno optimism called e-acceleration, or e-acc. It is positioned as the antidote to effective altruism, the creed espoused by Sam Bankman-Fried and now lumped in with all kinds of supposed enemies of progress, from AI safety researchers to possibly George Soros.
Forbes itself is an avatar of Old Media, a now faded magazine era star, with an aggressive business model that, like it or not, embodies a lot of what many legacy brands need to do. The profile of Beff as Guillaume Verdon, a quantum computing engineer, is interesting and pertinent. After all, if we are to take the high priests of AI literally and seriously, they are on the cusp of remaking society. We should know who they are, what they believe and what they want.
Beff has become an influential figure, far beyond their 67,000 X followers. Influential people subscribe to what Beff’s goal “to increase the scope and scale of civilization as measured in terms of its energy production and consumption.” Along the way, they aim to “solve culture through engineering” with a memeable religion that worships technological progress.
Depending on your persuasion, this sounds inspiring or completely ludicrous, but The Information Space is filled with these kinds of characters: individuals who on their own hold incredible sway, even if they’re anonymous social media accounts. Look at what Lit is building with Litquidity. The information Space will only accelerate, as AI tools flood the zone with synthetic content. The existing loss of trust in institutional media will accelerate, even if by no fault of its own. There are too many operators in the Information Space with vested interests to decry the influence of institutional media.
The transition from analog to digital was rough for publishers, but the deconstruction of mass media is likely to be far more painful, with far more casualties. The continued fallout at Sports Illustrated from its ham-handed use of AI to create SEO chum is indicative of the pickle publishers find themselves in. On a recent episode of People vs Algorithms, Troy defended the attempt to “augment” humans as inevitable if not executed to perfection. Maybe. Seems the 5-Hour Energy guy doesn’t agree, since he blasted staff: “The amount of useless stuff you guys do is staggering.” (He also goes after PowerPoint, and I see no lies.) Two top execs have departed.
There’s a larger issue here than vendor selection. We are on the cusp of a tsunami of crap being unloaded on the world. The trust issues that persist will grow far worse. Of all the set of bad choices, I can’t think of a much worse one that to try to compete on this front. Simple economics are that as the supply of fake stuff goes up, the value of the real should go up as it achieves a degree of scarcity.
The Information, which celebrated its 10th birthday this week, is a good example. Tech journalism has gone through vast changes since Jessica Lessin launched the publication. It was clear about its differentiation by relying on well-reported scoops. People will need and value reliable information, particularly when it's about lucrative business sectors. That’s not going to change.
I can understand trying to extend the pageview game for as long as possible and lean on updated playbooks from the scale era of churnalism. That said, it’s hard for me to see a long-term workable model that puts at its center the act of attracting visitors to webpages to expose them to advertising. That will be a shrinking part of just about every media business model.
Instead, many publishers will need to confront the need to get smaller and more focused. The year of efficiency has given way to a more-with-less era. The Information Space will mean far more publishers, with far different businesses. Better to look at the situation prior to mass media to understand the direction we’re heading. In 1850, for instance, America had a newspaper for every 9,000 people. And that was with the need for an expensive printing press. Now do that with AI. Publishers need to prepare for a world of infinite content, and the inevitable effect that has on marketplace dynamics.
Elon Musk isn’t wrong when he talks about X as a competitor of institutional media. Everything and everyone competes for attention and influence in the Information Space, whether a legacy magazine brand, newspaper, newsletter, degen X account, full-stack creator, you name it.
Verdon is a good example. His media created influence that has attracted $14 million in funding for Verdon’s AI startup. That’s a better business model than creating content to catch the eye of Google’s algorithms and show some autoplay video ads above the fold and running awards programs.
Conspirituality, Celebrity, E-Acc vs Decels, GTA
Troy, Alex and I discuss the rise of conspirituality, as people struggle to cope with a world that’s accelerating faster and gyrating more than in memory. We live in an age of cults, narratives and fleeting fame. Centralization is giving way to a fragmented culture and media landscape that is open, chaotic and not for the faint of heart. This week, we explore the fault lines of the Information Space.
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