Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Age Of The Individual | Lefsetz Letter

This is what the internet has wrought.

We’re used to a top-down society. One in which the elite dictate, and the hoi polloi obey. You claw your way to the top and then you’re home free, inviolate. But homey don’t play that no more.

Let’s start with the media. It decided which stories would be distributed. It decided whether there would be spin or not.

But now it’s spun out of control, because everybody’s got a voice, and they’re choosing to use it.

Gain a profile and be ready for the feedback. Anybody who regularly interacts with the public knows this. They’ll be subject to hate tweets, contradictions, insults, to the point where they’ll be questioning their opinions and their motives. You can say you don’t read bad reviews, but that would mean you’ve disconnected from the internet, which is how you achieved your fame to begin with.

It was Trump who tapped into this phenomenon first. Or was the first person to do it on a national level. Facts were irrelevant, as were norms of conversation, profanity was used, insults were okay, and the media didn’t know how to handle this. It turned out Trump had a better handle on America than the media, and certainly Hillary. They were just going along like nothing had happened, like it was all about expertise and politics was a club, meanwhile they ignored the effects of globalization and income inequality.

Trump was aided by Steve Bannon and Breitbart. Little organizations with more power than the established media outlets.

And then came Facebook, a public company wherein Mark Zuckerberg has total control. That’s about stock and voting rights. The company may be public, but it might as well be private. Mark rules.

And then we have this latest Pelosi video, created by the site “Politics Watchdog,” that most have never heard of. And suddenly, Mark is in the crosshairs, he’s been punked, he doesn’t know what to do.

This is the story of Chance the Rapper. But the truth is today’s musicians want the fruits of fame, they don’t want its power. So they buy into the ancient system to their detriment. Then again, there are those who are using streaming to their advantage, knowing that radio is where the inactive consumers live, that everything breaks on Spotify, so suddenly the dominant music genre is hip-hop, and rockers are flummoxed. Then again, they haven’t had the spirit of innovation in rock since 1999, or before, they just thought it would coast along merrily, like the Democratic brass and Hillary.

You see one person can amplify their message for free online, and they’re immune. Try to fight back. The mob will annihilate you. And you can’t sue, because these individuals are judgment proof. Send them a lawyer letter and they’ll go berserk, doubling-down with their message.

It’s an era of tumult. There’s consolidation on the internet, four or five companies in control, depending on how you count, but they have enabled the individual to have a voice.

You constantly hear Twitter is trash. Mostly by people who can’t understand the service and don’t use it. But comedians make their bones there, it’s how they stay in touch with their audience and influence others. You too can go viral if you’re in the marketplace every day. A surgical strike rarely works. And if it does… “Old Town Road” was built on Tik-Tok, and it’s gonna be one and done, no different from fidget spinners. Meanwhile, those truly impacting the culture on a regular basis are ignored until they suddenly gain mass and can’t be.

They’ve weeded out the wannabes. You were supposed to have a blog, then be on MySpace and Facebook, and you found out posting didn’t deliver the return you expected so you stopped. But not everybody. Ergo the influencers, on whatever platform they are on. Like Olivia Jade, she had an audience and you had never heard of her! And Rick Singer upended college admissions, one guy with an idea, and everybody is positively stunned that the game can be rigged, but there are holes in the admissions process just like there are holes in software, ever hear of hackers?

So this is your time. It can’t be one tweet, one post, you must play regularly. But you too can rise up and change the course of history. Yup, that’s the power of the internet.

And you cannot only disrupt negatively, but positively too. Like David Hogg and the school shooting survivors. When Laura Ingraham attacks you, you’ve won. She doesn’t realize that despite having a pulpit, she’s vulnerable, that the backlash can work against her.

Meanwhile, the media outlets reach fewer people than ever before. Ingraham reaches all of 2.6 million viewers, in a country of 300+ million, and only 515,000 are in the target demo of 25-54, the eyeballs advertisers want. Then again, it’s the older white viewers Fox appeals to who are the least internet-savvy, who don’t know the world is changing.

As the studios and the press trumpet theatrical films, none of them has the impact of “Stranger Things” on Netflix. One guy with a vision upended the entire viewing landscape, when Reed Hastings’s outfit is attacked by Steven Spielberg, you know Netflix has won. It jut makes Spielberg look old.

And the truth is most innovation no longer comes from baby boomers. Who grew up in an era without billionaires, who just did not dream big enough, who played by the rules and thought they won but it turned out they didn’t.

No one has life-long employment anymore. You’re your own brand, in the gig economy, looking to navigate your own employment path. Loyalty yields no dividends.

You’ve got to think for yourself, manage yourself, be an individual.

Isn’t it funny that the greatest success is achieved by those who don’t fit in? Wall Street can’t stop beating up on Tesla, then Dan Neil in the WSJ says Audi’s electric offering is nowhere close to those of the electric-only company. Audi shoehorned a battery pack into a gasoline platform, it didn’t start with a fresh piece of paper, and Tesla did, and eclipsed Audi.

There is a first mover advantage. Head starts do count these days. If you’re late to the party, you’re oftentimes ignored.

So today it isn’t about money, but power. Want to go up against the Koch Brothers? Don’t try to become a billionaire, you can never reach their total, agitate online. This is how Bernie almost eclipsed Hillary. By taking small amounts from everybody instead of the fat cats.

And the truth is you can win on truth or falsehood. Truth resonates with so many, but so does falsehood. But you must have passion, you cannot be a wuss, you’ve got to be willing to double-down, you’ve got to have a profile…

But then you’re subject to the same slings and arrows as the big boys (and girls!)

You can make a difference, now more than any time in history.

People don’t want to vote because it’s not empowering, they feel too far from the destination. Motivating people to play is incredibly difficult, since they have so many options. The media has anointed Biden as electable, but there’s not a single voter excited about him, and that doesn’t play in 2019.

And this is also why music has less impact than it used to. Music is hard, you’ve got to practice off the grid. But you can display your wares online as soon as you learn to read and type. And you get a faster reaction. And you don’t have to drag people to a gig, your message can spread online. You can tune it on feedback.

Everything’s gone topsy-turvy, and it’s those who recognize this who’ll win.

Fouls are nearly irrelevant. Those bad actors in Virginia? They’re still in power. The news cycle is fast, just wait it out. Don’t react, just put your head down and continue to play when the conflagration is over.

You can get what you really want, but you must try, try and try.

So instead of sitting on the couch depressed, it’s time to act.

But they keep telling you you’re powerless.

But you’re not.


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