📰 American Idle — Remains of the Day
Full Title: American Idle — Remains of the Day
The barrier to entry in editing video is really high as anyone who has used a non-linear editor like Premiere or compositing software like After Effects can attest. TikTok abstracted a lot of formerly complex video editing processes into effects and filters that even an amateur can use.
YouTube has launched almost no creator tools of note ever. WTF.
One day, the conditions are finally right, and an idea that has failed ten times before suddenly breaks out. Sometimes it's a tweak in execution, maybe it's an advance in complementary or enabling technology, sometimes it's a cultural shift.
If you think of a company as an organism, and new employees as new brain cells, it's staggering how many join the company and begin from an absolute cold start. It's as if the company has chronic amnesia. What has the company learned from its past, what is its culture? When employees take months or even years to get up to speed at a company, companies should be embarrassed. Instead, it's treated as normal.
The toughest job for any creative is the cold start. The blinking cursor on the blank page in a new document. Granted, writing a tweet, or even shooting an Instagram photo, isn't like composing the great American novel. But we tend to underrate the extent to which new users often churn without having ever posted anything to a social network because we only focus on those who do.
The internet writ large has always been fertile ground for the accelerated breeding of memes (cue toothless old prospector: "Back in my day sonny boy we had to spread memes via email chain letters"). But the TikTok app is perhaps the most evolved meme ecosystem to date.
Once we all live in the metaverse, this type of infinite replication and remixability will be something we take for granted, but even now, we're starting to see an early version of it on TikTok. This type of native remixability feels like it will be table stakes in future creative networks.
TikTok is a mix of a centrally planned economy and a free market, much like many multiplayer video games where the game publisher manages the price and availability of various assets like weapons and armor while the players put them to use in the virtual economy.
I often lament when I refer to as fortune cookie Twitter, and to combat this, I think Twitter should set up a GPT-3 bot that constantly trains on each account, and the moment most of your followers can no longer distinguish between the GPT-3 spoof of your account and your actual account, you should be forced to vacate your account and allow the GPT-3 bot to replace you. You will have literally become a parody of yourself.
TikTok's "OODA loop" is collective and distributed, and it spins thousands of times faster than that of big media.
The reason to design your primitives with the utmost elegance is to maximize combinatorial optionality.
Can you program human movement with music? It turns out you can. You use an API called TikTok. That's delightful.
Whereas Instagram is performative, TikTok is performative and self-aware. It’s not that any single creator is self-aware, but that the Greek chorus in the comments will descend on anyone with the slightest bit of hubris like a pack of harpies.
TikTok is entertainment Cheetos. Each video requires so little cognitive exertion and reaches its climax so quickly that it feels like we could keep watching forever, each punch line scored to the most satisfying bass drop or stanza from every pop song. TikTok delivers dopamine hits with a metronomic rhythm, and as soon as we swipe up the previous one melts in our memory.
It is algorithms that may be tearing us apart. But maybe it's also algorithms that reassemble us, albeit in smaller unit sizes. 330M Americans feel like too large an optimal governance size if we're going to let social media algorithms just run amok, but I find some comfort sometimes when I find some TikTok that feels so catered to my tastes that it must be a micro-niche and then see it has millions of likes.
I'm an easy mark for the sort of wry, sometimes savage humor of TikTok, especially when it skews almost post-modern in its awareness of its own form. It's both a community that constantly tries to legislate its own social norms of decency—any video of someone making fun of how they look using a supposed beauty filter will be flooded with comments like "You're a queen", the comments section being sort of a rolling floor vote on what the acceptable response is—and also a bloodbath of Gen Z violence. The kids will be alright, but that's in part because they're savage. Every generation learns it has to fend for itself.