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Tubes #2: CEO's Have Feelings, Too
In this issue: fear, greed, and subway ooze
A few folks have asked that I dedicate this week’s newsletter to TikTok’s threat of being banned nationwide over the app’s alleged security concerns, but quite frankly, I need a bit more time to percolate a take that’s different from the one I wrote three years ago. Instead, I’m going to talk about the 2001 movie Donnie Darko. Specifically, this scene:
For those that aren’t familiar with the flop-turned-cult-classic, the context is this: high schooler Donnie (played by a sulky/babyfaced Jake Gyllenhaal) is sitting in a class while his gym teacher parrots the “self-improvement” mantras of a local celebrity and beloved motivational speaker, Jim Cunningham (played to culty perfection by Patrick Swayze). Cunningham purports that every human decision can be attributed to either fear or love, since these are (allegedly) the “deepest of human emotions.” Donnie pushes back, rightfully pointing out that some decisions can’t be attributed to either option. Sometimes you’re not scared or enamored, but just exhausted. Or horny. Or depressed. You know—feelings! You remember feelings, right?
So imagine my surprise when I learned that, in fact, some decision-making can be boiled down to one of two extremes. While reading about the high-stakes tantrum happening in the wake of Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse, I stumbled onto CNN’s “Fear and Greed Index,” which the outlet developed as a barometer for stock market sentiment. The gist is that fearful investors sell stock holdings in their portfolio, which drives stock prices down—and the inverse is true for a market driven by a bunch of greedy investors.
I couldn’t tell you how good a gauge this index is—but it was never made for me, anyway. It’s made for people who read things like “The CEO Magazine,” which is an actual trade pub that dedicates a whole-ass article to understanding how “powerful” this tool actually is. Meanwhile, people in the cryptocurrency subreddit can’t stop posting about it, either to question its utility or to argue those questions mean nothing if you game the system correctly. While researching this issue, I found this blog geared towards marketers, explaining how they could use greed and fear to manipulate people into buying their products.
Even if there is a universe of human emotion, the consensus among these crowds seems to be that the almighty dollar does a good job of crushing this rainbow into two basic colors.
Against my better judgement, I skimmed this week’s announcement from Mark Zuckerberg about how his company cutting another 10,000 jobs, and noticed this somber news included the pledge that he would personally keep burning as much cash as necessary to make this whole metaverse thing pop off—which will totally happen, despite what the naysayers want you to believe.
(To wit, those naysayers include: former Oculus CTO-turned-Meta-hardware-consultant John Carmack (who left his employer in abject disgust over its VR strategy this past December), along with the remaining staff who are either using the shift as a reason to leave or reason to openly dunk on their CEO).
I want to believe Mark’s a smart guy. I also want to believe smart guys don’t spend nearly two years forging ahead with a vision that—as far as I know—has done nothing till now but hemorrhage money from a workforce that’s too busy losing their jobs to appreciate the zingers being broadcast at their expense.
It dawned on me this week that the metaverse push probably isn’t the result of some kind of machiavellian scheme—that just never made sense to me, personally. Instead, it’s the type of thing born out of a whole lot of fear, and a whole lot of greed. The second one is pretty obvious, but that first one takes some unpacking.
While the whole “Meta” brand didn’t hit the airwaves until late October 2021, Zuck’s philanthropic arm, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, had actually already been sitting on the patent for the “Meta” brand for some time. The exact patent timeline is… confusing, but the important thing to note is that the name didn’t formally change hands from its original, Canadian ownership to Zuckerberg’s greasy(?) palms until mid April, 2021—a full six months before Facebook became Meta.
That might not seem significant, but that April was also when Apple was finalizing its rollout of the iOS 14.5 update that had then-Facebook shaking in its boots. It turns out it had good reason to, since the tweak ended up costing the company tens of billions of dollars in ad revenue according to most estimates—and that fallout is still ongoing.
Regardless of how you feel about Apple’s privacy tweaks (or if you think those tweaks were about privacy at all), the important thing is that Apple owned the hardware that housed Meta’s many apps, which meant Apple could set the rules for what data could and couldn’t be collected. Technical nitty gritty aside, all Apple did was cut off access to a single identifier that was baked into their devices. Just one!
The Company Formerly Known as Facebook was particularly vulnerable to this change because, at the end of the day, it’s an app company, and you can’t have apps without hardware to run them on.
Zuck tried to roll out a Facebook phone (Facephone?) back in the mid-aughts, and it was a near instantaneous flop. The company’s later hardware efforts didn’t do much better. I, personally, only have a Portal device because the company was literally giving them away at some 2019 event—they actually offered me two (“so you can talk to your family!”) but I politely declined.
The only hardware realm where then-Facebook had any leverage was in virtual reality gear. Most estimates point to the company swallowing about three-fourths of the VR market overall. And if you’re scared about what Apple might be doing next, the only reasonable move is pivoting to wherever you have the power—even if it means you’re looking really, really dumb (and losing a ton of money) in the short term.
This week in yuck:
TikTok enters the search ad market, challenging Google and Microsoft // Search Engine Land
Boeing’s Legal Dispute: Did 737 MAX Victims Suffer Pain Before the Crash? // The Wall Street Journal
Iowa Passes Privacy Bill Backed By Tech Industry // MediaPost
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