2024ii14, Wednesday: Commonplace #4

2024ii14, Wednesday: Commonplace #4
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

A short one this time. Just three pieces, and put out quick because one of them is just... well, read it yourself.

‘I’m sorry to have to announce that my cancer situation has developed not necessarily to my advantage’: by Simon Boas. (Brought to my attention by my colleague Josh Hitchens, to whom great gratitude.)

This is how it ends. But seriously: don't tl;dr this one.

Life is inordinately precious, unlikely and beautiful. You are exquisite. When you say – as you do, 20 times a day – “I’m fine”, realise that you don’t just mean “I’m adequate”. You are FINE. Refined. Unique. Finely crafted; fine dining; fine china! You really are fine in that sense too. We say it all the time, but unknowingly we speak the truth.

We should be dazzled by our good fortune – dancing on the tables every day. And I mean to keep dancing in whatever time I have left here, and (who knows?) perhaps afterwards too.

I lost both my parents to cancer. (Like so many others - I do realise this makes me part of a pretty huge club.) I recognise some of my parents' approach in this; an acceptance of reality without in any way giving up on life. It's beautiful, despite - or perhaps because of - the context.

May every moment Simon has remaining to him be a blessing.

Review - Chris Dixon’s Read, Write, Own: by Molly White. Molly is a Living Global Treasure. A writer nonpareil about the grubby (at best) and crooked (more usually) worlds of crypto hype and hucksterism. Her blog, Citation Needed, really is required reading if this stuff is of any interest. And her regular short takes on web3 projects which - and I’m obviously shocked, shocked to find this to be happening - are going south is equally so.

Here, reviewing a book by one of the Internet‘s more shameless talkers of their own book, she’s at her best:

After three chapters in which Dixon provides a (rather revisionist) history of the web to date, explains the mechanics of blockchains, and goes over the types of things one might theoretically be able to do with a blockchain, we are left with "Part Four: Here and Now", then the final "Part Five: What's Next". The name of Part Four suggests that he will perhaps lay out a list of blockchain projects that are currently successfully solving real problems.

This may be why Part Four is precisely four and a half pages long.

And that last line may be why I want to write like Molly White when I grow up.

She continues:

...And rather than name any successful projects, Dixon instead spends his few pages excoriating the "casino" projects that he says have given crypto a bad rap, prompting regulatory scrutiny that is making "ethical entrepreneurs ... afraid to build products" in the United States.

In fact, throughout the entire book, Dixon fails to identify a single blockchain project that has successfully provided a non-speculative service at any kind of scale. The closest he ever comes is when he speaks of how "for decades, technologists have dreamed of building a grassroots internet access provider". He describes one project that "got further than anyone else": Helium. He's right, as long as you ignore the fact that Helium was providing LoRaWAN, not Internet, that by the time he was writing his book Helium hotspots had long since passed the phase where they might generate even enough tokens for their operators to merely break even, and that the network was pulling in somewhere around $1,150 in usage fees a month despite the company being valued at $1.2 billion.
Oh, and that the company had widely lied to the public about its supposed big-name clients, and that its executives have been accused of hoarding the project's token to enrich themselves. But hey, a16z sunk millions into Helium4 (a fact Dixon never mentions), so might as well try to drum up some new interest!

Read on. It's all that good.

And finally:

My McLuhan lecture on enshittification: by Cory Doctorow. I know, I know. Cory keeps popping up. But the bastard is just so prolific - and it's almost all good stuff, too. An old and trusted colleague, Mark Ward, pointed this one out to me: an expansion and continuation of the thing Cory wrote a couple of months back coining this gloriously scatological but wholly accurate term of art, and then expanding in ever-more enlightening ways like this.

This is how Cory kicked off in his talk in Berlin:

We're all living through the enshittocene, a great enshittening, in which the services that matter to us, that we rely on, are turning into giant piles of shit.
It's frustrating. It's demoralizing. It's even terrifying.
I think that the enshittification framework goes a long way to explaining it, moving us out of the mysterious realm of the 'great forces of history,' and into the material world of specific decisions made by named people – decisions we can reverse and people whose addresses and pitchfork sizes we can learn.
Enshittification names the problem and proposes a solution. It's not just a way to say 'things are getting worse' (though of course, it's fine with me if you want to use it that way. It's an English word. We don't have der Rat für englische Rechtschreibung. English is a free for all. Go nuts, meine Kerle).
But in case you want to use enshittification in a more precise, technical way, let's examine how enshittification works.
It's a three stage process: First, platforms are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.

Again, don't tl;dr this one. It's worth pushing on with. Promise.

(I don't agree with Cory on everything. Of course not! His loathing of Apple has some justification, sure; but also sometimes it tips just a wee bit over the edge. But he's never dull. And always thought-provoking, in the right way. And he writes like a dream. The git.)