Noah interviews @pmarca

Am not doing quote blocks on this one – it’s so long. Everything under is quoted from the interview. Recommended.

“M.A.: My “software eats the world” thesis plays out in business in three stages:

A product is transformed from non-software to (entirely or mainly) software. Music compact discs become MP3’s and then streams. An alarm clock goes from a physical device on your bedside table to an app on your phone. A car goes from bent metal and glass, to software wrapped in bent metal and glass.

The producers of these products are transformed from manufacturing or media or financial services companies to (entirely or mainly) software companies. Their core capability becomes creating and running software. This is, of course, a very different discipline and culture from what they used to do

As software redefines the product, and assuming a competitive market not protected by a monopoly position or regulatory capture, the nature of competition in the industry changes until the best software wins, which means the best software company wins. The best software company may be an incumbent or a startup, whoever makes the best software.

My partner Alex Rampell says that competition between an incumbent and a software-driven startup is “a race, where the startup is trying to get distribution before the incumbent gets innovation”. The incumbent starts with a giant advantage, which is the existing customer base, the existing brand. But the software startup also starts with a giant advantage, which is a culture built to create software from the start, with no need to adapt an older culture designed to bend metal, shuffle paper, or answer phones.

As time passes, I am increasingly skeptical that most incumbents can adapt. The culture shift is just too hard. Great software people tend to not want to work at an incumbent where the culture is not optimized to them, where they are not in charge. It is proving easier in many cases to just start a new company than try to retrofit an incumbent. I used to think time would ameliorate this, as the world adapts to software, but the pattern seems to be intensifying. A good test for how seriously an incumbent is taking software is the percent of the top 100 executives and managers with computer science degrees. For a typical tech startup, the answer might be 50-70%. For a typical incumbent, the answer may be more like 5-7%. This is a huge”

[…]the true productive potential of the internet is only getting started, and that the pandemic will end up having pushed us to develop more distributed systems of production — much like when electricity allowed factories to switch from a single drive train to multiple independently powered workstations a century ago.

Packy on remote work: Remote work worked under the extreme duress of a pandemic, with all of the human impact of lockdowns and children unable to go to school and people being unable to see their friends and extended families. It will work even better out of COVID.

I think they all miss a more fundamental point, which is that crypto represents an architectural shift in how technology works and therefore how the world works.That architectural shift is called distributed consensus — the ability for many untrusted participants in a network to establish consistency and trust. This is something the Internet has never had, but now it does, and I think it will take 30 years to work through all of the things we can do as a result. Money is the easiest application of this idea, but think more broadly — we can now, in theory, build Internet native contracts, loans, insurance, title to real world assets, unique digital goods (known as non-fungible tokens or NFTs), online corporate structures (such as digital autonomous organizations or DAOs), and on and on.

Peter Thiel has made the characteristically sweeping observation that AI is in some sense a left wing idea — centralized machines making top-down decisions — but crypto is a right wing idea — many distributed agents, humans and bots, making bottom-up decisions. I think there’s something to that. Historically the tech industry has been dominated by left wing politics, just like any creative field, which is why you see today’s big tech companies so intertwined with the Democratic Party. Crypto potentially represents the creation of a whole new category of technology, quite literally right wing tech that is far more aggressively decentralized and far more comfortable with entrepreneurialism and free voluntary exchange. If you believe, as I do, that the world needs far more technology, this is a very powerful idea, a step function increase in what the technology world can do.

In what ways did the dreams of the 1990s techies come true? And in what ways were they dashed on the rocks of reality? When we think back on the 90s, how should we remember that era, and what ideas from that era should we hold on to? M.A.: It worked! The dreams came true; it all worked. And now we’re the dog that caught the bus. What do we do with this damned bus? Think about what we’ve done. Five billion people are now carrying networked supercomputers in their pockets. Anyone in the world can create a website and publish anything they want, can communicate with anyone or everyone, can access virtually any information that has ever existed. People live, work, learn, and love almost entirely online. Virtually all of the constituent components of the vision of the 1990s have come literally true. And yet, and yet. As Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, once said, “I didn’t say you’re all going to be happy. You’ll be unhappy – but in new, exciting, and important ways.”

Economist William Nordhaus long ago showed that 98% of the economic surplus created by a new technology is captured not by its inventor but by the broader world

The Internet Eats Up Less Energy Than You Might Think – NYT

[…]Telefónica and Cogent, which have reported data traffic and energy use for the Covid year of 2020. Telefónica handled a 45 percent jump in data through its network with no increase in energy use. Cogent’s electricity use fell 21 percent even as data traffic increased 38 percent.

An analysis published on Thursday suggests technology is not an environmental villain. One of the authors is Eric Masanet, a former researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.Credit…Erica Urech for The New York Times

Tarantino and Foster Wallace on pop culture

Pop culture is what America has instead of mythology.

This is something David Foster Wallace talked about in interviews. How many people were shaped by TV culture and how that became the glue in many social circles.

“In fact, pop-cultural references have become such potent metaphors in U.S. fiction not only because of how united Americans are in our exposure to mass images but also because of our guilty indulgent psychology with respect to that exposure. Put simply, the pop reference works so well in contemporary fiction because (1) we all recognize such a reference, and (2) we’re all a little uneasy about how we all recognize such a reference.”

David Foster Wallace

Arnold Kling on the book meta of 2021

Some book titles in 2021, in chronological order.
February. Adam Grant, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know

March. Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, Minds Wide Shut: How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us

April. Julia Galef, The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t

May. Cass Sunstein, Daniel Kahneman, and Oliver Sibony. Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment

June. Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth

September. Steven Pinker, Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters

More in the post.

Work culture is changing

Expect to read more about this issue in the coming years. Sam Harris talked to Jason Fried on his podcast about this. All-In has talked about it. Coinbase is making its own media house to get around the traditional media. A16Z, a venture capital company is doing the same.

The message is clear – we are here to work on our mission nothing else and we cant have others speaking for us. The Guardian’s Jonathan Liew touched on the same issue when Osaka boycotted the French Open press conference. “Athletes now have their own direct line to the public, and spoiler: it’s not us”. Companies are doing the same.

Matt Taibbi writes:

At cryptocurrency firm Coinbase, employees demanded that CEO Brian Armstrong make a statement in support of Black Lives Matter. Armstrong, for a while, demurred. Then some employees and executives began what Wired called a “virtual walkout,” in which “senior engineers encouraged junior staff to close their laptops in solidarity.”

Armstrong quickly got religion, or so it seemed. He went on Twitter to announce, “I want to unequivocally say that Black Lives Matter.” Then, within weeks, Armstrong and Coinbase leadership flipped completely, announcing that the firm would no longer engage in “social activism,” and any employee who didn’t like the new policy could get the fuck out.

Coinbase offered 4-6 months of severance (depending on service time) and six months of COBRA, in a statement saying — in the thickest corporate sarcasm — that the arrangement could be a “win-win” for the politically minded, as “life is too short to work at a company you’re not excited about.” Only about 60 of the company’s 1,200 employees took the buyout.

At another tech firm, Basecamp, CEO Jason Fried — long the owner of a rep as a progressive corporate leader, as his company has published five books on workplace culture — put the kibosh on controversial talk at work, banning “societal and political discussions.” Shopify, an e-commerce firm that broke ground after the January 6th riots by closing online stores tied to Trump or MAGA merchandise, has now become a symbol of corporate pushback. CEO Tobi Lütke just sent an email to employees explaining that work is not life and life is not work, and employee demands should be adjusted accordingly:

Shopify, like any other for-profit company, is not a family. The very idea is preposterous. You are born into a family. You never choose it, and they can’t un-family you. It should be massively obvious that Shopify is not a family but I see people, even leaders, casually use terms like “Shopifam” which will cause the members of our teams (especially junior ones that have never worked anywhere else) to get the wrong impression. The dangers of “family thinking” are that it becomes incredibly hard to let poor performers go. Shopify is a team, not a family…

Shopify is also not the government. We cannot solve every societal problem here.

Will Apple Mail threaten the newsletter boom? – Platformer

Long ago, email marketers began including invisible pixels in the emails they send you; when you open their messages, those pixels load, telling the sender that you read their message, and might also infer your location from your IP address.

Collectively, the percentage of people that actually open emails is known as the open rate, and it’s one of the most important metrics that senders measure to gauge the effectiveness of what they’re doing. It gives you a sense of how engaged your audience is, and how that engagement is changing over time.

Apple is stopping that. And they are big enough so that the open rate number will no longer be accurate and will thus die.

For those who don’t work in digital marketing. This is going to upend many KPI’s and will be disruptive for many businesses.
There is a larger trend going now where many businesses will have to change the numbers they have guided by for a long time. GDPR and Schrems 2 is changing marketing – short-term difficult for businesses, long-term good for users.