Local Substitution, Flat Earth & Winner Take All Platforms

In RBI Baseball on Nintendo there was about a dozen different cheeseball moves a person could do to win the game. If you had runners on first and second you could run the guy from first toward second to get the second baseman to chase him down & then have the guy on second run to third and go back to second and the third baseman would throw the ball into the outfield. That would enable the man on second to score and the man on first to run to second or third. If you had a man on third you could then bunt other batters onto the bases until the bases were full.

In Techmo Bowl winning the season was easy. If you picked the New York Giants you could usually block the competing team’s point after attempts on almost every try. That single algorithmic arbitrage was usually enough to win every game.

In Madden 2003 you could usually win by choosing the Dallas Cowboys, repeatedly running a sweep play to the wide side of the field. There were also other cheesy moves you would never do in real life like pull the slot runner in motion and then have him cut through the line between the offensive linemen before throwing him the ball.

Games used to be easy.

Now the level of competition is intense because you are competing against thousands of other people who often spend many hours per day competing against thousands of other top players.

As you get better (on a relative basis) there keeps being another group of people at or above your level.

Being the best is virtually impossible. Truly a one in a million thing.

Someone in Jacksonville lost at a Madden 19 competition & then apparently went on a rampage killing others.

If you work hard at something and make it your identity, when you find out someone is better & you lose hope as your identity is torn down, what do you have left?

When an avatar becomes your identity you are already dead.

Mix in widespread use of antidepressants which increase suicidal + homicidal tendencies & there are regular rage monster stories where people die for seemingly no cause or reason.

It is no longer easy to be the best at anything unless your anything crosses disciplines or is something most people hate or do not believe in.

Being a musician who juggles, or maybe some other ridiculous combination of talents in a talent stack.

Outcomes can be quite arbitrary, all you can control is your effort and attention.

SEO was easy to be great in because most people thought it was bullshit & not real.

Then after the Panda update the barrier to entry became overwhelming for most. Mix in the Penguin update, manual link penalties, ad-heavy search results, less screen real estate & very quickly it was easy for even the devout SEO to no longer believe in SEO.

Companies which survived the first web bubble & the great recession suddenly find themselves no longer able to compete.

That is part of the story of how a billion dollar retailer which is 20 years old suddenly becomes almost a pure play on the blockchain.

Times change, networks change, life changes.

Only the blockchain endures.

It is what we do with good luck or fortune that determines how well we can handle bad luck & unforeseen circumstances.

Back when I was young I remember beating my sister’s ex-boyfriend at MarioKart & being able to dominate just about anyone I ever played. An old roommate of mine was really good when he had some of his green friend, but at his peak performance in that alternate state I still typically won. My sister’s ex-boyfriend was a few years older than me and he not only wanted to play but he also wanted to gamble. So we played for $1 and I won. Then double or nothing = $2.

After getting up to $32 (suddenly I had a career at the ripe old age of 13) he decided to do one last double or nothing. He was incredibly serious & played his absolute best. I made some major errors and he was about to beat me and owe me nothing, but in a trite & meaningless (though world-changing at the time) strike of luck I hit a turbo, jumped at an angle over a ramp & literally landed on the front of his car across the finish line to win the series on the last race.

And he actually paid the $64 he lost.

I never thought he would, but that took a lot of character for a 20s guy to pay off a 13 year old for video game gambling debts.

Now obtaining those video game gambling debts might reveal some other character issues, but he was a great guy. Anytime my mom’s car broke (usually from my brother trying to be a show off) my sister’s ex-boyfriend was an ace mechanic who could fix it.

A few years back I bought him a Wii so he could play MarioKart against me again. He took a long time to practice because he wanted to be great before he played me again. Though sadly we never connected to play online. By the time he was ready I was burned out or in flux or something. Whatever it was, I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

A few years ago (about a year before buying him a Wii) I tried playing MarioKart online on the Wii & holy crap did my  talent fall precipitously.

Winning became the exception rather than the rule.

People would cheat & find cheeseball short cuts to fall off the map & get placed ahead a half lap.

And, worse yet, some were just legitimately better than me by a country mile.



Anything short of total devotion meant accepting being happy with being at best average.

And even if I spent hours playing & my rank improved, it only meant that each race was spent facing people who were that much more intense.

I understand working that hard for work. Or playing that hard in a physical sport to keep up your health. But playing that hard & that long at a game would soon start to feel like work, shifting it from a fun escape to something one needed escape from.

Even playing at the YMCA I once got to play against a ex-NBA lottery pick who didn’t really take off in the NBA, but man could he dunk in my face. Though even when I lose badly there my longterm health is a winner. The economy as a whole is shifting away from a broad-base of Al “4 touchdowns in a single game” Bundy stories to a bunch of people who tried really hard, did their absolute best, and ultimately fell flat on their faces, with the platform monopolies or ecosystem owners ultimately taking most of the prize.

And when something really goes astray that is more news & content for the central networks.

The pervasive & persistent online monitoring allow the attention networks to learn & optimize personal manipulation on a 1:1 scale.

Whatever is most extreme is more viral. The algos give it a boost, people respond, and the algos give it another boost.

But there is a limit to how extreme you can be before you become Alex Jones.

Who wants to be paranoid like a tweaker most of their lives?

And when you get to a certain level of extremeness it becomes a form of comedy. What do you have left when you no longer believe?

Almost nobody lives the life they show on Instagram or Facebook.  And those who believe that stuff are increasingly depressed.

I still remember about a decade ago when a friend of a friend came to town and wanted to go to Las Vegas. The person who wanted to go to Vegas ended up chastising the person who took them, telling them gambling was a sin, and yet they wanted to get  a selfie in front of all the famous casinos to season their Facebook feed and show how awesome their life is. Simulacra.

Even for those who try to put on a bright face without going crazy, they still realize the fakeness to their simulacra. They’ll never be able to compete with the Facebook or Instagram version of themselves, let alone the actual “stars” working the platforms.

We will all eventually die, hopefully most of us will leave behind far more than our social media feeds & whatever ads we clicked.

I’ve screwed up a lot more than I would care to admit, but I’ve also worked hard and tried to help a lot of people along the way, even if it was often me who needed the help. Hopefully my good contributions have more than offset my stupidity, errors, bad decisions & selfish behaviors. My wife expects a lot of me, and I have done more than my fair share of cringe-inducing belly flops.

In some ways it feels like society is accelerating in an authoritarian direction where there is little incentive for alternative outcomes.

I read an interesting article about life in China:

“Living in China is not without quirks both maddening and amusing.  For instance, something as simple as standing in line in many places can devolve into a knife fight given the utter lack of restraint in cutting that is so common … There is a complete and utter lack of respect for the individual or person in China.  People do not have innate value as people simply because they exist. This leads most directly to a lack of respect for the law/rules/norms. … He was asked to speak on what is the meaning of life, perfect for a part time missionary. He said he knew what people would say having lived in China for sometime but even so was stunned at how deeply and rigidly held the belief that making money was the entire meaning of life. There was no value system.  There was no exogenously held right or wrong, only whether you made money.  With apologies to a bastardized Dostoevsky, with money as God, all is permissible. … beliefs and convictions are only manifested in adversity or when tested. … I have little idea what people in China believe but I know that if the Party ever falls, there will be more than a billion more people claiming they were closet democracy advocates. … China is a rising power but probably more importantly is a deeply illiberal, expansionist, authoritarian, police state opposed to human rights, democracy, free trade, and rule of law. … It is profoundly misguided and short sighted to view the rise of China as tension arising either purely from rising economic development in a major state or as a bilateral conflict with the United States.  China represents a clear and present threat to liberal democracies, open markets, and international system nor do they even now attempt to hide this policy. These tensions for the foreseeable future will only increase. I do not like the way Trump has handled his approach to China and the very valid concerns he raises about their practices, but I find it even more troubling the near total lack of any attempt to deal with these issue previous administrations and the surrogates have displayed for many years and continue to display.  China presents a fundamental threat to the liberal democratic order and the ignorance on display by so many is simply mind boggling.”

In some ways it feels we have some of the same sort of authoritarian & illiberal trends elsewhere.

Central bankers are discussing how their ability to bend the economy may be heavily curtailed by dominant online platforms: “competition from Amazon has led to a greater frequency of price changes at more traditional retailers like Walmart Inc., and also to more uniformity in pricing of the same items across different locations.”

Many online platforms have issues with counterfeit items & then the bigger platforms can take the aggregated audience attention to create an ad layer which further shifts the economics in their favor.

Pieces of the supply chain commoditize the compliment on their old offline partners in a way that further increases sameness of online channels & allows the central platforms to have a low cost or no cost way of further shifting attention away from an open ecosystem to a bid per click attention model.

 “Today, we’re excited to announce the launch of self-sign up for Manufacturer Center, which will allow even more brands to manage their product information across Google. Now, brands can set up their accounts in a matter of minutes and start submitting authoritative, detailed, and rich product information (including images, titles, descriptions, videos, and more) to help their products stand out in a crowded marketplace — whether shoppers are looking for inspiration, to compare products, or to make a purchase.”

The official cookie cutter version is pitched as a neutral view so the layer is homogenized & all other players are welcome to bid for a slice of the attention.

Attention spans shrink: “smartphone apps and web comprised roughly two-thirds (66%) of digital media time in April. Adding in tablets’ 8% share of time, and mobile devices are now up to three-quarters (74%) of total digital media time in the US as of April.”

Ad revenues shoot the moon: “With a strong 7.7% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2017 through 2022, online advertising will be a $127 billion market by end of the forecast period, per the report. That would make it about 70% larger than the TV advertising market at that point.”

When there is no official version, a mix of the ecosystem smooshed together in a confusing collage is sufficient to drive attention back up onto the ads.

When that is combined with enough marketshare, such rehashed simulacra becomes reality.

Entropy will eventually kill us all, but until then it is the ads you click on which define who you are as a person. 😀

The above perhaps sounds a wee bit doomerish. But maybe cracks in the central attention platforms coupled with new media formats will create lots of new opportunities for those who are great at reinventing themselves regularly. A few years ago I was surprised Twitch went for close to a billion. I still remember how Facebook paying a billion for Instagram sounded crazy and wow Google was nuts for paying almost $2 billion for YouTube.

Some of the biggest channels are already rebelling against the Google & Apple app tax.

The key is to not get buried in the sunk cost fallacy & keep sampling new things until you find one that is a good fit to run with, at least for a while.

Sites like Yahoo & AOL have been fading for over a decade & the present can seem like stasis, but things will keep on changing.

“Destruction leads to a very rough world but it also breeds creation.”

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1 Comment

  1. At some point, government will intervene (Apple/Android platform plus app store = monopoly) and then what? A healthier marketplace, or more sudden innovation to bypass that undesired outcome?

    I lament that govt leadership is so cowardly, because imho that is the root problem. Waiting is a fool’s game, being played by fools while those platform monopolies take all the cash. Even they can’t believe how easy it is…which explains why they simply raid it rather than develop it.

    The people “resisting” are fostering the foolishness, putting us at risk.

    China has the same problem but much less acute, and at much larger scale…with a serious threat of social instability providing justification for longer term commitment to a vision. This is why Chinese govt leaders do not appear to be cowardly…their system can trim the tree of errant branches easily, to keep moving “forward”, with support of enough participants in one game.

    Trump & Co. understand this. Their problem is internal to US, and China knows this very well, hence the state involvement in deeply placed spies throughout American industry.

    Change is painful, the way pulling off a band aid is painful. Infections that result from no bandage can be lethal…as can those associated with a bandage left in place for too long.

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