Culture-tech notes, 2020 book project, my new essay

Welcome to the first Cybercultural newsletter of 2020! My intention with the newsletter going forward is to be your curator for culture-tech innovation and ideas, as well as update you regularly about my own writing activities.

I also want to make Cybercultural easier to consume this year. Your email inboxes are busy enough as it is, so I’ll try to make this a conversational and relatively informal newsletter. For that reason, I’ll be posting any long-form writing I do during 2020 to my personal website ricmac.org (and will link to it here). Okay, let’s get to the updates…


First essay of 2020 ✍️

One of my goals for 2020 is to write a series of essays about tech and culture. I’ve just published my first such essay: The internet’s impact on culture.

I wrote this essay to try and figure out what Marc Andreessen meant when he recently said this:

“It feels like the internet’s impact on culture is just beginning. A world in which culture is based on the internet, which is what I think is happening, is just the very start. Right, ’cause it had to get universal before it could set the culture.”

Have a read of my essay and let me know if you think I came up with the right answers…


Noteworthy 👀

Here are some culture-tech articles that caught my attention this month.

  1. Quibi at CES 📱

This year’s CES in Las Vegas was “land of the concept” according to The Verge’s roundup. The only culture-tech product that stood out to me was Quibi, the much hyped new streaming service that will feature “10-minute-or-less ‘quick bites’ of content.” However as The Verge reported, there isn’t much to see yet:

But Quibi didn’t come to Las Vegas with an app to demo. Instead, it used its time in the spotlight to show off its Turnstyle technology, which allows viewers to seamlessly switch between portrait and landscape modes for access to a different point of view. Quibi’s supposed to launch on April 6th, so it’ll presumably have an app to show the world before then.

  1. Billie Eilish & the streaming era 🎹

According to Billboard, 18-year old Grammy winner Billie Eilish is “the New Model for Streaming Era Success.” That may be so, but I was glad to see she still values the album format:

Though Eilish grew up in the golden age of streaming -- she hit the 1 billion mark before even dropping a full-length project, and has now garnered 3.79 billion on-demand U.S. streams (through the week ending April 25), according to Nielsen Music -- she values “whole pieces of art.”

I also enjoyed this BuzzFeed article, Is Billie Eilish Really That “Weird”?.

  1. BuzzFeed & the future of TV 📺

Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed Founder & CEO, published an intriguing look at his company’s strategy for the coming year. Particularly noteworthy from a culture-tech perspective was Peretti positioning BuzzFeed as “the ideal complement to the streaming [tv] services.” BuzzFeed is a curator of the Internet, said Peretti, “and soon every show and movie will be part of the Internet.”

BuzzFeed also wants to “pioneer new forms of interactive video” as part of its original video programming push, so it’s trying to have its cake and eat it too. But I think it’s smart to try and be a curator for the ocean of streaming tv and movie content available now.

  1. Nicholas Carr on “content collapse” 🧠

Technology author Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains was a 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist, recently posted an interesting theory to his blog:

Content collapse, as I define it, is the tendency of social media to blur traditional distinctions among once distinct types of information — distinctions of form, register, sense, and importance. As social media becomes the main conduit for information of all sorts — personal correspondence, news and opinion, entertainment, art, instruction, and on and on — it homogenizes that information as well as our responses to it.

It’s another reminder that we shouldn’t rely on social media as a funnel for cultural content.


My 2020 book project 📚

Earlier this month I announced I have started a new book project:

I’m now up to 8,552 words and well into Chapter 2. I’m not yet ready to say what the subject of the book is, but I can tell you it’s nonfiction and at the intersection of technology and culture.

I’ll reveal more about the book in later newsletters. For now, I’ll continue status #amwriting and keep that word count ticking over…


Consume This! 🍽️

Some content recommendations for you, to finish up…

Podcasts to try:

  • Marlon and Jake Read Dead People is “a podcast hosted by the Man Booker Prize-winning and internationally bestselling author Marlon James and his editor, Jake Morrissey, Executive Editor at Riverhead Books.” I just listened to episode one and it’s pretty fun.

  • Function with Anil Dash is “a podcast about how technology is shaping culture and communications.” Anil is internet-famous and a very smart guy I used to know in web 2.0.

  • The Press Box; this Ringer podcast has been around for a while, but it’s only recently become a must-listen to me, for its “luke-warm takes on media” and its sense of humour.

Book of the month:

Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts; by Clive James

I read this over the Christmas break. It’s a long book, but an essential overview of 20th century culture. James is one of my favourite cultural commentators, and he sadly passed away last year. But his legacy lives on.


See you all next month! Do reach out by email or on social media if you have any content suggestions, or just want to touch base.