Brian Willis

Addiction Culture

Ted Gioia writing at The Honest Broker:

The tech platforms aren’t like the Medici in Florence, or those other rich patrons of the arts. They don’t want to find the next Michelangelo or Mozart. They want to create a world of junkies—because they will be the dealers.

Addiction is the goal.

I don’t have a lot to add to this great post, except to say that this worries me too. I used to read considerably more than I do now, but I find that long-form writing is hard to stick with these days.

Last year, I did a month where each day I’d set a timer for a half hour and force myself to read without distractions. I was surprised by how much I grew to resent this exercise. As the month wore on I started to dread doing it. I did make it over the finish line, but didn’t create a new daily habit as I had hoped I would.

There’s a re-wiring of our brains that’s happening here, and it’s not good for us.

The Most Scathing Book Reviews of 2023

Before we get into this, I’m reminded of Anton Ego’s monologue in the movie Ratatouille in which he says:

We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

Now with that hand-wringing out of the way, let’s move on the the review of Paris Hilton’s memoir:

Now, in her early 40s, she has published a memoir, which for ephemeral, unreflective celebrities like her is usually a way of fending off imminent obsolescence. The book—ventriloquized by Joni Rodgers, who describes herself as a ‘story whisperer’—is as vapid and vaporous as the fragrances Hilton sells; all the same, archaeologists may one day consult it in the hope of understanding how and why our species underwent a final mutation into something glossily post-human.

“Ventriloquized” made me laugh out loud. It’s no surprise that most of these books were ghost-written.

On Prince Harry’s book Spare:

But for a title written explicitly in the cause of securing sympathy and understanding for its so-called author, boy, does it misfire. It’s not only that Harry is so petulant: a man who thinks nothing, even now, of complaining about the bedroom he was allotted for his summer hols in Granny’s castle. With every page, his California makeover grows less convincing.

It goes on and on like this, and shows you how much of the literary world has been hijacked by celebrities looking to advance an agenda or make a quick buck.


The AI team at Meta has announced the introduction of Cicero—an intelligent agent that plays (and usually wins) at the game of Diplomacy. For those unfamiliar, Diplomacy works like the board game Risk with an added step of negotiating in natural language at the start of each turn. Players have to coordinate and build trust with one another, which is where this development shifts from impressive to concerning.

Meta is not a particularly trustworthy company, and spending their R&D dollars on building more manipulative agents does not bode well for the rest of us. They already A/B test the life out of their products to maximise engagement, but can you imagine an AI designed to build trust with you? This would be too easy to abuse.

What Comes After Instagram

Pro photographer Peter McKinnon posted a great video on his YouTube channel about how photographers like him aren’t being served well by Instagram any longer. I won’t rehash the outrage brought on by the Instagram team’s incremental changes to the app over the years, but starting with the algorithmic timeline in 2016 it’s been clear that their priorities are out of whack with their longest-serving community members.

McKinnon talks about how back in the day he’d post to a self-run blog, but that was cumbersome and hard to get eyeballs on, so he started posting to Instagram instead. All was good for a while, with a steadily increasing follower count and hundreds of thousands of likes on each post, and then Instagram’s priorities shifted and the attention he received dropped off sharply. He then goes on to say that he’s shifting his attention to Vero, one of the smaller upstarts in the social media space.

I’ll give it to you straight—Vero isn’t coming to save you. If you’re a creator who cares about building an audience, social media sites shouldn’t be treated as any more than the first step of the sales funnel. You have to meet your customer where they are, and right now they’re all on Instagram and TikTok, so by all means have accounts there; but as we’ve been saying in the tech industry for year’s now, you have to own your bits. Start that blog, maintain a mailing list, write your own app, do something that can’t be controlled by someone who isn’t you. Otherwise, you’ll always be beholden to the whims of platform owners.

The 512KB Club

This project reminds me of the web back in the mid-90’s when Yahoo was all the rage. A lot of people remember Yahoo as a search engine, but it began life as an index—literally a human-compiled list of sites organised by hand. You’d type in your search terms, and each link that you got back would include a one or two sentence description that a Yahoo employee had written.

The 512KB Club is a similarly compiled list, requiring each site to have an uncompressed payload of less than 512KB. The web’s become a slow and bloated place, and this sort of thing should be encouraged.

I go back-and-forth on whether this site should keep using Adobe TypeKit and Google Analytics. Is the performance cost really worth it? As time has gone on and more people have started using ad-blockers, including Google Analytics has become increasingly pointless.