Greg's Newsletter Listens to Everything at Once [No. 063]

Introducing New Music Tuesdays.

After digging into social media, social capital, and some areas I want to explore this year in my previous two newsletters, I wanted to have a little change of pace this time.

Two of my favorite Texas artists have tamed up for… dusty funk soul? IDK. Listen to what I mean here.

First: some music. In past years, I've created ongoing Spotify playlists of favorite music discoveries—new stuff, new finds, classics, whatever. Sometimes they’ve been monthly. Sometimes they've been ongoing playlists running the whole year (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019).

This year, I'm going it differently. I’ll have a playlist that’s updated once-a-week, every week on Tuesday. Consider it a part of your weekly Spotify experience. You have your Discover Weekly on Monday. Release Radar on Friday. And Hot Sauce Selects every Tuesday. So be sure to drop in and check out week #3 and subscribe to this playlist (AND CHECK BACK EVERY TUESDAY).

Now: how about some interesting things!

An interview with Spotify founder/CEO Daniel Ek on the future of audio (in podcast form, naturally). I suspect there are readers of the newsletter with strong (and probably very accurate!) thoughts about the role of Spotify and the economics of streaming for artists.

Those feelings aside, I've become infatuated with the concept of always-on/ubiquitous audio—and wrote about it in October. One thing that struck me about Ek's perspective is that (paraphrasing) he considers the car a third and final space for innovation in audio, after the connected device and the home. I'm really excited to see new audio interfaces and experiences take hold.

Every Noise at Once: This site is one the cooler examples of data + art that exists on the internet. It's an algorithmically-generated scatterplot of 3,847 "genre-shaped distinctions" by Spotify. Please click through to understand the scale. Words don’t do it justice. But it's super fun to click around and hear examples of genres that you didn't know exist but are definitely glad exist.

Fluxwork? Hurdy-gurdy? Lovecraftian metal? So much music.

A comedian's fued with *SNL'*s Michael Che. Comedian Jack Allison has had an odd relationship with Michael Che of SNL and one of the co-hosts of "Weekend Update." It's odd, in that Che kind of seems obsessed with trying to bully Allison. Allison's write-up covers power dynamics, a retread show with a retread POV, the comedy business, and the role of social media in... like... everything. But I was struck by a different point he made.

There's a current in comedy (typically from male comics like Seinfeld and Chappelle) that decries cancel culture. And they apply that to their craft and audiences and publicly state that they can't say what they want to say anymore (ugh! what about free speech!). This is all in fear of cancel-driven backlash.

But Allison makes a pretty outstanding point: "As much as comedians like to fashion themselves as high-minded pontificators of the notion of free speech, this is more about creating a safe space for rich professional comedians to do their material without hearing any complaints."

That's it for now! Actually, wait. Shoutout to Texas for being the worst offender in creating transportation-based greenhouse gas emissions.

Everything's bigger in Texas!

Urban planning at its finest!

Even our carbon footprint!

Greg's Newsletter Has High Tech Soul [No. 062]

Revisiting thoughts on social capital and social media.

In my last newsletter, I brought up my Political Science "final paper" at UChicago (consider it a "diet thesis"). It was on the impact that social media has—or rather, could have—on America's supposedly declining stock of social capital. Basically: can social media (or, expanded further, can digital media) replace or augment the connections, places, and space that exist IRL in a meaningful way?

It was completed in 2011, so academic research on what we now all agree on as the big social networks, from Facebook to Twitter, was sparse. A lot of attention and writing had focused on online forums and Second Life.

What is social capital?

Let me back up, though: social capital is a social science concept to describe the "networks of relationships among people who live in work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively." There are two types of social capital:

  1. Bonding social capital: the connections within a group or community characterized by high levels of similarity in demographics, attitudes, resources etc. These are your close relationships to family, friends, etc. If you're in a bind, it's the bonding social capital that you tap into for help (you're going to ask a family member for a loan, not an acquaintance of a co-worker).

  2. Bridging social capital: connections that link people across a cleavage that typically divides society (race, class, religion, etc), associations that "bridge" communities, groups, and organizations. Bridging social capital is what you leverage to get a new job (after you ask a friend to refer you to their old colleague at the company you want to work for).

There has been a supposedly declining stock of social capital—specifically bridging social capital—in America, according to social scientist Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone (2000). It’s the bridging kind of social capital that creates value in society, in communities, and in individual lives. It’s aggregator or glue that enables trust, information flow, and various shared understandings of the world.

Social media and social capital

Simplifying Putnam's case (which has its fair share of criticisms): generations of yesteryear were active in social clubs, civic organizations, unions, bowling leagues, card nights, and other formal/informal gatherings as a regular part of their everyday lives. Since about the 1970’s, participation in that realm of live has declined. And again, the argument goes, the connections forged in those contexts are what make individuals, communities, and society thrive.

What I wanted to know was: could social media augment that decline? When I asked that question in 2010, we hadn’t yet seen the full mobile revolution so it was clearly prior to when social platforms went mobile-first. I was basically asking: can desktop-experienced social media augment America's declining stock of social capital?

The appropriate answer, based on the limited academic research out at that point, was: yeah, maybe. It certainly could! Looking back, I sometimes think of that as a cop out answer, but it was accurate. The potential exists for people to create meaningful relationships and connections with people in digitally mediated or social media contexts. Whether that could replace or augment a declining stock of social capital was a different story then, as I think it is now.

What now?

These days, I find myself less interested in approaching the topic exactly how I did 10 years ago. Instead, I'm thinking more and more about the sense of place, space, and community enabled by social media and/or digital media (I'm not sure quite yet how to disentangle those two and how that changes the nature of what I want to look into, so for now I'll use them together).

The convergence of technologies like AR/VR, 5G connectivity, ubiquitous computing, and always-on audio are about to open up a world—literally and figuratively—of new "places" to interact with other people and entities, real or created. Digital third places to hang out. Audio-only environments to passively or actively participate.

Will it be good? Bad? Neutral? Yes! I don’t know. But it’s going to be wild.

OK, that's it for that dry ass writing. How about a music/film reco? You should watch High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music (2006).

It's retrospective of the birth and growth of techno, with interviews with the big three (Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson) and the rest of the big players in Detroit techno history, from Carl Craig to Mike Banks. Techno is inherently a Detroit artform and High Tech Soul goes deep into techno's cultural, environmental, and musical roots.

The latter part of this doc covers how Detroit techno was exported to Europe and how that, in turn, brought new influences back to the states. Interesting to note when this came out (2006), well before the awful EDM trend (and the rock star-ification of the DJ). There are a few other Detroit techno documentaries that have come out since that I plan to watch, but was interested in this specific moment in time.

Also: "high tech soul" is such a great phrase.

Aight. That's it.

Greg's Newsletter Tries Sensemaking [No. 061]

In which we're starting to work it out...

I've been thinking a lot about my worldview, the frameworks and metaphors that I use to make sense of everything, and how I might better formalize some of that. There's this concept of "sensemaking" (the process by which people give meaning to their collective experiences) that I think I'm undergoing.

Life is a pretty messy place and the world is pretty damn unorganized, but it's helpful to be able to think in certain ways! (Profound af, I know).

I've realized I spend more time trying to identify frameworks and metaphors (that other people use) instead of working on my own. This has implications for the work I do (creative technology, trend forecasting, figuring out what's next) but also just, like, life, man.

So I'm going to spend the next few editions of this newsletter articulating some of that stuff. Disclaimer: this might start veering into #very #serious territory and lack some of the levity of my other writing, but I will do my best not to make this too academic.

In addition to frameworks and metaphors, I've also been grappling with the tension between:

  • Reflecting on the past, living out dreams/hopes, and building on top of the ideas, materials, experiences that I've developed beforehand

  • Letting go of the past—past expectations, dreams of yesteryear—and having a "clean break," so to speak

I think there's room for both, of course. But lately I've found myself rediscovering my old music collection, wanting to buy sneakers that I didn't have but really wanted growing up, and wanting to freshen up on some of the books I read in college, for example. And that has included revisiting some of the thinking and writing I actually did in college which, actually, might be a pretty good jump off point for what I’m trying to make sense of.

As a refresher: I’m in communications. I have a particular interest and specialty in social media. And an utter fascination with how technology impacts how people communicate with each other, and how emergent communication habits intersect, inform, and drive technological change. How the history and future of art and creation is inextricably linked to technology. And the future, writ large. I have always been like this, for better and for worse.

I wrote my final Political Science paper at the University of Chicago on the impact that social media has—or rather, could have—on America's supposedly declining stock of social capital. Basically: can social media (or, expanded further, can digital media) replace or augment the connections, places, and space that exist IRL in a meaningful way?

So that's going to be my jumping off point for the next edition of the newsletter. Social capital. Digital media. And what I want to build on top of that—or perhaps break away towards—is thinking on digital third places and synthetic media.

As far as the metaphors and frameworks I spoke of at the top: earlier in 2019, I started thinking about my worldview—how I process things, do things, think about things, make things happen—as a sort of mixtape. Maybe that will stick. Maybe it won't. But I'm going to find out.


Til next time.

Greg's Newsletter Wears AirPods [No. 060]


Hi pals,

Good to be back in the writing saddle. Just spent 10 days in Michigan, splitting time between Detroit and Ann Arbor and I have to say: it was glorious. Between catching up with friends and co-workers, spending time at my Dad's, and then a weekend with Rachel and the crew in A2, going out, tailgating, and generally smiling, I'm still invigorated.

Having a crisp fall day on Saturday to watch Michigan play was a cherry on top—the quality of Michigan's actual on-field play is quite a different story, despite the win. That's my life update for this one, but now, for the stuff that's been on my mind.

I'm still wildly concerned about the ongoing issues at the intersection of technology and society/culture, including privacy, (threats to) democracy, surveillance, and more.

You know, the really fun stuff to think about as I'm asking Alexa to turn my lights to “party mode” or running a home security system that still alerts me every time I enter the kitchen, which, like, come on dude, I know that I'm entering the kitchen (I need to work on setting adjustments).

But I've finally found some fun and immensely interesting technology developments that I'm trying to unpack. And so I want to start doing that here. This is a bit of an off-the-cuff riff, so bear with it.

First, some macro trends to consider. I'm not making value judgements on whether these trends are good or bad, only that they're enabling new things.

  1. AirPods (and general always-in earphones): they're easy to make fun of, but I'll be damned if they don't work pretty well for what they set out to do. Just be a frictionless, relatively non-intrusive thing to enable listening to audio, talking with people, or asking Siri stuff.

  2. Other voice interfaces: the aforementioned Alexa is one, but add in Google Home, you have a lot of places, spaces, and rooms that can be interacted with with a simple voice command (again, not making value judgements on this one, just stating that this is #AThing).

Take those two things and push them to their logical extreme (which isn't actually that extreme), and you get ubiquitous audio and voice. On the consumption side of things, that means people are more and more going to be listening to audio content. As much as I selfishly wish that was entirely made up of music (my ideal headline in 2025: BREAKING: People Are Listening To Better Music), I suspect most of the growth in audio content consumption will be everything else: podcasts, audiobooks, maybe lectures or educational courses. And what I'm most interested in, on that front, is that next format or content type that hasn't been created or invented yet.

Will there be a new thing—in its form, function, length, interaction model, whatever—that we place in the same category as a podcast episode or song? Does ubiquitous audio enable that? I don't know. But it's fascinating to think about.

The other side of this is ubiquitous voice. Consider this: if people have their AirPods in ~4 hours a day, and those AirPods are always connected to the internet/data through a phone or watch, what new things might that enable?

One is a sort of audio-first social network. There's an app I've been digging into with some friends called TTYL (shoutout to Burg Town). It works like this: you leave the app open on your phone, which leaves the mic running in the background (you can mute it, obviously). When another friend hops on the app, you get notified and can instantly talk. If multiple friends are on at the same time, y'all can join a group.

My first thoughts when hearing (hah) about TTYL was: always-on? IDK if I can do that! Do I really want to be available to talk to so many people, anytime? Maybe my being 33 and not 23 impacts some of that initial reticence. But then I thought about it more.

There's so much downtime during a day, when we have earphones in. But we don't know who of our friends or family might be available to chat without having a predetermined time to talk, texting/messaging to see if someone's available, or cold calling. This app removes that friction.

And then unlike a video chat/Facetime or group video chat, the barriers to start a conversation are super low. Especially if you're out-and-about, knowing that you've got three friends available, it's easy to just start a conversation. Nobody's going to be shy or think "eh, I don't want to turn the camera on, I'm not up for this." It just works.

I'm sure the founders of TTYL have written or presented much smarter things than I have about the thinking and vision for the app, but I think it's really a really interesting one. And they're one of a new wave of audio-first social networks/apps that are popping up. I think it's going to be fascinating to watch how the space opens up—what apps/user behaviors are going to win out?

Bigger picture, what will new social norms look like with ubiquitous voice and audio? And back to a question I asked earlier, what new content types and person-to-person communication interactions might emerge, that we haven't yet thought of?

OK, cool. Talk soon (add me on TTYL).

Greg's Newsletter Recommends a Quintet [No. 059]

... well, a quintent of v good albums

Finally back with a music edition. For this one, I wanted to call attention to some of my favorite new albums of the year. It’s something I’ve written about over the years: I'm still absolutely album person, through-and-through. Individual songs? Great! A wonderful playlist? Amazing! A dope mix? Put it on repeat! Some other form factor? Fuck it, bring it on!

Still, nothing still fulfills me like a well-crafted album. Something to play start-to-finish. Maybe it takes you on a ride (see Tyler, below). Maybe it's just one long vibe (see Khruangbin, below). Or it's something so different, that it's hard to say exactly what it is (see FlyLo, below).

I also implore you to check out my running 2019 playlist of goodies new and old (almost 300 songs so far!), called HOT SAUCE MUSIC 2019 (sorry for yelling!).

If you have a new album or artist you've been digging, or have dug into some older music, tell me about it! I’m thinking of doing some kind of guest feature or something. No pressure.

OK, so, here is the (non-exhaustive) list.

5 of my favorite albums of the year

Tyler the Creator – IGOR

Tyler’s music has grown and expanded over the years, from trolling teenager to toiling grown up (he still trolls). IGOR was entirely written and produced by Tyler and is the first ever hip-hop Billboard #1 album to be as such; it's an emotional rollercoaster befitting a modern day legend.

Flying Lotus – Flamagra

If Tyler’s album is a 2019 emotional rollercoaster, FlyLo’s is a psychological rollercoaster from 2030. To try to put into words the territories this one explores—from beat music to jazz, prog to soul—is futile. FlyLo is making music in a different realm than anyone else.

Khruangbin - Hasta El Cielo

This Texas trio put out a heater of an album in Con Todo El Mund, in 2018. If you haven't heard that, go now. It approximates the sound of windswept, dusty psych rock. It rules. Hasta El Cielo is a dub version of that album. Does the world need a dub version of that album (or any album, really)? Meh. Normally they’re garbage. But just, like, put put this one on and vibe out, ya know?

Jai Paul – Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones)

Jai Paul is a reclusive (and reluctant?) singer/producer from London who was briefly the hottest thing on music internet and probably the world when he dropped two songs in 2013 (“BTSU” and “jasmine”). Supposed demos from his debut album leaked online and he pretty much went silent after that. On the heels of an upcoming album, those demos finally get an official release and damn is there some next level soul in here. I’m calling this a 2019 release because I can.

Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

VP frontman Ezra Koenig has been busy since the last VP album with film and tv and a bunch of other shit, but it feels very, very good to have him back. This album would be on my list on the strength of “Harmony Hall” alone, exploring contemporary culture and a general icky feeling that hangs over us right now. There’s some classic VP sensibilities here and they sound though older, wiser, and still unsure.

And that’s it, folks. Thanks for reading. I really appreciate you.

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