Resource: Tristan Harris on the attention economy

This is a good interview on the Tim Ferriss show, covering the Attention Economy and extractive economics more generally.


The fundamental place that went wrong was when we attached financial success directly to the capturing of human behaviour, the controlling and shaping of human behaviour. Because that’s where the persuasive technology stuff comes in. Because those principles became applied to “How do I keep you engaged?”

With the follow button, instead of just adding someone as a friend, which is the Facebook model, the bidirectional connection model, followers and the follow button and model created a reason why you would always get new email.

And so that was this beautiful invention that got people coming back, and ultimately to become addicted to getting attention from other people. And the same thing with the like button.

Instead of persuading to capture your attention, it was much cheaper to get people hooked to seeing how much attention they got from other people. Because I don’t have to do anything to you, you are now autonomously going back to see, “How many views did I get…? How many likes did I get?”

And I think that’s where went wrong, is when we tied business success and billions of dollars to the amount that we captured attention.
And we have to go through a mass decoupling between business success and capturing human beings. And that’s going to be an uncomfortable transition. It’s a big transition, I think, that’s of the scale of going from an extractive energy economy of fossil fuels to a regenerative energy economy.

The metaphor that we make is there are only so many environmental resources, and drilling for oil worked great for generating a whole energy economy that gave us all this prosperity but now, unless we want to deal with climate catastrophe we’ve got to switch to a regenerative energy economy that doesn’t directly couple profit with extraction.

The same thing is here, except that the finite substrate that we’re extracting from is our own brains…
and we have to decouple this relationship that profit is directly coupled with the extraction and move it to a more regenerative model where we’re not the cow, or the product, but we’re the customer.

Tristan HarrisThe Tim Ferriss Show #387

Resource: How to delay Googledrive / Backup and Sync on Windows startup

Googledrive/Backup and Sync has been eating a lot of resources on startup and slowing everything down…

This fantastic howto from maketecheasier is the quickest crib-sheet for scheduling things so that Drive still starts – in my case 10 minutes after startup so that I can get on with my immediate task without things grinding to a halt.

Tim Sweeney on open platforms and the metaverse (2017)

I feel especially as we’re building up these platforms towards the metaverse, if these platforms are locked down and controlled by these proprietary companies then they’re going to have far more control over our lives, over our private data and over our private interactions with other people than any platform in previous history.

[How are you going to keep the metaverse open] is a central question for the industry and something we think about a lot.

The great thing is that there are a lot of steps in that direction. There are open file formats now… the web was open because it was built on standards like HTML, Javascript, Jpeg – all these different file formats and internet potocols tied together to create an open web that anybody can participate in. It’s the opposite of Facebook or Twitter, which are locked-down, proprietary APIs and services controlled by companies, and you can’t write a client for these applications unless you get their permission.

So if we build the metaverse on top of protocols and all of the major players in the industry are committed to working together to define these standards and maintain these standards, then we can all interoperate as peers, and avoid any one company taking control over the thing, and having a monopoly over not just commerce, that’s bad enough, but also a monopoly over our private data and the ability to probe in really really scary ways into our private lives when we’re being connected through these digital tools.

Tim Sweeney – interview at GamesBeat 2017

Podcast recommendation: Mark Andreessen on Software Eating the World (2019)

Here’s Mark Andreessen on the A16z podcast summarising what it means for software to eat the world:

[In the original 2011 essay] I made three claims, which I would say increase as you go in audacity or arrogance, depending on your point of view. Or just flat out hubris, which is another possibility.

The first claim is that any product or service in any field that can become a software product will become a software product.

So if you’re used to doing something on the phone, that’ll go to software, if you’re used to doing something on paper, that’ll go to software. If you’re used to doing something in person that can go to software, it will go to software. If you’ve had a physical product – think about things like… telephone answering machines, tape players, boom-boxes, all the things Radio Shack used to sell, now they’re all just apps on a phone… There used to be a physical product called a camera, you know, that got vaporised. And by the way, physical newspapers, physical magazines.

If it can become bits, it becomes bits. So why does it become bits? Well, if it’s bits it’s better in a lot of ways. Bits have zero marginal cost, so they’re easier to replicate at scale and become much more cost effective. A lot of bits just drop to free. And by the way they’re much more environmentally friendly, which is an increasing thing for a lot of people. You can change bits much more quickly, you can innovate much more quickly, add new features, add new capabilities. So there’s just lots and lots of reasons why it’s good to get things from physical form into software if you can. And so anything that can get into software will get into software.

The next claim… is that every company in the world that is in any of these markets in which this process is happening therefore has to become a software company.

So companies that historically either did not have a technology component to what they did – or maybe had the classic conception of technology in business which is sort of like, IT, we’ve got these gnomes in the back office and they’ve got their labcoats and they’ve got their mainframes and they kind of do their thing … – there’s that, but then there’s modern software development – especially things like customer experiences: what’s the actual interface with the customer? Any company that deals with customers, especially consumers, is going to have to radically up its game in terms of its ability to build the kind of user interfaces and experiences that people expect these days.

So every company becomes a software company.

And then the most audacious claim is that as a consequence of [claims] one and two, is that in the long run, in every market, the best software company will win.

That doesn’t mean necessarily that it will be a new company that starts as a software company that enters an existing market that wins, but it also doesn’t necessarily mean that an incumbent that adapts to being a software company will win… And you see this in many industries including healthcare and insurance where you see these new pure-play software companies entering these incumbent markets and – usually from a position of youthful naivety, or maybe they’re wrong and maybe the ideas stupid, or maybe it’s Uber and Lyft entering the taxi market and maybe they just have a fundamentally better software driven approach. – and then you’ve got incumbents scrambling to try to figure out how to become software companies.

Marc Andreessen – a16z podcast

Andreesen goes on to outline some of the challenges to incumbents of adapting to the world of software – he argues that it’s a very different type of product and successful software companies usually have different types of workers…

The rest of the podcast is great too – highly recommend.

Podcast recommendation: Econtalk – Andy Matuschak on Why Books Don’t Work

This is a fantastic interview that takes Andy Matuschak‘s controversially titled essay as a springboard for a not-really-controversial but fascinating discussion of teaching, learning and tech informed by Matuschak’s work at Kahn Academy.

Highly recommend. Highlights to follow.

Resource: Seth Godin on Systems Thinking

Akimbo Season 4 Episode 20 (July 10, 2019) – Systems Thinking

This is a great episode of riffs on how systems create – and constrain – possibilities, and the opportunities that open up when systems change. Featuring Mr Heinz and the fictional (!) Betty Crocker.

Akimbo Season 4 Episode 18 (June 26, 2019) – Find the others: Apollo 11 and the making of culture

This episode isn’t flagged as an episode about systems or systems thinking, but that’s really what this telling of the story of going to the moon is all about. We watch the Space Race grow out of the wreckage of the Second World War and unfold across a network of more-and-less-and-un- expected connections within the complex adaptive systems of science, science fiction, culture and politics. I loved it.

Highly Recommend.

They’re (not quite) taking our jobs: Tim Harford on robots, spreadsheets and automation in the workplace

These are two great episodes from the BBC’s excellent 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy.

Episode: Robot

The robots are coming! Sort of. Featuring Baxter and the Jennifer headset.
More on Baxter here at WIRED.

Episode: Spreadsheet

Fantastic discussion of how the humble spreadsheet destroyed over 400,000 American jobs… and helped to create 600,000 more.

Resource: Tim Harford on 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy

If you haven’t thought much about economics, this series from the BBC is a first-rate introduction to a lot of key ideas about how markets work.

Each episode is about ten minutes long and features at least one interesting, often entertaining and sometimes surprising ‘thing’ to illustrate fundamental principles of economics.

There are lessons galore about how technologies take off and spread, change culture, transform the environment (human and physical) for both good and ill, and the unpredictable nature of emergent order and complex adaptive systems.

Seasons one and two are here at the BBC, and downloadable free wherever you get your podcasts.

There’s also a book (amazon).

Tim Harford is great – The Undercover Economist and More or Less (also on the BBC) are well worth checking out too.

Marc Andreessen: the test

More from Marc Andreessen’s brilliant interview on The Moment with Brian Koppelman. This time: how breaking into the network in order to get funding isn’t so much a symptom of cronyism as a test of fundamental attributes that a fundraiser will need to be successful.

Marc: In the financing business, like, we are dying to finance the next great startup. Like, people talk about like venture capitalists; it’s you gotta run on these gauntlets to do it or like it’s so, you know, they fund all this…you know, we’re dying to fund the next Google. Like, we can’t wait. So just for god’s sake, figure out a way to build it and bring it to us. Please!

Brian: Right. Though, to get to you, somebody has to be credibly recommended to you.

Marc: Okay, so then this gets to a concept that I talked… So this goes directly what we’re talking about. So you described the process of getting you to read somebody’s screenplay. And basically it’s they have to be a referral. There should be some sort of warm referral.

Brian: Either a referral, or the only other way is over a period of time, you’ve impressed me somehow yourself.

Marc: Yeah, exactly right, independent of this specific thing that you’re trying to create. So, it’s sort of a very similar thing in venture, which is, I mean, there are certain people where it’s just like, the reputation precedes them, and they want to come in to pitch us, we’re gonna take the pitch. And some of those people, by the way, you discover on Twitter. Like, so that’s a real thing.

But more generally, it’s a referral business. And I figured this out early on, when we were starting, I talked to friends of mine at one of the top firms in the industry that’s now a 50-year-old venture firm, one of these legendary firms and they said, in the entire history of the venture firm, they funded exactly one startup pitch that came in cold, right, over 50 years. Now, they funded like a thousand that came in warm and they funded one that came in cold.

And so anyway, so that’s like, okay, well, again, isn’t that unfair? Like, okay.

So that’s why I get into what I call the test, with a capital T, The Test. And The Test is basically, the test to get to us, to get into VC is can you get one warm introduction? Just one. And in our world, you know, your world is agents or whatever or other creatives — in our world it’s an angel investor, it’s a seed funder, it’s a professor, it’s a manager at one of the big existing tech companies, right?

Brian: Someone you think is smart.

Marc: Yeah, somebody I think is smart.

Brian: And knows people.

Marc: But there are thousands of those people out there who I will take that call for.

Brian: Like, I could call you and tell you, but somebody… By the way, I won’t. Let me just say, clearly, I will not!! <laughs> But you have this world…

Marc: You could. Somebody, like, if a director of — I don’t know, there’s like, 1,000 executives at Facebook; Facebook is like a 40,000-person company, it has like, 1,000 executives at Facebook in decision-making capacity — if any one of the thousand calls up and says, “I got this kid I think you should meet.” It’s like, “Yes, I’ll take that meeting.” So it’s like, and again, it’s just one, right?

And so the test is, can you get one person to refer you, right? And it’s like, okay, like… think of the number of ways you could get one person to refer you, you could go get a job and you could go impress a manager and then that manager makes the call.

Brian: That is an incredibly good test, by the way.

Marc: And if you can’t pass the test, The Test, to get a warm inbound referral into a venture firm, then what that indicates is, you are gonna have a hell of a time as an entrepreneur. You are gonna hate being an entrepreneur because guess what you have to do, once you raise money. We’re the easy — I always say like, we’re the easy part of the process.

Once you raise money from us is when the pain begins. And the pain is trying to get other people to say yes to you. The pain specifically is trying to get people to work for you. And they all have choices, right? And so you got to convince them to come work for instead of somebody else; to try to get a customer to buy a product, and the customers are overwhelmed with new products they could buy… and so to actually sell something to somebody. And then at some point, you’re gonna have to raise money again, right? And you raise money from new people each round. At some point you’re gonna have to go get somebody else to say yes.

And so, if you can’t get a warm inbound to us, how are you possibly going to be able to function in the environment in which you’re now gonna be operating, where you’re gonna have to get all these other people to do stuff for you. And so that’s the thing.

Marc Andreessen and Brian Koppelman

Resources: Software is eating the world

WTF?! In San Francisco, Uber has 3x the revenue of the entire prior taxi and limousine industry.

WTF?! Without owning a single room, Airbnb has more rooms on offer than some of the largest hotel groups in the world. Airbnb has 800 employees, while Hilton has 152,000.

WTF?! Top Kickstarters raise tens of millions of dollars from tens of thousands of individual backers, amounts of capital that once required top-tier investment firms.

WTF?! What happens to all those Uber drivers when the cars start driving themselves? AIs are flying planes, driving cars, advising doctors on the best treatments, writing sports and financial news, and telling us all, in real time, the fastest way to get to work. They are also telling human workers when to show up and when to go home, based on real-time measurement of demand. The algorithm is the new shift boss.

Tim O’Reilly –The WTF Economy

This phrase comes from a 2011 Marc Andreessen article in the New York Times, which you can read here. In it he describes how software was – and is, and will continue to – take over the economy. Here are a few more WTF illustrations:

  • The world’s largest bookstore is a software company
  • Two of the world’s three biggest retailers are software companies
  • Five of the U.S.’s eight biggest companies are software companies (Alphabet/Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook)… some of them even make and sell software.
  • The world’s biggest Encyclopedia is mainly software… and not even a company

Conclusion / Questions:

  • How are you using software in your non-software organisation?
  • What would it enable if you thought of your organisation as a software company?

See Also: WTF? Technology and you