Welcome to the Chaotic Age
Good morning! What once was random is now chaotic, but that’s not a bad thing. Or is it? Let’s dig in.
Isn’t it chaotic?
Technology used to make sense. Software attracted those who sought rationality and order. Harlan Stenn, a coder who helps the world’s computers run on time, explained the attraction this way to The New Yorker: “I got very clear yes-or-no information about whether something was going to do the right thing, and to me that was very peaceful and enjoyable.” One of the worst things you could say at Microsoft when Bill Gates ran the shop was that a person or an idea was “random,” Protocol's Owen Thomas writes.
That was great for boomers who grew up watching Spock scold Captain Kirk for being “highly illogical.” But Gen Xers and their younger cohorts are having their revenge. “Random” as a nerd insult has given way to “chaotic” as a term of high praise.
Go ahead, roll the dice. That’s a key lesson of Dungeons & Dragons, a cultural touchstone for Gen Xers like Elon Musk.
- The internet changed the paradigm around technology to one of abundance. Suddenly there were more networks, more servers, and more code than any human could really grasp.
- Netscape taught us that everything could permanently be in beta. Bugs are illogical — but so is waiting until you’ve squashed all of them to release software into the world.
- The art of software development changed as it became networked. Instead of typing the exact lines of code printed in a computer magazine, you linked libraries and tapped into APIs you barely understood. “Move fast and break things,” Mark Zuckerberg said. So you brought the website down? No problem, just roll it back!
- TikTok is hurting Facebook and Instagram because it’s less logical. Instead of seeing things your friends (and brands you wish could be your friends) post, TikTok serves up … sheer randomness. Oh, sure, there’s an “algorithm.” But maybe the appeal is just seeing something unexpected. At least chaos makes you feel alive.
So chaotic is … good, maybe? That’s another discovery D&D players made: You could be lawful good, like a paladin. That’s basically a cop with shiny armor, though.
- The New York Times recently labeled Musk a “chaos agent.” His reaction: What, like that’s a bad thing?
- Musk, like other ’90s startup founders, saw the internet as a chance to fix the broken artifacts of an irrational business world, whether it was classified ads or online banking. He briefly trained as an engineer, but his approach through much of his career hasn’t been to restore order. It’s been to throw more chaos at the problem, because, hey, it can’t be worse than the mess the boomers left us, right?
- Now he’s playing chaos-agent-in-chief at Twitter. Imposing mass layoffs, demanding new features be programmed in a week, and making policy decisions on the fly in response to tweets may not be the most orderly approach to things. But it’s not like Jack Dorsey and the former Twitter board covered themselves in glory during their slightly less irrational stewardship of the company. (Side note: Former Twitter chairman Bret Taylor may be the closest thing we have to Spock, for whatever good that did him and the company.)
Chaos as a strategy may actually be a rational response to a world seemingly gone mad. Generation X has always seen the world from the lens of not having much to lose. “Chaos is what killed the dinosaurs, darling,” antihero J.D. told Veronica in “Heathers.” So let’s get chaotic. It’s the least bad alternative. Is that so random?
The best of Protocol
- Through decades of support, Microsoft was an instrumental force helping China become the AI powerhouse it is today. Now as the very thought of a U.S. company partnering in tech projects in China draws scrutiny from lawmakers, national security hawks, and human rights advocates, Microsoft could be forced to grapple with tough decisions surrounding the thriving AI ecosystem it fostered there. Read more: Are the U.S. and China really in an AI race?
- Adobe still faces potential challenges in making the Figma acquisition a success, including Federal Trade Commission scrutiny, pushback from designers wary about its history, and a challenging macroeconomic environment. But if Adobe can succeed, it will only further entrench the company’s unrivaled dominance among creative professionals.
The 2022 midterms will be a major test for TikTok — Lizzy Lawrence
- As the midterm elections near, TikTok has faced unrelenting scrutiny about the role it plays in spreading misinformation and the way influencers skirt its advertising rules. But according to seven former employees from TikTok's trust and safety team, the company may have an even more basic problem inhibiting its efforts to secure the midterm election: high turnover among the employees who are supposed to carry out that work.
- Data oracles, the automated feeds that provide crucial price data to smart contracts and enable trading on blockchains, are drawing increasing scrutiny over their roles in recent hacks and the vulnerabilities the industry’s reliance on them creates. They’re also attracting more investment from VCs and larger crypto players who see an opportunity amid these fears.
Holoride wants you to use VR in your car — Janko Roettgers
- For generations, kids have longed for car rides to be shorter. Now Germany’s Holoride wants to break the curse of juvenile impatience with the help of VR headsets that turn car trips into immersive gaming sessions and theme park rides. The company’s Pioneer’s Pack includes a HTC Vive Flow VR headset, a game controller, and an additional safety strap, as well as one year of access to Holoride’s software catalog, for a total of 699 euros ($690).
Headhunters wonder, where are all the chief people officers? — Allison Levitsky
- Many of the extraordinary challenges of the last two and a half years have fallen on the shoulders of chief people officers. At the same time, executives and recruiters say there’s a shortage of strategic, business-oriented HR talent prepared to take over as the next generation of senior people leaders.
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While tech can be a transformational tool for change, there must be a balance to ensure we are not only depending on multilateral institutions to implement policy and standards, as authoritative regimes can easily dismiss those initiatives. Instead, we must have a holistic diplomatic approach that ensures tech diplomacy and collaboration can be spread through various platforms.
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