Scott Galloway we love you but you’re dead wrong.
(No. 10) Kids have good reason to question capitalism, by Ty Montague and Stephen P. Williams
For those of you who haven’t heard of Scott Galloway, where the fuck have you been? Sorry… that’s what he’d ask, I’m guessing. Scott is a serial entrepreneur turned one-man media empire with two podcasts (that I know of) several newsletters, an education startup, a series of best-selling books and then the attendant media appearances which have started to get increasingly swanky. Scott writes and podcasts about business. Scott covers business the way Hunter Thompson covered sports and then politics, which is to say, he tells the truth in a way that explores the edges of probity in what has been an intensely stuffy space (business journalism). The New York Times recently called him the Howard Stern of business. Scott almost had a TV show until CNN+ imploded. I’m betting he’ll be on TV soon. He’s industrious. And hilarious.
He also has one thing completely wrong: the story he has been telling lately about Tik Tok v capitalism.
Scott writes and talks a lot about the technology business specifically and I generally find myself agreeing with him. His views on Mark Zuckerburg (sociopath) and Facebook (the evil empire) have shaped many of my own views. His takes on companies like Robinhood (mendacious fucks) and Elon’s Twitter deal (WTF?) are dead on. But recently Scott wrote a piece about TikTok that gave me pause. Scott’s thesis is that:
1) Tik Tok is taking over social media (with you, so far, Scott).
2) That Tik Tok has Chinese owners (yep).
3) that the Chinese government, specifically the Chinese Communist Party, is using TikTok to fill our children’s heads with anti-capitalist thoughts, which is why so many young people are losing faith in our system.
I actually spent a few days wondering if I was a Chinese dupe. I don’t participate in TikTok at all. But the trust-crisis with the government, corporations, even capitalism itself, especially among young people, has been widely reported, and I quote the statistics about it all the time. Am I an unwitting victim of Chinese propaganda and complicit in spreading their pernicious lies about our way of life?
Upon reflection, no.
All you have to do to see what is actually causing young people to lose faith in our system is look at that system through the eyes of a person who is going to inherit it. It’s not TikTok that‘s causing this. It is ecosystem overshoot and its primary side effect, climate change. It’s the attendant wildfires and floods. It’s the now pervasive stories of developing food shortages due to global drought. It will be the stories we can look forward to this winter of people freezing to death in Europe because of energy prices. It is income inequality. It is the images of black and brown people in the global south wandering through super-storm-devastated towns, while the wealthy in the global north continue to consume everything in sight, producing carbon at record levels, and then jetting off to COP 211 (or whatever) to discuss the problem in hushed tones. Scott, you recently moved to London and bought a house there for cash. I know that because you told me on one of your podcasts. The average young person can’t do that and they’re feeling it is increasingly unlikely that they’ll EVER be able to do that. Their world is in decline. And look, I get it. Capitalism has been very good to you (and to me) and a bunch of other old white guys. But to blame TikTok and the communists for causing young people to question whether capitalism has their interests at heart? That dog won’t hunt.
By the way, this should in no way be construed as a pro TikTok rant. TikTok, like other social media, is probably bad for us. The Chinese probably are using it for propagandistic purposes. It probably should be banned as you call for. But I feel compelled to point out that it’s not particularly brave, or even particularly interesting to call for a ban of Tik-Tok. What would be interesting would be for a middle-aged master of the universe like you to try to look at the world through the eyes of a scared 18 year old with a questionable future. If you really want to give young people some hope for the future of our system, show them you care about that future. Call for a global carbon tax, or maybe a ban on private jets? I hear you recently sold yours so, how ‘bout it?
By Ty Montague
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Can Digital Dry Goods Reduce our Carbon Footprints?
In the future, people might judge you by your avatar’s shoes, rather than your real ones. Photo by Shubham Dhage
Recently, my daughter shared a great idea about a money-making product: A good looking adjustable LED lamp with a suction cup that holds it to the bathroom tiles. That would make it possible to read pleasurably in the tub. Brilliant, I thought. Still, I would never encourage her to bring a product like that into the world, because we already have too many products, and not enough resources. But what if she made a bathtub light that worked only in virtual bathtubs filled with digital water in the metaverse. Would that be less resource intensive?
Virtual goods, such as digital clothing used to dress up video game characters, and furniture and art to decorate virtual mansions, will be at least a $54 billion dollar industry this year. There are voice “skins” that turn your voice into something new. There are coins, and cars and trees and knitwear for sale.
Some of it is sold on blockchain-based platforms, many of which these days use very little energy. The Ethereum chain, for instance, just changed the way it does business, and now burns over 99 percent less electricity than it did a few weeks ago.
A recent survey of 3,000 people by Virtue, an agency run by Vice Media, found that eight out of ten people had purchased at least one virtual good. Plenty of brands sell virtual goods, including Nike, LVMH, and the legendary American painter Frank Stella, who recently released an NFT art collection. The Virtue study claims that about ¾ of people believe sustainability is a good reason to buy virtual, rather than physical, stuff. I find this suspect, because most people seem to not think sustainability is a good reason to do anything, but I could be wrong.
Yet the question remains: Do these goods actually have a less impactful effect on the environment than their analog cousins?
“We waste nothing but data and exploit nothing but our imagination,” says Fabricant, an “Always digital; never physical” fashion company for the metaverse.
Could digital goods help offset the crisis of consumption the world is now experiencing? It seems potentially logical, but I haven’t found proof that buying a digital sweater for your avatar is less energy intensive than buying a real sweater for yourself. And in the case of the sweater, the virtual one will never keep you warm. You’ll probably just go to Uniqlo anyway and buy a cheap cashmere to wear while gaming.
In order to be more sustainable, these virtual goods would have to replace physical goods, right? I will believe it when I see it.
However, I do think virtual goods could be used to incentivize people to consume less analog stuff, or even make positive contributions to our planet. For instance, a teenager who bikes to school instead of driving could be rewarded with digital goods. Would the electricity and other materials used to produce, market and store those goods be less than the energy and materials used to make real goods? I don’t know, but I’m going to look further into it in future posts.