Now is a great time to become extremely online, if you weren’t already.
It’s the beginning of April. Third week of mandatory telecommuting. I am sheltering in place with my partner. We are not allowed to go to our jobs, but we may not stop working. The economy must churn.
“Businesses must cease all in-person operations,” says the governor, so we must eject ourselves from our personalities and continue the infernal operations.
We sit at a small table heaped with computers and coffee cups and headphones and USB cables. Glowing screens peer out from the tangle, and we gaze back with hunter’s eyes, stalking the scuttling cursor. Our bodies are static but our hands twist into conjuror’s configurations on our clackiest keyboards. We glance at each other, absentmindedly, occasionally. The cat slinks through this electronic jungle on her way to the windowsill. She doesn’t know why we’re home all the time. She is annoyed.
The economy slouches on. We’ve brought the office home in the most extreme of ways. And the school, and the gym, and of course we had already brought home the movie theaters. The internet sputters along as everyone in the neighborhood tries to video chat or download music or stream entertainment for their children — but it does flow. We are all online at once. This has never happened before.
As someone who has been extremely online for thousands of years, I want to tell you: you’re not ready. You merely adopted the internet; I was born in it.
No, that sounds so cocky. Really, I’m the one who’s not ready. The last time that millions of extroverts logged on at once, we got Web 2.0. I’m still reeling from that shift; the internet I knew was one of anonymous faceless voices in pure text. The invasion of photos, videos, shares and likes and followers was too much for me, and I retreated for a while into dark nets and off-grid communities. I came back and learned to put up with smartphones and Instagram in exchange for the joys of deep learning and Twitter.
In the last few weeks, videochat has been normalized. People who would never have used it before, especially business and schools, have come eagerly online. Everyone is learning to accept each other’s pajamas and unwashed faces. Even me, a hater of all visual content. I videochatted like four times last week.
The transformation we will see in the coming year will be bigger yet.
I can’t predict what’s coming; there are too many variables. And no one else can either! It’s important to remember that, while we watch the leaders of the last world scramble for purchase on the stirring giant of history.
The central banks are spewing money from a firehose. The workers are unemployed and uninsured. The ruling class are snatching their bags and hightailing it for the exit. Hospital ships and quarantine camps oh my, and there’s another record hurricane season coming, everybody get ready to shelter in place, don’t make any trouble. There’s too much all at once. Anyone who says they know what will happen is definitively overconfident.
The forces of control will always claim to have be in control. The bigger your platform, the harder it is to realize when it’s already begun to fall. No one is going to tell us that the rules are off, that the master is gone. We have to decide that for ourselves.
How do we know? In a world where the facades are peeling away, what structures can we trust? Not the newspapers, not the government, not the apps, not the banks. What social unit is the right size for making sense of the 21st century, when conspiracy theories and disaster movies come true?
Podcasts. I don’t know what the future will look like, but the present is podcast-shaped.
The podcast is the molecule of the internet.
You should make a podcast right now. You can do it from your smartphone, although a laptop and a USB mic would be better. It doesn’t matter if it sounds great. It doesn’t matter if anyone listens to it.
The point of a podcast is to have a virtual community in which you can make sense of things. Whatever things you need to. We’re all absorbing huge amounts of information every day, along with the coffee and the booze and the home-cooked ramen. You need a place to, well, output that information, once you’ve digested it.
You get should get a friend who will meet up weekly for a couple hours on videochat. You can pod alone, but it’s harder, as you have to have a conversation with yourself. Good news is, all your friends are home and bored right now. They’ve never been more likely to record a podcast with you.
And your podcast can be about anything: true crime, local politics, space communism, TV shows. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, as long as you’re juiced. There are probably other podcasts about the same thing — that’s great! They’re juiced too. Listen to them, find them on social media. Now your podcast is in the context of other podcasts.
People who are also juiced about the Thing find your podcast, and join your podcast chat. There you talk with your co-hosts and your listeners and your fellow podcasters and together you can create a world. It doesn’t have to be big. It’s a world that makes sense, a world that matches your lived experience. And that is power.
In this chaotic environment, things are messy and unpredictable, but they’re not impossible to understand. A worldview is a weapon.
Thanks for reading,
###### SCIOPS is a weekly letter about the shape of the future, despite my better judgment. Feel free to forward it, or share it, or invite me on your podcast to discuss. You can find a web version of the latest letter here , or view the archive here .
###### If you have thoughts, questions, or criticism, just respond to this email. If you’re seeing this for the first time, make sure to sign up for more cyberpunk weirdness in your inbox every week.
###### If you want your regular life back again, you can unsubscribe from this newsletter. I can’t guarantee that will help. But you can try it