Here we sit in the valley of predespair, 2 weeks ahead of the election and God knows where we are in the pandemic. As my partner Tina says to me on this once glorious sunny day (the view formerly known as the Pacific Ocean has been replaced by the fog like a Zoom background) we seem to be better prepared for something to go wrong than right.
We’ve learned how to stay socially distant, half-learned to wear a mask, unlearned how it might be a good idea to stay home and let things just happen. The last four years seems like a bizarre experiment in what not to do, the triumph of the worst of our instincts and fear of the other. For my generation, the thought that we would be tested so apocalyptically had never entered our mind. Free love, social media, mind-altering drugs — all ideas that seemed good at the time.
Too good to be true, it turned out. In the stampede to enjoy the fruits of our labors, we turned success into the failure of others. The space race may have spawned the computer industry, but it also reinforced the notion that we beat them to save us. And the tech boom saw us undermine the very soul, the soundtrack of how we marked our lives. Thanks, Napster.
Today, East v. West is Apple v. Android, a detente that Washington distorts into trust v. loyalty. Which is worse, the silence of the social giants or making mistakes in the open? I’m sick of beating up on Twitter for our failures, even more so our toothless tut-tutting of Facebook for spreading the lies we support by staying put.
So, let’s try something going right for a change. Take Spotify and their new plan to embed full versions of our musical heritage in podcasts. This is a complicated offer, to be sure. You can’t use partial versions of songs, talk over any portion of the song, or place ads within 60 seconds of music. Ads must have at least 10 minutes of non-music content between them. More importantly, these shows are only available on Spotify’s Anchor podcasting service.
But what really stands out is the attempt by one of the two major music streaming services to create a composite product reconstituting a post digital radio business. If Apple Music were nudged to support the idea, it would resuscitate a major platform of the tech crowd with a mashup of DJ and playlist content. This in turn would create new leaderboards or charts in old record biz terms that would jumpstart new and catalog music in media. Already we see some of that energy in Saturday Night Live clips where audience numbers are shifting to mobile and online viewing. Composite ratings of broadcast and digital are growing fast.
This evolution from broadcast to online ratings success may presage how live entertainment venues and audiences obliterated by the pandemic adapt with hybrid live/digital events. We’re seeing this act out in real time with the election, where early voting and election day registration have produced record turnout for both the safety of mail and absentee voting (mostly Democrats) and more traditional party switching (mostly Republicans or former Democrats more engaged by Trump.) This “new normal” in politics may not bear immediate fruit, but it’s at a minimum a harbinger of things to come.
Fast forward to a future dinner party in an AR/VR augmented version of our favorite restaurants, with autotesting and contact tracing making it safe enough to reconstitute weekly gettogethers not just of local friends but virtual guests from around our town and beyond. Courses are served by delivery and robot waiters as we watch party our favorite artists and comedians both professional and amateur. Election night becomes a vote-from-home proposition, with the electoral college results calculated in realtime.
As the concession speeches wind down, a vanquished candidate references the Paul Simon song:
When something goes wrong
I’m the first to admit it
I’m the first to admit it
But the last one to know
When something goes right
Well it’s likely to lose me
It’s apt to confuse me
It’s such an unusual sight
I can’t get used to something so right
Something so right
The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, October 16, 2020.
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor
@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang