In this issue of Context Collapse!: Microsoft and why you, a reasonable person not working in tech, PR, or corporate comms should care about the metaverse. Rage-farming as a Twitter strategy. How to normalize controversial ideas in an op-ed. And more.
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Hey there. It’s been a while.
So I took off a few well-deserved weeks around New Year’s. Travelled to visit family in Miami, ran my first 5K, watched lots of movies, explored Miami Beach, ate ridiculous amounts of food, went hiking in the Everglades and lots of other things. I was originally planning on flying back on January 4, but then the 3-year-old got an ear infection and we had to delay our flight.
So it goes. Then after our delayed flight back and waiting for the kid’s PCR test to come back so he can return to preschool… we lost childcare for the rest of the week due to Circumstances Outside Our Control (TM).
But he’s now back at school and having a great time. Which means time to write this newsletter. Onwards and upwards.
Microsoft, Activision and the “Metaverse”
Dude! Microsoft is acquiring Activision for $68.7 billion dollars. This is big news for two reasons:
Microsoft will own both one of the world’s leading gaming companies and Warcraft, Call of Duty, Diablo, Overwatch and a whole bunch of gaming IPs that are ridiculously valuable (I mean, hell, even Candy Crush is Activision!)
Microsoft is banking on the same thing as many of their competitors: That gaming tech will be very valuable for their many non-gaming lines of business.
Here’s the thing1. The metaverse, which Facebook (err… Meta) has done masterful marketing around, isn’t really a thing in terms of suddenly-we’ll-all-have-3D-office-morning-meetings-in-virtual-reality. It’s more of a clumsy/awkward blanket term for a whole bunch of unrelated technologies—including virtual reality, mixed reality, digital real estate, NFTs, DAOs and tokenization—that are going to play a large part in our digital lives in the 2020s.
As the Roblox and Minecraft generation ages, aspects of virtual gaming worlds are going to slowly leak into the boring adult business world. I mean, c’mon—Slack is a great-grandchild of IRC and the UI/UX of every single ecommerce mobile app owes a hell of a lot to in-game stores going back to the NES days. Even in non-gaming leisure… Those fun portrait filters on your cameraphone are just consumerized AR. The Microsoft C-suite execs greenlighting a $68.7 billion acquisition are savvy that this is about more than just gaming… this is why Meta and Microsoft are reportedly in an arms race for AR talent.
Of course, the public messaging is that this is all about pure-play gaming + we shouldn’t forget that there is a metric fuckton of money to be made from gaming. Microsoft’s press release emphasizes “growth in Microsoft’s gaming business across mobile, PC, console and cloud.” In Kara Swisher’s very, very recent interview with Xbox head Phil Spencer, Spencer’s talking points center around Xbox as an ecosystem and not just a console.
Curious to see how this goes.
We’re All Being Rage Farmed
Citizen Lab’s John Scott-Railton just put a name to something we’ve all seen: Rage farming.
His argument? Rage farming is when public figures or organizations on Twitter deliberately post troll-y tweets in the hope of being retweeted by ideological opponents who will dunk or criticize them… therefore having their message shared to a larger opponent than it would otherwise.
In his example, he uses a tweet from Texas’ Republican Party, but honestly this practice is widespread across both political parties and the whole punditsphere… But putting the rage farming name to the practice? Genius.
For the relatively small faction of the US population who are obsessive Twitter users (a population that, in our current environment, also has disproprtionate influence over the attention of nearly all US politicians + cable news producers), Twitter functions as a meta-game just as much as it’s a social media platform. The mocking QTing, the brigading, the Twitter-villain-of-the-day—it’s as much an attraction as the content on Twitter itself.
Anyway, recommend reading Scott-Railton’s argument (which, appropriately enough, was published as a Twitter thread).
Normalizing Controversial Ideas, COVID Edition
Author James Taranto’s framing for the interview, published in the WSJ’s Opinion section2, caught my eye. It was a perfect example of how controversial stances by a public health figure (in this case, advocating to restrict COVID testing and thinking “authorities are pushing vaccines too hard”) can be massaged into a sympathetic op-ed.
So the interview kicks off with a quote from a March 2020 op-ed in USA Today by Ladapo that differs from the current US COVID conventional wisdom, but which won’t set off alarms for many readers: That US state and local authorities should focus on building health system capacity.
Dr. Ladapo, then a professor at UCLA’s medical school and a clinician on Covid’s frontline, wrote in USA Today on March 24, 2020. “To contain a virus with shutdowns, you must either go big, which is what China did, or you don’t go at all. . . . Here is my prescription for local and state leaders: Keep shutdowns short, keep the economy going, keep schools in session, keep jobs intact, and focus single-mindedly on building the capacity we need to survive this into our health care system.”
OK, fair enough! Different from the arguments you hear from most public health officials, but "building the capacity we need to survive this into our health care system”? Not especially controversial.
But then, as you read the interview… That’s when things veer. That’s when the arguments that people who have COVID symptoms but aren’t older/dealing with serious medical conditions/pregnant should only “consider” getting tested and that “he strongly opposes mandates and thinks authorities are pushing vaccines too hard” come in.
Then the interview closes with an ode to Miami, which includes the following:
Miami-Dade County has had a higher per capita Covid case count than New York City for several weeks, but its hospitalization rate is somewhat lower. That sounds like a wash until you flip the question: Is the possible reduction in risk worth the price in freedom?
And then an argument by Taranto for other states adopting Florida’s permissive COVID policies:
Florida’s permissive policies didn’t stop Covid, but neither did other states’ restrictive ones. It’s an open question whether lockdowns, masking, forced vaccination and the rest have conferred any benefit at all. As the federal government and states like California and New York search for a “new normal,” they should consider following Florida’s example of simply being normal.
Interesting framing, Journal. Interesting framing.
(Sidebar: Recently came back from more than three weeks in Miami-Dade County. The wait for COVID tests at the mass free testing sites in public parks—which, credit’s due where credit’s due, local government did a great job with—went on for hours. There were long lines at the many, many storefront COVID testing facilities. Everyone we spoke to had either coworkers or employees out sick with COVID. Hospitals or doctors offices swamped. Big box stores in warm weather were completely wiped out of anything resembling cold medication. Stores and restaurants were pretty obviously universally short-staffed. I have trouble seeing any universe in which testing fewer people for COVID in that environment is a good idea, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.)
Wendover Productions, a YouTube creator with more than 3 million subscribers that exclusively makes videos about logistics3, put together a great video on how airlines quietly turned into banks through the frequent flier mile business:
And, last but not least, an argument that your ancestors are looking down at you and smiling at your gluttonous first-worldness.
patrick @redfordWhat is a piece of writing, on the internet (i.e. not a book), that you return to or at least consider foundational?
Disclaimer: I’ve worked with various clients and partners on projects for Microsoft before. My impression is that of a very good down-the-line client whose corporate culture differs immensely across different divisions and offices.
A quick word of explanation for folks lucky enough to live outside any journalism, pundistry or public relations bubbles: The Wall Street Journal’s opinion section is infamous for its right-wing slant, while reporters—not opinion columnists—at the paper generally write from a much more centrist POV. This has led to a whole bunch of internal tensions inside the Journal that are a separate topic for a separate publication.
All hail YouTube for enabling centralization and scaling of extremely niche content. All hail.