🏰 the renaissance of individualism is changing the definition of talent
introducing a very special essay co-written with Sari Azout
Announcing From Winner Take All to Win and Help Win: How the Original Vision of the Internet is Making a Comeback essay co-written with Sari Azout
A summary of “Jad’s Theory” as presented in the essay
If you’ve been following the koodos newsletter for some time, you’ll know that the koodos team and community are relentless optimists. We believe that it’s possible to make the internet better - and it’s one thing to just say that and an entirely different thing to build it. We’re incredibly excited to share more about what we’ve been building at koodos over the last few months *soon*.
But today, I’m excited to publish a very special essay I co-wrote with my Internet friend, and the founder of Startupy, Sari Azout: From Winner Take All to Win and Help Win: How the Original Vision of the Internet is Making a Comeback
The catch? This will be the first ever experiment in Attribution+, where we not only cite sources of inspiration, but route economic value to them.
In practical terms, this means we will be minting this essay as a NFT (click here if you’re wondering what that means), and the proceeds of the NFT sale will be split between the authors, the people that have influenced the essay, and YOU (if you RT this and share your ETH address). It doesn’t get more participatory than that!
‘Jad’s Theory’ 🤓: the changing definition of talent and wealth distribution online
Every sport that uses ‘mechanical judges’, like stopwatches, instead of human ones are judged solely against an excellence standard. These athletes conform to a taste-free talent vector. We see the entry of a taste vector in Olympic sports that have human judges, such as gymnastics, figure skating and freestyle skiing. To become good at these sports, one must also move towards “connoisseurship”. This requires the development of a “discriminative faculty to judge and express taste according to the aesthetic principles of a consumption domain”1. For a long time, internet content was at the behest of the rigid mechanical judge that is “number of subscribers”, “view count” and others.
To demonstrate the phenomenon of taste distribution more practically, any walk down the supermarket aisles will show that the assortment needed to cater for a diversity of tastes broadens as one moves from say paper towels to soups to wines - products of increasing hedonic value. There is not much dispersion of preferences for paper napkins on any dimension other than price/sturdiness. But that is not true for even the subset of wines that sell in supermarkets. The same applies on the internet.
But what do people end up preferring? Holbrook theorizes that people, as a whole, are much more dispersed in what they prefer than is the ‘expert consensus’. Holbrook’s work draws from Bordieu’s, who famously discussed that those with the highest volume of “cultural capital” dictate what’s deemed “good taste” - and therefore “what’s best”.
But how do you accumulate the “cultural capital” to dictate “what’s best”? Bordieu, whose work is rooted in the study of the French bourgeoisie, describes how “the working-class ‘aesthetic’ is a dominated aesthetic...obliged to define itself in terms of the dominant aesthetics”. Holbrook argues that in more individualistic contemporary cultures, this gets distorted and we end up with more heterogeneous tastes.
Winner-take-all outcomes happen in cultural markets under the influence of received expert opinion. But that’s at odds with the internet’s promise to “democratize everything” and to allow us to express our individuality - a culture that flourishes when we can each define what “talent” means to us and that is antagonistic to forced standards and received opinion.
Thus far, platform algorithms distill our preferences through the ‘mechanical judgements’ of likes, swipes and upvotes and allow an entire social edifice to be built up by iterating them in a recursive fashion. In addition, the “relatedness” of content on platforms today is largely determined by users’ co-viewership patterns2 3, thus the social determinants of consumers’ viewing practices (including one’s cultural capital” is inscribed in the algorithmic output. The resulting ‘clustering’ of content based on “relatedness” into “popular”, “recommended” and “for you” ends up reinforcing clusters of taste4. In that way, platforms have taken on the role of “expert” taste-makers that skew the distribution of taste and that has had a profound effect on what has social and cultural value.
And so, we introduce “Jad’s Theory” (of talent & taste on the Internet). We’re witnessing a renaissance of individualism on the internet - a breakup with institutions and the rise of the individual and, with that, an unbundling of internet communities. For the creator middle class to rise, we need to see higher resolutions of taste preference and a breakup with singular, discriminatory platform algorithms and the opinion of the ‘few’ that arbitrate taste and force today’s dominant aesthetic. With that, individuals can decide on “what’s best” for themselves, allowing for the talent power law to play out across more taste vectors and spreading the opportunity to be perceived as “the best” - and, with that, spreading the opportunity to profit from that.
I’ll leave you with that teaser for now and encourage you to read the rest of the essay.
Tomorrow, I’ll send an email with more details about the NFT auction and how to participate, in case you’re interested in owning this piece of Internet history. I’ll also explain why you (or anyone) might want to own this thing. Crypto is hard. My hope is to demystify it by showing real use cases beyond weird markets for JPEGs, and help you find the meaning in the madness. More on that tomorrow.
Koodos to you,