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Was David Bowie from the future?
The legendary artist called the internet, streaming, financialization of everything, startup burn rates and (maybe) Kanye.
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Got a quick round-up this week of some stuff I read:
David Bowie was from the future
Why are Doritos so addictive?
And them glorious memes (including Ryan Gosling stuff)
Was David Bowie from the future?
A reader responded to last week’s email with a wild theory about how David Bowie is a time traveler.
I did some Googling and turns out this theory is a thing.
Before passing away in 2016, the legendary artist foresaw the development of many media and cultural trends (although I guess this is less impressive if he was actually a time traveler).
This is probably the most famous foresight. In a 1999 interview with BBC, he fully grokked the power of the internet.
In the face of skepticism from BBC interviewer Jeremy Paxman, Bowie said of the internet:
"The potential of what the Internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable...I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg...I think we’re actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying...[it's not just a tool], It’s an alien life form [laughing], is there life on Mars? Yes, it’s just landed here...The actual context and state of content is going to be so different to anything we envisage at the moment...Where the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in simpatico it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about."
Also in 1999 — anticipating the power of the internet — Bowie rolled out an early social site called…BowieNet. The platform was an online repository for multimedia (photos, videos, music) and personal profiles (like an OG version of Facebook, MySpace and Friendster).
Per The Guardian:
Bowie conceived of this service as a visual, interactive community for music fans. Through his Ultrastar company he negotiated deals to give users access to music services like the Rolling Stone Network, which livestreamed concerts, and Music Boulevard, one of the first companies to offer paid-for downloadable music tracks. The ISP provided every user with 5MB of web space, encouraging them to create and share their own websites; there were also forums and live chat sections where Bowie himself conducted live web chats. This was in effect a music-centric social network, several years before the emergence of sector leaders like Friendster and Myspace.
The site was also technologically ambitious. At a time when most homepages were simple constructs of text and still images on a default grey background, BowieNet used emerging plug ins like Flash and RealAudio to provide animating graphics and downloadable music clips. Newcomers were told they’d need at least a 28k, but preferably 56k modem connection – this was demanding at a time when the commercial WWW infrastructure was still in its infancy.
Bowie fully understood proto-internet culture and was jumping into the replies from day one!!!
In a 2002 interview, Bowie laid out the entire music streaming playbook:
"Music is going to become like running water or electricity. I don’t even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I don’t think it’s going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way. The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it’s not going to happen… You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left. It’s terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what’s going to happen.”
Financialization of Everything
The rise of music streaming over the past decade has led to massive deals for artist catalogs:
• Bruce Springsteen: $500m for his entire publishing catalog
• Bob Dylan: $300-400m for 100% of his publishing catalog
• Neil Diamond: $300m for complete song catalog
• Neil Young: $150m for 50% of his career catalog
• Stevie Nicks: $100m for a "majority" of her song catalog
Per A Journal of Musical Things, Bowie's estate sold his catalog for $250m earlier this year. Bowie — ever the time traveller — was way ahead of this trend. In 1997, he created a financial instrument (Bowie Bonds) backed by the royalties from 25 of his albums recorded pre-1990.
The deal was put together by Prudential Insurance and raised $55m on the following terms: 10 years with a 7.9% interest rate.
Startup Cash Burning
In the aforementioned 1999 BBC interview, Bowie said one of the reasons he needed to sell Bowie Bonds was to raise cash for BowieNet (“Do you know expensive it is to get involved in the internet?" he asked the BBC interviewer).
Understanding the need to raise cash and burn it to build a consumer-facing online startup with low odds of making the money back is probably Bowie’s most forward-looking move ever.
A Kanye Connection?
One popular piece of “evidence” that Bowie is from the future is the cover of his 1972 Ziggy Stardust album. The sign on the building reads "K. West" which could mean anyone or anything...or maybe not, according to NME:
"...if you then take a look at the album’s tracklist, you come across a song entitled ‘Five Years’, which foretells the end of the world (“We’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got”). And guess who was born five years and two days after Ziggy’s release? One Kanye West, that’s who."
Ok, I know what you're thinking: "eh, some good calls but not really time traveller stuff." Fine, fair enough.
The last thing I can offer is this Tumblr page — BoweiBranchia — that matches Bowie outfits to color slugs and snails. Dude had some futuristic-looking swag (I refuse to believe this means nothing).
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Why are Doritos so addictive?
Well obviously people love fat and carbs (Doritos has a nearly perfect 50/50 calorie split between the two). I wrote a Twitter thread with some more details:
Humans have affinity for cooked compounds. Evolutionarily, this makes sense since the act of cooking itself helps us consume calories efficiently. Doritos chips have numerous cooking processes to bring out these compounds: 1) corn is boiled; 2) corn chips are toasted; 3) and then fried.
Flavour enhancers: There are so many (MSG, salt, garlic/onion/pepper/tomato/ powder). This mix is called “non-specific aroma”. No flavor is dominant enough to cause satiety (feeling full) and there is no "taste memory" which means you don't get sick of it. Coca-Cola has a similar property.
Contrasting texture: A Doritos bite starts with a crunch but quickly dissolves in your mouth. This is a phenomenon known as “vanishing caloric density”. The feeing of food “vanishingly in your mouth signals to the brain that you “need” more.
Another point I brought up is that the powder cheese on the chip "releases a compound called casomorphine, which attaches to the same brain receptors as heroin. This leads to a satisfying dopamine hit."
A professor wrote me to say that "You physically cannot eat enough cheese to get a pharmacological effect from casomorphines, let alone eat enough Doritos to activate the opioid receptor. The dose is just too low."
It makes a lot of sense to me. But when I posted the comment in the thread, it fired up this pretty hilarious reaction:
Place an open bag in front of him. hand in a spring trap and give him a single Dorito. Later, while bandaging his hand ask if the casamorphine argument is still invalid.
Anyways, here's a GIF of Doritos being made:
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Links and Memes
Netflix biz model: My latest Bloomberg Opinion article is on why Netflix shouldn't build an ad network. Rather, the streaming giant should use its user data and infrastructure to create an app ecosystem. Literally anything to stop them from cracking down on password sharing.
Oscar's irrelevant: I haven't watched in years and don't think I can tell you any of the last 10 Best Picture winners. LA Mag breaks down the show's larger problems: "Sinking ratings, shrinking movie stars, boring broadcasts, not to mention battles over its controversial new museum. And now a quota system that threatens to tear the Oscars apart."
Apple superbundle: The iPhone maker is planning to make hardware part of its subscription bundle. [Insert everything Apple is expensive] but clearly we're all gonna pay for it. Hardware analyst Brad Lynch has a good take: "I am guessing this is how they will get consumers to adopt their expensive VR headset way easier".
On to the memes:
This next meme I stumbled upon is absolutely bizarre. Back when Black Panther was released in 2018, a Marvel fan made an animated Black Panther character that was caucasian. The person got roasted but then this meme got picked up by other fans that wanted Ryan Gosling to be cast in the part.
I don't know how serious this was but I found a bunch of "movie poster" covers mocking Gosling by having him play famous African-American figures (Tupac, Obama, MLK).
First, RIP to Chadwick Boseman (who is the one and only Black Panther). Second, Gosling clearly has nothing to do with this but...damn, the internet is a weird place and we should put limits on photoshop: