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The internet, 2022
Surrender to the howling void.
The doors are coming off, and the wheels are rattling loose. True, we lost control of the train years ago, but now the train has lost control of itself. The engine is overheating; the engine is on fire; it is hemorrhaging fuel; it is hemorrhaging vital parts; it is hemorrhaging eighty percent of its microservices. We are trapped in the belly of the horrible machine, and the machine will not slow down.
The feral hogs are out. The geese are lost and out of formation. It's the last day of senior year, we're still in the school, and the teachers went home. It’s Saturday night, and the birthday party is turning into a riot. We’re moving out, and we’ve written off our security deposit. There are no rules anymore; it's martial law; it's the purge; it’s every man for himself. The world's first prospective trillionaire is hunting us in our replies, firing us if he can,1 and sending a million lazer-eyed goons after us if he can't. The world's second prospective trillionaire—Jay Gatsby but effectively altruistic; JP Morgan but with a heart of gold—is broke, unglued, making it up as he goes, a cheap con man who negged his way into billions of dollars with an audacity that would make even Mark Zuckerberg's caricature blush. He is the laser-eyed goons’ messiah; the laser-eyed goons want to be him; the laser-eyed goons want to kill him; he is the laser-eyed goons’ Judas.
Has it always been like this? Will it always be like this? These are real questions. There has always been breaking news; the internet has always been turmoil and reinvention; the fire has always been burning—but it feels so much hotter now. Is that just because it’s being live-tweeted (for now)? Because reporters are casually DMing the arsonists? Or have the last couple years and months wrought an entirely new form of chaos, where we can all jump at once, and stop the world from turning?
Social media websites have lost their way before. MySpace quickly gave up the ground it pioneered to Facebook, which itself is slowly dying of profligacy and old age. (We don’t cling to our youth by cryogenically freezing ourselves as Wii avatars, Zuck; we do it by signing up for TikTok.) But these are slow deaths; we can see the life—i.e., the 18- to 34-year old demographic—gradually drain out of our feeds. Twitter is being called from inside the house; it is being murdered; organs are failing; it’s losing blood; it could practically die overnight, at the height of its cultural power (and popularly, evidently). Its obituary is getting drafted before our eyes, blow by blow, New York Times news alert by New York Times news alert. But its will is not yet written; we have no plan for what happens next, after Twitter dies, after it becomes OnlyFans, after it’s refactored down to its ten most salient lines of code—only to descend further into the bleak beyond.
Frauds née wunderkinds like Sam Bankman-Fried are also not new—Elizabeth Holmes deserves more credit than that. But unlike Theranos, which was financed by people on the fringes of Silicon Valley, FTX raised from Silicon Valley’s most celebrated firms, its “most sophisticated investors.” They didn’t just promote their participation; they commissioned a 13,000 word epic to champion it. Theranos merely adopted Silicon Valley; FTX was born in it, molded by it. And none of its storied backers saw through it, even though there was no board; there were no financial statements; there was no list of who even worked there. There was just the polycule, and a shared login to a sixteen billion dollar slush fund. The answer to Matt Levine’s question—where did the money go?—could reasonably be that they lost it, not by gambling it away, or squandering it on lavish lifestyles (though they did that too), but by putting it in a bank account they lost track of. We can’t have the internet anymore, because it is down and someone lost the keys.
This is madness, and I’m being devoured by it. I wake up, I read the news, and I retrieve my jaw from the floor. Surely, this pace cannot sustain—I said in January of 2021, when the internet frothed up a mob to storm the capitol; I said in February of 2021, when the internet frothed up a mob to break the stock market; I said in April of 2021, when the internet frothed up a mob to put all of their savings in dogecoin; I said in April of 2022, when the internet frothed up the richest man in the world to buy Twitter.
The martyrs for the hustle tell us not to pay attention. It is a distraction; it is time to build; there is Real Work to be done. I am sorry, but I have to watch. I have stared into the abyss for too long, and I cannot look away. I have stared into the abyss for too long, and I need it to look back. I have stared into the abyss for too long, and I have to feed it, nurture it, watch it grow. Now is not the day for a quiet article about the necessity of building operating models, or methods for making the most of the datasets produced within small software businesses. These are concerns of an obsolete era, of a world with rules and laws and and GAAP accounting standards and orderly lines of patient customers. No longer. It’s black Friday; the customers are fighting. It's Friday before an eternal holiday weekend; say whatever you want. It'll get forgotten in minutes, overrun by the next deranged catastrophe, when the next mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. Nuclear war is below the fold; the most recognizable person in the world running for the biggest job in the country is on page 26. Surrender into the chaos; widen the gyre; post your most manic ideas;2 free the falcon from the falconer; take comfort in the fact that, no matter how wild of a flag you fly, it will get blown away in next Very Online cataclysm; lost in the looming Twitter outage; forgotten on timeline we can no longer access; hacked and stolen; sold for cents on the dollar in a Bahamian bankruptcy court.
Do not write for a quaint audience on the internet; write for the howling void. Do not be a cellist on the deck of the Titanic, or a pundit to the online apocalypse. Find a rooftop and take in the view.3
Could dbt and S3 be the next cloud data warehouse? Could we replace structured query languages with semantic query languages? Do semantic layers even need to be constrained to a database? Is the future of the modern data stack the NATO Alliance? Have we gotten modularity all wrong? Should data teams be more adversarial? Drafts from the abyss.