Rhys' Newsletter #56

Feedback loops in the Industrial Revolution, Vibes in TikTok, and Mapping the Culture War

This newsletter goes out to more than 1,000 ambitious frontier people. Please share it with a friend who would like it. (And welcome to all the folks who joined this week!)


Happy Mother’s Day! Thought about my mom a lot this weekend and hope you were able to spend deep time with yours. ❤️

1) I wrote an article last week on a crucial feedback loop that has powered the Industrial Revolution: The More You Do, The More You Can Do.

When we created the steam engine to transfer heat to work, it gave us more time to invent a better steam condenser, more access to matter like iron to create lots of condensers, and more energy to create and transport them around the world on steamboats and railroads. Steam engines provide energy to create more steam engines.

We can visualize this as energy providing more energy, matter, and innovation, which leads to more energy.

The inputs to the heat-to-work process are also the outputs of it. Progress in heat-to-work technology requires energy, access to resources, and innovation, which are the outputs of heat-to-work technology.

The more you do heat-to-work, the more you can do heat-to-work.

This pattern appears many other times in history. For example:

Around 2.5M years ago, sapiens began to use stone tools, which allowed them to access energy (in bone marrow and breaking nuts), which increased the size of their brains, which allowed them to make better tools. Tools -> energy -> brains -> tools. Tool innovation begets more tool innovation. The more you do, the more you can do.

Other examples below:

When we’re looking for things that will create a large dent in society, search for things with reinforcing feedback loops where their success begets more success.

(Also, I used the Orbit mnemonic medium to add embedded notecards to my post. It helps folks remember the key ideas. Check it out!)


0) It’s cool that Vine Ventures is taking the Reciprocity Pledge to “commit 50% of GP Carry to non-profit initiatives that drive the psychedelics space forward.” Would love to see more VCs do this.

1) Signal wanted to run these ads on Instagram but they were rejected. The ads show how much data Facebook has. Facebook doesn’t want to remind you of this.

2) Notes on Vibe

Great essay on how the audiovisual medium of TikTok is perfect for sharing “vibes”:

In the social-media era “vibe” has come to mean a moment of audiovisual eloquence, a “sympathetic resonance” between a person and her environment.

What a haiku is to language, a vibe is to sensory perception: a concise assemblage of image, sound, and movement. #Aesthetic is sometimes used to mark vibes, but that term is predominantly visual.

Vibes are a medium for feeling, the kind of abstract understanding that comes before words put a name to experience. That pre-linguistic quality makes them well suited to a social-media landscape that is increasingly prioritizing audio, video, and images over text. Through our screens, vibes are being constantly emitted and received.

The famous cranberry juice skateboard to Dreams is a vibe. So is this Mid-Atlantic vibe.

3) AstralCodexTen on The Rise And Fall Of Online Culture Wars.

It details the progression from New Atheism, to Geek Feminism, to Corporate Feminism (#MeToo), to Racial Justice (#BLM), and the subsequent pushback from the alt-right, IDW, and Men’s Rights Advocates. It’s a helpful piece to understand the dynamics of memetic communities.

How there was a shift from

2000s-era "argument culture" to 2010s-era "echo culture".

#BLM, #MeToo, and #MAGA are memes designed to echo, built on a medium designed to echo them (Twitter hashtags). Early 2000’s platforms like Blogger didn’t allow for that.

How communities create artifacts that are then forgotten:

The most significant artifact of New Atheism is TalkOrigins' massive alphabetized database of arguments against creationist claims.

The most significant artifact of feminist argument culture is the Geek Feminism Wiki (2009 - 2012).

How subcultures are a breeding ground for larger memes:

The blogs and forums of the early 2010s were a memetic breeding ground that produced new and more compelling versions of old ideas, and one of them [#MeToo] took over liberal culture.

How language signals ingroup and outgroup status:

There were already good negative terms for woke people - "politically correct" or "SJW". But hip young people on the left associated those words with the outgroup. "Woke" arose on the left, and since it was a real leftist word used mockingly, it was hard to stamp it out. People who would never have been caught dead in a million years complaining about "those PC SJWs" finally felt free to complain about "woke people".

How some memes naturally have a balancing feedback loop built-in:

The term "Men's rights advocates" implied a focus on the problems of men, but the people involved were never really able to get interested in this. "Anti-SJW" claimed no focus other than on how SJWs were shrill and annoying, which had been most of these people's real concern all along. "Men are more oppressed than women" was a hard debate to win, but "SJWs are shrill and annoying" was … less hard.

Except in this case it was kind of cannibalistic, because the main complaint the anti-SJWs had was that they couldn't talk about how much they hated SJWs. Once they could, their case kind of lost relevance, which is probably one reason the search term is trending down these days and nobody talks about the IDW anymore.

How wokeness hasn’t gone out of fashion because it has been able to infiltrate existing infrastructure (#44):

If I had to guess, I’d say wokeness outgrew the Internet fashion cycle. Unlike its predecessors, it took over mainstream institutions. Mainstream institutions are sticky. You can take control of them by being cool. But once you have control of them, you don’t need to stay cool.

Information wants to replicate. It wants to access energy and resources to do so. Virals (and the communities around them) are constantly searching for ways to embed themselves in institutions instead of being lost to time.

4) The Onion: Experts Say Earning Trust Of Vaccine Skeptics Will Be Key To Jabbing Them When They’re Not Looking

5) Babylon Bee: 'I Have Changed My Mind And Do Not Want A Divorce From This Amazing Handsome Man,' Says Glossy-Eyed Melinda Gates After Receiving Vaccine

6) Rhys: Clubhouse Influencers Begin Vocal Chord Plastic Surgery To Add AMSR To Voice




2004 was a great year for albums where the voice is the only instrument, but it’s not just singing—lots of beatboxing and yelping.

See Camille’s 2004 album, Le Fil:

Or Bjork’s 2004 album, Medulla:

Nico Muhly’s 2008 album Mothertongue followed in their footsteps, but with more ambient-ness and less rhythm:

Are there other albums that only use voice?

Hope you have a good week! Warmth, Rhys

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