And the LORD said to him, “Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go, and I will be with you as you speak and will instruct you what to say.”
But Moses said, “Please, O Lord, make someone else Your agent.”
Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht.
In the market for human attention, as in the drug trade, you’d rather be a wholesaler than a retailer.
Peddling memes and takes on the Twitter street corner is a Hobbesian enterprise—nasty, brutish, and short—where you sweat every post, knowing it could go wrong and—BANG! BANG! BANG!—leave you in a puddle of digital blood as you’re canceled or become a trending topic.
Advertising tech on the other hand is wholesaling human attention, packaging it up like so many kilos of cocaine, and then trafficking it via murky but efficient channels. Where better to traffic than the biggest advertising cartels in existence? Or such were my modest ambitions.
My personal ‘brain trust’—the Signal and WhatsApp groups where the real conversations happen these days—were all completely opposed. For starters, they thought it impossible for me to STFU to the level I could work at Apple and not get fired (ha, ha). “Just think about it like you’re going to work for the CIA, and act appropriately”, said one confidante who predicted I’d set a record for fastest firing at Apple (he’d turn out to be right, but not for the reasons he supposed).
Others, usually the sort of independently wealthy men for whom what to do with their lives (and not how to pay for it) are the predominant concern, felt I should stop being a tech wage-slave and finish up my second book idea instead (and more on that in a bit).
I however was quite happy to mold myself into a loyal and dutiful servant of the Apple empire. After all, I’d done just that (more or less) at Facebook years before. The corporate inducements of a public tech company have their inarguable charms, as the already-rich lifers who’ve spent ages at the FAANG companies will attest (at least, in a moment of unaccustomed lucidity).
So I sold the Orcas compound I’d poured a few years of life into, thinking that the bohemian, homesteading days were over. I’d move full-time back into some DoucheCube, as I like to call the cookie-cutter rented boxes where SF techies too poor to own a house live. The 830AM team standup, convened via ZOOM as a grid of faces I’d never meet in person, would be the matinal ritual as sacred and unmissable as the Jewish shacharit prayer.
!גם זו לטובה
‘This too is for the good!’ I thought, in an age-old Jewish rumination on the stoic acceptance of the inevitable.
And then the mother of all shitstorms happened.
The universe sometimes conspires to shove your nose into what’s right in front of you. This time with a little help from venture-backed Silicon Valley startups: Substack founders Hamish McKenzie and Chris Best, no doubt judging that they finally had me backed against a wall, suggested I take my Substack seriously and do it full-time.
If tech won’t have me, then back I go to The Spectacle, the dopamine rollercoaster that literally drove me insane to the point of medication last time around. Perhaps I really should write that second book. Whatever the prime mover here, whether sheer randomness or Hashem, the only way through is through.
This Substack advance however is not free money. Like the seed round in a startup, it’s a debt, and one that will require a wild scramble to repay.
That scramble starts today.
The Pull Request is relaunching as a regular weekly newsletter: one free and one paid post per week, along with random posts and shares about whatever I’m thinking that moment.
There’s even a founding membership option for those who really want to back the AGM Show: I’m offering a private Signal group (or 1/1 thread if you prefer), about anything at all. Come conspire! (Or I’ll help you conspire.)
Thematically, in addition to to whatever’s buzzing around my head about tech and culture, I’m also taking on three(ish) topics:
The New Privacy
I have turned user data into money via pixels for practically all of my professional life. It’s what companies like Apple and Facebook hired me to do, and what I’ve zealously done for over a decade.
The entire framework I’ve lived in, where user data is beamed into the cloud and thence into the greedy maw of optimization code, is being utterly re-architected. This is a once in a generation change whose ramifications extend way beyond mere advertising; everything from your physical movements to your health data will be subject an entirely new set of data plumbing
The Zuckerberg Parenthesis
My dastardly ulterior motive in re-launching Pull Request is finally having the writing time to finish book two, which I’ll be serializing. The topic is a bit too subtle to summarize here, but reading about secondary orality or the ‘Gutenberg parenthesis’ might be helpful.
Most Americans these days find themselves in the curious position of loving nothing more than themselves, and belonging to no functioning organization other than a corporation. This unprecedented anomie is already yielding its strange fruit in our politics, which increasingly resemble those of a country of shipwrecked sailors clinging to any floating thing that gives them a chance of surviving the storm. Constructing meaning in a civic landscape denuded of all metaphysical purpose will be one of the West’s great challenges.
On the positive side, this requires a lot of travel, which Pull Request subscribers will be following along on. The initial itinerary:
Miami (last half of July) - Back to the homeland! And probably about the last techie to show up.
Israel (September/Jewish month of Elul) - A different homeland…perhaps a newfound one. During the holiest holidays in the Jewish calendar, with a new government, and under trying circumstances. West Bank settlers, kibbutzim, Tel Aviv techies….I’ll be touring all of it and more. A misunderstood land, whose very founding premise can’t even be parsed in standard Western liberal thinking anymore.
Burning Man, renegade edition (last week of August) - The Hipster Hajj! I’m doing it now that there are no rules enforced nor tickets required.