Gillmor Gang: Déjà Vu

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The Gang or a subset did a Clubhouse, longer than a regular show by a good third. The audio only structure lacked the visual cues that distinguish between irony and bad manners, but otherwise it felt familiar if not comfortable. I can’t remember what we talked about, only that I seemed a little more emphatic about my opinions than usual. We recorded the meeting, which is close to what it was. Not really a show, more a rally of a political platform with no policies. A few friends joined in, several listeners drifted in and out. All in all, about what I expected.

The following day, I called around to get others’ reactions. Also about what I expected. That evening, someone hosted a Twitter Spaces event that apparently peaked at 22,000 listeners. The subject matter was crypto. I remember walking around below the stage at Woodstock early on the first afternoon of the festival. The fences were down; the concert was declared free, and the crowds began to build. The sense of something big filled the air, but I was more concerned with the foreboding storm clouds gathering at the top of the hill. At some point as the thunder began to roll in, I left and headed back to the safety of the town of Woodstock 40 miles away.

I grew up part time in Woodstock, the other part in the city at my father’s apartment in Greenwich Village. From as early as I remember, the conversation around the coffee table in the kitchen was all about the issues of the day, the music and media of the time, the patterns of a family marked by divorce, liberalism, and the key notion that age had little to do with one’s standing around the table. It always felt profound to me that I could be heard and listen to any subject or feeling, across the multigenerational patchwork of step and half siblings, and in both the Village and Woodstock, a steady stream of artists, musicians, and filmmakers engaged intimately in the moment of the 60’s and on and on to this day. My point is that Clubhouse and Twitter and a flattened hierarchy of intention and opinion is a constant in my life, not a new freedom or problem to be overcome. It’s the old normal, for me.

On this edition of the Gang, the subject of Amazon’s Sidewalk mesh network arises. Suffice it to say, there are security implications. What happens when a company whose scale has captured a significant percentage of the world economy in the pandemic offers an opt out service sharing its customers’ broadband internet access with other Amazon customers? The potential arrogance of providing an opt out date after which you have agreed to this plan by not saying no is, well, breathtaking. Forget that the algorithm uses a very small part of your bandwidth cap and would be unlikely to affect your access to or price of the subscription to the network. In some way, that makes the grab seem even more Machiavellian than it really is. But even more egregious is the suggestion that such a mesh network gives potential access not only to the bandwidth but what you and everybody else in the neighborhood does with it. Wherever you go, there you are indeed. Or, there goes the neighborhood.

For now, the fences are down in the new Woodstock. Washington is coming for its cut of the pie, and the new rules of post-cookie and privacy v. economy are being debated. Apple is challenging the newsletter and its rationale creator economy by breaking access to the open and click rates that drive analytics. Tracking pixels will now open en masse before the beginning of the viewing process rather than firing off as clicks are generated. Substack and Revue tools to track these indications of user preference will have to be replaced by direct appeals for information about preferences, which to me suggests a kind of horse trade in terms of subscriber cost versus user-provided data. By the way, I very much appreciate new subscribers to the Gang newsletter feed, even though we’ve moved off Substack to Revue and don’t know why people are subscribing to an empty stream. Come to think of it, the sound of silence may be worth it.

As Professor Corey used to say, “No, no, I really mean that.” What is said may not be the most important part of the transaction. Instead, how trust is established and maintained is a core value. The newsletter proposition is to cut to the chase, whether by overt messages or the avoidance of wasted time spent on concerns or attitudes that have already been understood by the nature of the subscribed relationship. As the cost of creator production approaches zero, tools are needed to evaluate the credibility and utility of all these new voices. Where magazines and publishers used to provide a screening process, now the methodology for measuring trust becomes business critical. How many are watching or reading what is still important, but who those people are and how they relate to each other in a retweet/like social culture is more so.

Something akin to this is going on with live audio, where the conversation is a representative democratic process where listeners can evaluate not just what is said but how it is absorbed by the others “on stage.” These little signals of discovery between speakers are amplified by the audience reaction and, painfully, their withdrawal from the room via Leave Quietly. You can hear the moderator(s) quickly responding to such attrition with pivots to more viable subject matter or new speakers, but in aggregate these adjustments form a roadmap for future participation by “subscribers.” In this structure, the subscription is less about the price and more about the trust the group ascribes to the producers and speakers.

At Woodstock, the downed fences, traffic jams, and general chaos of creating a half-a-million population city in a heartbeat produced a difficult management situation where the very acts promoted by the organizers were unable to reach the stage. Instead, artists like John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful (attending but not performing) were thrust into the spotlight for iconic performances that changed not only their careers but the rhythm and drama of the film that resulted. Joni Mitchell was convinced by her manager to skip the event in favor of an appearance on the Dick Cavett show, but her boyfriend of the time, Graham Nash, was there as part of CSN&Y and relayed his impressions of the event as Mitchell sat in her hotel room. The result was the song she wrote, as recorded by CSNY, became the lead single from the band’s next record Déjà Vu, and played over the end credits of the film.

“We are stardust… golden… got to get back to the garden.” Joni Mitchell’s invisible pixels sprinkled over the massive economic disaster known as the Woodstock festival captured the top of the hit parade, and with it the moment we remember in history. Altamont, assassinations, pandemics, Nixon bombing in Ohio were soon to replace the aura of the hippie trek, but we still celebrate the idea of what we call Woodstock. The cryptos may be right, and translucent pixels may be suppressed, but I’ll still take CSNY’s glowing harmonies any day on my morning Wheaties. I’ll take shows about nothing for 40, Bob.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter


The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, June 4, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

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[embedded content] The Gang or a subset did a Clubhouse, longer than a regular show by a good third. The audio only structure lacked the visual cues that distinguish between irony and bad manners, but otherwise it felt familiar if not comfortable. I can’t remember what we talked about, only…

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