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pirate wires #101 // in celebration of the pirate wires anniversary; a brief history, and the future of media
This is the 101st edition of the Pirate Wires newsletter, and our 300th piece to date, marking three years of stories and analysis at the intersection of technology, politics, and culture. Over the last six months, I’ve formalized the Pirate Wires Corp, built a small team, launched a couple new subbrands, and have I told you lately about our podcast (seriously though, please subscribe)? While my ambition for the company is great, and we’re nowhere close to total institutional domination — the goal, obviously — I’m proud of what my team has been building, and 101 is a milestone worth celebrating. In the spirit of this, I took some time to reflect on what it is that sets this company apart, the story we’re telling, and the future of media.
Law of Clown. Back in June of 2020 I was living in San Francisco with a front row seat to what genuinely felt like the end of the world. A proliferation of homeless encampments, drug abuse, and burglary mirrored what I saw in clips from all around the country, as identity-obsessed politics casually divided the nation along racial lines, “trust the science” became the favored mantra of histrionic Eternal Covidians, and “free speech,” a once core American value, became permanently associated — by actual authoritarians — with “literal fascism.”
Today, as the national vibe shifts, the viciousness and chaos of pandemic-era culture has mostly been memory-holed by our media, government, and prison guards in tech. But I will remember it for the rest of my life, as I never understood how close this country was to real collapse before those first few months of legalized rioting, and our “summer of love” in the CHAZ. From my first writings, in an effort to understand culture, I looked to the medium through which it was created. At almost every decisive moment over the last three years, technology amplified the clown world chaos, but it also helped us parse the truth. Disruption, control, liberation: the slightest changes in our tools define us, as people come to fill their vessel, which is not only to speak of our anti-social “social media.” Language is technology, as is the rule of law, and at every level of society malicious actors attempt to reshape our technology in their own image. This is an information war, I realized, for the most part indirectly waged. The stakes are existential.
Pirate Wires was born.
From the earliest days, I conceived of the work in chapters, or pieces, but of the broader work as a single story. My setting was America, in the cartoon age of social media, paradoxically rotting (State of Disaster; Global Warming Ate My Homework; Bad Education) in an age of incredible technological innovation (Base Reality; American Futura; Terraforming Terra Prima; Dominion; and even Demonic, if you can get over the monstrous apparition of [demonic name redacted for your spiritual safety]). Our official leaders, capricious and wasteful, evaded public scrutiny (Trillion Dollar Paint Job; American Hustle: Microchip Edition; Substack Billionaire), while the only people actually building anything of value — for the most part technologists and entrepreneurs — were relentlessly attacked (American Spaceman, Body and Soul; Subhuman; and especially Extract or Die). This misattribution of authority drove me insane. Nothing could be fixed until the country faced reality. But reality was increasingly difficult to comprehend, as the internet fundamentally altered the way we accessed, mediated, and shared “the truth” (Jump; Tether; Encyclopedia Titanica). Then, even where we could collect our thoughts, we were not permitted to express them freely. On January 6th, 2021, the Death Star press discovered the first riot in seven months it found distasteful, and the tech industry erased a sitting president from the internet (Insurrection as a Service). Ostensibly, Trump was silenced to prevent authoritarianism. In practice, we were clearly living in a One Party State.
It has probably been hundreds of years since American power truly cared for freedom of speech, but only recently has the power class’s opposition to the value grown explicit (Freedom is for Nazis), while the most neurotic people in the country are given real authority over how the rest of us live and speak about our lives (Policy of Truth; “Science” and Safety Porn). Fortunately, the same fount of power that gave the party real control of speech is also, by its nature, unpredictable; technology is the Fifth Estate, and its only real constant is that it changes. With power so necessarily leveraged into tools of control, the implication here is any truly technologically progressive society, by its nature, eventually resets power.
In Jack be Nimble, Jack be Quick, I noticed the first cracks of the old order, as tech leaders began to introspect, and waver in their uniform alliance with (or submission to) authority. As high-profile leaders became more bold in their resistance, the culture of the industry began to change. Gradually, the demand for greater freedom became associated with industry status. Then, it was a lightning crack. Elon Musk took Twitter (King Shit), the statist elements of media tried, and failed, to preserve the prior order (F.U.D), and the country was once again changed.
I’m often asked if Elon’s Twitter is “better” or “worse” than before. My answer is this doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is there now exists a single, major speech platform where the laws of censorship are different than everywhere else. Censorship still exists on Twitter, to be clear. But what happens on Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube doesn’t happen, necessarily, in the private home of Elon Musk, where something like 400 million people now live. This has necessarily broadened the American Overton Window, and affected a brief, rough freedom. In that freedom, sort of knocked back and among the various platform giants, will continue to grow the Sovereign Influencer — single individuals, with enormous followings, mediating truth for millions. If permitted to flourish, such figures will shape the next decade.
In the 20th Century, a century of collectivism and war (great music though, and $$$ has been lit), media consolidated, and the American monoculture was born. The internet blew a hole in that system, and an early generation of new media challengers squandered the first real opportunity to build something new in their delirious hunger for attention. This is to say new press value was built in the 2000s, but it wasn’t captured, and given the choice between the New York Times and a group of people who believed everything written by the New York Times, but wrote with less authority, there was only one possible outcome: the new class received a click here and there, or a couple hundred million, but trusted sources of news — which is, crucially, not to say accurate sources of news — received a subscription. Companies like Buzzfeed were always, for the most part, colorful noise. Companies like Vice were born to be different, then gradually lost their way in competition for attention with the new media hot shots. Today, the popularity of standing giants is roughly measured in terms of their trust, where the most trusted are the most valuable. But there’s nobody we trust more than our friends, and that’s the future: people we like, talking.
The decades-long competition for your attention on the internet has been a brutal, Darwinian battle, and here we arrive to our hideous if undeniably comical present: a seething war of transsexual Bud Light cans, gyrating teenaged influencers, and based Greek statues, arms raised to heaven, summon daily horrors from the nightmare realm. Most recently, a small army of live-streaming prostitutes have begun emulating AI-generated women on the Chinese spy app, where it is possible to give a girl money in exchange for a growl, a giggle, or the quick, grateful lick of a fake ice cream. Orders are happily followed for hours every day. This is an attention apex predator, not the last of its kind but the first.
The internet, once a place we entered briefly and left, is now a place where we live. The average American spends 8.5 hours online each day, where he navigates the giant narrative monopolists, still dominant across the landscape, along with every wild clown world drama, and every manner of influencer that can be imagined — some of them reasonable, most of them not. With so much information online, curation has become at least as important as generation. The aim of Pirate Wires is both: a distillation of signal from noise, and then an illustration of something beautiful, and meaningful, and altogether better.
After years of censorship, and now amidst a sprawling platform war, email, the internet’s first channel, has proven the only safe means of distribution left.
Subscriptions, including free subscriptions, are the life blood of a trust-based system. But not everything can live in an inbox. Email is personal, and we all get too much of it. The question we’re grappling with today: how to scale without drowning an audience in information?
You’ve probably noticed we’ve been publishing a little less from the Pirate Wires flagship, and we’ve separated the White Pill into its own, unique vertical. This, for now, is the best tool we have. It’s me on the flagship from here on out, writing myself or heavily curating, and framing pieces I feel important. But for deeper dives into the various corners of the Pirate Wires Extended Universe, we’re experimenting on main, and spinning out new channels. Some will focus on technology and business, some on culture, some on politics. Unsubscribe from the letters you’re less interested in, remain subscribed to the stuff you love, and find all of it on our site.
A couple days ago, as I watched a YouTube clip of a U.S. Congresswoman casually present a picture of President Biden’s son receiving a blowjob he paid for and literally declared on his taxes, I thought to myself: this is why Pirate Wires exists. Almost every piece of the Hunter Biden story began with a piece of “fake” news our oligopoly speech platforms attempted to censor before the last presidential election, altogether roughly sketching out the shadowy contours of American power. This is a story I’ve covered, in great detail, for years. Pirate Wires is a translation of chaos, and an analysis of power. The former often obfuscates the latter, and I’m obsessed with both. You’re welcome, and thank you for your support (truly). Today, we celebrate our anniversary.
Check out our latest on YouTube, a review of Oppenheimer featuring friends of the gang Kmele Foster and Trae Stephens. Topics including: the art of Christopher Nolan, a thirst for glory and assumption of accountability, the great man (controversial (among the self-loathing)), a navigation our hell hole “America is evil” discourse, and thank God for the atom bomb (y/n?).