In the summer of 2018 I have found myself confronted by a question. I had never really considered it before, say Echelon, but since then it has suddenly been brought up on multiple occasions. It is intriguing because it comes from so many unique characters.
The rancher was a particularly interesting one. If I didn’t like her so much I would call her a “redneck” (she told me the most vulgar joke I have heard in years) but after pegging me with fascinating ideas on generations and religion, she asked the same question I heard from investors, family members, close friends, and mountain hippies.
“Why is it always a competition?”
She was referring to the media as a whole — having learned that I pay my bills as a journalist. Her point was that we (the media) frame articles as if business, geopolitics and hard news are a sporting event.
Our headlines read as if it were Team A (America) vs. Team B (China) or Team C (Southeast Asia Tech) vs. Team D (Silicon Valley). We publish rankings every other week and consistently update our status as the “most innovative blah blah blah”.
Sidenote #1: All of the links are e27 articles, meant to highlight that we also fall victim to the same trap.
We discuss developments in artificial intelligence industry as a battle-dome clash of titans between the US and China. We fret over the bike-sharing wars, food-delivery skirmishes or the blitzkrieg of e-commerce titans.
Yes, business is competitive and real money is at stake, but as I was pleasantly reminded by people with better perspective than myself of one truth. Nobody cares. And by that I mean: Nobody. Cares.
The beautiful advantage of my life is that I spend 85 per cent of my time reading, talking, reporting and writing about Asia startups, but for about 15 per cent of the year I revisit America (the place I was born and raised).
It provides me with perspective. It is my job to talk about trees but I am granted a few moments to step away and get a sense of the forest. In my recent flight to 30,000 feet, I was reminded about local community, and that most people focus on building their neighborhoods, not engaging in geopolitical competitions.
While the internet makes the world seem very small, Indonesia and the US are still very far apart, so to pretend a “most innovative city index” actually matters is ridiculous.
The way we talk about tech forgets that most people wake up focussed on their current bladder situation, go to work and solve internal corporate politics, brainstorm ideas to sell a few more items and then go to the gym, read a book or drink three-too-many-beers.
The Chinese entrepreneur does not wake up thinking, “Today I will take one more step to win our artificial intelligence battle with America,” and the American entrepreneur does not plot for victory against the digital payments domination of China.
The world does not work this way, so why do we pretend it does? Are we so anxious to win at something that we create battles that don’t exist? And if so, does it even count if one side is not even aware the battle is being waged?
As my rancher-friend said, “Why does it always have to be a competition?”
The interesting America Trend
After 2016, the acronym MAGA, which stands for “Make America Great Again”, will be written in history books and taught in every political science class as Example A of the power of a brilliant political slogan.
But in America in 2018 there are two MAGAs; one that matters and another that does not. One is the future of American technology and the other has been reduced to silly gifts worn by the international community.
Sidenote #2: Over the last 12 months, I have spent about 6 weeks in the US and saw exactly zero people wearing red hats.
The MAGA that matters represents Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon. Let’s put Apple as the first ‘A’ for now because it broke the Trillion dollar market-cap ceiling.
Sidenote #3: Tim Cook is a better CEO than Steve Jobs — don’t @ me.
If we take the favourite acronym of the past few years FAANGs (Facebook-Amazon-Apple-Netflix-Google), the new MAGA world-order means we are subtracting two companies (Netflix and Facebook) in order to add Microsoft.
Frankly, it probably always should have been FAAMGs (Facebook-Amazon-Apple-Microsoft-Google) but that doesn’t sound like a cool-vampire-stock so journalists everywhere decided to throw Netflix into a “which of these is not like the others” situation.
Netflix has a market cap of about US$150 billion depending on the day. Amazon, Microsoft and Google fluctuate in the US$800 – US$900 billion range and Facebook is at US$550 billion. So yeah, Netflix never belonged.
Facebook, however, is far more fascinating. Facebook in Southeast Asia is wildly popular. It is easily the go-to social media product and adding a new friend remains one of the first things many people do after a networking event.
But, Facebook.com is dying in the US. Nobody uses it, nobody adds friends, and, frankly, the platform is either people selling stuff or a weird cousin trolling everyone with strange political views.
Facebook.com appears to be on its way out in its home country, but that being said, Facebook Inc. is also the proud owner of America’s most interesting young tech product, which is, of course, Instagram.
If it reaches its ceiling Instagram will not be a social media replacement for Facebook, but rather it has the potential to grow into America’s WeChat. It is not there yet, but a lot of the ‘super app’ infrastructure exists.
The social media aspect is obvious and the messaging service is active. Ask anyone under the age of 21 how they do online dating and the answer will not be Tinder. The term “slide into my DMs” did not come from nowhere.
People are already selling goods on the platform and one could imagine a payments platform being integrated into the service.
It may be an optimistic pipe-dream, but if it works out, Facebook.com could go the way of the dinosaurs while Facebook Inc. starts to resemble a little company known as Tencent.
Unfortunately for Facebook, MAGAF just doesn’t have the same ring.
And now. Time to answer the interesting, random and possibly sarcastic questions in my first attempt at an ‘e27 mailbag’.
These are all questions I received from the e27 community over the past day.
How do you see the scooter-sharing industry playing out in the States?
I am not an optimist. I can see how the industry would take off in San Francisco (those hills are brutal for non-motorised transportation) but in flyover country or cities like Los Angeles, cars will present a limiting factor.
It is not because everyone owns cars but rather that urban sprawl limits how useful a scooter is as a mode of transportation. In LA, it is hard to travel around the city without using the freeway system, but if anyone took a scooter on the I-5 they would be arrested for reckless stupidity.
Personally, I see it going the way of the bike-sharing extravaganza in China. A huge build-up, then a bubble, then a few companies cash-in before, finally, the whole industry collapses on itself and we move on to the next latest-greatest trend.
If startups are so innovative, then why are we still having problems solving large-scale world issues like hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, world peace? Isn’t there a capitalist/tech-driven way to address all these, while at the same time arriving at a decent way to gain profits?
Call me jaded but I don’t view entrepreneurship as the method to solve world problems. I think it is a way to make life more interesting, but, sadly, I don’t think it will ever become a magic bullet.
Personally, I think community engagement and local development is the best way to solve life’s existential issues.
The most impactful organisations I have ever been a part of focus on building community at a local level and improving the lives of a neighbourhood or town.
No one person can solve world hunger. But, one person can build a network of neighbourhood gardens and improve the access to quality food for a few hundred people. No one person can help the elderly live with honour. But, one person can spend their Sundays helping the local community centre improve the lives of a few dozen old folks.
I think the first step is to stop defining ourselves by our jobs but rather to build our legacy based on what our salaries allowed us to leverage outside of work.
For example, LeBron James is the world’s most famous basketball player, but to define him by he ability go get buckets would be shallow. The man just started a public school for at-risk youths in the community of Akron.
He will always be remembered as a basketball player, but in terms of actually making the world a better place, that school will be his defining legacy.
Most of us do not have the resources to start a school, but we can work to define our lives by the things we do outside of our jobs.
I hear Spencer Dinwiddie is launching a shoe with the help of a Hong Kong company. How can that happen? Dude is barely averaging 13 points-per-game?
Bro, didn’t you hear that it’s all about building your personal brand? My first question is why did it take so long? My second question is why are you not starting your own shoe with the help of this Hong Kong company?
The next time I do this mailbag, I expect to be critiquing the success or failure of your just-launched sneaker line. It better be hawt.
How does one remove badger stains from my bed sheets?
The first step is to stop lying to yourself. If a badger were in your bed, that blood is yours. This means the issue isn’t really about cleaning sheets (just burn them) but about treating wounds.
You need to raise the injuries above your heart and apply pressure. It’s important to find antibiotic ointment quickly and generously apply it to the injury. Most importantly, DO NOT try to close the wound because it will trap bacteria and lead to infection.
Then call the ambulance. In the coming days, keep a sensitive eye for unnatural aggression or periods of mania. If this occurs, consult a physician about a potential rabies infection.
Who is the GOAT? Lebron or Jordan?
If we are talking about on-the-court success, I still say Jordan. The reason is because Mike never had a failure like LeBron did in 2011 versus the Dallas Mavericks. That will forever be James’ black-eye on his career. Also, the 1998 Chicago Bulls were not that good and Joran still dragged them to a championship.
Of the court, it’s not even close. Not only did LeBron change how an athlete can control their future, he is a good person who represents an inspiration for how to live a meaningful life. Considering the fact that the dude was famous at the age of 15 it is even more remarkable.
What is mailbag questions?
The future of media.