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On The Unexpected: Zoom Parties And The Lessons Of The Matrix

The red pill, the blue pill, and the Zoom pill
The red pill, the blue pill, and the Zoom pill
Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's official: Zoom parties are here to stay. And to anyone who ever attended an actual party, no need here to spell out why there's no comparison. Yet there I was last week in a text exchange with a friend turning down my invitation to our bi-weekly drinks at my ... er ... place, suggesting with some enthusiasm that we instead "move the event online."

This word, event, has its mid-16th century origins in the concept of "outcome," a reference I discovered when typing up a tagline for a conference management company. Indeed, the outcome could be ... anything! It was bullshit of course.

But like any decent marketing pitch it tugged at something relatable. Conference veterans know that terrible only becomes tolerable through all the things conferences aren't really for. Yes, there are the sweaty handshakes, sponsorship coffee and the double-distilled boredom of brighter-future speeches. But there's also the weird characters, free alcohol and — not often but sometimes — a flirt with that just-divorced MD. That which is unexpected is full of point when we ask ourselves what about real life can't be replicated.

Back to our caught-in-limbo present, my friend was focused on the practical: So you don't have fiber? I texted back my googling discoveries about serendipity and software updates and audio glitches. I shouldn't have expected the internet to indict itself, and the call ended with my friend encouraging me to reconsider my real-world conservatism.

Sure, my younger sister recently called me an old man in his 30s. And sure, The Matrix was released 20 years ago. But that's also where we are right now. Watching it last week, I got stuck on the scene where we find out that the original version of the Matrix was a utopian world, perfectly constructed for humans to live in the absence of hardship. But that world had been rejected by the human mind, which is not designed for functioning in utopia — and replaced by a virtual alternative modeled on the imperfect reality that existed before the machines took over.

And so today's imperfect reality includes online conferences and Zoom parties, which both were undeniably useful substitutes during national quarantines. But let's be careful not to stroll too lightly into a world where all that is unexpected is reduced to a glitch in the software.

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Look At This Crap! The "Enshittification" Theory Of Why The Internet Is Broken

The term was coined by journalist Cory Doctorow to explain the fatal drift of major Internet platforms: if they were ever useful and user-friendly, they will inevitably end up being odious.

A photo of hands holding onto a smartphone

A person holding their smartphone

Gilles Lambert/ZUMA
Manuel Ligero


The universe tends toward chaos. Ultimately, everything degenerates. These immutable laws are even more true of the Internet.

In the case of media platforms, everything you once thought was a good service will, sooner or later, disgust you. This trend has been given a name: enshittification. The term was coined by Canadian blogger and journalist Cory Doctorow to explain the inevitable drift of technological giants toward... well.

The explanation is in line with the most basic tenets of Marxism. All digital companies have investors (essentially the bourgeoisie, people who don't perform any work and take the lion's share of the profits), and these investors want to see the percentage of their gains grow year after year. This pushes companies to make decisions that affect the service they provide to their customers. Although they don't do it unwillingly, quite the opposite.

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Annoying customers is just another part of the business plan. Look at Netflix, for example. The streaming giant has long been riddling how to monetize shared Netflix accounts. Option 1: adding a premium option to its regular price. Next, it asked for verification through text messages. After that, it considered raising the total subscription price. It also mulled adding advertising to the mix, and so on. These endless maneuvers irritated its audience, even as the company has been unable to decide which way it wants to go. So, slowly but surely, we see it drifting toward enshittification.

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