Hi, welcome to your Weekend!
Compared to other austerity measures that have swept over tech this past year (the mass layoffs, the hiring freezes, the end of in-house laundry), the demise of the holiday party likely isn’t inspiring panic amongst tech workers. But should it?
As Annie and Arielle write in this week’s cover story, it seems like only yesterday (i.e., 2019) that big tech firms like Google, Salesforce and Facebook were throwing holiday bashes that would make the “Succession” kids blush. Think ice sculptures, champagne towers, Maroon 5 concerts and photo-ops with White Walkers (always a sign that winter is coming).
My, how times have changed. With the possible exception of Adobe—which celebrated its 40th birthday with a live, 90-minute Katy Perry set earlier this month—tech companies are largely depriving employees of anything that resembles pampering.
But it’s not the end of the no-holds-barred holiday bacchanal that matters, really—it’s the death of the ambition that fueled it. For decades, people have streamed into Silicon Valley because they hoped to prove themselves worthy of such lavish celebrations. For a long while, employers deemed them so. Now, apparently, they do not.
It’s not just companies’ entertainment budgets that have been diminished, but the Valley’s view of itself. Makes you wonder where those talented, ambitious workers will look for affirmation next.
Now onto this weekend’s stories...
the big read
The Buzz Is Gone: Tech Companies (With a Few Exceptions) Are Reining In Once-Legendary Holiday Parties
Remember way back in 2015, when Yahoo spent a reported $7 million on a Gatsby–themed holiday party? Or 2019, when Facebook’s “Game of Thrones”–themed bash included an archery range, those White Walkers mentioned above and a roasted pig? As Annie and Arielle report, those halcyon days are mostly gone in Silicon Valley, replaced by far more modest celebrations. Think team lunches, gingerbread-making workshops and (wince) gratitude journals.
the ai age
“ChatGPT managed to break what I call the ‘imagination unlock,’” said Alex Volkov, creator of the ChatGP-T-1000, a Telegram bot that he cooked up at a hackathon last weekend. Volkov is just one of an army of developers who are experiencing “a glass-shattering moment” thanks to OpenAI’s ChatGPT program. Reporter Chris Stokel-Walker explores a sliver of the AI industry that’s blowing up in real time.
‘This Is the Best. I’ve Tried Everything’: Tech Execs on the Ski Gear They Won’t Go Downhill Without
As Silicon Valley’s snow bunnies know all too well, there’s always some piece of equipment you want to upgrade. Annie called up a few slope-addicted founders and investors to ask for their suggestions on the best high-tech winter sports equipment of the season.
A founding partner at Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six venture firm, Holloway has extremely decisive opinions on technology. FaceTime: never. Dark Mode: always. Inbox zero: essential. Siri and Alexa: toxic. Here she unlocks her phone to reveal her personal tastes in tech.
Watching: Elon’s crash landing
When I was a kid, a hot-air balloonist made an emergency descent into my parents’ backyard, sending their upstate New York neighborhood into a tizzy. Ever since, I’d assumed that was the most absurd airborne commotion I’d see. Wrong! This week Elon Musk sparked a back-and-forth drama over the @ElonJet account, which tracks the location of his private aircraft using public flight data. Under a hastily created new rule, Musk booted @ElonJet, then momentarily reinstated it, before blocking it again. (@ElonJet’s creator, University of Central Florida student Jack Sweeney, is still tracking Musk on Instagram.) Next, Twitter took down more than 25 other aircraft-tracking accounts—then banned a handful of journalists covering this soap opera, saying they had violated the same rule as @ElonJet. Coming from a self-professed free-speech proponent, who as recently as last month promised @ElonJet could stay on Twitter, Musk’s reasoning has seemed as full of hot air as that balloon. —Abe
Reading: A deep dive into TikTok’s moderation problem
Social media moderation is a fickle beast, and Tiktok’s policing of its teen users has cornered the company in a no-win situation. For Bloomberg, reporter Olivia Carville investigates TikTok’s headaches through the lens of 16-year-old creator Jenny Popach (real name Roselie Arritola), whose hyper-sexualized dance videos have made her a lightning rod. Arritola’s parents encourage the posting, which is monetized with a raft of lucrative brand deals. TikTok has suspended Arritola’s account multiple times, before bringing it back online. Watchdogs say the platform isn’t being vigilant enough in sidelining child pornography (for reference, 200K of Arritola’s 7.2M viewers are men over 35), while other teen creators say the app’s moderation efforts infringe upon their own rights. Meanwhile, all of the controversy only raises the teen provocateur’s clout. “If you don’t have haters,” Arritola says, “you ain’t poppin’.” —Annie
Noticing: Could a four-day work week become a thing?
Obviously, no. Most employers loathe the idea of a 32-hour week. Many economists agree with them. And it isn’t hard to imagine what the majority of conservative, and even liberal, lawmakers might think about mandatory, year-round three-day weekends. (Will the war on fun never cease?!) But it’s hard to argue with raw data, and a recent study led by a Boston College economist showed that companies that self-selected to participate in a four-day work week reported an average 8% increase in revenue over the course of a 10-month trial. San Francisco startup Bolt is one of the companies pioneering four-day weeks, and to read about employees’ experiences with long weekends, weekday rock-climbing sessions and “ruthless prioritization” Monday through Thursday is to become...well, if not a believer, then at least four-day curious. —Jon
Makes You Think
Until next Weekend, thanks for reading.
Weekend Editor, The Information