Hi, welcome to your Weekend!
Interesting dinner table discussion this week: My 13-year-old daughter, hearing about Nancy Scola’s cover story on TikTok’s war in Washington, offered her prediction for what would happen if the U.S. took the drastic step of banning the app.
“Every teenager in America would refuse to come out of their rooms,” she said. “They’d be so mad. They just wouldn’t go out anymore.”
“So like a nationwide teenager strike?” I asked.
“Yeah. But why would the government even want to do that?”
Why, indeed. Clearly, there are some persuasive reasons why the nation’s intelligence and security apparatus should banish TikTok. Also, some solid cultural reasons. (Did you catch the recent 60 Minutes episode showing how different the Chinese version of the app is to the American one? Chilling.)
But if there was ever a platform around which lawmakers and regulators might tread lightly, it’s this one. Fact is, TikTok has already captured the hearts and minds of 100 million Americans. Chinese ownership or not, TikTok is this generation’s MTV, its graffiti art, its jazz. To completely disappear it would be like telling the youth of America to sit up straight, cut their hair and stop listening to that godawful Elvis. It won’t end well.
I suspect U.S. authorities will need to take a more nuanced approach to the TikTok problem, which the Biden Administration appears to be doing, albeit in classic Biden fashion—slooowly. Of course, they also have to lock down Americans’ data, and ensure that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t have keys to the safe. It isn’t going to be easy.
But banning the app outright feels, to this father, like a mistake our lawmakers might come to regret. Now onto this week’s stories...
the big read
How do you solve a problem like TikTok? In Washington, that question has become an enigma wrapped in a quagmire. No matter how hard TikTok tries to win over the capitol—and it has recently been trying real, real hard—Democrats and Republicans alike are coming around to the notion that the app poses a grave threat to American security. Reporter Nancy Scola explores the Biden administration’s predicament, and the company’s existential struggle.
From her Los Angeles bungalow-meets-headquarters, the former New York Times columnist is juggling a new media company, a newborn baby, 300,000 readers and one perturbed Elon Musk. Annie spends the morning at home with Weiss, her wife and the staff of The Free Press, asking, can anti-woke outrage produce a great media business?
Since January 1, 57,601 tech employees have been eliminated from 185 companies’ payrolls. An increasing number are turning to TikTok to share their raw, real-time reactions. The recordings signal a generational shift in how people respond to layoffs, from a moment of private shame, to a public outpouring of catharsis and connection. Chris Stokel-Walker explores how the tech recession will be TikToked.
Reading: A startup founder’s fountain of youth
We all want to live a long life. Many of us are even willing to torture ourselves for the privilege, perhaps by practicing intermittent fasting or enduring HIIT workouts. But few people have taken this quest as far as Bryan Johnson, the serial startup founder profiled by Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance this week. Johnson, 45, spends upwards of $2 million a year trying to coax his body back to its unspoiled teenage form. His daily protocol: a cocktail of two dozen vitamins; a strict vegan and mostly liquid diet; an hour of exercise; light therapy for his skin; sound therapy for his ears; and a device that administers electromagnetic pulses for muscle toning—all supervised by a team of 30-plus doctors who monitor every input and output. After reading about this human guinea pig routine, I arrived at the same conclusion Vance did: “Johnson’s lifestyle isn’t for me.” — Arielle
Listening: Drake-ify your life
We’ve heard a lot about the booming generative AI scene in Silicon Valley (in this publication, especially). But have you thought about using AI to make Drake songs? Sorry, someone beat you to it. Drayk.it is an AI generator that uses GPT-3 to turn any prompt into a Drake track. Obviously, the songs aren’t exactly Spotify-ready, but they do indeed sound like him. I ordered up a song about tech journalism and subscription media (ever on brand) and it is indeed… something. Yes, AI Drake is a cute gimmick, but it also poses interesting questions about AI’s effect on the music industry: Once the technology improves, will AI Drake make thousands of new songs? Could other entities profit from his voice and likeness? Will we hear “Hotline Bling” in hundreds of languages? Yes, the future may belong to AI artists—they started from the bottom, now they’re here. —Annie
Following: the parody app mashup creator
Soren Iverson, a designer at CashApp, noticed all those terrible knockoffs of Spotify’s year-end Wrapped feature and got inspired. What would happen if apps swiped features from each other—“like, what if things just got unhinged?” he wondered. For the past month, Iverson has been tweeting answers to that question. His imagined mashups include Slack with read receipts, Juul with Instagram-like parental controls, a Live Nation checkout system that charges higher fees if users can’t enter three album titles from the performing artist and an iPhone group alarm that won’t stop blaring until everyone in the group wakes up. (When he shared the latter idea with his wife, she had a curt reply: “Why does your brain work like that?”) What makes his parodies so sharp is how close to plausibility they come. “You can almost see a really weird world where some of this stuff starts getting shipped,” he said. —Abe
Makes You Think
Until next Weekend, thanks for reading.
Weekend Editor, The Information