Edition 2: Is the world ending, or just the USA?

More on ByteDance and the decline of American industrialization. Also: the end of fashion week, entropy is like counting sheep, and the measure of a leader.

This time on The Lobby, another collection of content for your perusal. I took the week off to give myself some space to recharge and think about things that aren’t work, and instead spend more time considering other going-ons in the world.

On the macro level, I’m thinking about the rise of China and the decline of the US. “May you live in interesting times” indeed. On a personal level, I’m reconsidering every industry and every career path in my pursuit of Ikigai. Decision paralysis, my old nemesis, we meet again.

On to the links:

The Rise of TikTok and Understanding Its Parent Company ByteDance

It’s difficult to escape mention of TikTok these days, be it in the news of a coming ban or acquisition, or in the viral videos themselves. I’ve personally fallen victim to its addictive effects, scrolling for what feels like minutes at a time, but is definitely more like three hours.

It’s not just me; the average user sessions 8 times a day for a total of over 46 minutes.

This well-researched and in depth piece by Turner Novak goes into further detail about how TikTok came about and rose to dominance, with additional focus on its parent company ByteDance and some of ByteDance’s other offerings. With its incredibly rapid growth and expansion across multiple verticals (consumer and enterprise) in global markets, ByteDance is looking like a serious global competitor to Google, with perhaps an even stronger international thrust.

There are some really bananas metrics in here, and as a whole, TikTok/ByteDance really puts some other well known companies’ “exponential growth curves” to shame.

If ByteDance’s other products (music streaming, messaging, consumer finance, education, the list goes on) can find success on par with TikTok abroad - that is, if ByteDance has discovered some formula for cracking foreign markets - then American companies and regulators are right to be worried. Time will tell if TikTok only marks the beginning of ByteDance’s conquest.

In the New Cold War, Deindustrialization Means Disarmament

In this new cold war, a deindustrialized United States is a disarmed United States—a country that is precariously vulnerable to coercion, espionage, and foreign interference.

In 1999, workers assembled iMacs in Sacramento. Today, the facility is a call center.

For the last few decades the US has been the major beneficiary of the globalized economy, happily reducing costs by offshoring the majority of its manufacturing. China in particular captured the demand for cheap labor, gobbling up production jobs - beginning with an unskilled labor force on the low end and working its way up to semiconductor and other highly complex fabrications (see: everything Apple sells).

It’s now clear that the supply chain isn’t coming home. More concerning, as tensions with China rise to a boil, it’s also clear that the US has placed its manufacturing/industrial needs at the mercy of an ideologically opposed foreign power. Now there is little leverage to counterbalance China’s increasingly brazen trespasses on the world stage.

Since March alone, China has threatened to withhold medical equipment from the United States and Europe during the coronavirus pandemic; launched the biggest cyberattack against Australia in the country’s history; hacked U.S. firms to acquire secrets related to the coronavirus vaccine; and engaged in massive disinformation campaigns on a global scale.

As China makes leaps and bounds in the development of next-generation software and hardware, it completes the vertical integration of innovation and production that once made the US the dominant power in the economic and political landscape.

The United States’ slow drift toward deindustrialization is not a threat to Democrats or a threat to Republicans—it’s a threat to the United States.

The article goes on to lay out a few ways America can reclaim its title as the industrial capital of the world, but a few things are already certain.

  1. The United States is no longer the industrial powerhouse it once was.

  2. Industrial strength can only be recaptured with strong, bipartisan legislation, and with the cooperation of other major players in the Western world.

  3. Without rapid and sweeping course correction, the complete loss of American sovereignty is an inevitability.

I, for one, welcome our new Chinese overlords. - Kent Brockman China | Meme  Generator

Sweatpants Forever

What happens to the fashion industry now that no one has a reason to dress up?

A lengthy exposé on how the high fashion fashion industry has been faring (spoiler: not well) in these times. I personally enjoy reading about industries I’m unfamiliar with, and while I have a basic appreciation for fashion, I’m wholly uncultured when it comes to the Fashion Week crowd.

Told largely through the lens of a disillusioned designer who went independent and direct-to-consumer, the article covers the increasingly hysterical and nonsensical demands of a 21st century fashion industry grown out of control, and the fallout of a hard reset triggered by the pandemic.

“We’ve done everything to such excess that there is no consumer for all of it,” [Marc] Jacobs told Vogue. “Everyone is exhausted by it. The designers are exhausted by it. The journalists are exhausted from following it.” He added, “When you’re just told to produce, to produce, to produce, it’s like having a gun to your head and saying, you know, Dance, monkey!”

The collapse of fashion seasons, since this year has condensed into a single, ultra-long sweatpants season, offers a chance for the industry to start anew. Considering the increasing accessibility of small-merchant-operated online storefronts à la Shopify, the resurgence of indie designers is sure to come with a tech-first approach.

Ali Rowghani - How to Lead

This talk by Ali Rowghani, Partner at Y Combinator and ex-C suite at Pixar and Twitter, is part of the YC startup curriculum. He condenses the essence of leadership into just a few traits that are worth developing, whether you see yourself becoming a career leader or not.

Quick takeaways:

  • There is no archetype for great leaders; successful leaders have wildly different personalities, backgrounds, and motivations

  • However, they do share a few important traits in common, such as
    - Clarity of thought and language (strong communication)
    - Judgment about other people (recognizing talent)
    - Integrity and commitment (being equal parts decent and mission driven)

  • The measure of a leader is how they are able to build trust between everybody on the team
    - Quantitatively: a leader with great results can be trusted to deliver
    - Qualitatively: a leader with the right touch can be trusted to make things right
    Good starting points to work on: empathy, sensitivity, humility

  • Every challenge a leader faces is also an opportunity to build trust

Entropy Explained, With Sheep

A fun and highly visual explanation for why entropy always increases. Short answer: it’s simple probability.

There’s no microscopic law telling any particle which direction to go, just like there’s no shepherd telling the sheep where to go in our imaginary farm. It’s just that there are more ways to spread energy around, and fewer ways to keep energy confined. Increasing entropy is highly likely, decreasing it is basically impossible. It’s just stuff obeying the laws of chance.

I love articles that treat websites as creative canvases for storytelling, and this is a great application of that.

Three Bay Areas

A bit of satire from 2017 that still accurately captures the wealth and lifestyle disparity between the denizens of Silicon Valley / the Bay Area at large. It breaks “three Bay Areas” down into the privileged tech elite (into which myself and most my peers fall), woke middle class (who struggle to make ground amongst overbought housing and overheated cost of living), and distressed locals (who find themselves priced out and left behind by the tech takeover).

This piece breaks the “three Bay Areas” down by their response to gentrification:
1. When you hear the word “gentrification,” you get upset and feel attacked.
2. When you hear the word “gentrification,” you feel guilt and anger at once.
3. When you hear the word “gentrification,” you feel like you’ve just been shoved.

Definitely a thought provoking read that holds true to this day, particularly as the pandemic widens the gulf of inequality.

August Thunderstorm Rocks San Francisco Bay Area

2020 is not pulling any punches. On the heels of a record heat wave and mandated rolling blackouts, we witnessed one of the Bay Area’s most prolific thunderstorms in memory last night - still in the midst of a pandemic. At least we have a front row seat to the end times.


Photo from @Negative_Tilt