The World Is Less Complex Than It Looks

Ed Zitron 3 min read

Somehow the Gamestop thing is still in the news, despite Gamestop stock trading at about $98 (so a good $200 or more less than a week ago), because everybody is still trying to get their pound of flesh out of the story. I guess it’s good SEO to constantly talk about a thing that has happened, and is very much done, because even Guy With Bitcoin Tie Tim Draper is still getting on TV to talk about how it’s “soaring” in an interview that looks extremely dated despite being from Friday and being posted yesterday on LinkedIn.

The reason I don’t touch the stock market is because there is no real, easy way for the average person to get any kind of prior knowledge (legally, at least) that would put them in a position to truly profit. It’s not like the underlying value of a stock really matters to the markets, otherwise the market would have been down during the pandemic versus up, and the people that have the ability to read all of this stuff and “know” when things will go well…are hedge fund managers, and don’t really share with the proles.

I can’t think of anyone I’d want to hear from less about stocks than Nick Bilton, but nevertheless CNBC put him on TV with Kevin Roose (who’s pretty good!) to talk about the ‘memeification of stocks,’ a truly irresponsible idea that needs to be crushed immediately. Other than the fact that describing the “memeification of stocks” makes you sound 400 years old, it also doesn’t make sense - a bunch of people were like “I wanna buy this stock because I think we can push it higher” and they did it. That has happened many, many times over, and is basically how stocks work to the average person, and then the moment that Wall Street had extracted as much value from them as possible, the thing they thought they had control of went down the toilet.

I get that - and I’m guilty of it too - it’s easy to see the world through the lens of your own job, but there are no reasons why someone who writes about tech and social media should be talking about stocks with any level of assumed domain expertise. There is a colossal issue in journalism at the moment that everything must be analyzed and codified so that it’s easily bit off and chewed, and that means that every situation must have analysis and must be explained in a way that is interesting and in-depth enough to fill people’s content lust. It reminds me a lot of the New York Times piece that described how Megan Rapinoe beat Trump…by ignoring him and the trolls. It’s a pretty long piece, and that’s the entire point, but because there is this unending need to add levels of intrigue and investigation to make things bigger than they are, and people love to read and share stuff and say “very interesting, great analysis,” we are spending an alarming amount of our time adding complexity to the world that doesn’t need to exist.

The Gamestop thing was a retail rush to buy a stock that Wall Street participated in, and then extracted value from. It’s not about “memes.” Asking Elon Musk about being a “meme king” suggests that there is anything going on there more complex than “a guy with 44 million followers can post anything and it will be picked up.” It’s almost as if a chunk of journalism cannot accept that the reason that Elon Musk has an effect on stuff is that he is popular, and that’s about it.

Maybe simple explanations don’t get clicks, or make for interesting narratives. But there is a level of anxiety we create when we drum up big, meaningful, complex narratives around things that can be explained fairly quickly and easily. It was fairly obvious what was happening even before Robinhood stopped trading, and when they did, it’s totally fair to start discussing that, but pretending that there is some mystical meme power that exists beyond ‘lots of people got together and did something’ is masturbatory - it exists almost entirely to make the writer and the reader feel smart, while failing to make either of them smarter.

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