Discover more from No Expectations
No Expectations 012: Connect to Host
Don’t pay for Facebook. Plus, takes on Greg Freeman’s incredible live show and Free Range’s great new LP.
Thanks for being here. You can expect a fresh newsletter from No Expectations straight to your email each Thursday at 9am cst / 10am est. Subscribe, like the post on Substack, share it on socials, and tell a friend, you know the drill.
I’m moving on Tuesday to a new neighborhood in Chicago, so expect a couple of relatively light newsletters this week and next as I pack and get settled into the new spot.
Social media is torched
Earlier this week, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced that it’s rolling out paid verification for $11.99 per month on web and $14.99 per month on mobile for its social media companies. Unlike Twitter, which does not require government ID or actual verification for its $8 per month Twitter Blue badges, Meta will, and promises “extra protection from impersonation accounts,” “get direct access to customer support,” “exclusive stickers for Stories and Reels,” and “100 free stars per month,” which is a digital currency for tipping creators on Facebook. What’s not offered with these new pay-to-pay blue checkmarks, is an ad-free or reduced ads version of Facebook or Instagram, which Meta said was not being considered as a potential perk. Advertising made up 97.5 percent of the company’s 2022 revenue.
Meta following Elon Musk’s lead in introducing a paid tier is honestly pretty striking, especially considering how disastrous his tenure at Twitter has been so far. His controversial move to add paid verification has only generated under 300,000 users as of mid-January and raised the company a paltry $28 million (in 2021, Twitter made $5bn in revenue and last year, half of its advertisers left the service. It will need over 10 million more Twitter Blue customers just to make up the $1bn interest payments on Musk’s loans). A lot of smart people like Ed Zitron have noted moves like this don’t bode well for the health and future of social media. “I think the Instagram verification suggests that social networks are in serious trouble as far as revenue goes,” Zitron wrote on Twitter. “Targeting [advertisements] is becoming harder to do technologically/legally. They’re desperate to find new sources. The result will be a small bump in rev and pissed-off customers.”
Zitron sums up the most likely future for social media: diminishing returns on a devolving product, modest short-term revenue gains from rubes who want to pay for a checkmark barely scraping the long-term losses from advertisers, and fed-up users leaving these platforms en masse, exacerbating these problems. On Substack, he has an incredibly lucid and damning overview of all the problems plaguing social media companies and the bleak future coming for them. “The result is that social media companies are incentivized not to find ways to make users happy, but to find ways to continually extract money from them in a way that may not be sustainable, but immediately placates those who demand eternal growth…,” Zitron writes. “Every single one of these companies is heavily dependent on advertisers, meaning that you are absolutely going to see every single social network try some form of “premium” product as they try to minimize the damage caused by the tectonic shifts hitting the adtech world.”
The death of social media won’t be a quick one. It’ll be a slow burn just like it’s been for the past decade: the product will get worse, ads will be more intrusive, basic functionality like customer support, account security, and even being able to conveniently see your friends' posts will likely be put behind a paywall. As video apps like TikTok, YouTube, and Twitch continue to grow and outpace some of these legacy platforms, there will be a dearth of functioning text-based social media apps where you can talk to friends and toss off a few hot takes on pop culture or politics or whatever, unless you want to be on Reddit or something. The promise of social media has seemed to mostly fail nearly twenty years in. We had access to a free service that monetized and took advantage of our data and privacy. A landscape of interconnectivity and citizen journalism has morphed into fake news, polarized vitriol, and pay-to-play pedigree. Being more digitally connected to hundreds and thousands of people probably made us feel more lonely and alienated. There are exceptions for sure but at best the whole thing is probably a wash.
Though the online simulation of human connection is severely lacking on these websites, I’m not saying that people will unplug from the Internet and just see people in real life. The human desire for digital connection is still strong and the pandora’s box of social media promising an audience of hundreds and thousands for free is forever open. TikTok and YouTube aren’t going anywhere. I’m not convinced that something decentralized and open-source like Mastodon is a viable alternative: it’s not intuitive enough for the average person to join on and is too rigid and fragmented to replicate Twitter at scale. Both the Metaverse and Web3 seem like scams. Though Substack has been great for me, it will never be a good way to keep in touch with the majority of my social circle. As long as social media companies take a growth-over-everything approach, they’ll remain an unwelcoming and anti-social place that just doesn’t work.
Report: Greg Freeman, Lily Seabird, and Samuel Aaron at Sleeping Village (2/15/23)
I Look Out, Greg Freeman’s 2022 album is my most-played LP of the year and it’s not particularly close. The Vermont artist is such a phenomenal songwriter—at 10 tracks, there are four songs I count as all-timer contenders. He’s managed to construct a perfect Venn diagram of my tastes: it’s loud, twangy, and off-kilter but the hooks are memorable and the energy emanating throughout the songs is palpable. It’s so my shit to such a hilarious extent. While I’ve already written about it multiple times in this newsletter, I’m not going to stop anytime soon. If you’ve ever discovered a band from something I’ve written whether it’s Katy Kirby, NNAMDÏ, Bonny Doon, or whatever, please trust me on this one.
As much as I rave about the album, Freeman’s live show is even better. Dude brought a seven-piece band, including pedal steel and a horn section, to Dollar Beer Night last Wednesday as the second band out of three at Sleeping Village. If that’s not king shit, I don’t know what is. While regular drummer Zack James wasn’t on this run because of his own commitments performing great music as Dari Bay, Freeman’s regular collaborators in bassist Lily Seabird (who filled in as opener with an excellent solo set) and guitarist Noah Kesey joined him. The songs on I Look Out are loose and emotive, which makes them primed to explode live. While there was room for jamming and letting these tracks unfold in new ways, it was honestly really striking how tight the band was. It was their first play in Chicago—they didn’t even know what Malört was—and it was one of the best shows I’ve been to in months. They’re a real force. Expect them back in a city near your on bigger and bigger tours. There’s nothing better than a gig that makes you even more stoked on music. I’m a fan for life now.
Also, check out the albums from Lily Seabird and Noah Kesey. They’re both incredible.
Tapping the sign
What I listened to:
Free Range, Practice
Sofia Jensen is my new favorite Chicago songwriter. Practice, their debut album as Free Range came out on Friday, and it’s 10 tracks of open, subdued, and engaging folk that evokes artists like Elliott Smith, Lomelda, and Katy Kirby. I first heard about Jensen through Friends of the Substack the Districts, who had bonded with them when they were a touring member of opener Girlpuppy. Those guys correctly raved about Jensen’s writing—every note on Practice feels just as intentional as it is tasteful. According to a Chicago Tribune profile from Britt Julious, “Jensen began working on Practice with their creative partner, Jack Henry, when they were only 15” and finished the LP a few years later in the pandemic. Though Jensen is young—part of a vital Chicago music community full of people who are at least a decade younger than me—these are timeless songs that showcase a confident voice and perspective.
Ever since the Districts rec’d Free Range last Spring, I’ve seen Sofia at pretty much every local show I’ve been to since. Last summer, I caught Free Range play Schubas—where the band is playing a record release show Friday—and the trio setup, which inclues Henry and Friko’s Bailey Minzenberger, really floored me. Now that Practice is out, I’m excited to rave about songs like “Running Out” and single “Growing Away.” I’ve been lucky enough to have a link to the LP for a few months now and I like it more with each listen. “On Occasion” really shows Jensen’s way around a melody while “All My Thoughts” positions them as an immensely perceptive and evocative lyricist. Practice, despite being immediately likable, is a patient album that becomes more and more worthwhile the more you come back to it.
What I watched:
What Happened Was… (1994)
I’m a sucker for movies set in one location and just feature great actors talking like 1994’s What Happened Was…Directed by and starring Tom Noonan, the film is about an awkward first date. Jackie (Karen Sillas) and Michael (Noonan) both work at the same New York City law firm in middling and entry-level positions and they’re both profoundly lonely people. They sit around Jackie’s sparse loft, eat microwaved scallops (this was marketed as a comedy but it also scans as a horror film), drink too much wine, and talk about their lives, occasionally letting their deep insecurities and bizarre behaviors float to the surface. When Ebert reviewed the film, he gave it a relatively poor review because he didn’t buy the chemistry or the plausibility of a romance between the two leads. As much as he’s one of the greatest of all time, I think he missed the point here. These characters are both miserable and one is totally closed off to the prospect of it ever getting better. Misery loves company. This movie feels like Before Sunrise for doomer loners. I can’t stop thinking about it.
What I read:
Christian Lorentzen has an excellent reported piece on the failed Simon & Schuster / PGH merger. Book publishing is a world I know very little about so I found the entire thing pretty illuminating. Also, did you know Carly Simon is the daughter of Richard Simon, the Simon in Simon & Schuster? I can’t decide if I’m supposed to know biographical details about Carly Simon or if this is also news to most people.