If you're wondering what on earth is going on right now, and why things have been getting so deeply strange in the information and communication departments, here's a riff you might find interesting (plus the neuroscience behind the Clubhouse phenomenon)...
In the beginning was The Word, and the word was with god and the word was god. John 1:1
That's a pretty badass opener. Logos––the Word, literally made the world.
Then, somewhere a hundred thousand years or so ago, the Word came down from heaven and started spouting out the mouths of naked apes. We developed language––lowercase logos.
And while we still had to eat and avoid getting eaten, adding that layer of language to our brains and to our tribes unlocked worlds upon worlds of complexity, abstraction and possibility. We became able to reflect, theorize, learn from the past, plan for the future, tell tales and sing songs. Invent gods and worship them.
With language, we created culture. Which is pretty crucial because, despite the hype, we are actually crap at inventing things (apes and crows do a better job at generating tools than individual human children) but we're awesome at passing along our collective learnings. So we're dumb as rocks taken one at a time, but the smartest organism ever, taken collectively, and over generations.
For 99% of all of human existence, the truth of our words––the logos––was directly mediated by the tone of our voice. That's how oral traditions worked. An elder would stand up and recite their myths, or recount the year's events, or argue for peace or war, and the tribe could judge––immediately, viscerally, whether that person's word could be trusted.
It's Stephen Porges' Polyvagal Theory taken out of the textbook, and stretched across time. We'd know in a heartbeat, whether someone was safe and sound, or just talking shit.
The Rastafarians of Jamaica even have a term for it––they call it WordSoundPower. And it means the embodied truth and strength that someone communicates when aligned with higher purpose. Gandhi called it satyagraha. MLK turned it into Soul Force.
And that's how tribal communications got done, for almost the entire time we've been homo sapiens––even the hand written illuminated manuscripts of medieval monks tried to carry some of that spoken power to the lettered parchment in the form of painstaking art and embellishment. "These words are super important. Cherish them!" the clerics' script would insist.
Until Gutenberg and the printing press abstracted Wordsoundpower into little inkblots on pages. At first, it was only sacred texts like the bible that got printed, but as production ramped, selection declined, and it was only a hop and skip to Harlequin romances and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Words and writers got divorced from the truth of each other. (which gave rise to the saying 'If you love the book, don't go and meet the author!").
Today––Logos has gotten so compressed, so anorexic, that it's getting damn near impossible to detect the truthfulness in signal anymore. Fake News told with a straight face. Instagram memes spouting inspirational quotes that bear zero relation to the embodied wisdom of the poster. Goobledygook conspiracies that boggle the mind but apparently capture hearts and guts.
We've come a long long way from In the Beginning, when the Word was enough to make this world from scratch.
You might have been hearing lately about a chummy little social media app called Clubhouse, that's all about the spoken word. It kicked off last year with a small beta launch and for a while, in those innocent early days of global quarantine, became a place that real humans, devoid of filters and emojis, could gather to chat.
It was also invite only, and they stocked the pond with all sorts of cultural creatives, Silicon Valley ballers, and bored celebs that made the chance encounters and intimate access of the platform all the more intoxicating. (see Elon's recent drop-in that got reposted all over the internet).
Since then, the place has been overrun with carnies, all piling in to milk that pool of cultural capital, and self-promote their way to riches. In fact, there's even an at-a-glance way to tell who's who in the ecosystem––the length of someone's bio. If it's short, or non-existent, (like Elon Musk or Tim Ferriss or Marc Andreessen) then you know it's a real person with real accomplishments. If it's a paragraph long filled with emojis, trumpeted achievements and dollar signs, then they're almost certainly on the hustle.
Shared this frame before, but it's endlessly useful: Any transformational movement, from Warhol's Factory, to Studio 54 to Burning Man, Soul Cycle (and now Clubhouse) follows a predictable four step journey:
As Clubhouse has now taken on a potential billion dollar valuation, and is tracking to open the floodgates to the Lumpen Proletariat (aka, anyone who couldn't wangle an invite) expect the Carnies to line the entry ways, ready to fleece the newcomers. It won't be pretty, but ever has it been thus.
But all of this discussion of social physics is only so interesting––what's more fascinating is why something so overwhelmingly minimalist like Clubhouse got traction in the first place.
Somehow, all that low-fi vocal stuff, in a world addled by Zoom fatigue and the utter vacuousness of visual platforms like Instagram and TikTok, felt intimate, even restorative.
And here's why:
Bob Marley had so much of it that the CIA tracked him for fear that his singing could foment a third world revolution. MLK's ringing rhythmic tones briefly healed a nation and reminded us of the better angels of our nature. Kanye (on a good day) reminded us not only that Jesus Walks, he also talks.
And in a world that's literally starving for the sustenance of true Logos, Clubhouse is weirdly filling a void in all of our isolation and fragmentation. (podcasts do too, but they're one-to-many communication vs. some-to-some communication that's live and interactive).
Interestingly, our buddy David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Stanford, has inadvertently discovered why people are finding the app so addictive and so "fresh" even though it's the oldest technology ever.
In a recent experiment, David has advanced a bold new thesis on why we dream.
TL;DR––it's to prevent our ever adaptive brains from appropriating all of those visual cortex neurons for other purposes while we're getting some shut-eye. Like putting your coat on a seat to save it for a friend, Eagleman's theory is that we dream to prevent our brains from snagging all of that unused synaptic real estate for other purposes while we're lights out.
But he also discovered something else: not only do our brains constantly adapt and rewire themselves (what he calls the "Mr. Potato Head Theory" of neuroplasticity––where a blind person can adapt their unused visual cortex to process taps from a cane, or boost their hearing)––we all do it, all the time, and it takes as little as an hour to do so.
Which kind of unlocks the secret of Clubhouse and its billion dollar valuation for something as low-tech as AM talk radio, and as intimate as our old campfire yarnings of our ancient past.
In as little as an hour, our strained eyes, and over-filtered selves get to shut off the barrage of visual and digital stimuli and tune in to the WordSoundPower of other humans in real time.
So now you know, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story. And if you hear more hottakes on Clubhouse pondering why it's so buzzy, consider that what's old is new again, and we're all craving high fidelity signal and a whole lot less noise. #nothingnewunderthesun #sameasiteverwas
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