While out for a jog the other day, I noticed an older man on a large motorcycle blasting Dubstep obnoxiously loud to the entire neighborhood. The transmission ended when he turned off the bike, but he sat there for a moment with a Sad Keanu look on his face before dismounting and disappearing into his house. Besides making me feel as though I was in a cheesy sitcom, this surreal scenario got me thinking deeper about the ways technology kills novelty.
Ever wonder what happened to Skrillix? Of course, you don’t. You didn’t even notice I spelled his name wrong. There was a year where he won like 5 Grammys, and then nobody talked about him again. If I told you he died years ago, you’d probably believe me. Didn’t you hear? He did something cool, like hiding an album inside a video game or something, and… nobody cared. Skrillex certainly didn’t create Dubstep, but he defined it for a mainstream audience. In the end, technology killed Skrillex. In an ironic twist, the same technology enabled him.
The Death Of Novelty
So, what happened to Dubstep and Skrillex? Massive numbers of people pointed to this as the future of music and how things would never be the same. The disappearance of Dubstep and Skrillex from the mainstream is pretty simple when you reflect on it. The tools used to create music that sounded like Skrillex were easily accessible to anyone, and they took no talent to use. This lead to a deluge of everyone doing the same thing. The same year he won all of those Grammys everything from Kleenex to Clorox used music that sounded exactly like a Skrillex in their commercials. You couldn’t escape those sounds. They were everywhere.
I’m not claiming Skrillex isn’t talented. What I am saying is it doesn’t take any particular talent to sound like Skrillex. The basic tools are a laptop, headphones, and some music software.
Technology removed the barrier to entry, removing the novelty allowing anyone to replicate the sounds of his success. This decrease in friction also accelerated the timeline for replication to a matter of hours. What resulted was an inevitable crash and a quick tiring by the mainstream, but apparently still popular with one particular biker.
Overall, reducing friction is a good thing. We certainly wouldn’t want to make it harder for people to get essential services when in need or take long to implement security requirements meant to protect people. But there are cases in which friction does serve a beneficial function.
What we don’t like to realize is that the gatekeepers that everyone liked to hate on so much, although flawed, did serve a purpose in some ways by adding friction. If you don’t believe me, think back to the reaction you had when someone told you that their brother’s friend has a band you should check out.
It’s important to keep these concepts in mind, because in the current world, novelty directly relates to value.
Not all friction is bad. Talent, for instance, is friction. When we look at a piece of artwork or a sculpture, we are amazed by the person’s talent. That a human equipped with the same tools as us created such a masterpiece that we couldn’t. I remember standing in front of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses in awe that any human could create such a masterpiece, by hand, out of marble.
Imagine I show you a detailed statue like that of Michelangelo and tell you I sculpted it. You’d probably be amazed, or you are terribly hard to impress. Now, imagine I tell you that I 3D printed it. You may still think it was kind of cool, especially if it’s the first one you’ve seen, but not even in the universe of what you thought when I sculpted it. Imagine I told you I downloaded the Michelangelo template set, the same template set that anyone can download. The novelty falls off a sheer cliff. Everyone’s printing Michelangelo’s, and they aren’t worth anything.
There may be a high value in being first, but there is a steep and unsustainable drop-off afterward. For example, a piece of AI artwork sold at Christie’s for $432k. Don’t expect this to be some sort of trend. It was the first. The article starts with this question, “Is artificial intelligence set to become art’s next medium?” Let me answer that, ah… no. At least not in the way the article is framing it.
Someone also created an NFT of their farts and sold it. Is the person who bought it going to show that NFT to anyone in a year? Am I to believe there will be fart markets in the future for fine purveyors of artisanal gas? Some people think so, and those people are what we call wrong 🙂 When the thing people want to collect is readily available anywhere and everywhere, it loses any value. My mom collected figurines and baby dolls that creeped me out as a kid. Although the items in her collection weren’t highly valuable either, thankfully, they also weren’t easy to get.
What amazes me is that people look at these new concepts, be they creative or technological, and always fall for them, claiming they are the new thing and that’s just how the world is going to be. It boils down to FOMO and a whole lot of wishful thinking. By applying a little thought and analysis, it doesn’t align with the real world.
Whether they be creative arts or technology, things that are easy to recreate or duplicate die a pretty quick death.
In summary, any technology or trend based solely on novelty has an incredibly short shelf life if the friction to recreate it is low. This trend is because if everyone is doing something, it’s not novel. Since novelty relates to value, don’t invest your life savings into things that are easily repeatable and have no staying power. Strive to be unique, push yourself beyond the bounds of easy replication and into new areas. That’s where you’ll find success.