I had a wonderful week away in Sussex, and successfully avoided checking both the markets and twitter.
It has helped me to reflect on a few things. I’m feeling a refreshed sense of enthusiasm for the winter ahead.
So here’s what I’ve been mulling over in the English countryside.
There’s a reason I mentioned my Twitter usage.
Having joined the ‘community’ around a year ago, I have found it increasingly valuable.
Over time I’ve discovered ever more brilliant people to follow.
That’s how I initially got in touch with my first ever interviewee too, Tavi Costa, which you can still watch here. It’s as relevant as ever, in my opinion.
But on my holiday, I really wanted a clean break. I’ve been very lucky to be in a job that was more active and more interesting than ever through all the madness, but it has been an intense six months.
I took a holiday in February but haven’t had any time off since then, and what with lockdown, working from home, two huge Beyond Oil Summits and a tumultuous time in the markets, I felt the need for a proper break.
Sussex was an off switch, and so I decided I wouldn’t check markets at all, nor would I check Twitter (as that amounts to the same thing).
But what was interesting is that one theme of the week’s conversations was social media, following on from the recent release of the Netflix documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’.
It started because one of our little group was telling me about the methods these social media giants use, and how they are similar to those employed by gambling companies.
The feeling we get each time we refresh, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram is apparently not discernibly different from the psychological ‘hit’ that punters get when they place a bet.
It’s that potent mix of uncertainty and expectation. What could happen…
And it struck me, because though I have written (in this very letter) about Shoshana Zuboff’s incredible work on ‘Surveillance Capitalism’, I had sunk slowly into a place where I was spending too much time on Twitter, refreshing it too often and pretending it counted as ‘work’ because I ‘might come across’ some interesting new insight, bit of data or opinion.
I was aware enough of this to think that using the holiday to hit the reset button would be good, but I was ashamed to have fallen into their trap, even though I had studied their methods myself.
Last night, I broke my fast and delved in to catch up on our portfolio over at Exponential Energy Fortunes, the markets more broadly and a few other things I like to keep tabs on, as well as taking a quick stroll through Twitter again.
One of the things I missed while I was away was, interestingly enough, the release of a long-awaited document by the US judiciary on antitrust.
You might have seen some awkward videos of senators grilling the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook about their business practices.
And people have been talking about antitrust risk to the FAANG stocks for a couple years now at least, because if competitive forces aren’t working to catch up with them, that means governments are likely to step in to level the playing field.
Well, hundreds of pages long, the document comes to some interesting conclusions.
The democrats have concluded that the like of Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon do enjoy and employ monopolistic power, and has suggested some laws which congress could take up in order to change that.
Google receives 89% of all searches online in the US.
Facebook and Google own all of the five largest online platforms (Facebook and Google, plus YouTube, Instagram and Facebook Messenger).
IOS and Android (of Apple and Google) have almost 100% market share of phone operating systems in the US. I myself would struggle to name any others, to be honest, but they do exist in very small niches and corners of the world.
The document recommends breaking some of the big four up, to prevent the blurred business lines between sectors being used as cover for anti-competitive practices.
Google and YouTube would have to separate, for example, as would Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The emphasis for regulators would also shift, with mergers having to prove innocence (that they are not uncompetitive), rather than the current situation where regulators have to prove that a merger is, in order to have grounds to block it.
The document is basically the clearest signal to date that anti-trust could be a real threat to the FAANG bubble, and the rest of the US stock markets which are being held up by them.
My own experience with Twitter reminded me of their immense power and capabilities, their ability to twist our own brains into constant use, always refreshing, always hoping for fresh new content.
This will, albeit very slowly, be a key theme to watch in the coming months or years. Something will topple the FAANGs, and the judiciary’s document and recommendations provide a useful reminder that delving into the big US tech stocks at the peak of their powers could be a very dangerous move indeed.
Remember Blackberry? Once the work phone of choice the world over, its market share of sales (in the UK) has dwindled from over 30% to around 0.02% in under a decade.
Such is the way of things.
So if you’re like me, check yourself and make sure you’re in control of your own social media usage. Remember, if the product is free, then you’re probably the product.
You don’t have to quit them, you just have to make sure you’re in control, and that you’re getting out more than you’re putting in.
And at the same time, check your investments, make sure you’re safe from the death of big tech. Markets move in cycles, and getting out near the top is just as important as getting in close to the bottom.
Editor, UK Uncensored