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Well you note that 2012 was the year that smartphone usage crossed the 50% threshold. Guess what? 1972 is the year that more than 50% of households had a color TV for the first time.

When 50% of the population adopts a new technology, what that really means is that virtually EVERY urban and adolescent-middle aged person has it. It just takes a few more years before the rural people and 70 years olds get there.

Transitioning to a society where suddenly you got to look at in color, moving images of drama and beautiful people and constant advertising was a cataclysmic change. For the first time, you weren't comparing yourself to people in your neighborhood or school or at work. But to actors and models who were there all the time, in your own living room. TVs are desire and comparison machines, providing mesmerizing images of all the ways your life could or should be, and all the stuff you should have. It's when we became more self-centered, more greedy, more inwardly focused, and less likely to go out to the bar or sit on the porch or play cards with neighbors, and instead sat inside watching strangers on TV. You can trace basically everything in those 1971 charts to that, from obesity to no more labor unions to more divorce. TVs also made people more tolerant and less provincial, as they saw sympathetic portrayals of all kinds of people and got more used to people who are different from what they might come across in real life.

Smart phones did all of the same things, but multiplied by a factor of 10. Now we all get to see everything and everyone in the world, half of it fake, much of it either horrifying or fantasy. Our brains aren't evolved for this.

So, that's a pretty simple and clear cultural theory. Though I could give a pretty simple and clear economic theory regarding 1971. Which is simply that that is the year that the labor supply began a sharp upward tick from the lows of 1940-1970. We had almost no immigration in those years, and the immigrant share of the population plunged from the high teens down to a low of about 5% in 1970, then back up to the high teens again today. Women hadn't yet entered the work force in droves, and started in the 70s. And all those kids the baby boomers had in the 40s-60s hadn't yet grown up and went to work. So the labor supply was incredibly low in those decades, and low supply of labor means lots of leverage and bargaining power, so naturally we saw the lowest income inequality that ever existed in those years. More women, more immigrants, and more kids turning working age starting in the 70s and accelerating over the next few decades vastly increased the size of the workforce. More workers means way more competition and way less power, so of course wages stagnated and everything else bad we've seen economically, with those at the bottom hit the worst.

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Great comment -- an excellent observation on the adoption of television.

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Yeah I remember when parents used to fret about TV rotting kids' brains in the 80s. They couldn't have imagined just how bad it would get...

I was debating with my husband the other day what people from 1923 would be most astonished by if they suddenly arrived in 2023. Technology aside, we came up with 1. the social status of women, racial minorities, and LGBT, and 2. The extreme level of public and/or tolerated vulgarity, narcissism, exhibitionism, self-celebration and indulgence, compared to previous norms.

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1971 is also the year that Nixon severed the final tether to the gold standard, which is the whole point of wtfhappenedin1971.com

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Id argue that the GS thing is not to blame, it seems that the reason we stopped redeaming dollars for gold was so us government spending (war finance) could continue. It's not like the US was tethered by monetary discipline, and suddenly broke free 1971 and it all went to shit. They were world creditor, but we're bankrupted in Korea and Vietnam, but realized that the financial system was so dollarized and global trade imbalances so large, that they could twist arms to make the US Treasury debt the monetary standard, not gold.

This is a very complicated topic and I'm very confused by it all. So counter argument are appreciated lol

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What are the mechanisms for how the poor are being robbed? Is it just the loss of purchasing power due to inflation?

I get nervous when people blame the feds for price increases, because it seems like a deflection to blame the People Themselves instead of the corporations who choose to raise prices and then pass it to consumers.

There is no reason to be so sure that money printing is the Big cause of loss of purchasing power. The value of a dollar is just how many someone requires for payment, which is a complicated question. More important than the total money supply is the net worth of the counterparties, (rich corporations are price insensitive, which trickles down ), loss of labor bargaining power, oligopoly, etc.

Nobody, even the Fed, has any idea how much money there is (accounting for foreign dollar deposits and lending collateralized by treasuries)

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You're right that the Feds had a dual realization brought on by their expensive wars. But the consequence is what I'm interested in, and from a monetary perspective, it's created a variety of perverse outcomes. I think there's a strong argument to be made that an unjust and broken fiat currency system fosters a variety of negative outcomes. People at the bottom can never make it work, because the very unit of account they're forced into is the same mechanism that's robbing them blind. The beneficiaries are few and pretty obvious from my perspective.

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May not fit too well with the decade/cultural vibe rubric of this post but - to my mind - the biggest explainer of post 2012 Wokeness is the massive expansion of tertiary education in the decades before. The massed ranks of the career-ambitious, young-to-middle-aged now populating the upper levels of every institution of civil society - from charitable to military - have been social justice sheep-dipped. And it's not much different in the case of the corporate world. Only a small percentage of contrarian graduates rebel against all this.

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What's the next (new) technology that could have a >50% adoption rate?

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AI. That's gonna be interesting.

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They tried to do it with the meta verse and goggles and all that.

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Designer babies, literally.

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Yes, but in 2030? That seems quick, given that there is a lot of ideological resistance that imho will fall only when the tech becomes affordable for middle class parents and can be done in many countries...

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If widespread adoption of new (communications? social?) technologies is the trigger, then we should expect similar trends, or at least turning points, in other countries. They should be delayed or advanced depending on how quickly those technologies were adopted in each place. Has anyone checked to see if a similar effect holds in Europe or East Asia, for example?

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That seems to be true. In India, TVs were adopted in late 90's, and that was the start of a more liberal era. Introduction of smart phones caused a major change in political climate too.

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Didn’t the Mayan calendar warn us about this? We’ve just been running around with our heads cut off ever since

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Hahaha I had forgotten about that. You're right, there's a host of eschatological beliefs that pinpoint 2012 as the year of reckoning https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_phenomenon

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the calendar doesn't end, its spins in a large cycle. the 2012 thing was the end of the 12th baktun (a period of 144,000 days)

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Exactly my thought. There is no mention of the end of the Mayan calendar, 2012! It sparked me to move to Tulum and there were a host of other people who all did the same thing.

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Interesting. The wikipedia page names 21 December 12 -- that's one week after the Sandy Hook massacre, around the time when it became clear that this one would NOT be different from the others, and that therefore there was no atrocity awful enough to dislodge the Great American Stalemate between freedoms and safety.

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PS: I don't subscribe to the prognostications of ancient calendars, dead Frenchmen, or astrologists, this was just a glancing observation when I saw the date.

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Hadn't thought about but you are spot on.

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I was thinking of that all the way through! Biggest non-apocalypse since Y2K. Maybe something happened after all.

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My completely non-scientific guess would be that widespread adoption of 2 things, the Like system on social media + smartphones, means a global competition for attention and relevance, which leads to the normalization of all sorts of terrible behaviors. Social justice-based allegations are one of the best clean-hands way of rising above the faceless mass and also cutting down rivals. There's also just straight-up lifestyle showboating via vacation pics, hot selfies, etc., which contribute greatly to bad moods and crumpled self-esteems. Being extreme and nasty are also a prime way to achieve online stardom, as you yourself pointed out in your piece about how there will never be a well-mannered social media platform.

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Machine learning approaches to AI--and more specifically deep learning--becoming viable in 2012 because of the explosion of Big Data, and especially social media, seems to me to be significant factor lurking behind a lot of these different trends. AI's influence on culture through social media algorithms (and its concurrent intensification of political extremism) and its influence on what we buy (or its ability to cajole us into buying stuff we don't want) I think are major factors in this "vibe" shift. This panopticon of "surveillance capitalism" (Zuboff's book, etc) can maybe help explain the prevailing sense of losing control and world-chaos that people, especially young people, increasingly feel.

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Absolutely! In 2011, FB switched to an AI/ML-powered news feed from EdgeRank, and in 2012, YouTube started optimizing their recommendation algos for total watch time instead of views.

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Just casting my mind back, so my timeline is fuzzy, but when did Twitter really take off? Must have been around that time.

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This is so good. I always thought 2008 was the year, but this makes sense.

I call things like Barbie and also the novel Yellowface ConfusionCore. They are designed not to offend people by confusing what the political slant actually is, but embodying enough sides of the aisles so much that no one is clear on the film’s actual message, so they can’t fully be offended and then the work is protected from cancellation. But I ponder what we lose when nothing is clear and artists go for muddy instead of a thematic statement. Though maybe it’s better because real life isn’t clear either.

Also, will we look back on Mark Zuckerberg like Hitler?

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"ConfusionCore" is such a good term

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ConfusionCore also equals clicks for short media because people will watch it over and over again trying to figure out what it means. Some of the most-watched TikToks of all time are confusioncore.

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Thanks, haha, I take full credit for that one!

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CC Peter Turchin! :)

I think the key question is, where are we in the cycle? Did we pass the peak of "instability" and are now on the way back to relative stability? Or is the peak still ahead of us, here in 2023?

I think part of the problem in calculating this is that something actually unprecedented has happened: (hinted at by Stefan's comment about decades = 5 years) the penetration of communications technology is now so deep that it's possible these cycles (since the actual mechanism of cultural cycles is mediated by communication) happen in an accelerated way. (Similar to how changing beliefs/reality about the ROI of war led to relatively damped actual effects from the cycles of violence/instability). Sure, human generations still happen at roughly the same rate (or even perhaps longer in the developed world) but radio->TV->internet->smartphones (you're right to highlight it as an inflection point) have increased the rate (quality and quantity) of "ideas go from here to there".

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Aug 17, 2023·edited Aug 18, 2023

Despite valid similarities Eric points out, there's no reason to think this is all going to play out in an analogous way -- i.e., soon have peak instability, then things settle down. I think AI & its further development is going to lead to enormous instability in next decade, and also that it is almost certain to *worsen* the problems caused by widespread smartphone ownership and involvement in social media. We were no more wired to deal with the sort of human contact (& the sort of *absense* of it) you get from internet use & AI substitutes for people than we were to eat a healthy meal in a mall food court.

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So you'd be in the anti-cycles party? That social media + AI will actually break the cycle and mutually reinforce certain trends that we permanently (or at least long term) go off the rails? Not trying to be sarcastic/ironic, just trying to understand. I'm not 100% committed to the "cycles" theory but I'd be curious to hear reasons for a break-the-cycles viewpoint.

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I'm not what you'd call anti-cycle, I just think there are a lot of moving parts here, and were in the end of the 60's & beginning of the 70's, and not all the parts correspond 1-to-1, 1972-to-2012. I can see thinking of Color-tv-for-all corresponding to cell phones-for-all, and wokeism to Woodstock generation-ism, and I agree that there are signs that wokeism has peaked and begun to fade. So when it comes to wokeism I can see the cycle repeating.

But one way the moving parts for the 2 eras do not correspond is that we did not get, at the end of the first cycle, sometime around 1980, availability and widespread adoption of a new technology that, like color TV and the cell phone, increased everyone's enthrallment with commercially constructed and electronically transmitted stand-ins for other actual human beings. We now have AI sprouting all around us like Devil's Snare in Harry Potter. AI is going to greatly increase the ratio of constructed stand-ins to real people in almost everybody's life. We are now able to make excellent deep fakes; to sent out bots that can hunt down an individual using face recognition and kill him; to use chatbots as confidante's and sexual partners; to build a layer of AI around most businesses and professionals so that most attempts to make contact will be handled by an AI which gives adequate, though not satisfying, answers; to have decisions that one's doctor would have made be made by AI (and overall this will result in better decisions -- but will also deprive the patient of the sense that another human being understands and has some sympathy for his problem). I think AI is going to fuck us up the same way TV and cell phones did, except more powerfully. And that's independent of cycles. That's just -- a whole new kind of actor enters.

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thanks for the deeper explanation!

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What do you make of the idea that a decade is more like every 5 years now

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I like it. But I think the decade theory still roughly works, in that, if we peg 2012 as the "true" start of the 2010s, then it is more like 2022-23, the current year, that is the "true" start of the 2020s. And people sure are talking a lot about "vibe shifts" now, which would coincide pretty perfectly.

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There was covid, 2020-2022....if this is not a decade shift event, I do not know what would be.

And yet, In 2023, almost all seems to forget western world lived in de​facto dictature during 2020....

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This collective amnesia is crazy, isn't it? There are many of us for whom the covid era still looms large in our minds (#prosecutefauci), but the general public seems to have put it aside as if it wasn't the most dangerous display of government overreach, globally, in democratic history.

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Aug 16, 2023Liked by Erik Hoel

I can recommend another take on decades that gives food for thought, from a perhaps unlikely source: the British TV series Back in Time for the Weekend.

This programme follows a family living through each decade from the 50s on, with some extensive historical research provided through spending census data etc.

Yes, it's fun to watch, but hidden in the show are some really deep implications about modern culture. We learn how technology, wealth, leisure changed cultures and in particular family dynamics, and we get the neat experiment of a family experiening culture shifts in real time.

The family in this case grew increasingly close during the experiment from the 50s on, peaking in happiness in the 70s, before the advent of personal entertainment in the 80s begins a decline in family cohesion. Long story short, they missed the 70s when the show ended.

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Aug 16, 2023Liked by Erik Hoel

FYI there is no "Mayan prophesy". That calendar just ends in 2012. That's like saying we have a "Gregorian prophesy" every December 31st because that's when our calendar ends.

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Everyone listen up! Scott says the world will end in January! 😛

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Perhaps if we all agreed to act in a certain way, we’d be able to ensure the next decade’s vibeshift is a nice one?

I’m spitballing here, but maybe we could all paint our houses soft pastel colours, take up knitting, and bring back hats as a fashion item. We’d all act with more respect if we were wearing top hats, it just sets a classy vibe!

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People aren't wearing enough hats.

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THANK YOU.

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As stupid of an idea as The Purge is, I think it would actually have better results than your anti-purge, if implemented in real life...

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Quite possibly

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I read your posts for a long period last year and transitioned to other materials. Upon returning recently I had forgotten how cogently you present a thesis! This was wonderful. There is enough here whereby I don't want to do a yeah but. I read a lot of history books. One of my favorite observations is when an author attempts to explain all that is with a singular premise. I recently completed The World by Simon Montefiore. A tour-de-force that explains the world through the stories of families and dynasties. Great writing and comprehensive. The last book I finished was "Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything". This one explained the world through geography. They were both wonderful reads and I learned a lot. I think I need to stew on the pivotal nature of 2012 a bit more. In the meantime it is wonderful to enjoy your writing again. FTR another somewhat recent book was "1947: Where Now Begins" -- I didn't care for the format and presentation but 1947 sure was a pivotal year.

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Aug 17, 2023Liked by Erik Hoel

If not my favorite Substack post of all time, it is definitely on the Mount Rushmore. In 2012 I was halfway through college and the idea that all the data we produce was going to drive us mad clicked for me. Unfortunately I never took the steps to capitalize on this thought, but this article rendered a feeling of temporal vertigo. It all just really hits home. Great work.

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In addition to the famous Mayan 2012 apocalypse idea, there was also Terrence McKenna's famous “Timewave Zero” theory, which likewise framed December 2012 has some kind of culmination and transition point in human affairs, a “strange attractor” at the end of History.

The idea or, as he might have put it, inspiration or revelation or transmission came to him independently of any information about the Mayan calendar. He received it from an “alien intelligence” during one of his psychedelic explorations in, I believe, the early 1970s. He only learned about the Mayan prophecy after his thinking had already developed. According to McKenna, something momentous was going to happen in 2012 that made that year a transition or transformation point. He said it wasn't clear exactly what would happen, but only that it would be definite a transformational change.

So, when I read things like this new piece by you, Eric, I can't help flashing on McKenna. Who, it seems, we may now say was right! Though not in a way anyone even remotely expected.

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"near-Nostradamus levels of precognition"

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This tracks with my experience. I graduated college in 2011 but, having gone to a Great Books school where campus politics was comparatively minimal, I didn't really see much of this stuff brewing in my own neck of the woods. After a post-bac year and starting medical school in 2012, I saw things were starting to change.

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Dazed and Confused was my high school. Every one of the characters reminds me of someone I knew. Somehow, I survived!

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Aug 16, 2023Liked by Erik Hoel

Absolutely irrelevant to economics and smartphones, and uncorrelated, but two more things I like to say that indicates the seventies are here again:

The return of Russian aggression and the discotheque is finally resurging

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