This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.
During a pandemic, it’s great to have Amazon, Netflix and TikTok at your fingertips. And their success shows that good enough is a lot of good.
You may have heard the old saying: Content is king. The idea is that must-ha, exceptional entertainment, information and technology rule the country. I’m not sure this was ever true, and it certainly is not now. What governs instead is “good enough.”
Amazon may not have the one thing you want to buy, but it does have five other things that are perfectly fine replacements. Good enough is the reason why I recently put through several episodes of a bad old TV series. Good enough is why Apple combines several digital services that do not have to have one. Netflix, TikTok and YouTube are powerhouses for good finances.
They have a small amount of great things and many really nice things, and they pack it in a convenient and affordable way. It is useful.
The power of good enough is not appreciated, I think, because it seems like an insult. It is to admit that mediocrity is OK. But it is!
The good enough economy, however, speaks to the balance of power between those who make things and the gatekeepers who distribute them.
The Internet made it easier for people everywhere to show the world the music they created, the cat toys they made in their spare time, or the entertainment they shot on an iPhone. But because everyone can create anything, it is difficult for one thing to get attention.
That’s why companies that can gather lots of people in one place – Facebook, Amazon, YouTube, Netflix and others – have become our kings. They are Harry Potter-like sorting hats that organize the sea of entertainment, information and products.
If you pull enough eyeballs to one place, every single movie hit, online celebrity or star player means less. If the video app TikTok did not have Charli D’Amelio, one of the biggest moves, some of her fans would freak out. But most of them would be happy with everything else that is still there.
Did “Tiger King” get a lot of attention and eyeballs on Netflix because it’s amazing TV, or because Netflix did it in front of its 200 million subscribers? When one of the world’s most popular video game stars could not thrive outside of a hugely popular video game site, it showed that the companies that gather an audience can offset the drawing of a superlative star.
I do not want to sign the drawing of superstars and must-have programming. The National Football League, for example, can keep the American television industry alive. Some individuals are singular kings.
But for companies that gather a large number of people and make it easy for all of us, the unit wins the individual. Much good enough is better than a little perfect which is most likely hard to find or costs extra.
The fun thing about online life is that there are two poles. The good enough economy is facing the “passion economy,” as Ben Smith, the media columnist for The New York Times, recently wrote about. Digital services like Patreon and Substack give musicians, podcasters, drawing teachers or newsletter writers a chance to make a living from a relatively small number of passionate fans.
So the content controls, sometimes. And so do websites that gather a billion audiences with things that are good enough.
Apple’s midlife crisis
Companies are not just trying to sell us what we need or want. They are also trying to sell us what they need us to buy.
On Tuesday, Apple unveiled a dizzying array of products, including new and upgraded versions of the Apple Watch, iPad and combinations of monthly subscriptions to things like Apple’s music service and new Apple-created virtual fitness classes.
Apple now has about 1,031 items for sale – you know, about – many of them were added in recent years.
To understand why, you need to know that Apple has a midlife crisis.
Popularizing the smartphone was a goldmine for Apple. It still is. But the mine is slowly running out of gold. Around the world, smartphones are becoming essential necessities like refrigerators, and fewer people are happy to rush every year or two and buy another $ 1,000 iPhone.
This is fine. But that’s not good for Apple. This company pretends not to care about money, but it does. And companies like Apple have to make more money year after year, which is harder to do when the gold mine starts to run out of gold.
So if Apple is struggling to sell more of what had been a relatively small number of expensive products, a solution is to get more products. Something for everyone.
It may help us understand why until 2018 Apple usually released a new iPhone model every year – and it now has four. That’s why in recent years Apple has also started making TV series, selling news and video game subscriptions, offering a credit card, hitting a home speaker and experimenting with combining its online subscriptions.
A lot of this can be good – or (COUGH, COUGH) good enough. And we want companies to come up with new ideas. But when you see these products, you can also imagine Apple whispering, “Please buy more things from us.”
Before we leave …
Yoga teachers versus a conspiracy theory: Some yoga instructors and others interested in wellness are concerned that the QAnon conspiracy theory is gaining ground in their community. My colleague Kevin Roose explained in a new feature called “Daily Distortions” that QAnon supporters who used the language and sensitivity of a New Age healing workshop helped expand the conspiracy as false claims that a solitaire of satanic pedophiles and cannibals is driving the world and wants to undermine President Trump.
It’s easy to giggle, but Kim K is powerful: Celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West and Leonardo DiCaprio, said they would protest what they see as Facebook’s inaction against misinformation and hate speech by not posting on Instagram or Facebook for 24 hours. An organizer said that freezing celebrities was a step in a broader press campaign against Facebook, wrote my colleague Kellen Browning. Others called it an ineffective performative gesture.
Maybe singular stars are “good enough”? My colleagues have a fun and thoughtful set of short essays that are about how the internet broke and reworked what it means to be famous. Academics and geologists are famous. Nail artists and hedgehogs are stars. And you can vote for the most relevant celebrity. (Academics are leading right now.)
Hugs to this
We all deserve – including this raccoon – to hug a teddy bear. (Thanks to my colleague Liam Stack for finding this. Yes, it’s literally a hug in today’s “Hugs to this.”)
We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think about this newsletter and what else you want us to explore. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you do not already receive this newsletter in your inbox, please register here.