Nice try, but just saying “late capitalism” doesn’t make it so. Most historical epochs aren’t labeled in real time. Maybe we are living in “late capitalism,” but I’d bet most deployers of that phrase don’t know that it was coined around or before World War I.

In 2013, I started a daily email newsletter that I kept up for about half a year. Then I quit because:

  • 2013 felt “too late” to start an email newsletter.
  • The analytics — seeing who opened and who didn’t, and who unsubscribed — discouraged me and corrupted my inherent interest in writing and sharing these short essays.

Analytics kill art, or at least they have killed mine any time I’ve had the displeasure of paying attention to them. Feedback, more generally, is a friend of art.

Good feedback helps an artistic work become more itself. Sometimes I’d get a reply — in person or by email — to a newsletter I wrote, and that was always an artistically nurturing experience, even if someone disliked or disagreed with something I wrote. This feedback encouraged me to keep making the newsletter and to make it more true to itself.

Analytics shape work into something else. There is some wonderful, entertaining, sometimes informative stuff (“content”) driven by analytics, and maybe analytics can have a place in marketing artistic work, but it’s difficult to see how work primarily driven by analytics can be called art.

As for being “too late,” I was obviously wrong. I was, in fact, early to the newsletter bandwagon. The horses had not yet arrived.

Had I enjoyed myself, not looked at the analytics, and been patient, my list of about 100 recipients might have grown to something much larger by now. Or perhaps not, and instead I’d have an ongoing correspondence with the 50 remaining people who enjoyed reading my stuff from time to time, for years.

That doesn’t mean I should have kept it up, just that “it’s too late” was a bad reason, in 2013, to give up on a daily email newsletter. And analytics, always, are a bad reason to give up on art.

It’s popular to think we’re at the end of stuff. Maybe this is just a human impulse — apocalypse cults go back at least a couple of thousand years.

But how do motivations and expectations and hopes and work change if we’re in the middle, or even toward the beginning of some things?

We might still be in early capitalism.

There are companies valued at more than one trillion dollars now — those might be valued at ten trillion one day, and those valuations might not be wrong. (I’m not making a case either way on that, just that they are not certainly inflated.)

Despite just living through not only the hottest year on record, and the highest year-over-year increase in global temperatures, most climate forecasts are more optimistic now than they were ten and twenty years ago. We can expect a century of climate catastrophes, but almost certainly not a climate apocalypse.

2024 feels late to start a blog, but I bet in ten years now will seem like a great time to start.