What Do Startups, Streaming Services, and Digital Currencies All Have in Common?

They Appear to Be Revolutions, But May Be Nothing More Than Inevitable Patterns of the Cyclical Nature of History

Water Cycle Diagram

The cyclical nature of history; that’s quite a mouthful. A simpler and more common way to put that would be history repeats itself. A more technical term for this phenomena is called historic recurrence.

We’ve probably all heard the quote:

Those who cannot learn from the past, are doomed to repeat it.

Paraphrased from George Santayana

In some variant, in some piece of fiction: book, movie, TV show, and is usually words of caution shared to a group of people by a wise elder, often as a remark to warn against events like Nazi Germany from happening again.

I always assumed there was something to it beyond it just sounding like a cool line for an eccentric character to say, but I’d never actually experienced it myself. I imagine you have to live long enough before you can experience it first-hand because it generally takes 10, 20, 30 years for a cycle to make a full circle.

In the past decade alone, I’ve seen startups, streaming services, and digital currencies all essentially come around to just being the same thing they were supposed to disrupt in the first.

Startups

The entire point of the modern startup, was to break away from the shackles, limitations, and dinosaur ways of the old corporate formula.

For a solid 5 years, I think it was a success. We did away with the physical office space and the overhead that went along with it; we did away with the commute, being able to work remotely from home; we did away with limiting the talent you could reach from your geographical area and instead, being able to work with a team of people from all around the world.

Sure, that’s all still there, but we’ve lost all the most important parts of why we really did it to begin with, the philosophy. It wasn’t just about convenience or reach, it was about freedom, autonomy, and creativity. You were free to keep your own schedule as long as you got your work done, had the control to manage your own time and focus on doing what you were good at, and being able to create your own methods and use your own favorite tools to get it done.

Everyone was their own boss and morale was naturally high; people actually enjoyed working on the project. But, it didn’t last long. Any time something new and popular comes along, it doesn’t take long before the suits come along and take something that was natural and beautiful and put it through the machine to make something more formulaic for efficiency.

Every startup seems to be a clone of one-another now, without their own imagination or philosophies. We Work Remotely is a great site for finding remote jobs at startups, but if you apply for enough gigs there, you’ll soon realize, that none of these companies are trailblazers; none of them have the heart of the original intent of the modern startup.

There’s an unwritten handbook that they all seem to be following, and a lot of it is just about getting back to the corporate restrictions we wanted to get away from, now wrapped in a cuter package.

Here’s the same formula, I see over and over again:

  • You must work 8-4 or 9-5 in a specific timezone (usually wherever the boss lives) and sometimes even need to clock-in
  • You have to use an absurd amount of apps that defeat the whole purpose of simplifying: Zoom, Slack, etc.
  • You’re hammered with a bunch of extraneous tasks that distract from your main area of expertise (imagine a programmer making sure to put time aside each day to clean toilets and you get my point — corporate wants to maximize every possible minute of time that you’re being paid for)
  • You’re forced (of course, it’s “optional,” but the kind of optional that’ll get you fired, so not really optional) into a yearly retreat for “team-building”

Basically, all the best parts that made the new age startup so appealing in the first place, are being forced back into a corporate mold.

What I think really happened is the traditional business person caught on to all the savings of the modern startup, so they exploited those, but then started to slowly remove the freedoms that benefited the human, but not the bottom line.

We got rid of the stuffy office and the boardroom where 90% of the meetings were pointless, and brought that back with Zoom. So innovative. Now we can simulate the time-wasting and redundancy of the classic meeting from the comfort of our own home!

We got rid of the archaic structure of the 9-5 and hourly pay, so that we could all make sure to get enough sleep and focus on our tasks with clear minds and for only as long we needed to, not a long, drawn out 8 hours just to appease the higher-ups who are more concerned over quantity than quality.

We got rid of commute and stuffy business attire and said fuck it, “For now on, every single day is Casual Friday!” We came up with cool ideas, found people that complimented what we did, and built some cool shit. We made it up as we went along and we naturally created a bond.

But now, that “culture” has become an unwritten rule of the formula of startups. Company retreats aren’t based on a natural desire to get together (something that’s a pain in the ass — there’s a reason we like to work from home), it’s team dating arranged my bosses who saw one too many documentaries on Google or Facebook, and saw that creating a “fun culture” for the team environment helped to improve morale, efficiency, and the quality of work.

The only problem now is that there’s this creepy pressure put on the team to all be friends and develop inside jokes and camaraderie; it’s all just too forced. I’ve never been a team player, but when things were good, I actually did enjoy it. Being exhausted by these new phony innovators who are just traditional companies in disguise has motivated me to work even harder at building my own projects so that I don’t have to get stuck in these new digital cubicles.

Streaming Services

Netflix is king. They were a massive disruption to cable TV and video rental stores; that’s common knowledge now, but as an early adopter of Netflix, I could see the writing on the wall way before most people. I predicted that Netflix was a cable and Blockbuster killer 10 years ago!

With the success of Netflix streaming, a whole slough of new services followed suit, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and most recently, Apple TV+ and Disney+. Also, many of the singular channels like HBO, Showtime, ESPN, etc. broke off with their own streaming services and apps.

But, now that all the channels have gone solo… something interesting is starting to happen. With the annoyance and cost of having to buy all these separate subscriptions for consumers, we’re starting to see bundled services for a better price, like Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ all bundled together. Hmm, where have we seen this before? 😉

We’re essentially just solving new problems with old solutions, from the days of DISH, DirecTV, and Comcast. One of the reasons these new freedoms were finally given to us, out of the hands of the cable cartels, allowing cable-cutters to cut those cables, was the rise of piracy. With easier access and lower costs, people were willing to “go legit.” But now that things are becoming complicated once again, I suspect that the reformed ex-pirates will once again put on their tricornes, and raise their swords.

Digital Currencies

This is my friend and partner Trent Lapinski‘s arena. I’m one of those people that just simply never “got it.” At the height of the crypto craze, I tried my best to learn. I watched the videos, I read the articles, I listened to Trent’s pleas for me to take it all more seriously because there was money to be made, and I just fell short; my brain turned to mush.

As someone who cares very strongly about security and privacy, I loved that aspect of it and have used Bitcoin a handful of times, but I couldn’t ever get excited about it or have it click how I could make any money in that space. It wasn’t, isn’t, and never will be romantic for me. While I’m definitely a tech nerd and can take a deep-dive on some very eccentric and technical things, my passions are usually more creative and artistic.

I think the biggest hurtle to the adoption of cryptocurrencies is convenience. It’s just really, really hard for the average person to use. And of course, the more convenient you make something, the more you generally have to strip away security and privacy features; that’s always the give and take balance. And as things become more popular and easier to use, comes more regulation, oversight, and reintroducing the very problems that were being solved in the first place.

Conclusion

The greatest irony about this entire article, is probably the fact that someone noticing the cycles and then trying to warn the other village folk about those patterns is itself, also part of the cycle; the older generation tries to pass on wisdom to the new generation, rinse, and repeat. It’s a neverending cycle that I’m not sure can be broken.

And that isn’t to say that all cycles, or even any cycles, are bad; they just are what they are; that’s life. Seasons come and go, fashion, music, and art all go through a cycle every 10-30 years, but pop back up and trend as if they’re new and unique ideas.

It all makes me wonder if there really is any such thing as a revolution at all, or if it’s just a hopeful, romantic word for reset.