Instagram was, what for seemed a long time, the one social media platform relatively untouched by scandal, overt commercialism and weaseliness. No more. Taylor Lorenz in The Atlantic takes a look at the current stage of Instagram. She writes:

“Instagram is teeming with these conspiracy theories, viral misinformation, and extremist memes, all daisy-chained together via a network of accounts with incredible algorithmic reach and millions of collective followers…”

This probably shouldn’t be all that surprising. Instagram’s parent, Facebook, has been dealing with similar issues for years now. The app had already been turned into a virtual shopping app filled with all manner of so-called ‘influencers‘ who seamlessly blended content with commerce. Facebook’s other big acquisition, WhatsApp, has already seen its co-founders leave the company on less than good terms.

The again, the world of investing isn’t all that different. The term index used to have a specific meaning. Now it pretty much means ‘any old method for picking stocks.’ Indexes used to run by independent, third parties. Now anyone can create their own ‘bespoke index.’ Investing has always been more about telling interesting stories than paying attention to cold, hard data.

Again, this shouldn’t come as a shock. The financial services industry is nothing, if not industrious in its ability to conjure up new products and new ways of selling them to an unsuspecting public. The ETF industry is not immune. Now firms are coming up with ways to make their ETFs look as inexpensive as possible, at least in the news release.

Nothing really ever stays the same. However some thing do retain their value over time. I liked this quote by John Gapper in the FT yesterday talking about Levi’s on the eve of its (successful) IPO. He noted that while Levi’s isn’t currently the height of fashion it retains the ability to return there. Gapper writes:

“But there are many worse competitive positions than producing the world’s best-known brand of jeans, with an unmistakable historic identity. If my generation appreciated the spirit of Levi’s 501s a century after they were invented, there is no reason why future teenagers will not. Levi’s are not always in fashion but they will always have the potential to become fashionable once more.”

The rise of social media seemed like the death knell for e-mail. E-mail has pretty much been around since the invention of the Internet. Today the e-mail newsletter is taking on a new and revitalized role. Mike Isaac in the New York Times writes:

The newsletter is not a new phenomenon. But there is a growing interest among those who are disenchanted with social media in what the writer Craig Mod has called “the world’s oldest networked publishing platform.” For us, the inbox is becoming a more attractive medium than the news feed.

Remember when e-book sales were supposed to kill printed books? That didn’t happen. Smartphones have changed the way we live. Cal Newport thinks we will look back on the way we used smartphone the way we view cigarette smoking today. Every new medium arises with a combination of idealism and innovation. What follows is some combination of cynicism and disappointment.

You shouldn’t have to take yourself off the grid. New technologies and systems are tools. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s easy to point fingers, but we have only ourselves to blame. Let’s be careful out there.

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