Canary in the coal mine

On Elon Musk, misplaced idolatry, and technocratization

Kinsey Grant
April 15, 2022

Every now and then, a story comes across the wires (read: trends in my very specific corner of the internet) that makes me think to myself with a healthy dose of nostalgia, man it’s times like this that I really miss working in a newsroom.

Elon Musk attempting to buy Twitter is one of those stories. I want in.

I meant what I said and I said what I meant

I don’t know what it is about Elon Musk that intrigues me so. I don’t like his bravado or management style; I don’t think he’s a particularly responsible person. Maybe he’s even a dangerous person. The deification is misplaced in my view.

But here I am every time an Elon Musk story breaks, scouring the internet for more, more, more. He’s the high school frenemy I can’t unfollow on Instagram. The car wreck I can’t look away from. In some perverse way, I’m one of his biggest fanboys.

Which is why I find Musk’s not so feeble attempt to buy Twitter severely fascinating.

The very quick rundown of what happened for those who have better things to do than follow the perceived whims of a billionaire with almost religious fervor:

  • Last week, Elon Musk disclosed a 9.2% stake in Twitter, at the time becoming the largest individual shareholder in the company. The investment capped (or so we thought) a string of recent criticisms from Musk on Twitter about Twitter. Musk’s main beef = Twitter doesn’t do enough to protect free speech.
  • Twitter responded by inviting Musk to join its board (savvy, keep your friends close). It seemed Musk would do just that until Sunday, when Musk suddenly declined the offer. Many pundits looked into their crystal balls (which are, coincidentally, just their Twitter feeds) and suggested that Musk had something larger or more nefarious up his sleeve—being on the board would have limited the size to which he could build his ownership stake.
  • That something larger or more nefarious happened. Musk made an unsolicited “best and final” cash offer to buy Twitter for $43 billion dollars (or about one-sixth of Musk’s net worth).

That hostile bid set two important bits of the timeline in motion: First, Twitter leadership did its best to quell concerns from its employees (warranted concerns if you ask me—Musk is a notorious hard ass who would go with Twitter’s carefully cultivated culture like peanut butter goes with gasoline). And second, we all pretended to know what a poison pill is.

Thanks to my expert-level procrastination writing this newsletter, I still hadn’t hit publish when Twitter on late Friday announced its poison pill plan—effectively, it’s a counterattack. If Musk (or any would-be Musks) buy 15% or more of Twitter’s shares, the market would be flooded with more Twitter stock that would immediately reduce Musk’s stake in the company.

So that’s where we are right now. That’s the news. But what I really can’t stop obsessing over is the sub-context to all of this.

Elon Musk’s attempt to buy Twitter (with its 217 million daily active users) is my personal canary in the coal mine. That it’s even a possibility for a single person to just, on a whim and seemingly because he’s unsatisfied with his personal experience using its core product, buy a company that employs some 7,500 people and carries a market value of $34 billion on a bad day…is preposterous.

“Twitter has extraordinary potential,” Musk said in announcing his bid. “I will unlock it.”

Not “we” will unlock it. Not “my team” will unlock it. I will unlock it.

This is where we are in the technocratization of our world, and Elon Musk is making a compelling case for technocrat to rule them all. Really think about what this deal, whether it happens or doesn’t, means—one person (who is very importantly not an elected official) has amassed such wealth and unjustified zeal that he can buy his way out of a problem (the problem apparently being that free speech isn’t free enough…my guy, do I have a podcast for you).

Checks and balances exist for a reason. Even if the SEC or one of its peers were to attempt either a check or a balance, Musk famously toes the lines those governing bodies draw. Also did I mention his net worth?

We’re all worse for it. Even when we fantasize about our most outrageous pictures of material success, that fantasy is orders of magnitude away from Musk’s wealth. We are playing the gullible masses, marching dutifully to the beat of Elon Musk’s drum, and for what?

Innovation should be celebrated. Visionaries should be celebrated. They should be rewarded, even! But take heed of this story. It shouldn’t even be possible, and yet we’re entertaining the possibility.

Alright that’s all I got on this that I have the mental capacity to actually write about. But seeing as I could have taken this analysis in about 43 billion directions, some quick hitter ideas that I am also thinking about in the wake of this week:

  • I don’t believe in telling people what they should do with their money, but I do believe in imagining smarter ways they could spend it. If you’ve ever listened to Thinking Is Cool, you know just how monumental a difference $43 billion could make in solving, and I mean this literally, any systemic problem.
  • Does anyone actually care about this outside my Twittersphere, and if they don’t, how do we make them?
  • The fact that I got to learn about Elon Musk’s beef with Jamie Dimon this week is enough to sustain me for at least another decade in this career.
  • So many smart people wrote about this story this week with astounding creativity, perception, and insight. Some of my favorites? Charlie Warzel wrote about how this is basically Musk’s GameStop. In general, the NYT had fantastic coverage of this story from a slew of angles. Casey Newton wrote a detailed play-by-play that put it all into perspective for me. And I know those are kind of my usual suspects for tech coverage, so if you read something superb about this story, I’d love to hear more.

One final thing:

I also released a new video on YouTube today!!!! It’s really fun and you should watch because Mark Cuban is a guest. That’s not the only reason you should watch, but I know it’s a compelling reason for at least a few of you. It's about the American dream and if my dad's contribution to the comments section is any indication, it's a real conversation starter.

Watch here and hey, why not subscribe?

That’s all for this week. I hope you have a perfect weekend! See you soon!

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What if we all stopped to think a little harder? To have conversations with each other? What might the world look like? I’m Kinsey Grant and together, we’re gonna find out.

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