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Making Connections #001

A list of TikTok formats, why friction can be good, working out with a mask, and Pmarca's It's Time to Build

Jason Shen
Jason Shen
6 min read
Making Connections #001

Listen to this edition as a podcast

Howdy folks,

Welcome to the very first edition of Making Connections. Y’all are like founding readers!

To celebrate 10 years of writing in public on the internet, I’m trying something new with this newsletter. I wrote more about this here so let’s just jump in shall we?

1. An Incomplete List of TikTok Formats

Social Media | Formats

Just started looking at TikTok. It’s basically an endless feed of portrait (tall) formatted videos 15-60 seconds long, filled with memes and music.

Even though it's both a post and consume social media platform, the production quality of the initial feed is so high, I am disinclined to post, unlike say Twitter, which has a low starting bar.

Every once in a while I see one where I think — Yeah, I could do that or top that. Maybe if my apartment wasn't such a mess I'd give it a try? Anyway, what I've found interesting so far is the various "formats" that these videos come in. Some I've found so far:

  • Dance routines (probably what they're most known for)
  • Lip sync / acting out another comedian's joke or some dumb shit Trump said
  • Original jokes (rare)
  • Tips and life hack videos (finance, fitness, careers)
  • Song memes (Switch, Yep/Nope)
  • Glow ups (before and after makeup/hair/clothes)
  • Crazy shots (smoke, elaborate ping pong ball shot, flips)
  • Behind the scenes of how the crazy shot was done
  • Magic tricks (sometimes with explanation of how it's done)
  • Cooking videos / tips / memes
  • Dares (kiss your best guy friend)
  • Couple memes ("who is messiest?" Eyes closed, pointing )

What’s really interesting to me is how these formats emerge (usually one or more “originators”) and they are quickly copied by other creators. They almost become mandatory as you’ll see people say “sorry it took me so long to do this one” as if it was expected that you would. TikTok actually encourages this by making it super easy to grab the background music/track of a video, see who else has done it, and then make your own.

Also a really neat story of how the dance moves are mimicking American Sign Language!

2. Friction Theory

Mental Models

I've been thinking about the concept of Friction as a way of understanding action at the individual, group, and organizational level.

The Friction Continuum (Grind // Glide)

  • slow // fast
  • obscure // obvious
  • multi-step // one-click
  • resistance // support
  • divergence // convergence
  • inertia // momentum

Most of the time we talk about reducing friction (few clicks, faster load time, etc) but there are clear cases where more friction can be valuable too (diversity = more conflict but better overall decisions, you build muscle by lifting against heavy resistance).

There are also situations where too little friction can be problematic (icy roads, accidental purchases, shotgun weddings)

So the trick is to really figure out how to move up and down the spectrum to get what you want. More on this idea in a future post!

3. Working out with an N95 mask is not going to supercharge your fitness 😫

Fitness | Coronavirus

I've been working out with an N95 mask when I'm running and sometimes on my building's rooftop when it's busy, even though there's plenty of reasons to believe that's silly when you're outside and distancing.

Working out is about challenging your body but the hope is that you are getting something in return. I had hoped the N95's would be like those Bane-esque elevation training masks that my friend Bilal picked up. But alas, there seems to be little cardiovascular benefit from training with them.

At least in theory, the masks simulate the effects of altitude training by restricting air intake, limiting the oxygen available to the wearer, and helping them train harder.

There's just one tiny problem, though: According to two studies recently published in the International Journal of Exercise Science, these contraptions might not actually work. The first study examined the effects of wearing an ETM during high-intensity interval training, as measured by changes in participants' maximal oxygen uptake, or "VO2 max." The researchers found that although those wearing a workout mask experienced marginally greater VO2 max increases than the control group, those differences were not statistically significant.

Does an Elevation Training Mask Really Work For Your Workout? (GQ)

And a study I found specifically on prolonged N95 wearing only indicates higher nasal resistance (which I don't really understand except it keeps your lungs from collapsing?)

So sadly, while exercise will likely be very helpful in fighting off COVID-19 and other diseases, those masks aren’t going to do much for your fitness.

4. My Problem with It’s Time to Build

Tech / Progress / Venture Capital

Marc Andreeseen of a16z wrote a thing a few weeks ago called It's Time to Build. He basically says that our failure to respond to COVID-19 and our country's general economic malaise is due to our "complacency" and our failure to "build things". He partially means revitalizing America's manufacturing industry which has been in decline for decades but also talks about education, housing, and literally jetpacks.

"The problem is desire. We need to want these things. The problem is inertia. We need to want these things more than we want to prevent these things."

The piece got a ton of likes and RT's from Tech Twitter but honestly, I was not impressed. It felt like he had shoehorned every problem society faces to an unwillingness to build, though whose unwillingness (politicians? CEO's? startup founders? consumers?) is unclear.

We see this today with the things we urgently need but don’t have. We don’t have enough coronavirus tests, or test materials — including, amazingly, cotton swabs and common reagents. We don’t have enough ventilators, negative pressure rooms, and ICU beds. And we don’t have enough surgical masks, eye shields, and medical gowns — as I write this, New York City has put out a desperate call for rain ponchos to be used as medical gowns. Rain ponchos! In 2020! In America!

Also, he seems to think that the reason we're all struggling with COVID-19 is due to a shortage of PPE and testing equipment (true) but clearly that's after the fact that we failed to respond from a policy and public health perspective, which thus triggered the need for all that stuff. Building is not a panacea!

But I get it. He's a VC. He funds companies. He's talking his own book - fine, but let's not pretend otherwise. Which is why I was glad to then read Scott Berkun's response, "It's Time to Learn" where he says a lot of things more clearly than I could.

This was not a building problem. It was a priorities problem. A logistical problem. A leadership problem. You could call it many different kinds of problems but building isn’t high on the list.

It’s governments that historically are well suited to insure societies against uncommon but devastating events, like wars, famines and natural disasters. Without shareholders and profit motive they can prioritize differently. America’s prized $748 billion military mostly stockpiles missiles, guns and aircraft that will never be used for their purpose, but we pay anyway. Why? In case we need it. That’s what a government can do. Why the same logic isn’t used when it’s about the health of citizens is a better line of inquiry than simply pointing out that we didn’t have enough of something. A small percent of that military budget might have been enough.

Anyway, go read both articles and I'd love to know what you think!


So that’s it for edition #001 for Making Connections. Why is are there two 0’s here? Am I really committing to go to 100 or more? WHO KNOWS? Let’s just do some more and see, shall we?

Toodles,

Jason


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Making Connections is an experimental newsletter by @jasonshen, a product manager and 3x startup founder who’s written for TechCrunch, Fast Company, Quartz, Vox and other fine publications.

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Jason Shen

Human(e) technologist on a mission to help build resilient teams and organizations. Former NCAA gymnast and three-time startup founder.