How Should You Cut Through the Noise of This Year’s Headlines?

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In this month’s newsletter I talk about music—both literally and metaphorically. What are you hearing and listening to? Let me know in the comments.

Sturm und Drang

In Margin Call, the 2011 movie about the run-up to the 2008 financial crash, the reptilian bank CEO played by Jeremy Irons says to an underling: “Do you care to know why I’m in this chair with you all? … I’m here to guess what the music might do a week, a month, a year from now. That’s it. Nothing more. And standing here tonight, I’m afraid that I don’t hear a thing. Just … silence.”

Irons’ character was talking about the music of the financial markets, but it’s a good description of any leader’s job—including an editor in chief’s. So as another year draws to a close, what music am I hearing?

Certainly not silence. More like a massive orchestra in wild, dissonant cacophony. Over the past year and a half the crypto section has gone from Appalachian Spring to the Ride of the Valkyries before being briefly shocked into John Cage’s 4’33”, and now seems to be playing pizzicato in the hopes that we won’t notice. The Big Tech brass marching band is still marching but has put mufflers in all its instruments, except for Twitter, which is playing a funeral dirge way too loud and fast on a nasty, scratchy bugle. Over in the biotech section they were doing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy at full blast last year, after the first mRNA vaccines were approved, but have since devolved into some kind of enigmatic Steve Reich–style multipart harmony that’s very gradually building to something we can’t quite see yet. The AI players, who for a while had gone so deep in on themselves that all you could discern was background percussion at gradually increasing tempo, are now throwing around massive end-of-the-world organ chords and riotous snatches of every composer they can think of all mashed together.

Maybe this is why I found myself browsing Indian classical music the other night in search of calm, and even so kept finding my nerves so jangled that I pared it down until all I was listening to was the tanpura, the background drone that lulls your mind into a kind of stoned stupidity. 

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