Goodbye, Twitter Trump! And other predictions for 2021

The New York Times
Washington, DC, United States of AmericaWritten By: Kara Swisher © 2021 The New York Times CompanyUpdated: Jan 02, 2021, 03:24 PM IST


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No one expected 2020 to turn out the way it did. The worst I imagined for this year, in my annual list of digital predictions in 2019, was that the “ever screechy” President Trump would get “to stay on Twitter retweeting fake accounts and links that appear to unmask a whistle-blower.”

If only. Mr. Trump is screechier than ever, and even more unhinged than expected. Most of his tweets are now labeled “disputed” by Twitter, which I would translate from geekspeak as a polite way of calling them lies.

Since I’m not polite, I’m starting this round of prognosticating with this: Soon after our forever troller in chief leaves office on Jan. 20, his account will be suspended by Twitter temporarily, and then, since he cannot stop breaking rules, he’ll get tossed off, just like his hideous pal, Alex Jones.

I have never thought, as many have, that Mr. Trump should have been de-platformed during his term as president. As flagitious as he can be, Mr. Trump has been a legitimate news figure and, thus, what he had to say should be aired.

But after Joe Biden is inaugurated, Mr. Trump should be treated like any other mendacious loudmouth, and Twitter will be well within its rights to put a sock in it. He’ll rage and then head over Parler to try to make fetch happen, which will not satisfy his enormous ego. It will all end in a whimper.

Speaking of the end, many of the multitude of “special interest acquisition companies” that have popped up in recent years and raised giant piles of money will fold in 2021 and 2022. (These SPACs are a financial maneuver seen as a back door to taking a start-up public, an alternative to a traditional I.P.O.)

There have been 165 SPACs in 2020, double the number the year before and five times more than five years ago. Back when there was a rush of new venture capital flooding the market, I used to say that there were not enough ratholes to shove all the money down. Guess what? There are also not enough rathole companies to merge into these SPACs.

Instead, there will be a lot of acquisitions. Big companies will swoop in, post-pandemic, to scoop up all the juicy bits. Because of increasing scrutiny from regulators, though, we will not see many megadeals, but rather smaller ones in arenas that are more competitive, such as in autonomous vehicles, health care, fintech and media. The maxim for midsize companies is clear: Get big or get bought.

And for the big companies, the mantra is just: Buy. The Amazon acquisition this week of the podcast maker Wondery, in a deal valued at $300 million — whatever that means — was exactly the kind of thing we will see more of. Amazon is aiming its considerable heft and pocketbook directly at a nascent podcast market. This will result in an inevitable smackdown with Spotify, which has been playing the most aggressively in this space, and we’ll see Apple wade in too along with traditional media companies.

Speaking of media companies: While the reverberations of the Warner Bros. decision to put all its 2021 movies on its HBOMax streaming service are sorting themselves out, the shift is permanent — whether offended filmmakers like it or not. Creators who adapt will benefit, especially if they devise new models of payment.

The longtime entertainment business model was built on powerful gatekeepers that made most of the money and relied on a vast network of middlemen. But in the new world, those who can assemble a fan base that they directly service will profit. Imagine the future relationship between creators and fans as a subscription business, and the economics get much more interesting. Hollywood will have to become much more nimble and entrepreneurial.

So, too, will more Americans in general, since the pandemic has accelerated the introduction of what will be permanent changes in how we work. Last December, I urged tech to be at the forefront of this major overhaul:

“And rather than accept that poor pay and poor protections for gig workers are inevitable and that the pressures of a global work force are too hard to push back, tech companies should figure out how to creatively and humanely deploy talent across the world to show that they are interested in dealing with the consequences of their inventions.”

This was pre-coronavirus — an exogenous circumstance. Now I am often asked when will work go back to normal, which is really a question of when will we get back to physical workplaces. That will certainly happen in the coming year, but in all kinds of new ways.

The coronavirus has forced the kind of work experimentation that would have taken a decade to eventually happen: limiting business travel, cutting in-person office time, questioning every cost associated with the analog workplace. Technology is making doing business cheaper and more efficient and, as it has turned out, more productive.

These changes have proved nearly useless and even dangerous when it comes to education, where physical presence is much more of an asset than we thought. More consideration will be put into how to make technology and schooling mesh better and how to provide students with the kind of experience that they are not getting, as well as a bigger focus on universal connectivity for those who are without it.

While pandemics are short term, the looming climate disaster is not. So, lastly, I’ll repeat my 2019 declaration that the “world’s first trillionaire will be a green-tech entrepreneur.” President-elect Biden, who is championing green technology, will be more successful if his efforts are seen as job creators, and not so much as giant government programs.

And now that Mr. Trump, who minimized the existential threat of climate change, is leaving, we can get to work on the kind of tech that could be the most lucrative ever. It’s an imperative that we solve our climate problems through innovation.

While Mr. Trump’s noxious digital fumes will dissipate, the other kind will not.

(Kara Swisher is the host of “Sway,” a New York Times Opinion podcast, and a contributing writer for The Times.)