10 episodes

Exploring the dynamism happening across audio, music, AirPods, and AR.


Audio-First Nick Pappageorge

    • Technology
    • 5.0 • 1 Rating

Exploring the dynamism happening across audio, music, AirPods, and AR.


    Audio, Evolution, and Memes: Why TikTok Is The First YouTube Challenger

    Audio, Evolution, and Memes: Why TikTok Is The First YouTube Challenger

    Quick FYI for folks new to Audio-First:

    Read and/or listen - the audio version is great & has bonus clips

    Audio is also available on all the podcast apps

    The Audio-First Charter (why we’re here)

    Finally, this post may be easier to read on my blog


    “Who controls the memes controls the universe” tweeted Elon Musk, referencing a line from Dune. Somehow it feels both trollish and profound.

    If you live on the internet, you know it when you see it. Memes are everywhere. More importantly, it feels like memes matter today. A well-crafted internet joke like Musk’s can yield more attention than a well-funded PR campaign.

    Lately, I’ve been reading a fascinating book on the topic. First, I learned the academic definition of memes is far more expansive than just internet jokes. Richard Dawkins coined the term meme to refer to fashions, ceremonies, customs, and technologies that spread across human brains. The mechanism: mimesis, better known as imitation.

    [Dawkins] discussed [meme] propagation by jumping from brain to brain, likened them to parasites infecting a host, treated them as physically realised living structures, and showed how mutually assisting memes will gang together in groups just as genes do. Most importantly, he treated the meme as a replicator in its own right. Everything you have learned by imitation from someone else is a meme. But we must be clear what is meant by the word ‘imitation’, because our whole understanding of memetics depends on it. Dawkins said that memes jump from ‘brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation’ (1976, p. 192)…

    Everything that is passed from person to person in this way is a meme. This includes all the words in your vocabulary, the stories you know, the skills and habits you have picked up from others and the games you like to play. It includes the songs you sing and the rules you obey. So, for example, whenever you drive on the left (or the right!), eat curry with lager or pizza and coke, whistle the theme tune from ‘Neighbours’ or even shake hands, you are dealing in memes. Each of these memes has evolved in its own unique way with its own history, but each of them is using your behaviour to get itself copied.

    Susan Blackmore “The Meme Machine”

    Think of memes as the smallest atomic unit of culture. Some memes are funny, some are relatable, and some are not very useful and don’t spread widely.

    Memetic theory says these mind-viruses compete against each other for their slot in the next human brain. Some memes make it. Others don’t. (Even more interestingly, some memes make it without regard to their real-world usefulness—only their ability to replicate most effectively.) Memes, they argue, are part of a Darwinian system. This is all rooted in the idea of Universal Darwinism, which says evolution applies to any “replicator” with the following conditions:

    selection – the fittest survive

    variation – there are slight changes between copies

    heredity – the offspring inherits characteristics from the parent

    Memes satisfy these conditions and replicate “cultural instructions” just like genes do.

    Of course, our lives are increasingly digital. Arguably, more culture is mediated through media and tech platforms than in real life. Thinkers like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett were talking about cultural evolution and the theory of mind abstractly more than, say, lip-syncing TikToks. Even so, types of social media posts—as digital shipping containers for memes—help them propagate.

    To social media’s credit, they’ve taken the Darwin-governed world of memes and built fairly Darwinian systems around them. Now, a retweet button here or a like button there governs how memes spread (or struggle for life). Digital memes satisfy all the evolutionary pre-conditions:

    selection – some posts get comments & likes, going viral and becoming part of public awareness


    • 20 min
    Audio-First #10: The Metaverse, Apple M&A, and Quarantine Diversions

    Audio-First #10: The Metaverse, Apple M&A, and Quarantine Diversions

    [Listen above (& podcast apps), read below, or both if you’re feeling crazy]

    Welcome back audio nerds! I hope you’re well in these trying times. I also hope last time’s deep-dive on Brazilian music was fruitful. For me, it’s been very necessary to stay positive.

    As the coronavirus went from Faraway Problem to Very Real Threat, things are no doubt profoundly weird. But there’s some comfort in the fact that it’s weird for everybody. That we’re all in this.

    Most of us are lucky enough to be insulated from the real medical emergency, and the relative comfort is eerie in its own right. But you get accustomed to it fast. I mean, last night I ate dinner while in the bathtub. Meanwhile, I have friends working in NYC emergency rooms.

    Compounding on this bizarreness is the sense of time-travel. If you’re young, this a peek into what life will be like retired. If you’re quarantining with a significant other, it’s like hitting fast-forward to marriage. And then there’s the looming pandemic, which feels like something History Book People agonized over, like Hades or scurvy. (A testament to human achievement, in a way.)

    We’re living in one giant, collective anachronism. 

    Closed for business

    Audio-First has been slowly stumbling towards a Grand Unifying Theory of Media. I’m not there yet, but we previously reduced it to “mind control.” That’s effectively the game for creators: how desirable was your mind control? As the neuroeconomist Paul Zak notes, “A good story’s a good story from the brain’s perspective, whether it’s audio or video or text. It’s the same kind of activation in the brain.” 

    Recently, hearing Gavin Baker talk about The Metaverse added a new layer of perspective:

    “The metaverse is simply a series of connected virtual worlds I firmly believe the majority of people will spend a majority of their waking hours within my lifetime. Today, most of those worlds are called video games. And I would say The Metaverse being the culmination of the internet is a relatively accepted opinion amongst early-stage venture investors and large technology companies...as you see a DJ named Marshmello did a concert in Fortnite that 40M people watched. There's a special Star Wars event. There’s already events regularly in every video game. I’m more and more convinced that video games will be foundational to the metaverse. One signpost there is we have a lot of data on internet traffic. According to Verizon, Video Game traffic is up 100%. And Telecom Italia saw video game traffic up 75% and social media traffic up 0% because people are connecting through video games.”

    The full picture here is that audio (and anything Audio-First) is part of an umbrella of media-tech that allows you to enter a virtual world. Listening to a podcast like Serial is quite a bit different than a persistent virtual world like Fortnite. But fundamentally, and neuroscientifically, they’re on the same spectrum. They compete for mindshare.

    Now if you’ve read Snow Crash, you know there’s 3 different ways to access the proverbial Metaverse: high-quality home VR, grainy public arcade-style VR, or for the real addicts, a portable headset. (Eerily similar to what we have today). What attracted me to audio & audio-first tech is that the third portable option has seen a lot of momentum technologically–airpods, music streaming, podcasting, voice assistants, generative audio, conversational AI–these all seem to be converging on a compelling virtual world that’s portable. Sure, it’s not complete immersion like our home system. But it delivers something that only requires 70%-attention, allowing us to get a taste of the giant computer-storyteller-machine while going about our day. 

    That’s why I wrote in edition #4 that the reason I’m ‘long’ audio is because I’m ‘long’ distracted consumption. There’s just a shocking amount of surface area unlocked.

    With COVID-19, however, this is short-term

    • 11 min
    Audio-First #9: AR's fail, audio's fortune, and a musical guide to Brazil

    Audio-First #9: AR's fail, audio's fortune, and a musical guide to Brazil

    [Listen above, read below, or both!]

    Hello audio nerds! It’s good to be back. I’ve spent the past few weeks in Brazil for, um, research. And the music there did not let me down. More on that below.

    If you’re new here, read The Charter. Today we’re welcoming 60+ new reader-listeners, so thanks to Substack for plugging Audio-First on the homepage. 

    One final note: all Audio-First editions are also findable on the podcast apps Apple/Spotify/Pocket Casts/Stitcher/others. (I prefer Pocket Casts because it displays the text fully linked in the Notes section. But you do you.)


    Lo-fi AR

    Magic Leap, the bellwether company in augmented reality, is exploring a sale according to Bloomberg. The report suggests it could be for as much as $10B, which would be a healthy return on the $2.6B (!) it raised in equity financing.

    But $10B is likely a stretch. Elsewhere, outlets like TechCrunch thinks this will be a fire sale. 2019 was a year of flameouts for well-funded AR startups like ODG, Meta, and Daqri. Additionally, Magic Leap suffered incredibly weak demand on its consumer headset and has since pivoted to enterprise, where it hasn’t found a foothold. If I were a betting man, I’d say this ends closer to a flameout, too. 

    This isn’t to poke fun, either. A lot of this tech will be crucial towards building AR, which feels all but inevitable as the smartphone successor. It’s just the consensus seems to have shifted, conceding that AR is further out than previously thought (more of a 5-10 year range). 

    This is a letdown to the startups and investors in the space. However, if AR’s timeline is now delayed, the opportunity for audio—with more time in the interim—increases a lot. 

    As I argued in my Betaworks presentation last year: 

    AirPods will likely be remembered as our first taste of transhumanism (we wear them all day & the sales are on par with iPhones so far)

    AirPods could become a lo-fi AR or a low-fi Neuralink (it’s mostly a software problem now)

    But so far, nothing we use them for is that novel (it’s all stuff we did with wired headphones)

    Perhaps augmented reality’s current problems are audio’s fortune. 

    As the “interfaceless interface,” audio could offer many of the upsides of AR, except it’s here and now. We’re already wearing them all day long, as AR makers hoped for their headsets. And they can approximate a lot of real-time information from the smartphone (and maybe soon with head angles and gestures).

    Second, the vision for AR headsets could be achieved, in part, with audio. It’s not difficult to imagine, say, 50% of the Magic Leap demos (like emails, basic search) could work somehow with today’s audio tech. The bottleneck right now is the smart assistant.

    This is why I’m looking to Apple for any sign about where this goes. As I wrote in a previous Audio-First, the dictation of text messages on the AirPods Pro feels like that first taste of where audio is going:

    Aside from noise cancellation, the biggest new addition is the native text message reading. (ICYMI - incoming iMessages are read aloud by Siri.) I love it. More and more, I find myself dictating messages out, especially when I’m outside running. It works fine enough, even if the Siri interaction is a bit slow. To me, it seems obvious that Apple will have a Siri-led category of new apps. It’s just a matter of when.

    So far, Apple’s been quiet and has kept developer features with SiriKit pretty limited. But I suspect this will change in time. Additionally, Apple’s been rumored to be working on an AR headset for the past 10 years, and the reported ship dates keep getting pushed back (currently to 2023). 

    In the near-term, it looks like an even bigger opportunity for audio & AirPods. And amidst a work from home wave due to COV-19, I’d guess AirPods are spiking in demand. Perhaps we’re in a catalyzing moment. 

    Musica Brasileira

    On the music front, Brazil was magical. 

    Granted, my most p

    • 12 min
    Audio-First #7: Fifty-Five Bullet Friday

    Audio-First #7: Fifty-Five Bullet Friday

    Welcome back audio nerds!

     I hope you enjoyed the last interview with Drew Austin. Again, the episode (and all future audio versions) are all findable on the apps Apple/Spotify/Pocket Casts/Stitcher/others.

    Since I’m currently far away on a trip, and hence without my beloved microphone, I’m recording audio from a laptop. Apologies. This will be a brief roundup things I’ve been listening to lately.

    Podcasts recs

    First, after years of groaning at Pomp’s bitcoin tweets, I have to say I’m totally impressed with the Joe Rogan-for-tech universe he’s built. His podcast Unchained started more strictly focused on crypto, but in the new year he’s opened it up to to more general tech interviews. Sriram Krishnan & Geoff Lewis had some fascinating parts to their interviews, and tech folks will find them worthy listens.

    But I was totally floored by Pomp’s most recent episode with Brian Norgard, former CPO of Tinder, which focused almost entirely on the future audio. (Brian’s prescient tweets about airpods were an inspiration for me to start writing on the subject.) Audio nerds, this is a must-listen. Brian drills into why airpods are growing, product opportunities and limitations, and where the medium goes from here. And they stick on this thread for quite a while. I’m still taking it in.

    Second, I’m hooked on Radiolab’s new series The Other Latif. It’s being hyped as the next Serial, and has some obvious parallels. This one’s about a (potentially) wrongfully imprisoned inmate at Guantanamo Bay. 

    Some other honorable mentions: The Portal, After On (the episodes with Naval are chilling must-listens), and I’m not proud of how much I like Prof Galloway’s rants on Recode Decode.

    Last, if you’ve never listened to EconTalk, stop what you’re doing. It’s bar none my favorite podcast, and I’m planning to write a little writeup as to why. In a nutshell it’s accessible conversations with the smartest people in the world. I’ve learned so much from it over the years. Maybe I’m an econ nerd, but this is just simply the best.

    Music recs

    2020 is also shaping up to be a banner year for music. Some big albums have already dropped, and some of the most creative minds in music will release by year’s end. I, for one, am stoked. I’ll list what I learned from this Pitchfork article.

    Dropped or dropping soon that I’m excited about:

    Destroyer - January 31

    Khruangbin / Leon Bridges - Feb 7

    Tame Impala (shoutout) - just released Feb 15

    Grimes - Feb 21

    King Krule -Feb 21 

    Caribou - February 28th

    And this year we can expect something from:

    Angel Olsen

    Best Coast

    Fiona Apple (love)

    Frank Ocean (apparently working on a club album with Justice)

    Lana Del Ray


    Playboi Carti



    If you’re unfamiliar with any of these artists, I’d urge you to give them a try. I can vouch, and I’d probably go see them if they were in town.

    Liner notes

    Every music streaming app is the exact same. Spotify’s in-song facts about the creative process. A totally random article. Fantano blasting my fav band’s new album. Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker with Zane Lowe.

    Stay tuned and keep it locked,



    This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit pappageorge.substack.com

    • 4 min
    Audio-First #6: AirPods and Urban Life With Drew Austin (aka Kneeling Bus)

    Audio-First #6: AirPods and Urban Life With Drew Austin (aka Kneeling Bus)

    My inaugural interview guest is Drew Austin, (AKA Kneeling Bus). Drew regularly produces some of the most thought-provoking essays about tech and urban planning. I encourage you to check out his weekly newsletter. We dive into everything AirPods, audio, AR, and urban planning.

    Some audio-related ideas of his to check out:

    Always in: wireless headphones are AR devices

    Paleo Internet, a conception of gourmet internet that made me bullish on audio

    White Noise, which contains a passage I’ve read and re-read many times out loud to friends about digital vs physical life. Must read.

    This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit pappageorge.substack.com

    • 45 min
    Audio-First #5: Milton, Media, And Going Multi-Modal

    Audio-First #5: Milton, Media, And Going Multi-Modal

    Hello audio nerds, two big updates for you today.

    First, Audio-First is now distributed on your favorite podcast apps. At long last, you can enjoy my voice on-the-go, and not just from your inbox. You’ll find the audio versions (past and future) uploaded here:

    Apple Podcasts


    Pocket Casts


    Other weirder ones

    Depending on the audio app (e.g. Pocket Casts), the Notes section will be the fully-linked text that goes out with the newsletter.

    I implore you to take the 2 seconds to subscribe because…(announcement #2) a number of upcoming episodes of Audio-First will be interviews with audio thinkers, iOS developers, and other tech insiders. Contain your excitement. These will be longer than the fortnightly-ish post I’ve been sending out, so I imagine you’ll want to listen as you would with a traditional podcast.

    Tomorrow, our first interview drops with the great Drew Austin, aka Kneeling Bus. Drew regularly produces some of the most thought-provoking essays about tech and urban planning, and he makes one of my favorite weekly newsletters. 

    Some audio-related ideas of his to check out:

    Always in: wireless headphones are AR devices

    Paleo Internet, a conception of gourmet internet that made me bullish on audio

    White Noise, which contains a passage I’ve read and re-read many times out loud to friends about digital vs physical life. Must read.

    Anyway, Drew’s ideas have been very influential for my writing on Audio-First. So sign up on your podcast app, and hear us dive into all things audio, airpods, and urban living. (It’s about 40 minutes). 


    Now that Audio-First is officially straddling both podcast and newsletter distribution, you might be asking yourself: How do I, a faithful reader-listener, consume this content as intended? 

    More than ever, there’s a chance you’ll gravitate toward the audio over the text, or the text over the audio. To me, it makes no difference. I hope it comes down to your own convenience.

    Perhaps this is grandiose, but I hold a small hope that a few of you do both simultaneously. Realistically most of you don’t, but I love the possibility. 

    Mostly because in college I was forced to read Paradise Lost by John Milton. (If you don’t know, Paradise Lost was written in 17th-century vernacular, in poetic verse.) And I found the best way to absorb it was to speed up the audiobook track to a comfortable reading speed. With the audio and visual experience synced up, I was powering through Milton’s wackadoo language with ease. Every word from this genius was flooding my senses. As a result, the book hit way harder.

    I’d certainly be thrilled if my writing had sense-flooding.

    In fact, if it wasn’t so weird, I’d send it out these posts with a Spritz reader. Or I’d hire a video maker to do a whiteboard illustration. Really, I’d try anything up to Clockwork Orange-ing if there was demand. This is all to say, media makers want to have the most engaging tools possible to reach their audience. 

    Sure, Milton was writing one of the greatest works in the English language, and I’m just some techie with a substack. But we all have our aspirations as media makers. And what is media but a momentary hijacking of the mind? It’s just a matter of degree. 

    What’s been disappointing to realize with Audio-First is there’s not much media mixing. Right now, the majority of you are reading this (without audio). A sizable 39% of you will turn on the audio portion. But there’s not much combining. There’s no technology to make this hit harder or differently. The maximum has been reached. For now.


    On a similar note, this week, Pace Capital’s Jordan Cooper penned a new post on this exact subject. Cooper argues that there’s a good chance with the advent of AR that mixing of audio and visual information will increase. He writes:

    I think the insight that we will use computer vision to augment the way we process our physical surroun

    • 9 min

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Great show

I laughed. I cried. I lost 15 pounds. 5 stars

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