Digital Ephemera: the rebellion against on-demand

Nick Hilton
9 min readAug 2, 2022

This blog appeared, earlier this week, on my newsletter, Future Proof. You can read it here, for free, because an elite group of cool people pay to subscribe to that newsletter, giving me a bit of freedom to write. Join them.

If I were Mark Zuckerberg (which I’m not) or Rupert Murdoch (which I’m not) I would invest some of my enormous capital in setting up a special department called the Reverse Engineering Squad. This crack team would do exact what you’d expect: take everything that happens and work out why it happened.

There’s an aphorism frequently trotted out in behavioural science circles, which says that “the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour”. Which makes sense, and is probably true (“best” representing, here, an imperfect supremacy). So why, from 2004, did Facebook become the dominant social media player for more than a decade, turning it into one of the biggest companies in the world? What itch did it scratch? And why did Netflix, when it pivoted to streaming video in 2007, catch fire? What was the genesis of the societal movement that ended up with Netflix having far more than 200,000,000 subscribers?

These are questions that have simple answers (They were good ideas! New technologies facilitated them! They were first in a market that rewards the early!) and more complex ones (Internet-induced disassociation creating the rise of the anonymity preference! Weakening social fabric at a community level! Erosion of work/life balance disrupting linear distribution!) but whatever. The boffins in the RES (Reverse Engineering Squad) will answer them.

Last week, in my side-hustle as a TV critic, I found myself reviewing the finale of the long-running Australian soap opera, Neighbours. American subscribers to this newsletter (or blog, I guess you’re reading this on Medium) won’t have the foggiest about the three decades of goings on on Ramsay Street, the Melbourne cul-de-sac where the show is set, but Brits will immediately recognise that this was an important cultural event. Anyhow, the finale is pretty awful — the show has always be bad, in a naff way, though has become so irredeemably bad that its distributors have decided to put it out of its misery. All the same, my one-star review has not gone down particularly well with the legions of…

Nick Hilton

Writer. Media entrepreneur. London. Interested in technology and the media. Co-founder Email: