The Great Misdirect

A plane crashes. We spring to life.


The airwaves fill with callers. Tom Ashbrook leads his followers through a chorus of ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Wolf Blitzer commissions experts on the topic. Anderson Cooper digs for the human interest angles about the children, the soon-to-be-wed teacher, the mother’s only son.
Worrying about death by plane, like death by ebola, Muslim or cop, seems so big because it’s really so small. We can get our arms around it, unlike the things that really kill us.
One of my kids recently said that ‘older’ people dying of cancer was the same as dying of ‘old age.’ A new name or a timeless thing. Cancer: normal. Heart Disease: normal. Inner City Murder: normal. Climate change: irrevocable if not normal.
Is it factory farming, pollution, genetic modification…that’s causing tens of millions to die unnaturally? Don’t now. Is is social policy, education, job availability or something other that’s bifurcating society like never before? Unclear.
It hurts our heads to think about the grey, insidious, creeping deaths that await most of us. We sense it’s avoidable, or at least can be pushed further out, but we’re unclear how. So we perseverate on that one in a million fate that almost certainly will not befall any of us. We glom onto media accounts of the fantastic because thinking about our ordinary fates is just too depressing and overwhelming.
Bummed out? Look! A shiny thing!

Poster Boy

At some point we have to looimagesk in the mirror and see how we are “contributing” to a world we’re too often embarrassed to live in. Today is such a day for me.

We are making heroes of the very least among us, and it must stop. I am. You are. We are.

What terrorists and mass-murderers do is widely misunderstood in my view. The ‘sane’ ones, that is to say those who are not intellectually impaired but spiritually and socially fractured, use murder and mayhem as means not ends. It’s simply the surest way to be heard. And seen. They have some agenda, and since Oprah won’t invite them to her couch, Stern won’t grant them airwaves, Anderson Cooper won’t return their call, and so on, they choose the one thing American media can’t resist— the Big Bad. Then every spotlight, every microphone, every camera, every blog, every everything is obsessively focused on them.

It’s entirely wrong to condemn the media for this. It feeds us what we beg for. We devour it. We spread it. We want it. As a boy I read In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter to find out what makes a person do the unthinkable. Some people, however, take an almost prurient interest in blackest souls. Virtually all of us are on this continuum, somewhere between morbidly curious, obsessed and fawning apologists.

One such person, evidently at the very extreme end of the spectrum, is Kayvon Edson. Unlike the ’sane’ murderers I mentioned earlier, it seems Kayvon is the other kind. The clearly deranged threat.

How can I know this not twelve hours after the world knew of Kayvon? Well, I read how he was walking around the Boston Marathon memorial in a black veil. I read that in the newspaper. It was a lead story. Kayvon was trending on Twitter too!
Then, without even having to be asked to, I went to Facebook to see if Kayvon might have some words of wisdom to share there. He did.

Kayvon’s cover photo is not of his shining face; it’s of his probable idol— Tsarnaev The Younger! Clever, eh? But wait— there’s more! The picture had a caption. It reads: Had A Blast At the Marathon!!!

That’s right. Three exclamation points. Subtle.

If you’re yelling at your computer right now,”He probably didn’t even do that! Someone put the image up after the news of what he’d done”, you’re right. And you’re entirely missing the point. And you’re making mine.

That I would voluntarily investigate this person is gravely disappointing to the point of shame. That someone else would make light of both Kayvon and Tsarnaev’s crimes (against humanity)and draft off of it is vulgar on its face. And spreading.

Heroin addiction is running wild again in the streets of cities and towns. It’s scary and a blight.

I would argue that our addiction to Big Bads is more pervasive, more destructive, and more treatable. Thank God for small favors.

When drunks or loons run onto the field during a game, broadcasters turn the camera away or go to commercial so as not to encourage more attention seekers. Let’s do that for Big Bads.

Of course we have to report what happened. The public has a right to know and the press has an obligation to cover it. But let’s not mention names of perpetrators. Let’s deny them their fifteen minutes— to say nothing of their book deals, jailhouse marriage proposals, or Facebook ‘likes.’ They want an audience. Forget ‘let’s not give it to them’; let’s not be it. Let’s not spend precious hours or even days trying to unravel the yarn. It’s not that interesting.

If we had done that with (redacted), (redacted) might not have felt the urge to jog in his murderous footsteps in a thinly veiled homage. And if (redacted) didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be googling (“redacted”) to see what he looks like, what his favorite bands are, or what President he’d be according to his Facebook quiz.

I think you get my point.

I feel like there should be some cleansing platitude inserted here. “Be kind to strangers.” “Care for the mentally ill.” “Live every day to the fullest.”

I’ll settle for, “Don’t make fame of infamy.” Hey, it’s a start.

I don’t want media companies to be better than me. I want them to help me be better. I need all the help I can get. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe not.

Hear today. Gone tomorrow?

“Let’s say the house was on fire or you were going to be buried or something. What’s the one thing you’d want to preserve?”


“Do you know something I don’t?” I joked, but it was a good question. Particularly for a 15-year old.


I thought about it. And thought about it some more. My mind played a bunch of non-specific film clips. The disconsolate Mom kneeling in the ashes of a charred baby album, face in hands. A wedding picture sucked up in a cyclone just seconds and inches from someone’s outstretched hand. A scrapbook soaked and stank on a muddy riverbed after the flood receded.


“I can’t think of anything,” I said honestly. Am I a heartless bastard? Do I lack emotional resonance? Perhaps.


I’m certainly a product of the age.


When I was fifteen I would have had many mementos to choose from. Partially, that’s teenage sentimentality and that feeling that everything was so very important. It’s also a byproduct of a different consciousness that’s been changed with the introduction of technology and the short shelf-life of most things. Back then stuff mattered. Physical stuff. To touch it. Smell it.  Nearly everything was degrading from the moment you first beheld it. If not degrading, it certainly was changing. It was wrinkling, cracking, warping, rusting… Dying by another name. As a result you probably cherished it more. Little was truly disposable, but everything was only going to be with you for awhile at the same time. You had to make the most of your time together, you and your stuff, however long.  In fact, in those days, every dog-ear, every scratch, every nick was “character.” Patina.


I had baseball cards. Shoe boxes and shoe boxes of baseball cards. I wasn’t one to put them in plastic sleeves inside three-ring binders. That was for the same kids that collected beetles. No, they were in no particular order but that’s not indicative of any neglect. Quite the contrary. Each of them, thousands ultimately, were reviewed and reviewed again, committed to memory like there’d be a test later. Oh the irony. If only actual test-prep came in the form of baseball cards. I might today be the doctor my mother always wanted me to be. When I turned about seventeen I sold them to some sleaze ball collector for a few hundred bucks. Not even a reach around. Sigh.


If I saw flames shooting out of my bedroom window at fifteen I would have gone for the baseball cards for sure.


Then there were records. Vinyl. More boxes equally stuffed in no particular order with hundreds and hundreds of records. Most of them were bought used and due to summer humidity or shoddy cardboard craftsmanship the covers were usually in some state of disintegration. I’d gingerly pull one out, throw it on, and then read the liner notes. Who engineered Sgt. Peppers? Geoff Emerick, dumbass. Don’t waste my time with child’s questions. Who were the horn players, the backup singers…all of it committed to memory. Again, why Calculus couldn’t be learned this way remains one of life’s great mysteries.


I definitely would have braved a crossfire hurricane to save my vinyl. Vinyl I gave away after college when it became apparent the CD was ‘way better.’


Just give me a minute…


Which brings us to the present. Pimageshotos? I can access them on my phone, iPad, laptop, home computer… They’re all in the cloud where presumably they’ll always be. If they were lost or stolen or otherwise destroyed, no problem. You can’t lose what you never really had.


The images will go on forever. The question is, were they ever really here?


Therein likes the dilemma.


My music? I have thousands albums-worth stored in the cloud where they were once stored in the closet. There’s nothing to burn. I don’t have them. I have access to them. Access whenever, wherever, however I choose. And it’s wonderful. Yet sometimes I wonder…


It’s good, right? Technology has made it possible for things to go on digitally where physical objects were once wrecked and ruined forever—gone when they were gone.


So why doesn’t it feel good?


This lightning storm

This tidal wave

This avalanche, I’m not afraid.

C’mon, c’mon no one can see me cry.

          – REM “Imitation of Life”


I think people used to think that you got what you put into life. And what you got was real. Stuff. When you made partner you got the gold watch. You midlife crisis came with a convertible. When people asked for pictures of the grandkids you busted out your wallet for that one incomprehensibly bad picture with the polyester autumn backdrop.


Now we lease. Cars. Timeshares. Content.


Now we can access everything. And truly possess nothing.


Not to go all Buddhist on you but when you recognize that things will, never mind might, go away to the clouds and not come back in perfect replica from the cloud, you cherish them a bit more. You hold them more dear and more closely. You don’t multi-task as much. You focus intently. You value.


You run back into that house because your stuff’s not going up in cloud. It’s going up in smoke.

Start the Presses!

This past week’s events provided more questions than answers for me. Some things will almost certainly be iconized for eternity as a question mark however much “evidence” is amassed in the intervening months and years.


Some things did come into sharper focus.


NCIS is a show, not an apprenticeship.

I would have bet my bottom dollar that this whole incident was perpetrated by some guy named Toby or something similar from Wyoming or any of the other lower 48. It felt relatively amateurish in its execution. I read online that its timing mirrored closely to other domestic terrorist events like Waco and Oklahoma City. It was Patriots’ Day (a perfect photo-negative springboard for twisted minds of actual anti-patriots). It was Tax Day.


So when I went online like so many millions and saw this photo on 4chan, the crowdsourced photo site which was attempting to crack the case in real-time, I thought: “bingo.” Goofy looking white guy. Who holds a backpack like that?


Case closed. Except it wasn’t. We still don’t know most of the details, but it seems clear that the perps are not McVeigh wannabes. Or this unfortunate guy who’s probably a history teacher somewhere.


I was wrong. You know why? I don’t know diddly about crime solving. My only experience with police work came as a seventeen year old in college. Suffice it to say I was not on the solving end of the equation. Then, like this week, the real pros quickly sussed out what was what.


Speaking of which…


Journalism will never be the same.


While I wasn’t a crime fighter, I was a journalism major. In watching the coverage of this spectacle, I was shocked by just how bad so much of it was. I think I know why. It’s a chicken and egg dilemma. Social media puts information out globally in real time. Some of this turns out to be fact. Much of it turns out to be decidedly not. So it’s understandable that professional journalists don’t want to be in the awkward position of being on-air and scooped repeatedly by some wannabe Jimmy Olsen from Jamaica Plain. Confirming things two hours after the rest of America has read the tweet is deflating. This journalistic race to keep up and keep relevant leads to IDing one of the terrorists as the missing Brown University student. We now know that’s patently false.


It’s not bad enough for that kid’s parents that he’s missing. Now he’s alive but a despised terrorist accused on a global basis. Then he’s missing again. Just imagine. I can’t.


In the most humbling gaffe, CNN reported that they had it on high authority that the suspects are “dark skinned.” It was the journalistic equivalent of the cable company saying they’ll be over between 8am and 4pm. Totally useless. And inexcusable. People are on high alert already. Now we just casually throw it out there that anyone without Irish pallor is a prime suspect? Not good. Not smart. Not journalism.


I’m going to hold the NY Post off to the side. I think CNN and most of the other coverage I got it wrong because the were sloppy and skipped steps in the process to try to keep up. The Post, as always, knew what it was doing, knew it was wrong, and did in anyway. That’s not journalism and the less said about the Post the better.


The double-edged sword.


Social media enabled by technology undoubtedly played a role in apprehending a vile murderer yesterday. That’s great. In fact, authorities are to be commended on leaning into it rather than fighting against it as has happened so often in the past. They in effect deputized a whole city to tighten the net on this criminal. It worked.


But in the same way that booze can take ideas conceived in the heart and usher them directly to the mouth (and sometimes the loins in the most unfortunate cases) without running them through the gristmill of the brain, social media short circuited the journalistic process. It took whispers and gave them a microphone without benefit of editing, fact-checking, moral debate, or just letting them breathe a minute so they can be examined and reflected on.


The Boston Globe is up for sale largely because its printing presses belong in a history museum not a modern media organization. But in the time it took took typesetters, illustrators, and pressmen to get all the news that’s fit to print off the presses and into an audience’s hot little hands, real journalist pros had ample time to make absolutely sure they had it right more often than not and that it was being expressed succinctly, clearly, and and accurately. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Globe journalists get high marks for their coverage.

Maybe we don’t need presses. But we do need time. Time allows for curation. And curation is the filter that separates the Brown student from the white noise.


I think this whole mess is about connections or our lack thereof. I also believe that connections are our salvation. But real ones. Not IP ones. Not iConnections.

The only way you could do something like what happened at the marathon is if you viewed all those bystanders as separate and apart from you. At this point whether “you” is a person, a group of people, a nation or a region is unclear. But I’m sure “you” feel disconnected. Otherwise you’d be blowing up yourself, right?

On a macro level I think that since the harmonic convergence of the 60s the world is now retreating back into our respective corners. Turns out love is not, in fact, all we need. Seems we need stuff, wealth, power, guns and devices. Lots and lots of devices.

The Us vs. Them that’s playing out on the global stage is mutated a bit on smaller scale. It’s not Us vs. Them but Me and You. It’s less sinister and corrosive but no less dangerous. Whereas Us vs. Them (UvT moving forward) frequently takes the form of aggression towards our neighbors, MaY takes the form of regression. It’s a retreat into our shells. Our heads ensconced in headphones and soon Google Glasses if Satan is real as I strongly suspect, we plug into our vWorlds and disconnect from our real ones. Sorry, the real one. We all come at it differently, but there’s just one. And we share it.
I see tweets and headlines today about “What can Tech do in response to yesterday’s bombing?” or godforbid “What can advertising do…?”


I take it back. There is something.

Lay down your weapons. We can’t app or advertise our way out of this jam. Don’t push the quick fix. These will be the hard yards. This is the proverbial crawl through glass. We have to actually do something. Not talk about doing something. Not create a “something experience”. There is no app for this.

It’s not about starting a movement. It’s about moving. Action.

And real discussion. We obviously need to find out who did this and handle our business there. But there’s a million or more right behind them. That’s one place I agree with Gun nuts. If you take an AK away bad guys will come up with something else to murder and maim. That’s sadly true. We are obligated to make it harder, however, but it’s a fair point. Guns do kill people but it really is true that it’s actually people that kill people.

And so people have to start talking to people again. In the pubs. In the coffee shops. At soccer games. In the lunch room.  Around the dinner table. Disconnect the devices and reconnect with our fellow humans. will still be there when we get back. The question is will our first-person interactions make third-person social voyeurism less appealing.

I guess we’ll have to google that bridge when we come to it.

(Yes, I’m aware I’m delivering this sermon via blog. Boston wasn’t built in a day. But it was blown up on one.)

Whose Brain is This, Igor?

Dr. Joseph E. Murray died this week at the ripe old age of 93. Even in monster years, that’s a pretty good run. The good doctor found fame for having the audacity to believe that he could save lives by transplanting human organs from one person to another. As it’s been successfully done 28,535 times this year alone, I think the jury’s in. He was right. And oh so wrong to so many.


In his day, he was compared unfavorably to the first Doctor who “thought he was God.” In an NPR interview Murray recalled, “Well, they (were) saying that God didn’t want this to happen. It’s unnatural. The doctors are on an ego trip. Dr. Frankenstein stuff.”


If Murray thought he had a rough go of it, he should have had a Starbucks with Shelley. In her day she was crucified for being a discredit to her profession and her gender.


The writer of it is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel; but if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex, it is no reason why we should; and we shall therefore dismiss the novel without further comment.”

-The British Critic (April 1818)



Cut to today where there’s actual debate about ‘shadow siblings’, where parents are essentially growing genetic clones of their children in case the first-borns ever need a lung or liver should theirs fail. The dilemma or strategy, depending on one’s point of view, is beautifully dramatized in the novel My Sister’s Keeper.


If there is such a thing as a line, this scenario seems to approach it to me. But, that’s the point. To me. Things I do or believe make no sense whatsoever to many– starting with my parents.


Transplants, like any major advance in technology, medicine, the arts, or any other facet of life, are not for everyone. That’s why they make chocolate and vanilla. Choice. Some would gladly take a kidney from a donor or bake themselves in chemotherapy and radiation treatment to wring even a few more grains out of the hourglass. Others, when confronted with their mortality, pour themselves a stiff drink and sit stone-faced waiting for their grim guest’s arrival. It’s a choice. Who are we to say?


Unlike the innovator’s dilemma, I think of this as the ‘Complacency Conundrum’. To keep calm and carry on versus trying something, anything quite literally, to change a fate which you don’t buy into. It’s not inherited or ordained. It’s authored to those who kick in the stall.

My father went apoplectic when I suggested Baseball was foolish not to utilize instant replay in limited cases. Cases like, I don’t know, when someone legitimately became the twenty-fourth human in history to throw a perfect game only to be denied by an umpire’s inexplicable mistake. We all make mistakes. Fix them when you can, I reasoned. “Mistakes are a part of baseball!” he stammered.


Fine. Baseball’s audience is what it is and is on the trajectory it is. Football, which has heavily leaned both into technology and culture in a way Baseball never would, is on a very different path. Watch whatever you want.


It applies to media in the same way. Accept a fate that’s clear or do something radical to alter it with assurance you’ll be killed for that as well– and not softly. Technology has provided us choice. In the case of Radio it allows us to listen to virtually anything we want whenever we want wherever we are. That’s pretty good, right?


Not to certain Traditional Radio stations. Their formula is DJ chatter, commercials (except NPR), and content– almost in equal measure. Pandora comes along armed with Stanford guys who say, “our data shows the only thing people hate more than idol chatter is farging commercials, so we’re eliminating chatter and shrinking the advertising elephant in the room to the size of a mouse.”


Heretics! Burn them at the stake! That’s crazy talk.


These are the kinder commentary.


I say let them compete. But let them compete on an even playing field. This week, in fact, the Internet Radio Fairness Act was brought before Congress. The old guard, super-heavy-users of leaches and hot toddies, will tell you this is an attempt by Pandora to seek relief from a reasonable burden of “taxation”, sorry, “royalties” they’re currently paying to rights holders. “Why can’t they just run a proper business model like we do?” they’ll ask incredulously, knowing full well they pay no royalties at all.


The real issue, in fact, is not whether online royalties should be lowered but whether over-the-air terrestrial royalties should be instituted.


It’s time.


A transplant is now possible. You don’t have to get one, but it’s not for us to prevent others from getting one. If people want to listen to terrestrial music, they should obviously be allowed to and encouraged to do so. But if they want to listen on their mobile or computer or Xbox or any of the myriad of devices digitally connecting content to ears on a seemingly daily basis, they should be allowed to as well. That means they shouldn’t be penalized for stealing the crumbs from Radio’s table.


A song is a song is a song. An ear is an ear is an ear. Whenever the twain shall meet an exactly equal royalty should be paid to the people who made the music (how it gets divvied up between writers, performers, labels…is a separate, unrelated matter).


Technology has fostered choice. People should have the right to choose. Without equitable terms, we are effectively eliminating choice and furthering a monopoly because Pandora and those like them cannot thrive when they’re paying more than fifty-cents of every dollar of revenue to royalties while Terrestrial Radio pays zero. Change that immediately. Let listeners branch out. Let artists get paid more than ever before. Let competition ensue and choice reign. It might not save lives, but it might just save something that the overwhelming majority of the population wants to see not only survive but evolve to thrive.


Radio. Broadly defined.


Ears don’t distinguish. Why should the law? While choosing Pandora or Slacker or Spotify doesn’t rise to the level of choosing to ask your sister for a kidney or “Abbey Normal” for her brain, it’s a choice all the same. When we stack the deck to prevent innovation for those who seek it from flourishing, we stop progress. Or witchcraft. It’s all in how you look at it.

Inside Jobs

“I want to make a dent in the universe.”

                                                      -Steve Jobs


Define “dent”. Is it selling five million iPhone 5s in the first week of availability? Is it selling around twelve million songs on iTunes per month or nearly fifty million apps per day? Is it being the only choice in personal computing for the ‘creative class’ and inarguably the most sought after and revered brand in the world? At $400 Billion, perhaps being larger than the GDP of Greece qualifies?

It would for me, I can tell you that.

But Steve Jobs was a dreamer of big dreams and a doer of big things. I’m not sure those were his crowning achievements but steps along the way to the final act, the big finish. And it typical Jobs fashion, even the grave couldn’t keep him from getting the job done.

Flying beneath the radar as much as anything Apple does can, a few things point at what might be a grander vision than we even thought. Last month Apple was awarded a patent for ad-skipping technology. It’s also been rumored that its long anticipated set-top box for television is closer to a reality than previously thought.

So Apple is getting involved with television. That’s the next disruption on the docket. Seems inevitable, but maybe there’s even more to be won than the disruption of a sixty billion dollar industry in the US. Maybe “hearts and minds” is more than a metaphor in this instance.

“When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.”

[Wired, February 1996]

“The most corrosive piece of technology that I’ve ever seen is called television.”

[Rolling Stone, Dec. 3, 2003]


“We think basically you watch television to turn your brain off, and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on.”

[Macworld, February 2004]


Conspiracy, corrosive, dumb, in need of being shot…obviously, Jobs was not a fan of the ‘boob tube.’ While these quotes and references clearly predict Apple’s coming impact on TV, I think he’s also aiming for an even higher mark—our culture at large. Currently, the people are getting what they ask for, he reasoned, if only by asking for nothing at all. By just sitting there and soaking-in what’s pumped at us, we’re as complicit in our stupidification as the morbidly obese person scarfing Hot Pockets and Mr. Pibb hand over fist.  It’s omission versus commission, but the sin is just the same and more mortal than venial for Jobs. When you pay for nothing you should expect nothing and get nothing every time in the Book of Jobs.

I think this view of the landscape also moved him to move us to higher ground, the land of quality where the individual not only can choose what content to consume, but must choose. If that terrain was fruited with Apples, so much the better.

So, to hook us on the good stuff he’d have to first wean us off of the junk. Jobs’ television would have no mass ads, no more “low, low price” or “…lasts more than four hours seek medical attention immediately…”. Think the HBO model. You choose from a smaller edited selection of high quality stuff and you pay for it. By the episode. By the show. By the network. By the week. By the month. But we’ll all buy something by the something.

Why? Simple psychology.

When you pay for something you assign a value to it. Chances are you won’t sit there like a lumpy mouth-breather if you paid for a show. You’ll watch it more attentively than you would if it was just pumped into your living room like nitrous-oxide. That ups the pressure on content producers to create ever-higher caliber programming. There may be no second act otherwise. All boats rise as a result. “Consumers” become actual consumers, not victims. They call the shots and buy or not as so persuaded on the merit of the content itself, not the content’s PR man.

In my heart of hearts I think this was the grand plan all along. Jobs saw us going gently into that good night, led further and further down the path by a flickering signal that leads to nowhere– exactly where he thought we are now.

(Blank) as usual did not work for Jobs. Not politics. Not business. Not technology. Not media. Not sloth.

Of course he wanted to sell more Apple products, and killing television consumption, or putting a good dent in it anyway, was a key strategy in doing that. But I believe it was just that—strategy not objective. In typical Jobs style he not only thought different about it, he thought bigger.


And he thought how to do it with style and flair befitting Apple and Jobs himself.


The fact that his subversive campaign to kill campaigns began with a campaign (“1984”) is his most delicious bit of (social) engineering ever.


What the Zuck?

Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

I know the stock price is way down and you just got married. Look, times are tough. I’ve been there. I was a young newlywed once too. So let me give you $10 to get you through. If things don’t pick up, no problem. Come see me next month and I’ll give you $10 more. Just ‘paying it forward’ as they say.

Let me explain a bit about myself first.

I never, ever wanted my children to be named after me. I don’t want them to go where I went to school. Most importantly, I don’t want them to follow in my professional footsteps. It’s not just that I want them to forge their own unique paths. On the professional front, I’m retracing my footsteps myself. They’ve lead to a cliff. Now I’m walking backward to try to find a way around.

The assumptions I held dear – like ‘good creativity trumps the interruption that is part and parcel of advertising’ – are becoming more and more patently false every day.

Pecked to Death by (Aflac) Ducks

Last week I was awoken by the vibration of my phone on the nightstand. It was 3:12AM. I had received a text. I had won a contest. I had never entered. “Winning.”

Charlie Ergen, former client, former professional gambler, current CEO of satellite giant Dish Network, recently launched a commercial-skipping service. Why? He had to. The jig is up.

“Ultimately, broadcasters and advertisers have to change the way they do business or they run the risk of linear TV becoming obsolete,” he told the Wall Street Journal. The same is true for Radio. Web. Mobile. Outdoor. You name it. I’d mention newspapers but that would just be piling on.

More proof: Pandora is lapping the traditional field on a monthly basis. If it was a fight, they’d stop it. Why? Either zero or very few ads. Ahh, the sounds of silence.

At a minimum, unchecked interruptive advertising is on its last legs. Not some slow growing cancer that folks used to call “old age.” Fast-moving, get-your-affairs-in-order kind of cancer. While it took me around the world, made me life-long friends with many great people, and treated me like gold, I’ll join you in dancing on its grave. Enough is enough.

“The dream is over.” – John Lennon

I remember vividly celebrating and even parroting Alex Bogusky’s proclamation (perhaps apocryphal), “Everything is an advertising opportunity.”

I wanted to believe it because that was my business. I was an ad guy. I wanted to believe there was nothing but blue ocean ahead.

Alas, like the ocean itself, we’ve polluted it to the point where prolonged exposure is dangerous.

Everything is not an advertising opportunity. I half expect to go to Mass Sunday and find the Host has a Nike swoosh and the Consecration sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts.

Let’s go back to Facebook for a minute. Unlike the haters, I love (the) Facebook. It serves an incredibly useful purpose. It connects. I value few things as I do connections. Sure, some are superficial at best. While I am connected to a girl I revered in the fifth grade, I’d hardly call that connection meaningful. On the other hand, I can keep apprised of the goings on of good friends near and far as we’re all running our separate courses. I can see their kids. I can share playlists like the ’80s never left. It’s useful and I’m grateful for it.

But it’s a failure, right? I mean, it sucks as an ad delivery venue. The little banner ads are lame. The “sponsored posts” by creepy anthropomorphic brands leave me either cold or enraged. (As an aside, I don’t care that “Dallas” is coming back with the remaining “living” cast. What did I do or say to lead Facebook to believe I would?)

Mobile is even worse.

So they’re failures, all those hoodied coders, because they built something that adds value to its users lives but sucks as an ad vehicle. Really? Is that where we are?

I hope not, but think so.

Ask for the (New) Order

Don’t get me wrong. If they want to collect a paycheck, they need a plan to make money. So here is my modest proposal.


Go ahead, Zuck. Tell us what you must have known all along. People are gong to have to actually pay for a service or else live through a whoreified, horrifying user experience. We can take it. YouTube announced the other day they’re getting ready to ask for my money too. It’s OK.

Five bucks a month, no problem. Ten? Grudgingly. More than that? I’ll check out Path or any one of the raft of competitors you will be creating. You see, asking people to pay for quality goods in a free marketplace makes even Democrats and Republicans smile. It’s this faux free that is killing us.

There’s plenty of precedents. We pay for HBO. It has no commercials. We pay for apps. Same. I pay for Spotify. Ditto. I want to give you money. Please take it. Don’t compromise your vision or change my experience for Aunt Jemimah or Orville Reddenbocker.

Old Math Still Works

Here’s a little back of the napkin math: there are supposedly 835,525,280 Facebook users globally. Charge us each $10 a month and you get $8,355,252,800 per month! That’s $100,263,033,600 annually. Am I missing something? OK, there are a lot of “light” users in there. Lot’s of them just won’t pay. Period. So cut that in half and you get $50,131,516,800. I’ve never proclaimed to be a math wizard, but this seems pretty straightforward to me.

Everything Old is New Again

What would they do with all that revenue? It would be a little bit like the wayback machine. Monies now poured into catchy copy, peel-backs and jingles would actually be allocated to making products better and servicing them better. People would find out about products through friends and acquaintances, both in-person and virtual. I think Google would have a huge role, obviously, but I think peer-to-peer referrals and recommendations (Foursquare, Yelp…) would increasingly gain traction too. When people want or need something they’ll seek it out from both the ‘God’s Eye’ and peer perspectives.

Will we go through the looking glass and come to miss our ads? God no. But in the event we do, we can toggle the levers a bit. That’s the balance most of us will find. Pay less per month or per content chunk, get a few (more) ads. Poor people or tightwads? Sorry. Release the ad hounds.

For those who can afford to pay, content creators will compete for dollars not unlike in a grand European market. There’s a skinned lamb, beside a rutabaga, next to fresh-roasted almonds and cured olives. I’ve got a fixed budget, so decisions have to be made. I’ll end up buying less, but more purposefully. What I pay for I’ll invariably use, unlike the free stuff that usually ends up in the compost heap. I don’t know about you, but I think we need to move back to the time when we paid for things based on our perceived value of them, not our perceived value to the merchant. What’s been sold to us as “free” isn’t free at all. It comes at an immeasurable cost in terms of time and stress as we struggle to keep our noses above the junk (mail).

That Faustian bargain was no bargain at all as it turns out.

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