Friday, July 04, 2014

Small is Stupid


Being the Branding Adonis I strive to be is not an easy pursuit. Attempting to stay physically and mentally prime is, like everything else in my life, a question of efficiencies.  It's not enough, for example, that I jump on the elliptical machine at the gym for the cardiovascular benefits.  No, twenty-five minutes of pedal pumping while staring into space seems a gargantuan waste of time when I could be making better use of it.  Piping music into my head  doesn't seem to fill the mental void, either, which is why my favorite means of simultaneous sensory stimulation is watching TED videos.

TED, for the uninitiated, is an acronym for Technology, Education and Design.  The organization sponsors events at which various people in various fields give short talks that are designed to broaden your mind with new approaches to various issues.  The talks are supposed to be smart, cutting edge and somewhat inspirational. Most of them are; some of them are not.  Watching a  a 3D printer create a human organ was fascinating, but honestly, listening to yet another third world human rights advocate or an environmental doomsayer whine for 20 minutes gets pretty numbing after the 124th time.  I tend to skip those.

There was one speaker, however, that captured both my attention and my horror, compelling me to notice a huge, dark cloud sweeping over humanity.  And the worst part is that his message was greeted with fanfare and applause.

It doesn't matter what his name is, and frankly, I've forgotten it.  But his presentation was as clear as it was disturbing.  In twenty minutes, he proudly described how he, a native New Yorker, had managed to reduce his footprint down to a ridiculously small size.  He lived in a 200 square foot apartment, where every piece of furniture folded into -- or out of -- something else.  The coffee table morphed into a dining table. The bed stowed into the wall. All the chairs stacked into a tower.  And everything was small.  I mean, really small.  There was a microscopic closet for his downsized wardrobe. There were no display cabinets because he had no stuff to display -- there was no room.  Everything that wasn't absolutely necessary for survival had not only been downsized, but eliminated.

At the end of his talk, the young man proudly puffed with pride, wagging his finger at the audience with his pseudo-wisdom, "Now, if everyone could reduce his footprint, there would be enough resources for generations to come. You just have to make the effort."

I was, in a word, horror-struck. Make the effort? To marginalize myself and live like a hamster in a cardboard box?  Is this the sorry state to which human existence has been reduced?

The audience rose  to its feet, applauding what had to have been the most depressing, idiotic proposal I'd heard in years. There's no pride to be had in downsizing. In fact, it runs counter to the human sprit. "Go forth and multiply" isn't some random commandment; it's an encapsulation of the innate urge we share to build things up and make things better. No matter how dull you may think they are, humans have an inner drive to expand their vision, not limit or reduce it. That's why people get depressed when they walk into their dark, cramped, tiny one room apartments, but  smile joyfully and breathe deeply when they stand before the Grand Canyon.  Whether we're exploring vast tracts of land, the depths of the oceans, the far reaches of outer space or even the business marketplace, our natural impulse it to make it bigger, better and more rewarding.  

We feel accomplished when we grow; we feel useless when we shrivel.

And here was this yutz was selling the exact opposite, justifying his own failure to achieve by hiding behind the convenience of a misapplied environmental agenda.  If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd swear there's a campaign sweeping the country, subtly encouraging people to be satisfied with less because less is all they're going to get.  

There's a voice out there, assuring citizens that it's actually a good thing to marginalize yourself.  It's good for the planet, they say.

Well, it might be good for the planet, but it sucks for you and me and everyone else who benefits from the rewards brought about by real accomplishment and true growth.  As people descend into depression and low self-esteem, the voice quietly assures them:  It's okay to be worthless. You were never going to amount to anything, anyway.  It's cool.  Here, numb your misery with Pandora. Forget about achieving anything. Make yourself feel better...buy this iWatch.

If you choose to live like a rodent in a cage, be my guest.  As for me, I'm not buying into it.  I'm sticking with the original plan.  No amount of social pressure or faux agenda is going to sway me from pursuing a five bedroom home with a big green garden and big ass grand piano and a 65 inch plasma screen in the living room. 

Oh, and the Cadillac DeVille?  I'm keeping that, too.

Monday, June 09, 2014

R.I.P. Renaissance Man


One of the most insidious words I've ever known is "hope," as in, "I have high hopes for this next generation."  Hope, to me, is poison. It's what the hopeless are given when their fate/doom is assured and they have no option other than wishing for miracles. The cure for hope is action, but our culture has been gradually lured to, and unwittingly enslaved by, the very technologies and services that were supposed to enhance it.

I'm no longer a young man. I probably have more past than I have future, so my view is likely biased.  But from where I sit, the future generation's chances to produce quality human beings are dwindling down to where hope seems to be its only option.  Let me explain:

My whole career is based on connecting social influences on individual behaviors, which in turn fuel the advance of the next wave of social influences. So I watch where the overall direction of culture goes -- and its influence on the masses.

It's not all gloom and doom. But for those of us with a richer frame of reference, it's not all good, either.

The atomization and dependency fostered on today's citizens was unheard of a generation ago, when self-reliance and community was the norm. It was a time when more people wanted to know more about everything other than themselves, rather than telling everyone everything about themselves. 

Importance was earned, not an entitlement.

We strove to become Renaissance men.  We took pride in being worldly and knowledgeable. And we did it through genuine education and real experiences, not by clicking an app to get just enough data to answer one narrow question. 

You see, to Renaissance men, getting the answer right isn't nearly as important as understanding why the answer is right.

Romantics. The lives of Renaissance men are riskier, but much nobler and far more rewarding.

To the Renaissance man, depth and breadth are admirable and make us better people. We care as much about human expression (art, literature, music -- real music, not melody-deprived, commercially-driven disposable jungle beats) as we do our ability to create and apply it. And when we write, we write to inform or persuade readers about real issues, rather than delude ourselves into believing people would be interested in photos of our lunches and cats and other self-involvements, simply because we have the means to instantly self-publish them.

The numbers of Renaissance men are rapidly dissipating. We are a dying breed. Where once people went to colleges and universities to become better thinkers and appreciative human beings, legions of drones march toward their diplomas expecting a job.  Increasingly, the tide is turning to a strictly utilitarian, tragically shallow society where each individual is confined to his own silo, relying on technology to connect to others -- for a low monthly fee. 

Sadly, it cultivates a loss of value in each person's own self-worth as each generation wonders why it feels so empty and at a loss.  I think the 30 second clip embedded in the article unwittingly exposed that agenda back when I first posted it.  Yet nobody said a word. Nobody objected.  Maybe because by that time, they didn't even know enough to object.

Rest easy, Renaissance man. You were the finest, shining example ever offered by the western world.  I doubt there will ever be others like you again.

But, I suppose, there's always hope.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

How to Save the Middle Class


No matter where you turn, when the conversation turns to the economy, the one hobby Americans never tire of is bemoaning "the vanishing middle class."  And while it is true that the United States' middle class is losing ground to that ever-encroaching poverty line, I submit to you that the middle class need not be vanishing at all.  In fact, it could be thriving, if only this nation would wake up to reality.

Now before you go sideways on this, hear me out.  I'm not here to offer you overused, under-thought platitudes and soundbytes.  I've really thunk this out.  I mean, it's my job to find solutions where none have been previously found, so in my world, this is nothing special.  But it is different.  Which is why you should give it a spin.

The most common lament we hear about the loss of jobs is usually accompanied by phrases like, "worker displacement" and "off shore" theft of American jobs.  Let me state one thing at the outset of this wonderfest: 

This country needs to get real.

The first realization middle class Americans have to make is that the days of "getting a job" are, for the most part, over.  The second realization is that going to college or pursuing higher graduate degrees isn't going to solve the problems borne of the first realization.

Getting a job, working for the man, putting in your time are all lost causes, relegated to obsolescence alongside rotary dial telephones, iceboxes and fans of affirmative action programs.  Sure, those all were nice while they were needed, but those days are over.  It's time to move on.  And the reason "getting a job" is no longer relevant comes down to -- what else -- simple brand strategy.

For the most part, I believe that "life is a branding problem," my own personal definition of branding as "being perceived as the only solution to your prospects' problems."  The stronger others perceive yours as the only solution, the more likely your brand is viewed as the only game in town.  When you're perceived as the only game in town, people stop shopping -- and they pay your asking price -- because they have no place else to go.

The problem with those whose goal is "getting a job" is that they're perceived as generic.  They might be white collar, blue collar, light blue collar or completely collarless.  The point is that if your customer or employer can't distinguish one laborer or manager from another, all he's left to go on is price, which means he's hiring from mainland China, India or someplace where English is a second language.  And why not?  Nobody here gives him a tangible reason to pay more, so he goes with the lowest bidder -- and there are entire continents filled with people who work cheap.  Bottom line is that unskilled labor is out and that those engaged in skilled labor better get their acts together if they intend on paying the rent. 

That being the case, I submit to you there's a way to bulletproof the middle class.  And it has nothing to do with labor at all.

What everyone seems to be missing is understanding technology's true infringement on the human economy.  The obvious one began back in the Industrial Revolution, where machines began to displace human labor.  Sure, the initial capital outlay for machinery was higher, but in the long run, machines were more productive, worked longer hours, never complained about conditions, never got sick, never asked for time off or needed to run home early to coach their kids' soccer game.  Some displaced mill workers learned other skills, but the really smart ones learned a bigger, less obvious lesson:

Job security only exists in areas that aren't susceptible to mass production.

Today, the internet displaces retailers. Robots replace line workers.  Websites replace printed publications.  But if you look closely, each of these industries contains the same fatal flaw:  they're dependent on mass markets to survive.  The fact is that the larger the customer base, the more profitable it is to displace laborers and middle management with technology or offshore solutions.  That's because the public buys staples and supplies where product qualities don't really matter.  The larger that market is, the more efficient it becomes to deploy technology to produce and manage it.

Flip that observation over and you'll find a pleasant surprise waiting on the other side:  By developing businesses that don't cater to the masses, small and micro-business can provide a comfortable lifestyle for their middle class owners and staff -- while remaining impervious to economic behemoths -- precisely because their enterprises are too small to benefit from the technology that drives mass enterprise.  In fact, if small and micro-businesses build their brands according to my definition, no competitor large or small could touch them in terms of cost or quality.  They'd enjoy profitable revenues with no threat because they'd be perceived as "the only solution," too small to justify the capital investments that displace humans.

Am I off base here? Well, take a look at http://www.saddlebackleather.com  Here's a guy that sells saddlebags for use as briefcases and other uses.  It's a fusion of real Texas know how and modern day reality.  Everything is hand made, with high-quality components -- and none of it is all too cheap.   You can have your hand-tooled saddlebag shipped to you for a whole lot more than that polyester Targus tote you drag out of WalMart, but if this is the statement and product quality you want, you simply won't find it anywhere else.  This is it.  You're not going to find any Chinese knockoffs, because the market for these bags simply isn't large enough to justify a pirate's investment.  Bad news for off shore counterfeiters, but good news for Saddleback Leather and proof positive that what I'm advocating is the right solution to save the middle class.

If you think "creating jobs" is the answer, you're way off course.  The last thing this country needs is more jobs destined to evaporate when stimulus programs and government funding dries up.  What America needs are small and micro-businesses niched in a way that protects their livelihoods as part of the business plan.  Staying just small and narrow enough to be perceived as the only solution to their prospects' problems -- which will solve the middle class's problems, as well.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Best Job Interview Ever


If there's one thing the internet has over-delivered, it's bad advice.  Thanks to modern technology, you can now obtain as much stupidity as you can download, most of which is free for the asking.  And if you're really a dope, you can even pay for it.

All kinds of gurus have all kinds of theories on just about everything.  At the time of this writing, the American economy is still stymied by a high unemployment rate, so there's a flood of quackery built around the best ways to interview in order to win the job. 

Let me be clear:  I am not an employment expert.  As I've repeatedly proclaimed, I'm a branding guy.  To me, what should happen isn't nearly as important as why it will be effective.   Some experts compose lists of what you should wear.  Others point out what colors to avoid. Wisdom, it seems, arrives in a variety of fashions, so I'm going to toss my hat into the ring with something I believe is more effective when it comes to "winning the job interview:"

A true story.

It was a dark and stormy night.  Actually, it was a dark and stormy day.  I mean, it was raining so hard and the cloud cover was so thick that at ten o'clock in the morning it felt more like six o'clock at night.  Big, black-bottomed clouds covered the sky for as far as the eye could see, dumping buckets of rain that flooded the streets.  As the owner of the business, I'd braved the torrents to make it into the office on time, only to find my entire staff absent.  The storm had pretty much stranded them in their homes.

All of this was happening in Los Angeles, which meant the rest of the country was completely unaware of the second coming of Noah's flood, meaning that our clients had no idea what we were going through.  To make things worse, I was in the midst of hiring more staff, many of whom were scheduled to show up for interviews that very day.

Only one person showed up.

She walked in -- right on time -- sat down and introduced herself.  Just her and me in an otherwise completely empty office.  We hadn't been chatting for more than a minute when the phone rang.

"Excuse me," I said.  "Nobody is here today so I have to answer this."  I took the call, made it short and got back to the interview.  Within the next minute, another call rang through.  Then line two started blinking.  I put line one on hold and answered line two.  Which is precisely the moment line three began ringing.

Without missing a beat, the young woman picked up line three.  "Rob Frankel's office," she announced. "He's on another line just now. May I take a message and have him call you back?"  Then scribbled down the caller's information and hung up the phone.  She waited for me to finish up my call and handed me the note.  I ended the call on line two.  Then I ended the call on line one.

Then I looked at her and said, "You're hired."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why Hillary Won't Be President


Way back in 2006, I wrote about the political brand strategies of Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards and Barack Obama.  It wasn't pretty, but it was pretty accurate.  To me, political candidates are no different than boxes of laundry detergent.  If you can't perceive any difference among them, you'll never really know why you're choosing one over the other.  It's only what you know that makes the difference.

To a certain extent, branding is about differentiation.  Beyond that, it's about the credibility of that differentiation and how it's presented to the public.  And that, in my view, is why Hillary Clinton has no chance of ever becoming president of the United States.  In fact, there's a better than even shot she won't even clinch the Democratic nomination -- but how John Kerry could.

Now before you get all sexist on me, let me say that Hillary Clinton may be capable.  She may be qualified. She might be a really nice person.  Personally, I'm about as egalitarian as it gets, to the point that I'd love to see women in combat and maybe picking up a dinner check.  Nothing wrong with any of that in my book.  But Hillary's deficiencies are far more serious than her gender.

Here's a brief list:

Most lacking in Hillary's political arsenal is her (or her ill-advising staff's) inability to showcase her positive accomplishments.  Say what you will about her politics, the odd fact hounding Hillary Clinton is that hardly anyone, anywhere, can recall even one of her major positive accomplishments as either a Senator from New York or as Obama's first Secretary of State.  Can you? Sure, her public relations team cites the many thousands of miles she traveled as Secretary, but nobody can cite the fruits of those travels.

In fact, ask the average American what they know about Hillary Clinton, and they'll most likely recite her failures as their answers, most notably the disaster in the U.S. embassy at Benghazi and her National Health Card program from 1993. Think about it.  In her years of public service, she may have done some wonderful, admirable things, but nobody knows about them.  And if the public doesn't know about it, they assume it doesn't exist.

Contrast Clinton's four years as Secretary of State with John Kerry's, who doesn't fart unless there's a team of photographers nearby.  At the time of this writing, Kerry's been Secretary of State for less than twelve months and he's already taken a very public lead on nuclear negotiations with Iran, as well as his clumsy-yet-somewhat-successful program to destroy Syria's chemical warfare capabilities.

Both Clinton and Kerry have run national campaigns for the office of President.  Clinton never clinched the nomination, but Kerry -- in one of the worst campaigns ever -- actually did.  Kerry survived "swift-boating" and John Edwards, neither of which was an easy trick.  And while the American public may not be able to list all of his accomplishments as a United States Senator, at least the American voter doesn't list Kerry's major national and international failures at the top of his mind.

There are more reasons why Hillary Clinton isn't looking like a healthy presidential candidate, not the least of which is that she is, in all respects, pretty much and old boy Democrat in a dress.  Yes, she's a woman.  Yes, that's a difference.  But when you distill her policies, connections and interests down to the core, she's an old school Democrat with old school philosophies dating back to the administration of Lyndon Johnson and his Great Society program from 1964.  It's one of the major reasons she lost to Obama in 2008:  In tactics and theory, he was new and current, she was old and rehash.

That was then, this is now:  We're still in a recessionary economy under a Democratic administration which has been painted as ineffective on everything from foreign policy to national health care.  Historically, that condition hasn't been terribly kind to political candidates: In 1976, Gerald Ford was toppled by one of the worst Presidents in history, Jimmy Carter, simply because Ford was tattooed with the legacy of his predecessor, Richard Nixon.  Even before Obama, being a solid, old school Democrat was not what people wanted and they sure don't want it now.  They want their quality of life back first.  They'll consider all the wealth-sharing after that part gets fixed -- and that's not exactly the kind of agenda Hillary's known for.

If you know your history, you may also appreciate the fact that in 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama was elected less for being Barack Obama than for not being George W. Bush or John McCain or Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney.  In 2008, Obama was thrust into office because the American public figured that old white men weren't fixing things, so it was time to try something, someone completely different.  Now that they've had two terms of something different -- and they haven't seen any real improvement in their lives -- I suspect the American public is beginning to think that maybe we should go back to the original game plan, which would mean a woman would have a much tougher time getting elected today than in 2008.

So from where I sit, Americans wants change, but they don't want too much change.  They're tired of a polarized, paralyzed Congress and want someone who can reach across the aisle.  They want their great white father figure back.  They want a voice of reason. Someone they can admire, whose track record indicates a positive, affable manner of getting real things done.  Which likely means the next President won't be female. Or a Democrat. Or have a 32 inch waist, for that matter.

Does the name Chris Christie ring a bell?

Friday, November 08, 2013

Buying Facebook, Not Twitter



I don't care how talented or pretty you are, what really counts in life is timing and luck.  You can be as smart as Einstein, but if you're not in the right place at the right time, you're not going anywhere.  If you can't recognize opportunity, grab it and strike while the iron's hot, you're doomed to a life of hourly-wage misery.

Hey, I don't make these rules.  I just follow them.  Which is why, when it comes to technology investments, I throw all that financial mumbo jumbo out the window and go where the real money is:

Human irrationality.

Bear in mind I'm no financial genius.  I don't pretend to be.  I'm a branding guy, which means I'm really, really good at understanding what drives people to do the things they do.  As a consequence, I'm hired out by companies to get those same people to do the things those companies want them to do, namely buy products and services at a premium.

But I digress.  I'm really writing this to explain why I have invested in Facebook (again) and I won't touch Twitter's public offering with a long stick.  Neither decision has anything to do with the usual Wall Street or media hype.  Both are totally, completely driven by human irrationality, but that doesn't mean you or I can't leverage that insanity to our profit.

Here's how and why I've bought (and sold) Facebook, but why I would never put a dime into Twitter:

The minute rumors of Facebook's IPO began swirling, it was apparent that it was going to be the most over-hyped event in Wall Street history.  Everyone and his mother was lining up to buy Facebook stock, not realizing they were buying into hype, not financials.  It reminded me of the story about Joseph Kennedy selling all his Wall Street holdings just days before the 1929 crash.  The story -- if you haven't heard this legend -- is that while Kennedy was getting his shoes shined, the shoe shine guy started talking about which stocks were a good buy.  Kennedy figured that if a shoe shine guy was talking about the stock market, it meant the market was certainly over-bought, and promptly liquidated his holdings.

Human nature hasn't change much since then.  That's why I sat out the Facebook IPO, watching in amusement as millions of frenzied, uneducated Americans clawed their way to the front of the line to purchase Facebook stock at $45 per share.  By now, you know that Facebook stock made an abrupt turn at $45 and promptly swan dived into the high teens, which I thought was a fair price for an unproven stock driven by hype.  So I loaded up.  I didn't care about Facebook's public relations or Zuckerberg's sociopathic ineptitude.  I banked on the main engine driving Facebook stock:  human irrationality, including the fact that venture capitalists and hedge funds has no intention of letting the stock drop below $19 if they could help it.  I held the stock until it hit $33.  Then I dumped it, waiting for the next right moment.

Here's where I think the story gets interesting:

While everyone's looking at Twitter as "the next Facebook," I think they've got it all wrong.  Sure, the greed factor will play into the stock's price, but not for long.  In fact, over the long haul, I suspect Twitter won't last, while Facebook will.  The reason for that isn't greed, irrationality or even media hype.  In the end, what's likely to doom Twitter (as much as I enjoy tweeting and meeting people there) is the fact that Facebook offers permanence, while Twitter is ephemeral.  By that, I mean in order to benefit from a tweet, you have to be online, all the time -- or at least when a significant tweet is tweeted.  If you're not always on, you miss that tweet.  It's gone.  Forever. And nobody uses Twitter in the past.  Facebook, on the other hand, allows you to check in any time you like, to see what you've missed or what's going on at that moment.  Facebook is all about building and tracking histories, while Twitter only values the moment.

That one characteristic alone, to me, is why Twitter seems unsustainable, both as a medium and as an investment.  From my perspective, Facebook -- whether you like it or not -- is a large, planetary distribution system.  While more idiots invest more time, events and photos of their cats and lunches into their Facebook pages, Twitter offers nothing in the way of personal investment or building of value to its users.  Facebook is about building a monument to yourself; Twitter's value flashes by in an instant.

Over the long haul, Facebook can build out and upgrade its delivery system.  If Twitter can do that, they might have a chance.  If they can't -- and there's no indication of anything like that yet -- they'll end up just one more tech tragedy.  So while Facebook continues to lose it young, this-isn't-so-cool-anymore audience (and it is), Facebook's pipes and delivery structure will remain in use for a very long time.  That's why the hype phase for Facebook is just about over and might well be a long term buy, while Twitter may be a flash in the digital pan.

That's why I'm long on Facebook, but Twitter? Not for long.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Digital Retardation



So I'm reading my morning newspaper (yes, I'm one of those whose idea of luxury is an unhurried cup of coffee with a real, tree-killing newspaper) and the lead item is a story about how the city of Los Angeles is having all kinds of problems with its distribution of iPads to its school students.  Not only are iPads disappearing from the schools, but it seems that a fair number are being reprogrammed by students in a way that allows them to elude security monitoring while gaining access to "forbidden content" such as porn and Facebook -- which one could argue are one and the same.

When this program was first launched, it was heralded with all kinds of fanfare.  "An iPad for every student" had the same euphemistic ring as "No Child Left Behind," which to me, clearly signalled its potential for massive failure from the start.  For some reason, school systems -- not unlike the lemmings who line up at the Apple Store to enslave themselves to the latest version of its useless technology -- seem to think that equipment and technology provide the "education of the future."  They kid themselves into wrongly correlating other nations' high academic achievements with faster WiFi connections and widespread technology.

Well, you heard it here first:  All of that is complete crap.  It's actually doing far more long term damage than you might think. And here's why:

The biggest mistake Americans make in their everyday lives is thinking they can buy their way out of their problems.  It doesn't matter if you want to lose weight, remodel your home or find a job. Simply call the toll-free 800 number or click the link and someone, somewhere will charge you a tidy sum to make your problem go away.  And if you call now, the shipping is free.

The same syndrome applies to our education system, where your tax dollars support programs that ship mountains of computers, smart boards and useless technology that someone, somewhere has sold as an educational panacea, based on two fallacious arguments:

1.  You can't win a war without the right weapons, which translates to, "give teachers the tools they need to teach."
2.  Anything with a price tag represents a tangible, accountable solution allowing administrators to concoct convoluted formulas that speciously demonstrate some kind of "return on investment."  Bureaucrats love numbers.

In effect, what your educators are telling you is the same thing as those late night infomercials: "We can fix it for you in three easy payments."  Unfortunately, it's having the exact opposite effect.

If anyone were really interested in educating kids, the first thing they'd do is confiscate every single piece of technology from every kid until high school.  That's right, no phones, no pads, no laptops.  Nothing.  In fact, the less you give kids, the more they'd develop the real skills they need for the rest of their lives:

Critical thinking  and personal interaction skills -- both of which are hugely lacking and contributing to an unprecedented atomization of our society.

See, if you teach kids critical thinking, they actually use their brains to solve problems instead of looking everything up on Google.  If they can't solve their own problems, they learn how to approach others who can help them.  And if they can solve them, they learn how to help those who can't.  Pretty slick, eh?  Well, none of that happens when you load their pockets with iPhones and iPads, expecting them to "work at their own individual pace" -- another huge, counter-productive myth.  What the geniuses who run your school system don't understand is that "working at your own individual pace" not only undermines a kid's tolerance for others' differences, it also hampers his ability to spot opportunity:  after all, the first rule of business is to find a need and fill it.  If your ears are plugged with ear buds and your eyes are locked on a screen, you never develop observational skills that clue you into the world surrounding you.

It gets worse.

Believe me, I'm a realist who knows all too well that those who pine for the good old days usually choose to forget about how bad they were.  But another disturbing aspect of Digital Retardation gets even more personal.  Up until this generation, the dance of courtship followed a fairly predictable path, where two people met, got acquainted, enjoyed each other's company and -- if they struck a major chord -- ended up in an orgasmic explosion of shared intimacy, passion and fun.  The anticipation and romance helped define the relationship to the point where one could feel the tension that led into the joy of mutual discovery.

Not anymore.

Digital Retardation has pretty much destroyed all that.  Because kids aren't trained to think and are steered into isolation, most of them under 30 (yes, they're still kids) have reversed the course of events, mindlessly hooking up first and then, if the sex was good, considering finding out more about the person with whom they slept.  It's easy.  You just text them. Order a drink.  Have sex. Then text your pals where you'll meet them for dinner.  Not that I meet armies of kids, but the ones I do meet all register their confusion about why their "relationships" (and I use that term incredibly loosely) just don't seem to work out.

I simply tell them:  It's because you can't Google "How to have a meaningful conversation."

Still think you can pay your way out of your problems?  That technology is the wonderful panacea Apple and Google and Microsoft keep telling you it is?  Really?

Maybe it's time you did some critical thinking of your own.