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Saturday, January 26, 2019

Jeff Bezos is the Devil

You'd have to be a millennial Rip Van Winkle to not know who Jeff Bezos is.  The founder of Amazon is famous for becoming (at least as of this writing) the richest man on the planet.  Owning a digital empire that includes a vast retail operation, a national newspaper and even his own space flight program, Bezos has succeeded beyond anyone's wildest internet dreams.

He's definitely the most successful man on the planet. But I submit to you he is also the most evil.

Never mind his personal peccadilloes. That he's leaving his wife of 25 years for an aging ex-beauty queen holds no currency for me, moral or otherwise. The rumors swirling about deplorable working conditions of his thousands of employees doesn't interest me either, because I have no idea if any of those stories are based in fact.  No, what makes Jeff Bezos the most evil man on the planet is something altogether different:

Jeff Bezos is the man most responsible for the breakdown of human social interaction that's crippled us in more ways than you can imagine.  Allow me to explain:

Prior to Amazon, the quickest way to buy a book, special order a hammer or purchase a pair of shoes required two important factors:

1.  Time
2.  Human interaction

No matter what you wanted to buy, you had to move yourself to a brick and mortar destination, at which point your only choice was talk to a real person face to face.  That interaction required thoughtfulness, courtesy, clarity and quite often, a little casual humor.  It reinforced a bond or helpfulness and broke down barriers among strangers. Once that connection was established, the conversation usually resulted in one of two outcomes:  the salesman either had what you wanted in stock or if the item were not in stock, he'd order it for you.  At best, the transaction was completed in a matter of hours (by the time you returned home with your purchase); at worst, it would be weeks before the item arrived at the store for you to pick up, necessitating yet another trip.  For the record, you should know that along with commercial transactions, a substantial number of friendships, courtships and marriages got started this way.

Jeff Bezos destroyed all that.

Today, if you wish to purchase just about anything, you simply look at a screen, point and click.  For no fee, the item will arrive at your doorstep in a day or three.  For a few bucks more, it will arrive the very next day.  And if you order early enough in the day, it might just arrive before tonight's dinner.

No human interaction. No waiting.  Just quick, cold service that panders to your whims.

It all sounds wonderful until you realize that an entire generation has grown into adulthood lacking any sense of patience or communication skills.  People don't initiate relationships in real time any more; it's all done via text.  And texting isn't a dialogue.  It's a two-way monologue, a series of one-sided comments launched into the ether at no particular time for no particular reason, totally lacking the subtle vocal responses and timing cues that are essential to meaningful conversation.  Likewise, people have lost all sense of patience, demanding instant results and getting angry when their needs aren't immediately served -- or their texts aren't immediately acknowledged.

But it gets worse. More evil.

If Bezos's pioneering were strictly limited to the commercial sector, I wouldn't be writing this. But the fact is that his model has proliferated, permeating and polluting our social and political environment.  He has created a model which negates the need for human interaction, replacing it with a sense of selfish entitlement.  What he's sold as convenience has simply removed all human contact, increasing polarization, isolation and serious cases of depression.  Enhanced by the false notion of "luxury marketing" we end up with a society that turns to Siri instead of its friends, and insists on Peleton bikes in their living rooms instead of communing with other humans at the local gym.

Then people wonder why they end up single, alone and living with their cats.

It doesn't stop there, either.  Politically, the United States has always endured widespread factionalism. From 1776 onward, debate has raged throughout the land over policies and practices.  That's nothing new. What is new is the deeply-rooted divisiveness, because prior to this century, our social and political fabric was woven with far less self-interest and far more collective responsibility. We got along because we were all interdependent. That, I'm sad to say, is no more. Today, schools no longer teach the basics on which our society exists, choosing instead to "cater to the individual needs of each student."

And then you wonder why those kids just want to play video games in their parents' basements.

Today, thanks largely to Jeff Bezos and his irresponsible ilk, the very best of humanity has been undermined, reducing us to a bunch of isolated, miserable peons, each in his own little box wondering how he became so miserable in a world so full of promise. Nobody, it seems, is interested in anyone or anything beyond his own wants and needs.  It's heartbreaking and I blame Jeff Bezos for all of that.

Then again, while Jeff Bezos may have robbed us of our humanity, it's only because we've allowed him to.  If you don't take back your humanity, he remains the most evil man in the world.

But you're running a close second.

Friday, January 18, 2019

How to Bring Back Journalism

Between the time you're first labeled a Nazi and accused of Fake News, there comes a time when combatants of all stripes bemoan the fact that "journalism isn't what it used to be."  They're right, of course.  Most, if not all of what passes for journalism today would have failed Mrs. Johnson's seventh grade English class for rambling discourse, lack of structure, editorializing, misspelling, bad grammar and inappropriate use of the Oxford comma.

People like to think journalism isn't the grand Fourth Estate as it once was.  They mourn how the bastion of impartial reporting has long since crumbled into a juvenile, biased free-for-all, in which readers never get past sensational headlines written by media salesmen motivated by generating clicks.

But how much of that is even true?

The reality is that ever since the invention of the printing press, mass media has hardly lived up to its romantic ideal as the source of objective fact-gathering.  In 19th century America, for example, virtually every important newspaper -- including the illustrious New York Times -- railed against businessmen, politicians and socialites with reckless abandon, accountable to nobody for anything they published.  The inaccurate reporting got so bad that more than a few of the media victims countered with the defensive strategy of purchasing controlling interests in competing publications in an attempt to level the playing field.

So the devolution of ideal journalism has always been something of a convenient myth. When you add the sad fact that an internet allows anyone, anywhere (including me) to publish anything on a potentially international platform, you eventually land in a swampy quicksand of bad information, fueled by the flight of professional old school reporters who simply can't survive on the money publishers are paying 20 year-old kids living in their parents' basements.

Quite the conundrum.  If, as I suspect, the American public would choose objective, sourced news reporting over click-bait, baseless editorials, how could a journalistic enterprise take advantage of that market in a digitally viral age?  I submit the answer is deceptively simple:

I'm a branding guy, so when everyone else zigs, I prefer to zag.  And in the field of journalism, the big zag is taking the business offline.  That's right, I'm talking about going back to good old tree-killing weekly or monthly publications delivered by U.S Mail.  Sound absurd?  Read the next paragraph and see if you don't agree.

In the first place, scooping your competition by reporting news first is no longer winnable or even relevant.  Everyone pretty much gets the same news at the same time, which means those trying to win the "first to report it" war will never win that battle.   Second, digital delivery is another myth that counters all business sense.  Since people don't need to get most of their news immediately, there's no need for an "instant, updatable resource," especially in a market when most news is reported before it's even fact-checked.  Third -- and this is critical -- going back to paper returns bulletproof ownership of reader data to the publication.  No hacks. No "denial of service" attacks on their servers. Fourth, a pure paper play offers time delay, in which the publication never rushes out an issue, instead delivering thoughtful, considered content that delivers real value.  Finally, going back to pulp ensures there's only one way to obtain the publication's content.  No screen shots.  No sharing of posts.  Oh, I suppose a few cheapskates could scan a few pages here and there, but it's not like illegally downloading an MP3.  In the model, everyone who plays, pays -- like real businesses do.

Does this mean journalism eschews all things digital?  Certainly not.  It just means recalibrating and downsizing their digital presences to a few pages:

1.  How to subscribe to the print edition
2.  A list of topics covered in this week's issue
3.  A directory of back issues for purchase.

That's it.  Simple. Easy. And probably effective.  Of course, I doubt the current generation of business illiterates will comprehend it, but if and when they do, believe me: You'll read all about it.