Election 2016 and Politics as Blood Sport

“Begin each prayer with simple thanks.” - Jeff Einstein
Who to hate: Yankees or Red Sox?

By Jeff Einstein

Happy to say that I’ve long since reached the age where a conversation with an old friend is in fact a conversation with someone old (where the word “old” describes the actual friend, not just the friendship). In one such conversation with an old friend some years ago, I mentioned that I’d been raised as a devout SF Giants fan, and therefore hated the LA Dodgers by virtual birthright.

“Why did you hate the Dodgers?” she asked. Her question stopped me in my tracks. “Never really thought about it,” I said. “Just seemed like the right thing to do.”

Years later it occurs to me that the real benefits of sports loyalties might have less to do with the love or civic pride they engender, and more to do with the broad license they confer to hate someone else. Granted, it was fun to be a Giants fan and grow up in proximity to the incomparable Willie Mays. But it was really fun to hate the Dodgers, each and every one of them. A Giants/Dodgers series was blood sport, pure and simple.

These days my Giants-Dodgers love/hate relationship has been replaced by the Yankees and Boston. And while it’s been a great blessing to witness the individual and combined  greatness of Rivera and Jeter and Posada and Pettitte over the past couple of decades, it’s been an unmitigated blast and obligation to hate Martinez and Ramirez and Pedroia and Ortiz.

In essence, sports loyalties provide us with the legitimate excuse to express our irrational hatreds (much more fun and far less conditional than love) without the bothersome need to explain ourselves.

Same with politics, especially in Election 2016, where more Independents and Republicans will vote against Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump, and vice versa: more Independents and Democrats will vote against Donald Trump than for Hillary Clinton  It’s not just an election. It’s a free kick, a license to exercise our irrational hatreds.

Of course, the most partisan and politically correct among us on both sides will argue that they don’t hate their opposition, only their policies. Reality, however, suggests otherwise. Electronic media like TV, the Internet and smartphones sell emotion, not reason. Commercial advertisers (including and especially political campaigns) champion platitudes like love and respect and liberty and individual empowerment but in fact sell only fear and envy. The medium is the message, and in blood sports the true message is always about the Coliseum, not the gladiator.

Remember: in commercial media the ads aren’t there to support the content any more than the Coliseum was there to support the gladiators. In commercial media the content is there to support the ads — just as the gladiators were hauled in to support the Coliseum (and Rome). The Romans didn’t care which gladiator prevailed any more than Budweiser cares who wins the Super Bowl.

Fast forward: TV Everywhere is the American Coliseum of the 21st century. Blood sport is blood sport: while they may give voice to every manner of reasonable argument for doing so, the Democrats of MSNBC and CNN hate the Republicans of FOX, and vice versa. Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, sports and politics used to be about sports and politics. Now everything is about TV.


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My Smartphone is a Blithering Idiot

“Ignorance is a far better place to begin a journey than to end one.” - Jeff Einstein
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Darwin had it right, only backwards…

By Jeff Einstein

Note: the following article was first published by MediaDailyNews in April, 2012

My pre-teen daughter has a smartphone that’s way smarter than I am. But she almost never uses it as a phone; mostly, she texts, snaps photos and plays games on it. Seems like the actual phone is the least-used function on her smartphone.

My smartphone is a blithering idiot (but still seems smarter than your truly). Just signed up for the No G/No App/No Bar/Drop A Call/Skip a Hyphen Plan from T-Mobile, and it suits me fine.  My daughter, however, is mortified. By everything I do.

In fact, I discovered some time ago that all of my authority over her (to the extent that it exists at all) for the foreseeable future is directly related to my ability to mortify her in front of her friends. All I have to do is threaten to bust a move. Suddenly, I’m drunk with power.

My mobile phone remembers all the phone numbers I long ago forgot. Still, somehow I manage to dial the occasional wrong number. Apparently, I’ve not only forgotten all the phone numbers I once was compelled to carry with me in my head, I’ve forgotten how to dial them as well. Kind of a technology-induced Alzheimer’s: I get stupider as my phone gets smarter.

I remember when my father took me to Disneyland in 1968.  A seasoned sports writer, he was in Los Angeles to interview O.J. Simpson, who’d just won the Heisman Trophy. In Disneyland, we happened on the AT&T/Bell Telephone exhibit, where they were introducing the push-button phone.  It was a simple display: a standard rotary dial phone alongside a new push-button model, both beneath a giant stop watch, and all accompanied by a strapping young man in a snappy Bell blazer.

Unfortunately for AT&T/Bell Telephone, the unctuous young man selected my father from the crowd to help demonstrate the superior speed and ease of the new push-button phone. He gave him a 10-digit number to dial, first on the rotary phone.  My dad, with years of experience dialing the phone with one hand while watching Willie Mays on the field and typing 60 wpm with his other hand, blazed through the 10 digits in a heartbeat — without even looking at the phone.

I could see the beads of sweat already starting to form on the brow of the handsome but hapless AT&T/Bellboy. “Well,” he said, half-anticipating the disaster just ahead of him, “if he dials the number that fast on the old phone, we can only imagine how quickly he’ll dial the same number on the new push-button phone.”

Keep dreaming, I thought to myself. Years later — having long mastered the push-button phone – my father would call me at all hours to ask why his Windows desktop task bar suddenly wound up at the top of the screen, or why he had just incurred yet another cryptic system alert: YOU HAVE COMMITTED AN UNSPEAKABLE ACT!

He passed away just before smartphones hit the market, but I can imagine him still seated somewhere in front of his antediluvian Underwood, still puzzled and still outmatched by his own technology. I can even imagine his very next question: “Can you help me change the ribbon?”

I miss him. Sometimes, it seems like life these days is just an endless string of fatuous euphemisms. I spend most of mine just trying to figure out how best to manage my time with all of my time-saving digital devices. Stephen Covey was right: Rather than trying to prioritize our schedules, we should schedule our priorities. We need to put first things first. Think I’ll text that thought to my daughter.


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Get Lost: Siri, GPS and Why Me?

“I've had layovers in airports that lasted longer than most of my corporate jobs.” - Jeff Einstein
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Digital accountability: blame Siri.

By Jeff Einstein

Note: This article was first published by MediaDailyNews in April 2012.

“A journey is like marriage. A certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” — John Steinbeck

How can we take a wrong turn these days? How can we discover the twists and turns and back roads of serendipity when the fastest-route box is the default selection on MapQuest or Google Maps? How can we possibly learn anything if Siri and GPI forever prevent us from making any mistakes en route? How can we be found if we’re never lost?

Our obsession with the destination — with getting there as fast as possible — all but obliterates the lessons and rewards of the journey, and we wake up one morning to discover that we’ve become prisoners of efficiency. Perfect prisoners to be sure, but prisoners nonetheless. Turns out our only real mistake was not turning off our digital masters while we still had the chance.

I was in Newport, Rhode Island, recently with my girlfriend. We stopped for breakfast on Thames Street and sat at a table next to a tourist family: a mother, father and two teenage boys. The father and two boys were all heads down, completely immersed in their respective smartphones while the mother — with no one to talk to and no technology to conceal her boredom — sat quietly and fashioned a brave smile when she looked my way.

Her eyes, however, were plaintive and sad, and betrayed her silence as if to ask, “How do I compete with this?” She sat without a word, ill-equipped in the moment and quite beyond redemption.

A tourist as well, I was clearly outmatched by my own technology, an early generation cell phone and a digital camera. Turns out that two digital devices are at least one too many for yours truly. I was forever pulling out the wrong device at the wrong time, the phone when I needed the camera and the camera when I needed the phone. I understand, however, that the new smart cameras come with phones. Amazing.

If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, then what I know about digital technology must make me Public Enemy No. 1. Then again, who needs to know anything these days when we have Google and Wikipedia and Siri? Go ahead, ask me any question. I once took pride in things I knew, but that’s a harder claim to fame these days — especially when the primary lesson at the end of the day is how little I know about anything.

Meanwhile, my greatest achievement (with the exception of my daughter) is my undiminished sense of wonderment. I still see cathedrals in a grove of redwood trees (and vice versa), and still hear poetry in baseball each spring. Could be that I’m just easily and constantly amused, like all simpletons. Or maybe the result of too many drugs ingested over too many years.

But I think wonderment and happiness are basic choices we make as conditions of the journey, things we impose on our own worlds in our own time while our worlds impose conditions of their own, replete with riddles and rhythms we can’t possibly fathom. We call the conditions that life imposes on us destinations, and perhaps the most meaningful question we can ask of them — good or bad — is, “Why me?”

Try asking Siri.


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A Rose by Any Other Name…

“The early days of the digital era were characterized by the rise of the MBA and the demise of common sense. Apparently, the atom bomb, Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger weren’t enough to persuade us that too much education ain’t always such a great thing.” - Jeff Einstein
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“Rose” is the perfect name…

By Jeff Einstein

Note: This article was first published by MediaDailyNews in May, 2102.

Life in the digital 21st century is really a function of euphemizing ourselves from cradle to grave.  Maybe that’s always been the case, but today’s spinmeisters seem especially adroit at squeezing majesty from mendacity (or mundacity) and snatching pyrrhic victory from the jaws of defeat.  Consider just a few of today’s better examples:

Friend
A friend used to be the recipient of your purest love. Nowadays, a friend is someone to click on once and forget entirely, with no requisite love/hate investment of any sort.  Thanks to Facebook, today’s friends are to yesterday’s friends what yesterday’s dollar is to today’s two bits (on a good day).

Don’t be surprised to see Mark Zuckerberg take over for Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve (or vice versa) in the near future. They’re both in the same business with the same cheap currency and the same borrowed slogan: eat all you want, we’ll make more.

Quality Time
Quality time is a euphemism for no time at all, mostly because we spend all of our time (quality or otherwise) attending to all of our time-saving digital devices.

Relevance and Metrics
Digital marketers often use the word relevance in broad association with the word metrics. Of course, neither describes anything that actually works.  Rather, they describe things that can be sold, and are therefore, most effective when used in the same sentence, as in: “We need a new suite of metrics to ensure relevance.” Translation: “We can’t sell the old metrics anymore.”

That’s why everyone in online advertising is on the hunt now for a more relevant metric to replace the CTR: apparently, no one can sell statistical zero.  Usually, those marketers that use the word relevance as a metric to describe ads are their own best customers: They’ll buy anything.  (Please see Optimization and Performance below.)

Optimization and Performance
(Please see Relevance and Metrics above.)  Optimization and performance are what we sell when nothing works at all, as in: “We need to optimize congressional performance and the Boston Red Sox bullpen.”   Or, “The ad campaign was optimized to elevate performance to statistical zero.”

Artificial Intelligence
AI is where we currently deposit all of our hopes for a better future through digital technology — largely because we have no faith in our own intelligence anymore (for obvious reasons).  But beware of false gods: As my brother Mike says: “If my phone is so smart, why can’t I reach anyone with it?”

Communicate and Communications
There’s a reason why we never see the verb communicate in the same sentence with the noun communications: No one can actually communicate in today’s world of instant communications.  (Please see the smartphone reference under Artificial Intelligence above.)

Transparency and Accountability
Typically, those who demand the most transparency and accountability in others are those who are least transparent and accountable themselves. Demands for transparency and accountability are theatrically most effective as congressional committee opportunities to display righteous indignation and shock in response to the sudden and inexplicable loss of billions of taxpayer dollars — most of which gets pumped back into political and special-interest campaigns for more transparency and accountability.

Artisan
I tossed this one into the mix because I suddenly see it everywhere.  For instance, the bread aisle of my supermarket now sells artisan baguettes. But it’s the same old baguette with a new artisan bag.  Meanwhile, Duncan Donuts is now running an ad campaign for artisan bagels. Significantly, no one in the ads seems to know what the word artisan means. I rest my case.


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Requiem for Orlando and Decency

“The most enduring lesson that emerged from the liberation movements of the 1960s was crowd control.” - Jeff Einstein
Decency on display in Orlando...
Decency and respect in Orlando…

By Jeff Einstein

Have we no decency? Have we no shame?

Nothing is profane when everything is already profane. We live in an age when the mirror reflection of our own narcissistic narcosis overwhelms everything else, especially in times of social tragedy.

The universal truths that only a generation ago would reveal themselves to us in quiet moments of profound darkness are buried instead these days under a mudslide of unabated vanity. Rather than kneel in humility and grace before them, rather than wrap ourselves in their healing succor and compassion, we turn up the volume and exploit the darkness to seek not the truth, but the momentary advantage.

All sense of proportion and decency is lost in 21st-century Babel, sacrificed on an alter of arrogance powered by a billion microchips. No healing can begin in the absence of the sacred. Rather, our best intentions turn against us, and the horrific moments and technologies that should bring us together tear us farther and farther apart.

Have we no decency? Have we no shame? Apparently not.

It was a mistake to check my Facebook page in the aftermath of Orlando. Almost every related post was structured the same way: heartfelt sympathies and prayers for family, friends and community up front, followed by an opinion about gun control or radical Islam and a call for common sense (at least as it conforms to the opinion rendered) to prevail.

It was a mistake to check my Facebook page in the aftermath of Orlando. With all due respect to all of my Facebook friends, your opinions about the horrors in Orlando are like narration over a moment of silence: profane and inappropriate.

Right now Orlando is not the epicenter of a teaching moment. Your opinions on gun control or radical Islam are less than worthless and more than toxic to the parents, friends and families of those murdered or injured. The only common truth to your opinions about the tragedy in Orlando is that they can all wait another week or two before you post them to the world.

Of course, shameful and indecent behavior is a top-down entitlement in the age of anti-social media, just standard operating procedure for President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and every other self-important buffoon in the media who chooses to exploit the Orlando tragedy to advance their respective agendas. Indecent and shameless scoundrels, each and every one of them.

While politicians and other media whores are well beyond redemption, the rest of us can do better next time. Hence the following simple social media guidelines to help restore civility and grace in response to future social calamity. For the first two weeks following any social tragedy…

  • Offer only your prayers and sympathies and direct aid.
  • Do not point fingers in blame.
  • Do not offer your opinion, however educated or otherwise.

To the citizens of Orlando and to the parents, friends and families of those who lost their lives, I offer my prayers and sympathies. How can I help?


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Eat All You Want. We’ll Make More.

“Captain Kangaroo, the Children’s Television Workshop and Sesame Street taught generations of kids their 2+2s and ABCs, but what they really did was teach them how to watch TV and set the stage for 24/7 cable news.” - Jeff Einstein
too big to fail
Too big to fail IS the plan…

By Jeff Einstein

Note: the following article was first published by MediaDailyNews in September, 2012

No one needs too big to fail as long as Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve are willing to give the banks half a trillion dollars a year ad infinitum — just the latest installment of the grandest grand larceny in history.

The biggest banks at the time of the market crash in the fall of 2008 are much bigger now, thanks to their friends and collaborators in Washington, D.C., and the Federal Reserve.  And much less obliged or inclined to act responsibly, thanks to an endless flow of cheap money at zero interest.  “Eat all you want,” Ben tells them.  “We’ll make more.”

But that’s why the Federal Reserve was created in the first place, way back in 1913. It was created to protect and promote the interests of the biggest banks and bankers, plain and simple, and to provide them with a bottomless reserve of public dollars to fund and protect them from the failures of their own high-risk capers.  It was and remains — a century later — our purest example of socialism for the wealthy.

Contrary to all the talking heads on TV, the Federal Reserve was never created to stabilize the market.  Indeed, quite the opposite: The greatest transfers of additional wealth to the already wealthy always occur at moments of greatest market chaos and panic. If anything, the Federal reserve destabilizes the market by promoting and funding risky behavior by the biggest banks.

Too big to fail is not the obvious consequence of our failure to plan.  Too big to fail is the plan.

And it’s perfect.  The 21st-century confluence of digital scale and 24/7 news provides the perfect cover for the perfect plan.  The numbers — like the institutions they support and promote  — are simply too big to fail, and far too big to reconcile after any crash.

Per Marshall McLuhan’s observation half a century ago, our tools and our media have begun to operate in reverse.  “We shape our tools,” he said, “and thereafter, our tools shape us.”

True enough: rather than reveal and enlighten, they obfuscate and confuse.  Rather than more accountability, we have less — much less.  The media, once perceived as the guardians of truth, have turned against us.  Now they guard the foxes, while the foxes raid the chick coup.

No one in here but us chickens.  Good thing, because all that’s gonna be left after Ben Bernanke and his cronies in Washington and big media get through with us is chicken feed.


Want someone truly different and truly entertaining to address your school, civic, religious or business group? I’m a veteran public speaker with hundreds of radio, TV, trade show, university, corporate and community appearances over three decades. Contact me today and let’s talk it over.

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Newtown: Busting Through the Clutter

“Meaningful ritual -- ritual designed and employed to enhance our spiritual, social, physical and emotional wellbeing -- stands between us and wholesale surrender to our chemical destiny as addicts.” - Jeff Einstein

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Angels in Newtown…

By Jeff Einstein

Note: the following article was first published by MediaDailyNews in December, 2012

I am at times overwhelmed with despair and sorrow by the murders in Connecticut.  They have affected me profoundly, reached deep into my being and gripped my heart with icy fingers that send shivers through my soul.

I have manifestly refused to watch or read any related news coverage or commentary.  I never watch or read the news anyway.  It’s enough for me to know that these things happen, enough for me to know — as a parent — that they will happen again in other places and other times. Parents will send their precious children to school or the movies or the mall — never to return.  Life for these parents will forever change in the monstrous flash of a gun barrel.  Their hearts will be torn from them and never returned.

Every time my teenage daughter leaves my sight, a small part of me departs with her.  It takes residence in a cold and empty place just beyond my reach and waits dutifully until her return to make me whole again.

Not long ago — in a far less mediated and far more civilized time — it was enough of a statement to put a gun to your own head and be done with it.  Not any more.  Suicide no longer travels alone.  Suicide, it seems, is the afterthought, the postlude to murder and mayhem promoted billions of times each day by a commercial media industry that sells fear and envy.

The media invent the problems, then tell us to stay tuned for the solutions which — not coincidentally — always sell more media, more fear and more envy.

Everything about our overly mediated and thoroughly addicted culture is over-sized and excessive.  On average, every one of us consumes 12 hours of commercial media each day. We call it normal, but it’s not.  It’s insane.  We call it normal because addiction is now the rule, not the exception, and because our addiction to the media — like all addictions regardless of the narcotic — has taken over as moderator of all our internal and external debates.

Our addiction to media leads, and everything else follows. And we call it normal but it’s not.  It’s insane.  It’s the addiction talking, pure and simple.

Newtown is what happens when desperate individuals with ready access to tools of mass carnage feel the need to bust through the clutter in a soma-induced culture of inured and quietly desperate addicts.  The only way to bust through the clutter in a thoroughly mediated culture of addiction is with a very big budget or a very big bang.

We were a much more civilized and far better informed society before the myth of digital accountability, before Bill O’Reilly and Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity and Keith Olbermann, Greta Van Susteren and Rachel Maddow and all the other talking-head buffoons who now divide us and fill our hearts and minds 24/7 with fear and envy, fear and envy and more fear and more envy.

The news media are especially toxic, and they pollute our culture and souls at immense profit to themselves. Collectively, the media drug lords make the greedy scoundrels on Wall Street and K Street look like rank beginners.

In a society of default addiction and excess, the quality of life becomes a function of deliberate subtraction. The only way to restore any sense of propriety to our culture, the only way to wrench normality from insanity, is to tune the electronic news media out now — all of them.  The choice is no longer between left and right, liberal or conservative. The choice is between sanity and insanity, sobriety and addiction.

Go back to your dinner tables and discuss family and community matters.  Seek the counsel and advice of those you know and trust.  Hold them all tight and tell them you love them.  Be patient and kind and tolerant.  And the next time someone tells you they feel the need to bust through the clutter, tell them to just send a Hallmark.


Want someone truly different and truly entertaining to address your school, civic, religious or business group? I’m a veteran public speaker with hundreds of radio, TV, trade show, university, corporate and community appearances over three decades. Contact me today and let’s talk it over.

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A (Brief) History of Digital

“Remember: the ads aren't there to support the content. The content is there to support the ads.” - Jeff Einstein
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The history of digital ain’t so binary…

By Jeff Einstein

Turns out nothing we’ve been taught about the rise of digital is true…

As a digital media pioneer turned heretic I’m sometimes asked to explain how we got from the garage-legend introduction of early PCs back in the late 1970s to the completely immersive digital oligarchy we live in today.

Of course, popular culture by definition cannot tolerate critical self-examination. It simply cannot pause to turn the spotlight inward, nor can it spare the requisite time to fashion any meaningful historical narrative. Like a shark in the water, popular culture must always keep moving forward or die. Thus is history in what I call the Great Age of Mediation — an age in which virtually all of our personal and institutional relationships are conducted through electronic intermediaries — rendered essentially stillborn and inert, at best a temporary respite from the clamor of the present.

That said, I feel a personal obligation to set the record straight and to provide an explanation for how we suddenly woke up one day to find ourselves so firmly ensconced as addicts in the digital 21st century. As is often the case, however, the truth bears little resemblance to popular myth and legend. Though brief, what follows below is wholly unabridged and completely factual…

The 1980s
It may seem hard to believe these days — especially when our personal lives are so crammed with so many digital devices — but the digital revolution didn’t begin at home. It didn’t begin at home simply because there was no functional or otherwise compelling reason for consumers to buy personal computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, so the home market fizzled out soon enough and didn’t re-emerge in strength until the mid-1990s with the rise of the Internet. Instead, the digital revolution began in the office where applications for PCs were patently obvious, and it came of age not with the introduction of the personal computer as a consumer product in the late 1970s and early 80s, but with the adoption, maturation and utter ubiquity of the electronic spreadsheet as the dominant corporate desktop tool just a few years later. The sudden ability to project and manipulate corporate numbers with a facility and scale previously impossible and un­im­agined delivered immense power to the captains of industry and finance and gave rise to a high-tech Wall Street culture whose influence and dominance con­tinues to grow virtually unabated in direct relationship to the power and ubiquity of the chips and devices that drive it.

“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” — Marshall McLuhan

The sudden flurry of M&A activity, the Black Monday stock market crash of October 1987, and the collapse of the savings and loan industry later in the same decade were all early manifestations of an overly enthusiastic corporate rush to adopt and deploy a digital tool whose inherent power and sudden ability to project immense scale far surpassed our limited ability to mitigate and moderate any associated risk.

Meanwhile, the introduction of cable TV in the early 1980s fragmented urban audiences and forever changed the commercial media landscape. In lieu of the ability to reach mass audiences like their established broadcast counter­parts, the fledgling cable networks sold the ability to target their audiences much more efficiently instead. Suddenly, agency media planners and buyers were besieged by armies of cable network sales reps, all of whom extolled the virtues of effective targeting based on extensive data-driven audience research. The working vernacular of advertising and market­ing began to change accordingly as the primary industry focus, infrastructure and billing mechanisms shifted away from creative execution and moved towards media, a tool-driven migration made possible and powered by the wholesale adoption and application of the electronic spreadsheet. The sheer number-crunching power, appeal and corporate ubiquity of the electronic spreadsheet all but guaranteed the correspond­ing migration of agency resources from the message to the medium and — true to the sage observation of pioneer media ecologist Marshall McLuhan — the medium indeed became the message.

Still, someone had to sell the surging Wall Street and high-tech cultures (not to mention all the requisite hardware and software) to Main Street America. Enter the production-line template for the post-modern MBA, a thoroughly digital technocrat formally trained in both marketing and financial disciplines. It’s no mistake that the equally rapid ascents of the Wall Street and digital media cultures coincided, as both were driven by graduates of the same MBA programs of the same schools, and both were favored stepchildren of the exact same tool: the electronic spreadsheet — without a doubt the most powerful, persuasive and thoroughly abused corporate tool of all time.

The 1990s
The explosive evangelism of the World Wide Web as a commercial medium and the financial promiscuity of the brief dot com era that rode shotgun with it were entirely consistent with the characteristics of a media-driven youth movement, not unlike the one that spread rock and roll and free love around the world via commercial radio and TV in the 1960s. During the years between 1995 and 2000, legions of youthful MBAs — most with little or no actual hands-on experience in marketing and advertising — assumed complete control over what would soon become history’s most potent and powerful medium.

Despite the counterculture hype, these were hardly the rogue advertising madmen of yesteryear. And they weren’t equipped with mere slogans and taglines. These were highly motivated, highly educated and highly financed young MBAs equipped with the most powerful business tools ever devised, tools powerful enough to eclipse (and eventually humble) even the hard-driving ambitions of those who deployed them. The young dot com evangelists were the 1990s versions of the highly motivated, highly educated and highly financed young physicists and scientists who gathered in Los Alamos during World War II to build the first atomic bomb. This generation, however, wasn’t hired and funded by a wartime government and didn’t crunch their numbers with slide rules, chalkboards and mechanical cal­culators. This generation was hired and funded instead by huge technology and media companies and rapacious venture capitalists, and their calculations were powered by a billion microchips. And just as the young physicists and scientists of Los Alamos ushered in the Nuclear Age, the young technologists and MBAs of the Silicon Valley in California and the Silicon Alley in New York City ushered in the Great Age of Mediation.

Safe to say that neither generation was particularly inclined to ponder the long-term consequences of their respective efforts and technologies, as youth on a mission rarely are. Hence, the young Turks of the dot com era didn’t think twice about what might happen to our lives and our lifestyles as they engineered and fast-tracked the migration of immensely powerful digital office productivity tools of scale — like laptops, PDAs and mobile phones — from the office into our homes. No one pondered what might happen once most of the functional distinctions between the office and the home were obliterated, or what might ensue as the pace of our private lives acceler­ated to match the speed of our own office technologies, suddenly ensconced in our homes and lives as highly narcotic consumer gadgets. No one paused to consider how the promise of immense digital scale might soon all but eliminate institutional accountability and erode the public trust, nor were there any Surgeon General warnings affixed to any of the digital devices we slipped in and out of our pockets and purses dozens of times each day like packs of cigarettes…

WARNING: This device is exceptionally addictive. It was not designed to improve the quality of your life. It was designed specifically and explicitly to increase productivity. Prolonged exposure will guarantee pro­found unin­tended consequences — some of them not so good.

Of course, no one thought the dot com boom would ever end, either. At least not until it came crashing down in the spring of 1999. But by then the damage was done: commercial media poured unabated through the digital pipeline and flooded absolutely everything. By the end of the dot com era our lives had been vastly accelerated and forever changed — not necessarily for the better.

The 2000s
While high-tech investments in the mid-to-late 1990s focused primarily on building out the essential commercial architecture and infrastructure of the Internet, the first decade of the 21st century was mostly about three things:

1. The consolidation of power.
The first decade of the 21st century was one of immense mergers and acquisitions among already enormous media franchises, especially online. In addition, huge amounts of investment capital were put to work on commercial technologies that would a) rapidly expand and set the stage for broadband access and b) track, analyze and optimize consumer behavioral data online. Sure enough, broadband access soon became the de facto standard while the digital advertising and marketing industry — in response to legitimate consumer concerns about the volume and integrity of the behavioral data tracked, analyzed and optimized — solemnly promised on a stack of shrink-wrapped user manuals to reg­u­late itself, and embarked on a mission to educate con­sumers not to worry so much about potential abuses of per­sonal data. Your data, they promised, are safe, and the fact that we track, analyze, parse and sell them to anyone who asks is merely the price you pay for a far better and far more efficient online experience. “Trust us,” they said.

Of course, soon after 9/11 government security and in­tel­li­gence agencies were granted broad powers by Congress and executive order to deploy the same basic digital tracking technologies in the war against terrorism with the same basic refrain: Your data are safe, and the fact that we track, analyze, parse and share them is the price you pay for a secure homeland. “Trust us,” they said. Meanwhile, the government directive to the commercial high-tech and media industries (increasingly indistinguishable) was likewise simple and to the point: “We now have the legal right and legitimate excuse to subpoena and examine your customer data pretty much whenever we want. So let’s do lunch and partner up.”

Thus we were taught by industry and government agents alike (also increasingly indistinguishable) not to worry about all of the digital tracking and spying technologies we couldn’t see at work behind the scenes. “Pay no attention” they told us, “to the man behind the curtain.”

Meanwhile, those who stood the most to gain by selling digital technologies and media to everyone on the planet evangelized the liberating, lifestyle-enhancing and presumed democratizing effects of their products and services, and proclaimed the entire world on-demand and at our fingertips. True enough, perhaps, but behind the scenes the real byproducts of so much digital power in the hands of so many huge institutions were…

  • corporatist collusion of private and government interests on a massive scale,
  • the equally massive expansion of immensely amplified institutional power along with
  • the rise of unmanageable complexity and the virtual end of institutional accountability.

The medium was the message and the true message of digital media was buried far beneath the graphic user interfaces that whisked us like magic from one virtual reality to another. The medium was the message and the true message of digital media was far less about the democratization of media as advertised and far more about the consolidation, expansion and unaccountability of institutional power.

2. Online and on-demand video and HDTV.
By 2005 high-speed Internet access was already the rule rather than the exception, and what hadn’t yet been obvious to some soon became obvious to everyone (at least to anyone who thought about it for more than two minutes): a) that broadband Internet access was in fact all about the distribution and consumption of video on demand, and b) that video on demand — especially HDTV — was by far the most powerful and influential narcotic in history. No surprise therefore that by the end of the 21st century’s first decade, virtually every digital device on the planet came equipped with an HDTV screen, more than half of all Internet bandwidth was devoted to uploading, downloading and streaming on-demand video, and HDTV was the broadcast standard mandated by governments worldwide.

3. The introduction of the smartphone.
The introduction of the smartphone liberated on-demand video and all but completed our enslavement as media addicts. We now had access to our favorite and most reliable media narcotics 24/7 — sitting, standing or flat on our backs — whenever we wanted, wherever we went.

Of course no brief history of the 21st century’s first decade would be complete without mention of the great housing collapse and market crash of 2007 and 2008 — only the latest of several systemic breakdowns to occur in the debut generation of the electronic spreadsheet. Rather than explore our own complicity in the tool-driven nature of each financial debacle, however, we conveniently added three zeros to the nation­al dialog and debt after each crash, crunched the new numbers and partied on — all of which seemed a pretty livable arrangement until late 2008, when we suddenly ran out of zeros because no one knew what to call a thousand trillions…


Want someone truly different and truly entertaining to address your school, civic, religious or business group? I’m a veteran public speaker with hundreds of radio, TV, trade show, university, corporate and community appearances over three decades. Contact me today and let’s talk it over.

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The Truth About Addiction

“Sometimes we forget that The Enlightenment and The Age of Reason ended two hundred years ago.” - Jeff Einstein
Media Addiction
The new face of addiction…

By Jeff Einstein

“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.” — Carl Jung

Turns out that nothing we’ve been taught about addiction is true.

My theory on media addiction is disconcerting to just about everyone who reads my writing or hears me speak, not least for my claim that our meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital is now the default social condition, the rule rather than the exception.

It will become clear as you read my thoughts and convictions on addiction below that I’m no fan of the standard addiction-as-disease model, still dominant and still going strong after nine decades. First popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous back in the 1930s — and later adopted by the medical establishment, the justice system, the public schools and most private and public employers — the addiction-as-disease model has stigmatized generations of American citizens, justified a racist War Against Drugs and produced the world’s largest prison population — all in the name of quasi-science, and all without moving the recovery-rate needle even a single notch.  That said, I firmly believe that addicts in search of treatment should invest their time and money in whatever works for them and disregard what anyone else says.

Addiction, of course, is a loaded word, and few of us want to accept the fact that we’re addicted to anything. Much of our resistance, however, is borne from a legacy of lies and mistruths about the true nature of addiction, lies and mistruths long promoted and fed to us for many decades by an immense addiction industry that zealously protects a yearly cash cow now measured in hundreds of billions of dollars.

The addiction industry tells us — decade after decade after decade — that addiction is a chronic, escalating, incurable and ultimately fatal disease of the brain that requires immediate and sustained professional and peer intervention. But the simple truth is that addiction isn’t a disease at all, isn’t necessarily chronic, most often plateaus before it renders us dysfunctional, can be cured, is almost always self-correcting and is rarely lethal. Yes, opportunistic diseases and pathologies often result from protracted addictive behavior. And yes, our brains re-wire themselves over time to accommodate and promote addictive behaviors repeated over and over again. But that’s a far cry from the definition of addiction itself as a chronic, escalating, incurable and ultimately fatal disease of the brain. Again, it’s not, and saying so for the past nine decades serves the interests of no one except those who work and profit from the addiction business.

The truth: We are wired to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. In essence, we are wired for addiction, better and more truthfully defined as a largely self-correcting and perfectly normal lifestyle coping mechanism that sometimes goes awry. It tends to come and go over the course of a lifetime, to disappear and reappear in accordance with life events and exigencies. We frequently entertain more than one addiction at a time, and our drugs of choice often change to suit our current circumstance. We are sometimes more addicted, sometimes less, sometimes — far less frequently these days — not at all. And BTW, there is no addiction gene to blame.

Note: The inveterate college drunkard graduates, gets a job, gets married, has kids and buys a home. En route he matures out of his dependence on alcohol — almost always with no professional intervention.

Note: More than 40 million Americans have quit smoking over the past generation, almost all with no professional intervention or assistance whatsoever, despite the fact that nicotine is among the most addictive substances on the planet.

Note: The vast majority of GIs who returned from Viet Nam as heroin addicts stopped taking heroin once they were reintegrated into their lives stateside, and almost all them stopped with little or no professional intervention at all.

Headlines talk ceaselessly about heroin addiction or cocaine addiction or crack addiction or social media addiction. But all the media discussion about drugs notwithstanding, addiction is never about the specific narcotic. Addiction is about behavior, and all addicts behave pretty much the same way, regardless of the narcotic. Thus heroin addicts behave pretty much like sex addicts, who behave pretty much like alcoholics, who behave pretty much like compulsive gamblers, who behave pretty much like cocaine addicts, who behave pretty much like social media addicts.

Year after year the addiction industry (via the media) portrays addicts as down-and-out misfits victimized by an insidious chronic and incurable disease in order to instill in us inordinate fear and anxiety about our own dismal prospects as addicts in lieu of professional intervention.  The same media-induced fear compels us to hand our lives and bank accounts (often by court, employer or other mandate) over to outrageously expensive and invasive treatment regimens, almost all of which stigmatize us for life as damaged goods — and almost all of which ultimately fail.

The truth: The vast percentage of addicts are perfectly functional, with jobs and families and mortgages and plenty to smile about (hopefully).

The addiction industry tells us that we are victims of addiction, and that we become addicts in spite of our values.

The truth: We become addicts not in spite of our values but precisely because of our values, as reflected in how we choose to spend our time and money. Indeed, the only reliable diagnosis of addiction is the measure of how we spend our time and money in excess: exactly why addiction is almost always diagnosed first by a family member, friend or co-worker, not a doctor. Your family, friends and colleagues know where you spend your time and money. Your doctor doesn’t.

Moreover, we are not victims of our addictions.  If anything, we’re entirely complicit in them, especially in our meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital. No one ever put a gun to your head and threatened to pull the trigger unless you binge on “Charles in Charge” reruns over an entire weekend or camp out in line for days to buy the latest iPhone.

These are the simple facts about addiction. So why the fuss? If addiction is perfectly normal, what’s the problem? The problem is that addiction of any sort is a reflection of overt excess in our lives, and that late-stage addictions — like our meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital — eventually take over as moderators and arbiters of our thoughts and lives. Eventually they steal our time and money and freedom, regardless of the narcotic. An individual addicted to one narcotic or another is one thing. But an entire society addicted to the same narcotic (think all things media and all things digital) is something quite different. The real question that confronts us as citizens of 21st-century America is, “What happens to our time and money and freedom when addiction emerges as the default social condition, the rule rather than the exception?” Simply stated, the establishment of addiction as the default social condition is the perfect Fascist tool in a Brave New Digital World, exactly per Aldous Huxley’s premonition (see my essay The Rise of Fascism in a Brave New Digital World).  Look around and tell me otherwise…


Want someone truly different and truly entertaining to address your school, civic, religious or business group? I’m a veteran public speaker with hundreds of radio, TV, trade show, university, corporate and community appearances over three decades. Contact me today and let’s talk it over.

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Drunk on Digital Kool-Aid: an Interview with Digital Media Pioneer Jeff Einstein

“My smartphone is a blithering idiot.” - Jeff Einstein
weapons pf mass distraction
The narcotic allures of media addiction…

By Jaffer Ali

Digital media pioneer Jeff Einstein started writing about media addiction in 2004. Back then, he observed how our fealties and addictions to the media and digital devices in our lives had already begun to turn against us, like any addiction to any other narcotic. Of course, back then almost everyone thought he was crazy. Today, however, media as addiction is a common topic of discussion on just about every TV and radio talk show – from Bill Moyers to The View. Alarmingly, what Jeff predicted ten years ago has unfolded just as he predicted. So when I heard about his new title, The Media Addict’s Handbook, I called him on the phone to talk about it.

* * * * *

JAFFER: What distinguishes The Media Addict’s Handbook and your views in general from those of other thinkers and writers, who in the past year or two have started to sound the alarm about our relationships with media and digital technology? I’m talking about folks like Nicholas Carr, Andrew Keen, Jaron Lanier, Sheri Turkle, Heidi Boghosian and Nicholas Taleb.

JEFF: Well, with the possible exception of Nicholas Taleb, the others you mentioned have pretty much circumscribed their views and thoughts to our relationships with the digital technologies in our lives. My thinking, however, is much more systemic. To me, the technologies themselves are of far less concern than the threat posed by our super-addiction to them. To me, the medium is the real message, and the real medium is no longer the technology. The real medium is a super-addiction that now sits as moderator over all our most critical personal and societal debates. The specific technologies and media merely represent our individual drugs of choice.

JAFFER: So you view social media and short-format videos and video games and email and texting and laptops and smartphones and HDTVs and game consoles as individual drugs, component parts of a much larger default addiction.

JEFF: Yes, exactly. But addiction is never about the specific narcotic. Addiction is about the behavior, and addicted behavior is pretty much the same, regardless of the narcotic. Sex addicts behave just like video game addicts who behave just like marijuana addicts who behave just like social media addicts who behave just like compulsive gamblers who behave just like HDTV addicts who behave just like cocaine addicts. Add them all together and we realize that addiction is now the default condition of America life, the rule rather than the exception. Almost everyone with a smartphone is an addict and behaves accordingly.

JAFFER: But why has it taken so long for the rest of society to wake up to your media-as-addiction message?

JEFF: Because everyone else around us is addicted to all things media and all things digital also, and we simply can’t see the forest for the trees. Because our addictions are fun and entertaining and comforting at first. Because we’re wired to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. And because we have an innate tendency to deny the addictive power of our narcotics while we exaggerate our ability to resist them. The quid pro quo with all addiction is essentially the same now as it was five thousand years ago in the cradle of civilization: reliable diversion and escape and succor in exchange for our time and money and freedom. The drugs, however, are a lot more powerful and a lot more plentiful.

JAFFER: Really? You think the drugs today are more addictive?

JEFF: Oh, without a doubt. HDTV is history’s most perfect narcotic. It’s not for nothing that every digital device sold on the planet comes with an LCD.

JAFFER: In The Media Addict’s Handbook you write that our systems have started to turn against us. What do you mean by that?

JEFF: All systems pushed to extreme begin to exert an opposite effect. They begin to operate in reverse.

JAFFER: One of Marshall McLuhan’s Four Laws.

JEFF: Yes. Addiction is a perfect example of what happens when a system is pushed to extreme. At first, we get pleasure and succor from our drugs of choice. Sometimes, however, they begin to turn again us. And sometimes they take over our lives and enslave us — exactly what’s happened to us on a massive scale in our individual and societal relationships with all things media and all things digital.

JAFFER: Can you give me some examples?

JEFF: Sure. The same digital tools of scale designed to enhance productivity and save time now divert our attention endlessly and consume all of our time. The same digital tools of scale that once amassed immense wealth and produced millions of jobs now turn against us as a net destroyer of wealth and jobs. The same digital tools of scale that promised to bring healthcare costs down and create more transparency has produced the exact opposite effect. The same digital tools of scale that were deployed after 9/11 to protect our security now steal our privacy and trust. Thousands of financial experts, thousands of health and nutrition experts and thousands of lifestyle experts — all delivering advice and counsel across thousands of TV channels, millions of websites and more than a billion smartphones. Yet we’re poorer, fatter and far more anxious and fearful about everything than we were just a generation ago. What’s wrong with this picture?

JAFFER: How does that translate into our day-to-day work lives as media and marketing professionals?

JEFF: The same digital tools of scale that help brand advertisers reach out to millions of prospects have created too much toxic clutter for all but the biggest brands to penetrate. The same digital tools of scale that promise performance have created RTB and programmatic buying exchanges that drive performance down to statistical zero and drive publishers by the thousands right out of business. The same digital tools of scale that promised to simplify our work lives have turned advertising and marketing into Rube Goldberg contraptions of insane complexity.

JAFFER: What can we do about it? We all use the same basic digital tools, and we can’t just unplug.

JEFF: No, we can’t just unplug. The first thing we need to do is understand that this is less about the media per se and our digital technologies and more about our addictions to them. Only once we understand and accept our addiction to all things media and all things digital as the default condition, the rule rather than the exception, can we begin to deal with the real problem. Our addiction tells us that we can never have enough technology or data or news or entertainment, and the essential message of all addiction is always the same, regardless of the drug: “Eat all you want; we’ll make more.” Addiction is always about excess.

JAFFER: So what do you suggest?

JEFF: I suggest less. I suggest moderation. I suggest that we learn to slow down, learn to let go of failure and learn to embark on a path of deliberate simplicity. Restoring quality to our work and to our lives in what I call the Great Age of Mediation is a deliberate function of gradual subtraction and disintermediation.

JAFFER: Sounds easier said than done.

JEFF: It always is. Dealing effectively with any addiction is difficult at best. But it can be done. People do it every day.

JAFFER: The Media Addict’s Handbook offers remedial tools and a program to help individuals restore the quality of their lives. Do you offer something equivalent for group events and businesses?

JEFF: Thanks for asking, Jaffer. Yes, I speak at events of all kinds, everything from fund raisers for schools, faith-based organizations and civic groups to corporate seminars and workshops.

JAFFER: Thanks, Jeff.

JEFF: Thank you, Jaffer.


Want someone truly different and truly entertaining to address your school, civic, religious or business group? I’m a veteran public speaker with hundreds of radio, TV, trade show, university, corporate and community appearances over three decades. Contact me today and let’s talk it over.

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