| Thoughts about where our real and digital worlds collide.

Web Name: | Thoughts about where our real and digital worlds collide.






Skip to primary contentSkip to secondary content

Thoughts about where our real and digital worlds collide.

Surveillance Capitalism Bedtime Stories…

Posted on by bradberensReply

… if you don’t want to get much sleep. Although the privacy issues are paramount, another problem with companies compiling vast amounts of information about us is that we don’t know what they know.

Companies spying on Americans for our entertainment and their profit is nothing new.

How else can we understandCandid Camera, the show that for nearly 70 years put people in embarrassing situations, filmed those situations, and then broadcast the footage on TV?

One of the most popular things I’ve ever written online was a single sentence piece called“You Are Where You Live.”It featured a link to a site where you could enter your zip code and get the disturbingly accurate Claritas/Prizm profile for your neighborhood. This was when I was the digital editor at EarthLink, the ISP, and ran a weekly newsletter called eLink.

“My TiVo Thinks I’m Gay.”Back in the early 2000s, a story circulated about a straight guy who liked a show that straight guys don’t typically like. His TiVo (remember TiVo?) concluded that he was gay and started recording gay-themed programming. The guy then started recording more straight-seeming content (sports, military history) in an effort to change the TiVo’s mind. This became a plot in a couple of sitcoms. (Here’sa WSJ summaryfrom 2002.)

Relatedly, for years the Amazon algorithm must have thought that I suffer fromSybil-likedissociative identity disorderbecause my entire family uses the same Amazon Prime account, which is under my name. This also used to be the case with Netflix, but now the streaming service has profiles for different users.

In 2012, Charles Duhigg reporteda New York Times storyabout how an angry father confronted the manager of his local Target because his teen daughter hadstarted receiving coupons for a first-trimester pregnancy.It turned out that the daughter really was pregnant but hadn’t shared the news with Dad. Target had data scientists tracking purchases (like unscented skin lotion) closely associated with early pregnancy and then sending coupons. What’s unsettling is that Target didn’t stop doing this sort of thing after the incident: instead, the retailer started hiding pregnancy-related coupons inside a “nothing to see here” mass of other coupons.

For an eye-popping,uh-oh-inducing, account of just how much companies infer about you based on what you type into a search bar, read Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s bookEverybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are.

While there are obvious and urgent privacy issues with these stories, I also think that they are troubling because of theinformation asymmetriesbetween the corporations and the individuals. “Information Asymmetries” is fancy talk for spying and not sharing that you know a lot about somebody with that somebody.

This is not always a technology story. Many years ago, I saw a documentary abouthow cults recruit new members on college campuses. One of the former members shared that when a new recruit was targeted, the cult members would invite that target to a party where the recruit was theonlyperson who was not already a member of the cult. Everybody in the room was working towards the same goal of charming the target into joining the cult, but the target had no idea this was happening. (If anybody can help me find this documentary, I’d be grateful.)

It gets worse with social media.

A few issues back, I argued that “Facebook is Creepier than Google” because Facebook behaves like somebody who eavesdrops on your conversation at a party and then tries to sell you something based on what you said to other people.

One thing I missedis that this is party where you’re working to make animpression. Then, rather than selling you something based on your designer outfit, your acerbic banter, or the nice bottle of wine you brought to the host, the eavesdropping seller goes through your online activity to see that you bought the wine at Costco, you stole a witty line from a meme, and your outfit is a knockoff.

Whether it’s dancing on TikTok, posing for a selfie on Instagram, arguing politics on Twitter, reconfiguring your resume on LinkedIn, or trying to convince folks that you’re living your best life on Facebook, peoplecuratehow they present themselves on social media. Other humans on the social media platform judge you based on your curation. Meanwhile, algorithms render different judgments based on exponentially more information.

You don’t wear a fancy outfit to the library. Google collects much more information about us, but because we’re not curating ourselves when we search for things it doesn’t bother us. It should.

Can anything be done?

Yes. We can demand that digital platforms like Facebook and Google transparently share with us the logic by which they show us things, whether those things are professionally-created content, user-generated content, or ads.

Meta (Facebook and Instagram) has an inadequate “Why am I seeing this ad?” option that effectively says nothing beyond, “because we’re tracking everything you do”:

Note, please, that the “What you can do” invitation looks like you’re helping yourself when you’re actually giving Metaeven more informationabout you so that they can more effectively target you.

What I want to know ispreciselywhy I am seeing something when I see it. What about my click-stream informed this? And, if I don’t like the logic, I’d like to be able todeletethe data that led to that logic.

Social media and search companies will fight hard against this. They will claim that they don’t know why the algorithms serve up particular items (which is scary in different ways), and that even if they could share the data it would overwhelm users.

Don’t believe them.

Instead, get ready to vote in November and then again in November of 2024. Only the Federal government can make this happen.

The Biden administration is working, albeit slowly, to make the internet safer for citizens than it is for corporations, particularly Lina Khan and Tim Wu. Getting there will take time, so let’s give them that time.

Subscribe to The Brad Berens Weekly Dispatch to get articles like these delivered directly to your inbox!

Posted in Internet, Marketing, Media, Social Media | Leave a reply

The New York Times’ Moral Lapse

Posted on by bradberensReply

The Gray Lady blew it when it decided to review Jared Kushner’s new memoir, no matter how scathing the review. Your correspondent also blew it by posting about the review. 

When people learn that I’m an atheist often the first thing they say is, “oh, so you don’t believe in God?”

“No,” I push back gently. “That’s not what atheism means.”

Defining atheism as “you don’t believe in God” keeps God at the center of the conversation. It reinscribes God’s importance, defying God’s authority but accepting it as the thing to defy. This is the territory of literary characters like Milton’s Satan and Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus who try to rebel against God and fail.

In contrast, what atheism really means is “I am skeptical about the value of belief in a supreme being.” It asks, what does the notion of a supreme being get people in the first place? Are the benefits worth the cost either to the individual or to society? Atheism puts aside the questions around the actual existence of a supreme being because there’s noscientific evidenceeither way. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” as the saying goes, but neither is it evidence of presence.

Stepping away from the unanswerable (scientifically speaking) question of a supreme being’s existence allows us to ask different questions.

The difference between the conventional definition of atheism and the one I’m describing here is like the difference between immoral and amoral. An immoral person does things that he or she believes to be wrong (and feels guilty about it). An amoral person doesn’t let moral questions get in the way of doing things (and feels no guilt).

Don’t get me wrong: there is no connection between amorality and atheism besides the Latin prefix “a.” I’m a deeply moral person—I believe in right and wrong in the world and strive to do right things. I am also an atheist.

Ideally, we’d have separate words for the two things I’m talking about: anti-deity (for the people who reject God’s authority but accept God’s existence) and atheism (for the people like me who question the benefit for individuals and society of a belief in a supreme being).

By now, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do withThe New York Times, which is fair.

My point is that once you step outside the conventional definition of a phenomenon (like atheism), it can empower you to ask different questions. One such question…

Why did The New York Times review Jared Kushner’s book?

On Wednesday, August 17,Timesbook critic Dwight Garner reviewed “Breaking History: a White House Memoir” by Jared Kushner, the 45th president’s son-in-law and former advisor. I am deliberately not linking to the review for reasons that should become obvious.

Garner’s review is among the most scathing, searing things I’ve ever read, and I read a lot of things! The review’s title shows this from the start: “Jared Kushner’s ‘Breaking History’ Is a Soulless and Very Selective Memoir.”

I first learned about Garner’s review via Twitter. I went to the NYT site, read it, relished its acerbic wit, took a screenshot of the single meanest sentence, and then posted the screenshot to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Lots of people engaged with my post.

I shouldn’t have done it. Nor should theTimeshave indulged itself by publishing that reviewor any reviewof Kushner’s book.

There are two reasons for this.

First:as fire needs oxygen to burn, people like Jared Kushner, his wife, and his father-in-law all require attention in order to have influence. Denying them that attention constricts their influence. (Elsewhere, I’ve referred to this asan “Attention Quotient” metricor “AQ.”)

Neither Jared Kushner nor anything he writes have been newsworthy since January 20, 2021. We were witness to Kushner’s job performance for four long years. The only service that Garner’s review did was to inform readers that “Kushner’s fealty to Trump remains absolute,” which translates to “no surprises here; move along.”

Both theTimesand the United States would have been better served to let the book live or die on its own instead of giving it oxygen. In the event the book broke into the bestseller lists, it would then have been appropriate to include such a literary surprise in the Sunday Book Review supplement.

I should not have posted about the scathing review, because by doing so I too added oxygen to the destructive flame that is 45 and his family. In posting about the review, I was seeking attention rather than adding value. I regret this.

Second:in “The Principles of Psychology” (1890), William James famously observed:

My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind—without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos. Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and foreground—intelligible perspective, in a word.

There is no doubt that 45 and his ilk put on a riveting show, but watching that circus is the attentional equivalent of eating a steady diet of caffeine and sugar without protein or vegetables (rather like 45’s actual diet of junk food and more junk food).

My posting about theTimes’ review added nothing to my ability to think seriously about things that matter or to help others do so. I was voting for bread and circuses over shaping my mind with substance.

The current media logic is that things that are hot are newsworthy, which then creates a feedback loop in which more news attention creates more heat, which then merits more news attention.

The trick, as with the real definition of atheism, is to ask what all this attention is getting us both as individuals and as a society?

The answer is not much.

Posted in Culture, Media, Personal, Politics | Leave a reply

Why Walmart Should Buy Paramount

Posted on by bradberensReply

Note: I wrote and first published the following column on Sunday, August 14, before the rumors came true the following day: Walmart had signed an agreement with Paramount. You can find a review of that news here. However, nothing about the news changes my argument that Walmart is missing a bigger opportunity, which is the topic of what follows. 

The original column…

We heard rumors last week that the retail giant wants to add a subscription to a streaming service to its Walmart+ rival to Amazon Prime. Walmart needs to think bigger.

We humans arecognitive misers, which is a term psychologists use to describe how we think as little as possible about the things we don’t want to think about. When behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman talks about System 1 and System 2 in his famous bookThinking, Fast & Slow, nimble System 1 is the cognitive miser side of the mind. It uses shortcuts to get at the fastest answer rather than the best answer to a question.

I suspect that only about 10% of advertising depends on System 2, the lazy-but-methodical, data-driven side of the mind that sifts data, builds pros and cons lists, and makes good decisions but not fast ones. That first 10% (System 2) hacks its way into our awareness, and then the remaining 90% (System 1) works to automate that awareness into reflexive, routine use and purchase. Brands,as I’ve discussed before, exists to excuse people from thinking.

Amazon is unparalleled at creating no-brainer value propositions. Amazon Prime encourage us not to think about the $139 annual subscription cost: the service provides so much value (two-day shipping, a video service, a music service, free books and magazines and videogames, discounts at Whole Foods) that it repels thinking like a forcefield. Plus, for just about any individual purchase you know that—even if it’s not the best price—Amazon will have a fair price, and you don’t have to worry that it will take too long for your purchase to get there.

Walmart’s missed opportunity

Last week brought a flurry of press around Walmart’s interest in adding to its Prime-rival Walmart+ service a subscription to one of the newer streaming services from Disney (Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+), Comcast (Peacock), or Paramount (Paramount+ and Showtime). (See the WSJ coveragehereand the NYT coveragehere.)

The problem? This is a brainer when it needs to be a no brainer.

Walmart+ costs $12.95 per month or $98 per year, so it’s cheaper than Prime. It has lots of features like free shipping for online orders and gasoline discounts (a big plus with high gas prices lately), and a six month subscription to Spotify as a perk.

That Spotify subscription helps me to get at what’s wrong with Walmart’s strategy: it’s a semi-free trial rather than an ongoing benefit. While subscribers might be grateful to Walmart for the opportunity, they won’t think of it as an intrinsic part of the service. When it comes time to renew Walmart+, the subscriber has either long-since canceled Spotify or started paying for it (and maybe resenting Walmart a little).

Even if Walmart were to make a subscription to one of the streaming services a permanent benefit of Walmart+, it’s still asking subscribers to do a cost/benefit analysis math problem (math = thinking = ick). The subscriber has to weigh the $12.95 per month for a Walmart+ subscription against the cost of a streaming service they can get elsewhere: $4.99 per month for Paramount+ (with ads), $7.99 per month for Disney+ (soon to be with ads), or $4.99 per month for Peacock Premium (with ads).

Instead of one annual fee for an indispensable service (like Prime for its subscribers), Walmart+ has set up a monthly test of its value proposition.

What should Walmart do instead?

Walmart should buy Paramount outright

At the moment I’m writing this piece,Walmart’s market capis more than $362B.Paramount’s market capis a smidge over $17B.According to Macrotrends, Walmart’s cash reserves in April were $11.8B, so the retail giant couldn’t buy Paramount out of petty cash. However, Walmart is more than 21 times the size of Paramount: an acquisition is achievable.

If Walmart purchased Paramount, it would then be able to make Paramount+onlyavailable through a Walmart+ subscription. (This would be the ad-supported, cheaper tier of Paramount+; going ad-free would cost more just like today.)

For just one example, following this strategy after the acquisition theonlyway to stream any of the Star Trek shows (new and old) would be to subscribe to Walmart+. There are 16 million current subscribers to Walmart+ (according to WSJ). I can’t find a reliable estimate for how many Star Trek fans are out there, but it’s certainly in the millions, and at least some of them make up the more than 43 million Paramount+ subscribers (according toParamount’s latest revenue report).

Paramount+ has a lot more than Star Trek: it has original series (The Good Fight, iCarly, Halo), first access to movies from Paramount (Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and coming soonTop Gun: Maverick), plus an immense library.

Yes, some of the Paramount+ subscribers will churn away if Walmart forces them to subscribe to Walmart+ in order to see those shows, but a lot won’t. Moreover, other folks who haven’t pulled the trigger to join Walmart+ will have an extra incentive to subscribe (System 2) and then automatically stay subscribed (System 1).

Acquiring Paramount helps Walmart to make Walmart+ a no brainer, just like Amazon Prime.

But wait, there’s more… a lot more…

By acquiring Paramount, Walmart would suddenly own a huge and venerable collection of assets far beyond a shiny new streaming service. It would also own Paramount Studios, the Showtime cable network (with its streaming service), Pluto TV (another streaming service), MTV, Nickelodeon, Noggin, BET (with yet another streaming service), and the Tiffany Network itself: CBS.

Some people would subscribe to Walmart+ just to get CBS Sports alone.

Data, Data, Everywhere… (and I’m not talking about the android)

With the exception of Showtime, all the Paramount properties have ads.

Think about the data! Just because Google decidedto keep the third party cookie on death rowfor another couple of years doesn’t mean that it will be around forever.

Retail giants like Walmart have been investing heavily in their retail media businesses where they use their immense data about their customers to help advertisers put their messages in the right place at the right time. Walmart’s retail media arm is calledWalmart Connect, with the tag line, “We connect you more meaningfully to Walmart customers.”

Adding the viewing data from all of Paramount’s ad-supported properties to Walmart Connect would make Walmart a powerhouse advertising property… just like Amazon whereits ad business hit $31B in 2021and is third behind Google and Facebook.

Outside of retail media, a Paramount acquisition would enable Walmart to move itself into the consideration sets of millions of shoppers who don’t already shop at Walmart. It would have geo-targetable and maybe even individually addressable house ads before the start of streaming shows, millions of new email addresses, and “only at Walmart” merchandise for its popular shows. Doing this would put Walmart+ head-to-head against Amazon Prime. Over time, after lots of steady messaging, it might even coax Whole Foods shoppers to think about wandering over to Walmart instead.

It’s a no brainer.

Posted in Internet, Marketing, Media, Retail, Strategy, TV & Movies | Leave a reply

Experience Stacks, Movie Stars, and the Problem with Facebook

Posted on by bradberensReply

How we experience the work of movies stars is different than how we experience the work of actors, and that difference also helps to understand what we lose when we spend a lot of time on Facebook.

The job of an actor and the job of a movie star are similar—they overlap—but they are not the same. The actor helps to tell a convincing story, and we forget that it’s an actor pretending to be somebody else. The movie star never lets us forget that we’ve seen that star pretending to be other people at other times.

Sam Rockwellis a terrific actor: for years I did not recognize him role to role, only to sit up in my seat (“Thatguy??”) as the end credits unspooled.Tom Cruiseis a movie star. Yes, he is also a talented actor who has been nominated for and won many awards, but you never forget that you’re watching Tom Cruise… even when he is buried in makeup and a fat suit like he was as Hollywood agent Les Grossman inTropic Thunder.

Actors and movie stars create different kinds of immersion that ask us, the viewers, to perform different kinds of cognitive work. With the actor, we are immersed in the story. With the movie star, we move back and forth between being immersed in the story and being immersed in the telling of that story.

Another way of putting this is that theExperience Stackan actor helps us to create is different than the Experience Stack that a movie star helps us to create.

Brief Definition:anExperience Stackis the customer-facing counterpart of a company’s Tech Stack. A Tech Stack is the combo-platter of software and hardware the company uses to create, manage, and track its products. An Experience Stack is the combo-platter of all the activities customers do over time with and around the things companies make. Customersimprovisationallyshift from context to context during any given experience, which is one of the key differences between analog (human) thinking and algorithmic (AI) thinking. It is easiest to see Experience Stacks with narrative products like movies and television, but customers generate Experience Stacks with all products.

The Experience Stack we build up around a movie star works the way rhyme in poetry works. There is nothing inherently related about the words “love” and “dove” or “ambition” and “suspicion,” but when those words come at the ends of lines of poetry that are near each other, we presume relationships among the words and then generate meanings for those relationships that we attribute to the poem or the poet.*

Likewise, there’s nothing inherently related about the fact thatNatalie Portmanplayed Padmé in three Star Wars movies and Jane Foster in three Thor movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but we can’t stop comparing.

Celebrity journalism,Peoplemagazine, and TV talk shows exist to help us build our Experience Stacks around movie and TV stars.** After all, on the surface it’s ridiculous for otherwise sensible viewers to pay rapt attention to what actors have to say about their roles when, as actors playing parts, onscreen they are saying words written by other people. If we cared about what was going through Jane Foster’s head during a particular moment of “Thor: Love and Thunder,” then we’d ask the writers, Taika Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, not the interpreting actress.

For the returning viewer who has seen both a) a lot of MCU movies and b) a lot of Natalie Portman movies, watching “Thor: Love and Thunder” those two different sets of movie experiences merge into an Experience Stack. We can both qualitatively and quantitatively distinguish among different folk’s different Experience Stacks, as I did with “Spider-Man: No Way Home” inthe last issue.

Which brings me to Facebook.***

Why is it that after I watch a movie for two hours I feel pretty good about myself, but after I scroll through Facebook for two hours I feel pretty bad about myself?

In both cases I’m entertaining myself, taking a break. I’mnotworking. This is recreation.

I could even argue that spending two hours on Facebook is more socially positive than watching a movie because on Facebook I’m engaging with other people, commenting, supporting.

But that’s not how it feels.

Watching a movie or a TV show, particularly when it’s something in a series and/or when I recognize some of the actors, feels additive. I’m growing my expertise on a topic or a narrative world, even if that expertise has no particular economic value. The reason that fans are fans is because over time their Experience Stacks amplify the pleasures they get from individual experiences. Even if you hated the latest installment in a given franchise, you are still building your Experience Stack by watching it, so it’s not all bad.

Facebook is celebrity journalism without the movies and TV shows. The ephemerality of Facebook works against building an Experience Stack with anything other than Facebook itself.

If I post something (a picture, a link to an article, a joke, how I’m doing at that moment), then over the course of the next few hours or days I will see reactions to my post, some substantial and some just emojis. But the half life of those reactions is short—measured in hours or days. Even if I get into a spirited conversation with friends who disagree (like Joey D and Kevin H), the never-ending hurricane of posts washes away this conversation along with all the others.

Experience Stacks require persistence in order to grow.

According to its corporate website, Facebook’s mission is to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

How’s that working out?

Facebook is a moral challenge for our species not just because Facebook’s algorithms reward anger over love, division over unity, and what’s bad over what’s good. In addition, Facebook also privileges the new over the old, the ephemeral over the lasting, and hot takes over actual interaction.

I think a lot about Experience Stacks because they help me to see how we construct our experiences in real time, how and why my experiences are different than yours, but also how and why they are the same.

We have evolved to notice difference effortlessly. We must struggle to see our common bonds.

NOTE: To receive columns like these–along with a lot of extra goodies–please subscribe to my newsletter, The Weekly Dispatch!

* My thinking about how we generate meaning about narratives, and then attribute that meaning to the narrative creators, is indebted to Donald Davidson’s 1978 article “What Metaphors Mean.”

** Yes,of courseon the company side these things exist to generate lots of attention so that people will tune in, subscribe, buy tickets, etc. I’m talking here about how customers use these things to build their individual Experience Stacks.

*** It is true that Facebook specifically is not the same as social media in general, and that other social media services have problems when it comes to fomenting division, anger, and negativity. However, as the most powerful and successful collection of social media services (parent company Meta also owns Instagram), and as the company most closely associated with disinformation, Cambridge Analytica, and more, I am comfortable focusing on Facebook in this piece.

Posted in Aesthetics, Behavior, Cognitive Funding, Culture, Media, Social Media, TV & Movies | Leave a reply

Experience Stacks: Top Gun, Star Trek, Spider-Man

Posted on by bradberensReply

What are Experience Stacks? And why is it important for businesses and customers for a wide range of industries to understand them?

Many companies refer to their selection and arrangement of software and hardware as a “Tech Stack” that focuses on the creation, management, production, and tracking of business activities.

On the reception side, we can think of the activities that people do over time with and around the things companies make and sell as an Experience Stack.

“Over time” are two important words in that last sentence because Experience Stacks sit between Customer Experience and Brand.

Customer Experience is about in-the-moment usability with a focus on whether or not the customer buys something. Brand is about a synthesis of the rational and non-rational reflexes a user or customer gradually builds up about a product or service. Brands exists to save people from having to think.

In contrast, Experience Stacks organize and connect different moments of thinking. Although synthesis occurs over time, the individual moments stay active in a thinker’s memory. Different thinkers have different, although overlapping, Experience Stacks around the same products.

An easy way to see this is to compare different people’s different stacks around entertainment, although Experience Stacks are important to all sorts of products and services.

Viewers of this year’s “Top Gun: Maverick” who had seen the original “Top Gun” in theaters in 1986, or at home in the intervening decades, had a slightly different experience than viewers who hadn’t seen the original. I say “slightly” because the movie does an outstanding job of educating new viewers about what bits from the old movie are significant to the characters in the new one. “Top Gun: Maverick” was a terrific, pulse-pounding action movie without a single moment of emotional surprise, so the Experience Stacks of new and experienced viewers were similar.

The season finale of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” was understandable if a viewer had only seen all 10 episodes, but it was more enjoyable if the viewer had seen the first two seasons of “Star Trek: Discovery.” For longtime fans of Star Trek, the “Strange New Worlds” finale was a complex revision of and allusion to a 1966 episode called “Balance of Terror.”

In contrast (and massive spoiler alert warning), although new viewers could enjoy “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” the Experience Stack of longtime Spider-Man movie fans was both qualitatively and quantitatively different because “No Way Home”…

Immediately followed the final moments of “Spider Man: Far From Home” (2019);Was part of the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and refers to the five other MCU movies where Tom Holland (the current actor playing Spidey) has appeared;Included Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange, which also set up “Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” that came out a few months later;Brought two of the previous movie Spider-Men, Tobey Maguire (three movies in the 2000s) and Andrew Garfield (two movies in the 2010s), back to the role alongside Tom Holland;Featured the villains from all the previous movies, played by the same actors (Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx, Alfred Molina, and more); and…There was even a reference to the 1960s cartoon version in the final end credits.

Plus, Spider-Man has existed across other live action and cartoon adaptations, a Broadway musical, many thousands of comics, plus novels, fan fic, even rock and roll albums like this treasure from my youth that is now (shockingly, delightfully) available on Spotify! (I had no idea when I first heard it that the track “Gwendolyn” was imitating Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which is now yet another part of my Experience Stack.)

Here is a simplified illustration of the Experience Stack just for the movies featuring Spider-Man from 2000 to the present, starting with the first Tobey Maguire movie (2002) and ending with this year’s “No Way Home”:

The single box on the left is the Experience Stack for the new viewer who comes to “No Way Home” with zero prior experience of Spider-Man in the MCU.

If you add all 11 boxes together, that describes the Experience Stack of a Spider-Man movie fan… although it ignores 23 other MCU movies as well as the many TV series in the MCU across different channels and streaming services.*

The graphic is not just simplified because of all the Spidey stuff it leaves out. Experience Stacks are multidimensional in other ways. A viewer who is a fan of Andrew Garfield might have a stack that includes the film adaptation of “Tick, Tick… Boom!” (Garfield was the lead) that came out a month before “No Way Home.”

Although I’ve been talking about movies and television, Experience Stacks are useful tools for all sorts of businesses because they allow business people to think about the differences among their customers in terms of internal characteristics (the different moments of thinking) rather than external ones like gender, age, race, sexual orientation, geography, politics, etc.

Instead of focusing on who I am before I start interacting with a product or service, Experience Stacks focus on who I become while I’m interacting with a product or service.

Surprisingly, one of the all-time greatest business people to work with Experience Stacks was William Shakespeare, which is the topic of the book I’ve been working on over the past few months.

Next time: How the Facebook Experience Stack is different than the Experience Stacks around movies and television. 

* For my uber nerd readers: yes, I know Tom Holland also had an uncredited cameo in the second “Venom” movie and voiced Spidey in video games. 

Note: to get columns like these–plus lots of other goodies–delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to The Brad Berens Weekly Dispatch newsletter!

Posted in Behavior, Cognitive Funding, Culture, Marketing, Media, TV & Movies | Leave a reply

Why it’s so hard to think

Posted on by bradberensReply

Digital technologies crowd out our analog ability to make connections. That’s a problem since analogical thinking is what makes us human.

In the middle of the night, Sting’s song “Moon over Bourbon Street” went through my head. I hadn’t thought of it in years, maybe decades. I love Sting, but I hadn’t listened to his music recently. Why did this song wake me up?

Some context: I had opened my eyes to cloudy skies. I was in a sleeping bag, no tent, on a warm summer night. This was day two of a glorious, five-day white water rafting trip on the lower Salmon River in Idaho. Here’s one image:

We were off the grid: no electricity, no internet. I bought a solar charger for our phones so that we could continue to use the cameras, but the phones didn’t connect to anything.

“Moon over Bourbon Street” is from Sting’s 1985 debut solo albumThe Dream of the Blue Turtles. It’s a dramatic monolog told from the point of view of a predator who might be a werewolf, but it’s ambiguous. The song was not the album’s biggest hit (“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free”), and there was no reason for it to be in my mind.

Or was there?

Later, journal in hand, coffee steaming beside me, I mulled over the previous day. I had chatted with Nicole, another rafter who lives not far from me in Portland. She had grown up in Louisiana. That activated a memory of a wonderful, friend-filled conference I’d attended in New Orleans right before COVID lockdown in February of 2020. Bourbon Street is in New Orleans, and we’d all listened to better-than-expected jazz at a random Bourbon Street bar. Plus, the day before my conversation with Nicole, as my family had driven to the launch site a memory of a teenaged trip to New Orleans had briefly come to my mind. That all seemed tenuous, but my brilliant wife Kathi later pointed out that a big, bright full moon had been advertised for the night before. Rain clouds had obscured it, but it had been a topic of conversation.

Kathi provided the missing piece to the equation:

Louisiana + New Orleans + Full Moon = “Moon Over Bourbon Street.”

This is dream logic, but it’s still logic.

I’m sharing this story for two reasons.

Reason #1: Digital information crowds out analog thinking.*

If I hadn’t been off the grid, disconnected from the internet and its never-ending hurricane of information, I would not have taken time to wade through my thoughts to figure out why the Sting song had come to mind. I might have grabbed a device to search the song and reassure myself that, yes, it was fromThe Dream of the Blue Turtles,even though I already knew that. Or perhaps I would have streamed the song on Spotify to see if I remembered the lyrics correctly, even though I already knew that I didandthat the accuracy of my lyrical memory wasn’t the most interesting thing about the song popping to mind.

Maybe I’m judging myself too harshly. However, if I had been at home when the Sting song came to mind, I would only have been able to stop and tease out the dream logic if I had made the decisionahead of timeto avoid digital stimuli.

Everything in our lives is stacked against that decision, from the hugely addictive-by-design nature of our digital devices to how, asDaniel J. Levitinhas pointed out…

It turns out that decision-making is also very hard on your neural resources and that little decisions appear to take up as much energy as big ones. One of the first things we lose is impulse control. This rapidly spirals into a depleted state in which, after making lots of insignificant decisions, we can end up making truly bad decisions about something important.

On the river and off the grid, I did not have this challenge. Since we got back from the river, I’ve tried to create an environment where the firstlings of my morning are coffee and journaling and asking the right questions, butthe lure of the smartphoneis always more powerful than we think it will be moment-to-moment—those smartphones are so little, so easy to use, so helpful, so pernicious.**

If I’m in the right frame of mind at the end of my workday, then I’ll do things like put all my devices on DND, print out my task list for the next day and my calendar, and use those things as a moat around my ability to ponder and wonder. It’s a losing battle.

NOTE: If you’d like to receive columns like this–along with lots of extra goodies–directly in your inbox, please subscribe to The Brad Berens Weekly Dispatch newsletter!

Reason #2: Analog thinking is valuable, but that value is hard to see.

In today’s high-speed culture, we’ve seen a casual drift into thinking that digital is always better than analog. But in reality, analog is just different, untranslatable into digital value propositions. Analog thinking is what is left over after digital has chomped through everything else.

The root of “analog” is from the Greek prefix “ana” and the word “logos,” which roughly means “against the word.” Comparison is built into the word analog, which is where we get “analogy,” which roughly means making a comparison by sticking things together and then exploring how they might be similar.

Analogy is the most powerful kind of human thinking, and our minds do it all the time. When faced with a new concept, the first thing our minds do is think, “well, what is this like?” We then shuffle through ideas, trying them on for size, discarding some, putting others to the side for a moment, and then deciding to chase one option. That’s what my mind was doing as it slept and processed the different conversations and thoughts of the day, before it popped out with an old Sting song.

In persuasion, whether you’re tacklingthe head or the heart with a stick or a carrot, a key tool is to say, “this new thing is like that old thing you already like or that old thing that already scares you.”

Algorithms narrow down ways things can be alike. Analog thinking expands the ways things can be alike.

The smallest unit of analogical thinking is rhyme. Rhyme connects different concepts by linking the sounds of the words that express them, like love and dove. There’s nothing inherently similar about the concepts of love and a small white bird. But because we can be made to notice how the words sound similar when those sounds are placed at the ends of lines of poetry or lyrics, a poem can prompt us to create a conceptual relationship.

Algorithms are fast at pattern recognition. Humans, analog thinkers, are slow but unparalleled at patternforging… asking “how is this like that?” and then creating the answer rather than discerning it.

Mindfulness practitioners have a saying, “don’t just do something: stand there!” Don’t reach for an answer; live inside the question first.

It’s great advice, and it’s also hard to follow.

* I’ve adapted this from something IDG founder Patrick McGovern used to quip: “the specific crowds out the general.”

**Design ethicist Tristan Harrishas put this succinctly: “Every time you open an app there are 1,000 engineers behind it trying to keep you using it.”

Posted in Behavior, Cognitive Funding, Personal, Productivity, Smartphones | Leave a reply

What Twitter should do next (after Musk)

Posted on by bradberensReply

Now that the Tesla CEO is riding off into the sunset, the social media company needs to skip the protracted court battle and focus on what’s important.

On Friday, Elon Musk made official his desireto wiggle out of his Twitter acquisition.

ManyDispatchreaders kindly and gratifyingly reached out or posted saying “Brad, you called this one!” Why? On April 17, a few days after Musk announced his bid to buy Twitter,I argued that he wasn’t serious. It wasn’t a narcissistic, adolescent bid for attention: it was a savvy earned media play to sell cars. Then, on May 1 after the board accepted Musk’s offer, I doubled down sayinghe still wasn’t serious.

Even if the market hadn’t tanked and Twitter’s stock price hadn’t dropped to $36.81 (losing nearly half its value from a year ago), Musk still wouldn’t want Twitter. There is no bid to renegotiate:he has never wanted to own the company.

Since Friday, pearl-clutching pundits have busied themselves speculating about how much Musk will have to pay to get out of this. Will it be the $1B kill fee articulated in the bid? But wait! He waived diligence. Will he have to pay the full $42B and still acquire the company? Or pay the difference between his offer price and Twitter’s market cap today? I’m confident that the answers are “maybe” on the first and “heck, no” on the other two.

But who cares?

The important question is not “how much will Elon pay?” but “what should Twitter donext?”

What Twitter probably will do—and what the company most certainlyshouldn’tdo—is spend months fighting Musk in court to extract as much cash as they can. Meanwhile, Twitter is also wondering and worrying about who the next acquirer might be: now that the stock is a comparative bargain, will somebody else (Oracle? Salesforce? Microsoft?) show up on the front porch wearing a straw hat and with a big bouquet of flowers?

Whether it’s a Quarter Pounder or a Big Mac Combo Meal, Twitter should extract its burger of Muskian flesh as quickly as they possibly can, decide that they aren’t going to discuss M&A until after November of 2024, and thenmove on.

Why? We don’t have time to screw around.

Twitter is a critical platform for journalism when journalism is in peril because of misinformation (biased opinion masquerading as news at both ends of the political spectrum) and disinformation (outright balderdash coming from all sides and most particularly from rival nations like Russia and China).

This is a bad moment for there to be a truth drought.

Note: to get columns like these delivered to your inbox (with lots of extra goodies), please subscribe to The Brad Berens Weekly Dispatch newsletter!

The mid-terms elections are less than four months away. Control of both the House and Senate, not to mention numberless State and Local races, hang in the balance. Regardless of what side of the political spectrum we lean towards, we need to know what’s accurate and what’s propaganda. Nearly 70% of Republicans believe the big lie that President Joe Biden didn’t legitimately win the 2021 election despite having no evidence. Nor have the details that have emerged in the Congressional hearings about the January 6 insurrection changed many minds—even with the smoking gun testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson.

Since the soft word “insurrection” doesn’t sound as bad as it is, let’s be clear that this was a violent attempt to stage a coup and overthrow the federal government that had the full support of the outgoing president. People were injured. People died.

The appalling thing is that Twitter doesn’t care about any of that. They don’t have to care becauseSection 230(an amendment to the 1996 Telecommunications Act) immunizes Twitter from being held responsible for anything said on its platform, no matter how big a lie or how evil the intent.

What should Twitter do?

The company should publicly commit to taking whatever money they extract from Musk and then using it to improve the product.

With content moderation,the company should rigorously enforce its existing conduct rules, which it failed to do with the 45th president because it was making a lot of money off his constant tweets. Only when 45 had clearly lost power did Twitter do the right thing, which was cowardly.

Twitter shouldchoose criteria for accuracy and bias, and then hold posters responsible for what they tweet. It’s not enough to give somebody a warning after tweeting misinformation or disinformation: that user’s reach—how many other people see the tweets—should be throttled down. As Sasha Baron Cohen and others have famously said, “Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach.”

Social media execs say they don’t want to be the arbiters of truth, sooutsource it. I’m a big fan of, advisor to, and investor inAd Fontes Media, which has a rigorous and thoughtful methodology for this (there are others). When a tweet falls into the orange (incomplete, propaganda) or red (misleading, lying) zones, the tweet should come down and the user’s reach shrunk to zero unless and until that user’s behavior changes.

Twitter should err on the side of protecting the commonwealth from lies rather than disingenuously hand-waving about censorship: the First Amendment doesn’t apply to companies,only to Congress.

Will it be expensive to figure out real-time moderation? Yes. Will a billion dollars invested in that expensive problem be a good start? Yes.

Outside of moderation, Twitter should refocus its algorithms onconversation rather than pontification.Despite my years of complaining about Facebook’s poor ethics and business practices (recent exampleshereandhere), the conversational product is amazing. When I post something on Facebook, thoughtful interactions come quickly and keep coming. With Twitter, threads unravel into nothingness quickly. This wasn’t always the case: in the early days, Twitter created and accelerated conversation, but (as many others have said) the company has failed to develop its core product for years.

Twitter has always been better at the media part than the social part.

But let me be clear: I amnotsaying that Twitter needs to be more like Facebook. That’s the last thing we need.

We need Twitter to bebetterthan Facebook. We need Twitter, regardless of who owns it, to understand that truth and profit are not mutually exclusive.

The catch phrase with superheroes (Spider-Man particularly) is that with great power comes great responsibility.

When it comes to platforms like Twitter, the catch phrase must be that with great influence comes great accountability.

Posted in Culture, Internet, Media, Politics, Social Media | Leave a reply

The world in April, 2023

Posted on by bradberensReply

In 2011, my near-future science fiction novel Redcrosse came out. The action was set in 2023, which is just a few short months from now. How clear was my vision?

Last week at a film festival, I was trapped in an endless concessions queue that (bonus!) doubled as an internet dead zone. After I had exhausted small talk with my fellow prisoners (“Wow, long line.” “This is going to take a while…” “Yeah…”), I dug around in the Kindle app on my phone for something to read.

I alighted onRedcrosse, the near-future science fiction dystopia I wrote that came out in 2011. Here’s the cover:

It had been some years since I visited that world and that place in my head. In the intervening time two things happened: first, I could read it without focusing only on the things that I’d change. Second, the story of Redcrosse starts on April 27, 2023, which is just 10 months from now. Gulp. Yikes. Zoinks. But wait…

I had a scorecard! I could see how right and wrong I’d been in my predictions about where life in this country was headed. Hence, this column.

Background:InRedcrosse, credit cards and health insurance companies had merged. Visa and Blue Shield became Visa/Shield, etc. The U.S. was cash poor, so for subscribers every economic transaction was tracked. If you had high cholesterol and bought a pepperoni pizza, your insurance premium shot up. This wassurveillance capitalismyears before Shoshana Zuboff’s celebrated book about it. That world was bedeviled by nine CyberPlagues—allergies or total intolerances of technologies like electromagnetic fields or processed foods. The plagues made the health insurance/credit card companies even more powerful because if you lost your coverage, you were screwed. The fast-paced, action-packed plot was about a murder, a coverup, and a subsequent investigation by two reluctant investigators with huge consequences for the entire nation.

I had the inspiration forRedcrosseon a train from Norwich to London in the summer of 1997. That first glimmer was a chase scene that happened both in real life (IRL) and online. It became a key action sequence.

What I got right

How pandemics change everything.Although COVID isn’t about tech allergies, our pandemic and the CyberPlagues have the same shape. Both became the most important topic in their worlds for years. Both resulted in increased economic polarization between people with insurance and people without insurance. In both worlds, a lack of clarity about how you can protect yourself and others from infection created both conflicts among people and free-floating hopelessness.

Absolute data corrupts absolutely.The health insurance/credit card companies both compete and collaborate in a tech-driven oligarchy where citizens neither own nor control their own data and have no leverage. The information asymmetries are incalculable. Sound familiar?

Cryptofinance. With no trust that the banks and credit card companies have the best interests of their customers in mind, in Redcrosse, a new collection of cryptobanks emerged where people can store their money and—more importantly—their data in secure and privacy-focused ways. The First Navajo Sovereign Cooperative Cryptobank is where another key action sequence in the book takes place.

Where I was early…

Augmented reality, voice interfaces, and Personal Area Networks (PANs).Computers inRedcrosseare tiny, even smaller than today’s smartphones. People wear gadgets in their ears so they can chat with their computers, like AirPods but smaller. They see digital information on “floppy monitors” that they spread out in front of them, or by using high-tech glasses (like what Apple and others are creating), or lenses. Some people get small RFID chips implanted into their fingertips so they can type on virtual keyboards. We’ll inch closer to these things by April of 2023, but we won’t have arrived.

Self-driving cars.One of the main characters drives a Lexus when he feels like it, but the car does most of the driving and all of the parking. This is true of everybody wealthy enough to afford a car. We’re closer in 2022 than we have been at any previous time to fully autonomous vehicles, but they ain’t here yet.

What I got wrong

Who does the surveillance.In 1997 when I started work onRedcrosse, Google didn’t exist. Facebook didn’t come around until 2004. So I had the credit card companies as the data oligarchs.

Cryptobanks vs. cryptocurrencies.The Cryptobanks were alternatives to conventional banks inRedcrosse, but they were still banks—organizations with branches IRL and online that took advantage of their not-controlled-by-the-Federal government status (the way Native American casinos do today). I didn’t foresee the totally decentralized (and troubled) world of cryptocurrencies built on blockchains. (I did however, imagine something blockchain-esque called “data spreading.”)

Social media.Today, large numbers of people spend huge amounts of time interacting online, and online dating is critical to how people meet their future partners. While there were bulletin boards and online communities inRedcrosse, there were no centralized platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, TikTok, or Twitter. RevisitingRedcrossetoday, the absence of social media is quaint… and a bit refreshing.

So what?

When I give keynote talks at conferences, I often talk about how nouns are ephemeral but verbs are forever.Behavior is liquid. You can pour it from one container into another more easily than you can create or destroy it. Organizations often confuse nouns and verbs. Taxi companies thought they were in the business of buying and deploying yellow-painted cars, until Uber came along. Kodak thought it was in the business of pictures on film, until digital cameras and later smartphones came along. But we still need to go from place to place, and people take more pictures today than ever before.

WithRedcrosse, I got a lot of the verbs right (what was going to change) and a lot of the nouns wrong (who was going to make those changes).

Today, looking back 11 years after publication and 25 years after inspiration, Redcrosse has morphed from a prediction about the near future to an alternative future that might have happened but didn’t.

There’s are big differences between making predictions based on proprietary trend data, like I do with theCenter for the Digital Future, and making predictions based on a set of “what if” questions that form the narrative engine for a science fiction novel. With the novel, I got to live in a new world for an extended period of time and see how it really works.

I don’t know when I’ll write another science fiction novel (the book about Shakespeare as a business genius is first in line right now), but I’ll never stop thinking about the future.

P.S. If any of this piece has moved you to readRedcrosse, it’s currentlyfree on Kindle Unlimited,cheap as an eBookif you don’t subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, andexpensive as a paperback.

Posted in Culture, Futurist, Social Media, Strategy, Transportation | Leave a reply

Nothing is ever meant to be

Posted on by bradberensReply

The difference between stories and real life is that stories make sense.

We humans love stories. We love to tell stories, and we love to consume stories even more. “Tell me a story!” little children command. Whether our stories are sweeping novels like Anna Karenina, a sweeping collection of TV series like more than a half century of Star Trek, a podcast, a puzzle, a comic book, a video game, the top story in your local newspaper, a joke, a fortune cookie, a tweet, a recipe, or a newsletter like this one, we live inside a never-ending series of stories.


Stories comfort us because they exist in alternate worlds where things make sense. The playwright Kenn Adams createda remarkable tool called a “story spine” that pares all stories down to a universal structure:

I just glanced at my Twitter feed, and even with those micro-narratives you can infer a story spine in the background of a tweet.

The most important word in the story spine is “because.” One thing inevitably, inexorably leads to another. Things identifiably cause other things. At the end of a story we look back in comfort because in stories things are always heading to a place. Then, when we get to that place, we’re not only happy to see that particular place but we’re also happy that there are places at all.

Life isn’t like that.

Moment to moment, we don’t know what genre we’re inhabiting. Comedy can transmogrify into tragedy without warning. Or a light comedy (catch up coffee with a pal you haven’t seen for a while) can veer into an intense medical drama (you find out your friend has stage three cancer).

Shit happens.

All the time.

And we don’t live inside just one story. Erving Goffman, the great Twentieth Century sociologist, talked about different frames for different identities that we shuffle through like playing cards. Different narratives pull us in different directions. We become different people in response to the different stories we encounter. We have to code shift among different identities improvisationally in real time.

This was never more true than during lockdown when we got to see everybody’s stories poured into one crazy container—our homes via Zoom. One of my colleagues, John, had a suicidal 14 month old who never met a bookcase he wouldn’t climb or an electric socket he wouldn’t try to French kiss. John would leap offscreen out of his professional identity into his Dad identity, grab his son from the latest daredevil maneuver, and come back to his desk and back into his professional self with the boy squirming on his lap, alive and visibly plotting his next misadventure.

Is it any wonder we love stories? They’re comforting. Ever story has a beginning, middle, and an end. A while after you’ve reached the end, after that narrative has settled in your mind, it can be hard to imagine a different ending. The end that you reached seems like it was always the end that you were going to reach. It seems like it was destiny.

That’s never true in real life, and frequently it isn’t even true in fiction. The first pass a storyteller takes at an ending can change (just ask any focus group). Even after a story has been told, the ending can change. One of the reasons I like time travel stories (Back to the Future, Groundhog Day, About Time) is that they make us see that things could have gone another way.

In England in the early 1660s, after the Restoration of the monarchy and after theaters re-opened, a playwright named James Howard re-wrote Shakespeare’sRomeo and Julietas a tragic-comedy:

He [preserved] Romeo and Juliet alive; so that when the Tragedy was Revived again, ’twas played alternately, Tragical one day, and Tragicomical another, for several days together.*

Shakespeare’s version was already barely a tragedy: if Romeo had waited to drink the poisonfor just a minutethings would have turned out differently (the 1996 Baz Lurhman movie with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio makes this excruciatingly clear). For a theater to play the “whoops!” version alternately with the “hooray!” version is an exercise in might-have-been awareness that I’d love to see at a theater festival today.

Why am I saying all this?

When life stops making sense, it can be because something that we thought was settled turns out not to be. A story that we thought was closed (“until finally”) opens back up and shifts onto new ground, into a new genre.

But that first ending was never meant to be. Nothing is ever meant to be. People chose that ending, created it. Other people changed it. It can be changed again.

“And they lived happily ever after” is bullshit outside of fairy tales. In real life, you have to choose and keep choosing.

* The quote is from a remarkable 1708 book by John Downes calledRoscius Anglicanus, or an Historical Review of the Stage.

Posted in Aesthetics, Behavior, Culture, Personal, Politics, Shakespeare | Leave a reply

Analog Lives in a Digital World

Posted on by bradberensReply

What makes things special, memorable, satisfying often has less to do with the things themselves than with the context where we experience them.

Some mysteries are eternal. If the Coyote can afford all those expensive items sold by the Acme Company, then why doesn’t he just visit a desert KFC to eat plumper poultry than the scrawny Roadrunner? Why doesn’t Charlie Brown ask somebody more trustworthy to hold the football? Why does Mr. Darcy jump in that river? Why can’t a genius Professor who can make internal combustion engines out of bamboo fix a boat to escape from Gilligan’s Island? And why do AirBNB hosts always have thimble-sized coffee mugs in their kitchens?

That last one gets me every time.

I prefer coffee mugs large enough to double as hot tubs. More times than I care to confess, when staying at an AirBNB, I’ve dashed to a nearby store that sells adequately-sized mugs and purchased one so that the rate of my early morning coffee intake need not change.

You might be surprised (as I was) at how few stores in tourist destinations carry coffee mugs, particularly large one. That hardware stores are a trusty source was a pleasant discovery. Some souvenir shops sporting apparel that says, “My grandmother went to X, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” have mugs, although they are ordinarily both expensive and so hideous that I worry they’ll turn my coffee bitter. Goodwill Shops are the mother lode. A large mug may be ugly, but if it costs just a few bucks I can handle it.

At the end of these AirBNB stays, I never feel easy about leaving my new mug-shaped companion behind, so I bring it home and put it into Gen Pop with our many other mugs.

Of course, it would be better simply to BMOM (Bring My Own Mug) with me whenever I am heading to an AirBNB. I managed to remember to do so once, but I often pack in a flurry.

Here is a photo of my two most recent AirBNB mug acquisitions:

For reasons that an insightful psychiatrist may one day tease out, I love mugs featuring owls. I picked up the mug on the left in a gift shop in Ashland, Oregon, when I was attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (because Shakespeare).

The mug on the right I found at a Goodwill during a trip to Salt Lake City. It’s a delight: not unattractive, large, and cost less than $5. The bottom of the mug also represents a mystery:

For those of you insufficiently motivated to double-click or pinch and zoom, the text reads, “Mike Miles 5/16/17”.

Who is Mike Miles?

A quick Google search does little. Is it the basketball player? In Salt Lake, is it the physician’s assistant? The CPA? The therapist?

More curiously, how did a not-unattractive coffee mug hand-crafted by Mike Miles find itself for sale at Goodwill? Was Mike sufficiently invested in his work that he signed it but so unsentimental that he cast it aside when it didn’t meet his standards of mug beauty? Did Mike go through a bad breakup, after which his ex banished all reminders of Mike from her (or his, or their) home? Did Mikedie? (I cannot recommend Googling “Mike Miles Obituary;” it’s a sad exercise.)

When I recently mentioned this mug-shaped mystery, this coffee-containing conundrum, to my savvy friendBrian Wieser, he reminded me that the Mormons are skilled at genealogy, and that if any city could help me learn more about a man named Mike Miles, living or dead, that city is Salt Lake. True. But that is a Quixotic quest that I shall not take up because some mysteriesdeserveto last for eternity.

Although I must confess that I nurture a faint hope that somebody reading this piece will cry out, “Zounds!I know Mike Miles!” and reach out to enlighten me. (Oh, please… please….)

My point, and yes there is one…

The Mike Miles Mug Mystery persists in my cabinet and in my consciousness because the mug is a physical artifact, analog, IRL. I could not write a column like this one about a tweet, an email, an online article, or a YouTube video because those digital things do not persist in our everyday lives the way concrete things do unless we make an effort to print them out and save them… thus rendering them analog.

Our awareness of physical artifacts pools around us, particularly when the physical things move to a new place. The Mike Miles mug creates eddies in my consciousness, and it’s not just the mug. Going through the contents of my upper right hand desk drawer is like excavating Pompeii.There’smy dress watch! Oh, I had forgotten the penny we had twisted into an oval featuring Mickey Mouse at Disneyland long ago…

When things get new perches in our environments, we have the chance to see them again as if for the first time, rather than just recognizing them. The early twentieth century Russian critic Viktor Shklovsky called this process “ostranenie” or “making things strange.” In another context, behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman calls this the difference between nimble, recognizing System 1 and plodding, data-driven, seeing System 2. Art Historian Steven Pepper called the layers of repeated exposure to art “aesthetic funding,” arguing that the actual thing we look at is not just the thing itself but all our other times seeing it added together.

When digital things flit by in our various feeds, they don’t have the chance to aesthetically fund themselves unless we make an effortful point of visiting and revisiting and revisiting. With analog things that happens naturally.

For new information, new experiences, light speed distribution, nothing beats digital.

But for mulling things over, second thoughts, slow thinking (like slow food or slow television), savoring things, analog wins.

There are many flavors of satisfaction.

Posted in Behavior, Culture, Internet | Leave a reply


September 2022August 2022July 2022June 2022May 2022April 2022March 2022February 2022January 2022September 2021August 2021April 2021July 2020May 2020April 2020January 2020December 2019October 2019September 2019August 2019July 2019June 2019May 2019April 2019March 2019February 2019January 2019December 2018November 2018October 2018September 2018August 2018July 2018June 2018May 2018April 2018March 2018February 2018January 2018December 2017November 2017October 2017September 2017August 2017July 2017June 2017March 2017February 2017January 2017December 2016November 2016October 2016July 2016June 2016April 2016March 2016February 2016December 2015November 2015October 2015September 2015August 2015July 2015June 2015April 2015March 2015February 2015January 2015December 2014October 2014September 2014August 2014June 2014April 2014March 2014February 2014January 2014December 2013November 2013October 2013July 2013June 2013April 2013March 2013February 2013January 2013October 2012September 2012July 2012May 2012March 2012December 2011November 2011September 2011August 2011July 2011June 2011May 2011April 2011March 2011February 2011January 2011December 2010November 2010


Log in
Proudly powered by WordPress

TAGS:about where Thoughts BradBerens

<<< Thank you for your visit >>>

Websites to related :

  Contacter l'auteurEnvoyer à un amiS'abonnerMEDIUM MARABOUT D'AFRIQUE ET DU MONDE JEAN GOUNNOU APPEL+229 675 144 85 WHATSAPP:+229 675 144 85 EMAIl: je

Everything about Homes &#8211; B

   HomeEverything about HomesBLOG&#9776; How To Sell A House Fast In A Slow Market? Have you ever asked yourself how can I sell my house in At

About Amundi

   About Amundi

We Are Many - A documentary film

  Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consecte adipi.Suspendisse ultrices hendrerit a vitae vel a sodales. Ac lectus vel risus suscipit sit amethendrerit a vene

Mitale - Games Where Stories Com

  Skip to content Menu

About | Computational Mass Spect

  Skip to main content

About the Johan Kriek Tennis Aca

  ≡ MenuHomeThe TeamMissionPhilanthropySummer CampsProgramsVIP High Performance TrainingElite Junior ProgramsQuick StartContactCall for info 561.814.3

Drum Online Now | Learn from Wor

  .cls-1{fill:#fff;}.cls-2{fill:#1b222e;}.cls-3{fill:#8b2553;}.cls-4{fill:#8c979c}Drum Online NowMenuVIDEOSAboutLessonsContactStudy Drums & Percussion f

Copy editing services for those

  Questions? atyourservice@gramlee.comFacebookTwitterGoogle+HomeExamplesDissertation EditingFAQBlogBuy WordsCopy editing services for those who care abo

Waynco Aggregate l All about Sto



Hot Websites