Archive for the ‘TrendSpotting’ Category

The Last Decade & Mediocrity……A Look Ahead

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

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There’s a Kurt Vonnegut short (very short) story called Harrison Bergeron. In it the United States Handicapper General, under the auspices of the 211th, 212th, and 213th Constitutional Amendments, has stamped out individual talents and characteristics for the sake of total unimpeded equality. The population is fed mindless entertainment, all their memories periodically wiped clean. It isn’t torture, not exactly, nor is it intolerable. It’s just mediocre. Imposed, entrenched mediocrity.

And it is terrifying.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that our current moment is anything like this Vonnegutian nightmare. But it was close to this for the last decade. We weren’t physically burdened by actual weights meant to “level the field”, nor did buzzing alarms trigger mass distraction and short-term amnesia. Intelligence and beauty are not outlawed. We still had our wits and our various beacons — in politics, culture, athletics, the arts, and so forth. And yes (or no), we were not suffocated by comprehensive, dystopian egalitarianism.

Things did seem during the unfriendly 2000s to be damn mediocre! We seemed to be waiting, on pause, not necessarily with bated breath so much as with Lunesta and an Us Weekly. It was as though we’d been treading water beneath mostly gray skies for a seriously long time, without a “Look, land in sight!” We were weary, we’re wary, and rather than swim for shore we floated straight-laced and glazed. Our so-called entertainment stood in for our current events (quotes left out for obviousness). Our political anger was sooner directed toward straw men than funneled into substantive policy debate and prescription. And while we don’t loll about hamstrung by the Handicapper, world citizens did tend to diminish or ignore our most natural advantages. Our enormous opportunities — many of them unique to America — for renewable alternative energy. Our once-prodigious diplomatic capital. Our heavy industry. Our edge in scientific and technological innovation.

So ready for good news: We did not die out nor did it turn out we were living a post-American life. And Newsweek was sold for a dollar to an old geezer destined to destroy its whiny words of nothingness and bold headlines that made us feel worse. Now we are starting to scrape the sky. We’ve since become — not in every way, but in a lot of ways — just a wee bit more than average. In our actions and in our expectations, we stop this toeing of that safe, paunchy middle.

Look back. Kennedy promised the moon by a decade’s end — it happened. WW II’s Greatest Generation was asked to tighten belts and roll up their sleeves — they did. And while these admittedly cherry-picked examples might have been nothing more than a function of their unique times, is it easy to imagine us reflexively rising to the moment in ours? Look where we stood for nine-and-two-thirds endless years: on a precipice, always told of danger and devastation. But even with terrorism, climate change, one or two constantly-simmering wars, genocide abroad, a credit crunch affecting us till we cried “Uncle”, and countless other messes the newest century has brought..what precisely defines US (not Us)? Had we struck out with renewed vigor? Had we succumbed to fear? Neither. We are slowly becoming less mediocre. We’re embracing a new term.

Like our heroes, a lobotomized couple who are at the center of Harrison Bergeron, we sensed something wasn’t right from 2001-2010. We knew we ought to be breaking inertia. And this unease wasn’t just a tickle in the recesses of our minds because, behold, it has pushed itself front and center. But what will do the trick and wake us all from the stupor (stop checking your email while reading this)? Could it be another catastrophe? Web 7.0? One of those Tea candidates that actually won? Or will it not be so dramatic, this eventual extrication from the muck of mucks? Might it be more like the car you rock back and forth until what had been an inconspicuous gathering of momentum launches it back onto the road with a heart-starting roar?

Let’s forget the 2000s. Things today aren’t so terrible; they are (to use a teen word) ‘meh’. I know that most of us feel that: plateau coasting is better than a downward spiral. But the Internet-savvy 1990s were notable ONLY for jejune prosperity. Those unnamed 2000s are remembered for the steady unease we could never shake.

I proclaim a promising decade starts in 2011. It will be nothing like its immediate predecessor–because that would be the saddest sign ever. Means we’d be living inside a pattern of room temperature mediocrity that hasn’t soured us but kept us looking down, at our laps gazing at the latest text or news. (Taylor Swift has a new CD out; it’s everywhere.)

Look forward. . . only forward.

Like-minded ideas are found in the book 2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade, now out in whatever you want it to be.

[On twitter via @laermer for laughs and reportage.]
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Special Episode of “The El Show” (El-ection Day Wrap-up)

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

The regular Tuesday El Show on Blog Talk Radio was interrupted this Election Day for a special with guests anchor David Brancaccio and ad man Steve Cone. Listen in. But here is a summation just so you know what’s in store:

    Blog Talk Radio Presents “The El Show: El-ection Day Special”

On this Election Day special, I start off with an idea there won’t be much change in these mid-term elections which I find arguably disappointing since I’m really a big believer in change. Joined in this discussion is David Brancaccio from Public Radio’s “Marketplace” (former host of the fabulous “NOW” on PBS) who takes a different standpoint and claims that these mid-terms will result in change and that is due to the issue of money. David claims that the economy plays a big part in determining the election despite education being the classic fundamental issue of elections in the past. He says that despite economic indicators saying we’re coming out the hole, consumer confidence is down which gets people annoyed and they lash out on the polls. With certain politicians losing their seats, despite not making an obvious difference, David believes the makeup of congress dictates how money flows so as more republicans come in, money flows change which in turn affects how large companies choose to invest. However, I point out to David: let’s be real. I feel precarious about the true scale of change that is going to happen particularly in the next two years, not just because a lot of people aren’t showing up to vote except for the partisan supporters on either side, but also because even if certain politicians get displaced for others within their party, they’re still going to stick to party lines as there’s not enough passion out there to make radical changes.

Speaking of passion, David brings in the youth element arguing that there’s neither the passion among the youth to register to vote nor the interest due to the disappointment from the lack of change that was promised to them at the last election. Many just look and see the same old thing. Obama was an opportunity lost to the in-house politics and fighting and less focus on what’s for the greater good (my feeling). David blames the media too for focusing too much coverage on these issues, making it out to be a sports race and less on how much peoples votes can actually make a difference. Negative advertising and campaigning, said to have cost a staggering $1 billion this election, doesn’t necessarily make people want support the one releasing the negative campaign. If anything it just puts more people off voting because it all gets blurred together, where everyone is made to look like the bad guy, hardly good publicity for Congress’ already low approval ratings. So after all the money spent they shouldn’t be surprised when turn out is low. Although sticking to his argument that this election will matter, David argues that low turn-out has historically benefited the Republicans.

So we turn to the ad whiz Steve Cone (”Steal These Ideas”) who has noticed that the theme of voter’s sentiment is to “throw the rascals out” )to quote Norman Mailer) and to “get rid of the incumbents”. Cone, too, is disappointed to see just how much money has been spent on negative advertising arguing that 90% of adverts are negative and found the same correlation that it doesn’t swing votes. In fact, he believes its backfiring on all politicians as it makes them out to be crooks. He has yet to see an advert that he believes is of good quality and that a campaigner could be proud of. The only people they appeal to and persuade to come out and vote are the extremists and already committed. We both believe that a more successful candidate would be one who came out with a feel good campaign such as what Spitzer did and Cuomo just completed in New York, promising to weed out the crooks on both sides.

A solution that Steve proposes is that candidates should be more aggressive at seeking people out online, use technology to make people feel engaged like President Obama did in his successful campaign. Rather than spending obscene amounts of money on ineffective adverts, they would get more votes by using the Internet as its cheap, easy, interactive and most people are online these days. Politicians should ask people what they want to see in an advert, what issues they want addressing and resulting in more effective advertisements that they can say are approved by the people. Adverts need some form of response mechanism to get feedback from their viewers.

As a final note to end the show is the very true statement that everyone should vote because if you don’t vote you can’t complain! To listen to the whole kaboodle: http://blogtalkradio.com/TheElShow. Play it.

Don’t forget The El Show is live and taking calls every Tuesday at 9 AM e.t.

Twitter @theelshow and @laermer

TrendSpotting Tips For Marketers

Monday, November 16th, 2009

playworkstuff.jpgOn the 1-year anniversary of the launch of “2011: Trendspotting,” I have decided to ponder a variety of trends to look forward to in business:

    Out with the bad customers.

These days, businesses generally subscribe to the theory that it

Television In 2009: Desperate Attempts At Nothing

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Gossipeur: The Second of an Inane Series

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Starting last Friday, until whenever it ends, I will be reporting on the facts behind gossip

Gossip Cop: To Protect and Serve Who?

Friday, August 28th, 2009

This is the first of an inane series on one of America

The Lion In Water

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Ted Kennedy was the lion of the Senate who lived a long and consistent life as a public servant. Not even political foes can argue that his service was not of the highest order; he served just as his brothers before him had. Always a liberal trendsetter, this Kennedy pushed for single-payer national health care starting in 1974. A consistent promoter of what he believed was right, the man never wavered.

Throughout the career of the Massachusetts leader, a notable cloud followed him at all times. He was not able to shake Chappaquiddick

Lenny Bernstein Will Smile Now

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Leonard Bernstein, the emblem of 1960s New York and icon of the time when classical music still mattered, would have been 91 this week.

Bernstein came onto the scene when art music was cool. Here was a 25-year-old with a wild haircut on stage with the New York Philharmonic. The kid was a rock star when Mahler was still considered rock!

To get an idea of the world during Bernstein’s prime: For nine years, from 1962-1971, CBS broadcast more than four dozen of Bernstein’s Young Person’s Concerts LIVE from New York and these shows were syndicated to more than 40 countries. Think about that. A major TV conglomerate (”suits”) broadcasting hours of classical music to every set in America for almost a decade, and advertisers paid for it. Today we get 12 episodes of Harper’s Island from CBS if the ratings hold water.

Unfortunately, Lenny probably wouldn’t much recognize or appreciate what the audience of the Philharmonic and its counterparts is now: It’s old. I mean really old. If you go to a concert these days, expect to wait between movements for the old people to stop coughing. I’m serious! Lorin Maazel even steps off the podium occasionally.

So what happened here? Why didn’t the next generation follow their parents into the orchestra halls of America? It is said our nation’s constantly-shrinking attention span got the best of art music. As Robert Putnam’s sick-with-research Bowling Alone notes: urban sprawl and the logarithmic growth of the availability of everything have made in-person social events that last more than 15 minutes pretty much outr

It

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

It

Is Socialism The Norm & We Just Don

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

The country is currently immersed in a wide-ranging (and healthy) discussion about health care. This overhaul of the for-profit system we use is alarmingly overdue so the debate is on in every city and town.

Without going into detail for days, some Democrats, including President Obama, are trying to enact a plan that would revamp the entire industry. Part of it would mean Americans could essentially purchase low-cost insurance from the Government. This is called

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