Uncommon Sense: The Andy Rooney Of The Digital Era

Those who’ve known me over the years know, among other things, that I’m patently incapable of writing about or discussing digital marketing or advertising (or anything else) in any way except to challenge and refute conventional wisdom.

Especially when what passes as conventional wisdom nowadays is often too expedient and too foolish to qualify as either conventional or wise.

As a serial outlier -- now on the cusp of my 60th birthday and just a year or two shy of completing my third and perhaps final decade in digital marketing -- I find myself with little or no patience for the self-proclaimed experts and change agents that routinely pollute the media ecosystem with endless streams of heavily capitalized but mostly worthless technologies, empty platitudes and false promises.

Truth be told, I didn’t start with much patience when I began my digital marketing career 28 years ago.

People still ask how it was that my old partner JG Sandom and I co-founded what many believe was the nation’s first digital marketing agency, Einstein and Sandom Interactive, way back in 1984. “Simple,” I tell them. “We noticed computer screens everywhere we went, but no advertising on any of them anywhere. So we decided to do something about it.”  



In retrospect, my response may not be the sort of legendary business epiphany cited in white papers by the empty suits noted above, but sometimes history is just too pedestrian to bust through the clutter -- particularly in an age when a search for Kim Kardashian’s ass on Google returns more than 1.3 million listings (or so I’m told).

Besides, popular culture can only survive to the extent that it obliterates and rewrites history on the fly. I can only hope that someone thoughtful takes a few seconds between tweets to rewrite mine someday.

Looking back, my evolution into the Andy Rooney of the digital era now seems preordained, in no small measure because I never much cared what my industry colleagues and peers thought about my opinions, and always assumed -- per Upton Sinclair’s sage observation a century ago -- that most of us (at least those with jobs) are paid less to innovate and more not to understand new things.

That said, please feel free to comment anyway, especially if and when you disagree vehemently with what I say or how I say it. (Those of you who agree can just send cash.)

My professional mistake, of course, was to assume that there would always be a place in the industry for an original thinker who takes to heart Albert Einstein’s observation that no problem can be solved by the same thinking that created the problem. (50% ofthe Albert Keeler Principle).

Apparently, however, that’s no longer a safe assumption (at least not if my current client list -- or lack thereof -- is any indication), and this column is a concession of sorts to my own reality: It’s simply way too late now to change my liver spots, and there appears to be less financial incentive to do so.

Therefore, let me apologize in advance for offending anyone and -- eventually -- everyone. In my own meager defense, let me admit right to a serious and persistent drug problem: I just can’t afford any.

And speaking of persistent drug problems, some of you may remember me as the crackpot who first introduced and explored the hypothesis of media as addiction some years ago, right here on MediaPost. Of course what started as mere hypothesis back then is already indisputable fact today.

Media consumption -- in all its various electronic forms -- now defines and controls almost all of our daily behaviors and dialogs in virtually every meaningful way, and consumes a full 75% of our waking time, each day every day.

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

Or media.  It’s time to move beyond the suspended adolescence of our obsessions and addictions and start behaving like adults. It’s time to realize that both citizenship in a free society and sobriety in a mega-addictive state begin with skepticism of the status quo.

If you’re looking for faster, smarter and better ways to leverage the processing power of your smartphone (mine is a blithering idiot), you might want to look elsewhere because you probably won’t find them here.

What you will find, however, is a remarkably consistent and always contrarian critique of the digitally driven assumptions, myths and lifestyles that most of us have adopted in recent years as the latest orthodoxy du jour and now take for granted.

What you will find is someone old enough to remember Sal Mineo, and someone old enough to remember when a positive consumer experience for a major media franchise was defined more soberly as quiet time in the morning with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. Now, the coffee costs five bucks, the newspaper is purely anachronistic and there’s no more quiet time in the morning.

What you will find is the deliberate resurrection of one of the first real victims of the digital age: quiet common sense.

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