Smartphones, Mad Men, And The Decline Of Social Media

Michael Ginsberg, the character in “Mad Men,” has always been a loose cannon, and the fictional ad agency’s purchase of an IBM 360 mainframe computer caused him to pull his own trigger.

“The computer makes you do things,” he claimed.

He sought relief from the internal psychotic pressure created by the presence of this computer by cutting off his right nipple and handing it to his boss in a gift box.

Cut to real life: a New York City subway heading downtown.

There stands a 30-something straphanger.  A greenish-grey Jack Spade bag hangs over his right shoulder.  He is sporting a goatee and the rest of his face is a day past his last shave.  His left hand cradles an iPhone while his left thumb gets quite a workout, scrolling through what appears, based on his facial expressions, to be very important information.  The pace of scrolling suggests he’s reading tweets and updates, not emails.

Sitting down, directly below him, is his colleague.  They had walked onto the train together.  The colleague has silver-haired temples, is dressed in a sharp suit and tie, and is sitting with perfect posture.  His hands are device-free.  After riding two or three stops, the silver-haired colleague looks up at the man who I now assume must be his younger boss, and attempts to make the conversation a nervous subordinate tries to make with his manager on the way to a sales meeting. “Hey, did you see that 30 for 30 last night on ESPN?” he asks.  The young douchebag never looks away from his phone while he answers.



The computer makes you do things.

Cut to real life: a restaurant called Delicatessen on Lafayette Street in Soho.

At a table for two, there sits an older gentlemen wearing an expensive-looking cobalt blue v-neck sweater, and a more-expensive-looking watch on his wrist.  He is holding a Samsung Galaxy to his right ear and talking through details of a business deal, all on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon.  His daughter (or much younger girlfriend) sits across from him and stares into space as if she is being held captive in a phone-booth-sized prison cell. 

The computer makes you do things.

We cross streets with our heads looking down at our smartphones -- but we yell at children when they cross the street and don’t look both ways. 

We use our phones when we drive -- but tell teenagers not to.

We understand the benefits of meditation -- and yet fill every moment of downtime checking the Facebook status of acquaintances we call friends.

We spend precious time with friends and family showing them the top of our heads as we bury our attention in our phones.

We pay to sit in front-row seats at a baseball game, and then spend our time checking our phones to see if anyone has seen us on TV.

We attend Little League and soccer games to watch our children grow up -- and we watch our phones instead.

Michael Ginsberg was crazy, but he wasn’t wrong.  The computer makes us do things.

Last week, something changed.  A 25-year-old pro golfer, Rory Mcllroy, ended his very public relationship with pro tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, two weeks after their wedding invitations went out.  Then, the young golfer did something even more shocking.  He turned off his phone and computer.

Young people are becoming aware of the negative impact computers are having on them.  They have already abandoned Facebook – and, as crazy as this sounds, I think they will abandon Twitter and Instagram next.  Not just because Mom’s presence on these social media platforms have made these places uncool, but because looking people in the eyes and communicating with a purpose, face-to-face, will become the next cool thing. Those staring at their phones while hanging with their friends will be chastised. 

The very peer pressure that created social media will bring it down.  Why?  Because at the end of the day, what kids want is to be nothing like their parents -- and they can see the idiots we’ve become.

9 comments about "Smartphones, Mad Men, And The Decline Of Social Media".
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  1. Ron Stitt from Fox Television Stations, May 29, 2014 at 9:47 a.m.

    Enjoyed reading this Ari. This is a real issue and finding balance is something we all individually and collectively have to struggle with. I think you misread what young people are doing however. They have not "abandoned" Facebook - they're still on it (it's kind of a social hub), but much of their activity has migrated to a growing constellation of niche mobile/social apps. In the end, I think your prediction of the end of social media is more wishful thinking than real prognostication - right?

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 29, 2014 at 10:07 a.m.

    Out of your mouth into you know whose ears.

  3. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, May 29, 2014 at 10:43 a.m.

    Hey Ron -- there are plenty of times wishful thinking creeps into my writing but not in this case -- social media was a place to go to be cool but now that everyone is there it's just not cool anymore -- this will all take time to play out and advertisers will be the last to know -- but this isn't wishful thinking it's human behavior. Try disconnecting from FB and Twitter for one week -- you wont miss it I promise that.

  4. Ron Stitt from Fox Television Stations, May 29, 2014 at 10:48 a.m.

    Only the "new" is cool. But stuff doesn't just go away because it's no longer cool, it simply becomes part of the social landscape.

  5. Seth Ulinski from Independent Analyst and Consultant, May 29, 2014 at 12:02 p.m.

    Ari -- a couple of soundbites for further back up that there is hope for us... a group I befriended while camping in the White Mountains actually called out one of their girlfriends for using the restroom as a guise for texting! On the same trip a restaurant owner looked at me funny when I asked if they had wi-fi (even as an outdoors enthusiast I needed a slap in the head to break free from the digital shackles!).
    Big city normally pokes fun at the "less sophisticated" country folk but in this case I think by not "getting it"....these people truly "get it." Real people, real conversations, and attention spans lasting longer than 15 seconds. There is hope!

  6. Jim Brouwer from Krell Lab, LLC, May 29, 2014 at 7:56 p.m.

    Ari — Brilliant piece! I can't believe there aren't more comments weighing in. Working in education (primarily secondary to college transition), I can't tell you how I've witnessed a group of kids sitting in a circle texting — to each other! We noticed not so many years ago while our daughter was still high school that a number of her friends couldn't even look at us to have a conversation (pre-iPhone era). While technology has connected us in many ways, we're still fumbling with it socially. Again, brilliant piece.

  7. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, May 29, 2014 at 9:17 p.m.

    James, it's not the quantity of comments that matter to me as the writer of this column, it's the quality -- thanks for your thoughts and compliments -- I know who you are and I am flattered by your views on my writing.

  8. Jay Fredrickson from Fredrickson Services Inc., May 31, 2014 at 4:29 a.m.

    The fact that you have been able to read my mind and write my exact thoughts under your name scares the hell out of me. I quit Facebook 2 years ago when I realized no one cared what I ate for breakfast, nor did I care what they had. I used to be amazed at how adults would check in from a little league game, like anyone cares where they are.

    My two teenagers left Facebook years ago, but they are constantly texting, snap-chatting and the like. Trying to get them to even answer a phone call when I call their mobile device is harder than getting them to clean the toilet or empty the cat litter.

    Why can't it all just go away?

  9. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, May 31, 2014 at 8:44 a.m.

    Jay, sorry to freak you out :) -- it's gonna turn around but I suspect (just one man's opinion) that the 13 year olds of the world are gonna continue to dive deeper into social media -- but it will be the twenty somethings that will recognize the opposite of being tied to social media is now the cool thing an d that's where this change will come from -- as for the Mom and Dads -- it's utterly ridiculous and I was as guilty as the next guy -- until I kicked my FB habit -- and I don't check twitter anymore but I miss that more just for the news I like to follow etc but I would rather be a little less educated and more present -- life is a trade off I can live with that one -- thanks for your note/comment Jay.

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