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The Slow Decay of Substantive Content

William Henry wrote In Defense of Elitism in 1994. Though the title may come across as pompous the book is actually a rallying cry for curiosity, exploration, and discovery for all. Henry was the Pulitzer Prize-winning culture critic for Time magazine. The book was slammed by critics as a very thinly veiled stab at egalitarianism. In fact, it was an attack on the dumbing down of society. More specifically, it identified the strange path America was on and goes a long way to explaining where it finds itself today.

One passage points out, “Today, even critical books about ideas are expected to be prescriptive, to conclude with simple, step-by-step solutions to whatever crisis they discuss. Reading itself is becoming a way out of thinking.”

Henry was accurate but may have miscalculated how quickly and, to what extent, this has taken hold in society. One only has to see the headlines in once-respected newspapers and magazines or take in the astonishing range of poorly written blogs or view scrolling tweets of perpetuating nonsense to conclude that we are losing the ability to search for, develop, and discover knowledge. This morning I was greeted with the following headlines from various sources “7 Things You Need to Know About …”, “13 Do’s and Don’ts of …”, “The 9 Most Common …”, “Top 10 Tips for …”, “5 Ways to …”.

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America’s Top-Selling Consumer Product

The Summer, 2017 edition of Lapham’s Quarterly tackles the subject of Fear. This literary magazine examines a theme using primary source material. Each edition contains dozens of essays, speeches, quotes, art, photos, statistics and excerpts from contemporary and historical authors. I attest that its Spring, 2012 issue on Communication is among the finest things I have ever read.

On the subject of Fear Lewis H. Lapham’s Preamble is highly compelling, intelligent, and troubling. He cites “the innovative and entrepreneurial American genius for making something out of nothing and the equally innovative and entrepreneurial American genius for self-deception.” His point being that the country has lost its capacity to reason critically. What I have noticed in the last two years is America is becoming more tribal and trivial. Ever greater numbers of smaller, more specific self-interest groups take increasing exception with whatever is being said by whoever says it.

The publication and Lapham himself  believe “Fear is America’s top-selling consumer product, available 24-7 as mobile app with color-coded pop-ups in all shades of the paranoid rainbow. Ready to hand at the touch of a screen, the turn of a phrase, the nudge of tweet.” It is important to note that when fear rules populaces crave a strong man. History is replete with such examples and a near corresponding number of disasters.

One could read this piece and conclude that the publication is anti-Trump. That is far too simple a conclusion and naively narrow in perspective. Indeed, in its totality this issue basically concludes people reap what they sow. America is not a Trump America but its fear gave Trump, his supporters and doctrine ground to flourish. American’s now react to a tagline to convince them of deeper thinking and reasoned arguments. “Just say No to Drugs”, “Shock and Awe” and “Make America Great Again” are mind-numbingly inane and absolutely deceptive or self-deceptive.

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The Advantage of Critical Thinking

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Jeff argues that there is too much me-too marketing.

Jeff spoke at the Canadian Marketing Association’s 2014 National Convention and the presentation is now a paper. Download it here SC_SpeedKills_Paper_web. Tweets from audience members capture reaction to the content.

“A welcome call for a return to critical thinking in marketing.” Josephine Coombe

“@jeffswystun rockin it at #cmac says the ‘vast majority of businesses are mediocre’ and the pink shirt is fab!” Andrew Simon

“The majority of brands out there are mediocre. That’s why the same brands get celebrated over and over.” Kelly Mack

“It is not about speed, it is about better!” Douglas Foley

“Behind every concept, idea & challenge there is complexity. We lose the magic every time we over simplify.” Gabrielle James

“A deflated and dispirited employee base will never build anything great.” Allison Fraser

“#cmanc @jeffswystun Hallelujah! Simple and faster is not necessarily better. “Slow down to speed up”.” Brian Etking

“Thanks @jeffswystun we could not be happier at the response to your talk.” Canadian Marketing Association

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McLuhan’s Mad Message

Professor Marshall McLuhan is an interesting chap. His notable ideas: “the medium is the message” and “the global village” continue to inform (and to prompt debate). Some argue that McLuhan predicted the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented. His ideas also covered metamedia, media ecology, figure and ground media, tetrad of media effects, and hot and cool media.

Born in Edmonton, educated in my hometown Winnipeg, and notable while a Professor at the University of Toronto, McLuhan passed away in 1980. He was a celebrity intellectual and as the Globe and Mail points out, “For most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s, McLuhan seemed to be everywhere – on radio, in print, in film (most notably with a cameo appearance in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) and especially on television. The latter, ironically, was a medium he considered pernicious, a certain harbinger of the eventual demise of print culture. He distilled his genius, including phrases that became and remain part of the daily lexicon, such as ‘the medium is the message,’ into sometimes puzzling aphorisms, an early form of the sound byte.” Read more