Several times in my career I’ve wanted to work with a team that seemed to know where things were going just a little bit ahead of everyone else. That’s why I was desperate to write for WIRED early on, why I was eager to write columns and edit newsletters for The Industry Standard, and why I wanted to test at Federated Media whether content marketing might be something I could be part of without taking a scalding shower afterward.
I’ve been lucky enough to do that with other employees and clients too, but the three places I mentioned up top had one thing in common: my contact there or my contact’s boss was John Battelle. So when I talked over the summer, after a much-too-long break, to my editor at The Standard, Jonathan Weber, to congratulate him on his new gig at Reuters, he told me about the project he was working on before he took the position at Reuters. It sounded like a smart, next-generation mix of an events business and a media business. And then he mentioned he was working on it with Battelle. Of course it was the next thing.
I’ve been helping NewCo in an advisory capacity since the summer, but I knew pretty quickly that I’d want to jump into the deep end with the people there. Their citywide festivals are a canny flip of the usual high-end conference model; the media business we’re building alongside the festivals covers the people, companies, and stories driving what may be the biggest shift in business and business culture since the industrial revolution. We’re getting started with a daily newsletter and a website and — I’m going to say this in public so we have no choice but to deliver — we’ll launch another editorial product before the month is out.
How One Carefully Crafted Sequence in the #SOTU Reframed The Climate Debate
President Obama’s final State of the Union address is currently trending on Medium, which is pretty much what you might expect given Medium is where the White House decided to release it (take that, Facebook! — though a piece about building Instagram has about twice as many recommendations, but I digress…).
I watched the speech last night while at a company retreat with 18 of my colleagues from NewCo. Over and over, the President hit on trends consistent with our thesis of fundamental change in business and culture. For example, he spoke of decoupling benefits such as healthcare from employers, because in the NewCo era, people move between jobs a lot more (or are self employed, or want to leap into a startup). Obama spoke of living in a time of extraordinary technological and social change, of a deepening and troubling social inequality, of optimism and hard work and a right to thrive in “this new economy.”
I just opened an email on my phone. It was from a fellow I don’t know, inviting me to an event I’d never heard of. Intrigued, I clicked on the fellow’s LinkedIn, which was part of his email signature.
That link opened the LinkedIn app on my phone. In the fellow’s LI feed was another link, this one to a tweet he had mentioned in his feed. The tweet happened to be from a person I know, so I clicked on it, and the Twitter app opened on my phone. I read the tweet, then pressed the back button and….
Once upon a time, I’d read the yearly lists of “best albums” from folks like Rick Webb or Marc Ruxin, and immediately head over to the iTunes store for a music-buying binge. Afterwards, I’d listen happily to my new music for days on end, forging new connections between the bands my pals had suggested and my own life experiences. It usually took three to four full album plays to appreciate the new band and set its meanings inside my head, but once there, I could call those bands up in context and apply them to the right mood or circumstance. Over years of this, I built a web of musical taste that’s pretty intricate, if difficult to outwardly describe.
About two years ago, I started paying for Spotify. Because I’d paid for “all you can eat” music, I never had to pay for a particular band’s work. Ever since, my musical experience has become…far less satisfying.
Intrigued (well done, Mr. Rosoff), I clicked the link, noting it was to Business Insider, a publication for which I have decidedly complicated feelings**. In any case, the story was great, if single-sourced. A reporter wandering the halls at CES found a desultory Accenture booth, manned by one Charles Hartley, a “company representative.” A quick Google search (done by me, but I digress), tells us Mr. Hartley is a PR executive focused on analysts and global media — an appropriate resume for manning a booth at CES, to be sure.
Twelve years of making predictions doesn’t make writing them any easier, regardless of my relatively good showing in 2015. In fact, I briefly considered taking the year off — who am I to make predictions anyway? And so much has changed in the past few years — for me personally, and certainly for the industries to which I pay the most attention. But the rigor of thinking about the year ahead is addictive — it provides a framework for my writing, and a snapshot of what I find fascinating and noteworthy. And given that more than 125,000 of you read my post summarizing how I did in 2015 (thanks Medium and LinkedIn!), it was really you who’ve encouraged me to have at it again for 2016. I hope you’ll find these thought provoking, at the very least, and worthy of comment or debate, should you be so inclined.
Becoming a pirate? 826 Valencia’s Pirate Supply Store in San Francisco has hooks to replace missing hands, captain’s journals, and even a leash for your monkey. Gear for aspiring pirates fills the space, but in the back of the store is something more fantastical — a writing center.
Founded in 2002 by Dave Eggers, author of AHeartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and educator Nínive Calegari, nonprofit 826 Valencia helps under-resourced students ages 6 to 18 develop their creative and expository writing. Named for its street location in the Mission District of San Francisco, the writing center sees itself as a place, separate from school and home, where students receive one-on-one attention and think of themselves as writers. It’s become a supplement to the public education system in San Francisco, and with 826 National has taken its model to other cities.
In 2008, the nonprofit officially formed 826 National to support its other chapters. There are currently seven in the U.S. The writing programs are the same, but the whimsical storefronts are different in each city. 826LA runs a Time Travel Mart. Brooklyn’s 826NYC features superhero supplies. And the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute fronts 826 Boston. A new location in the San Francisco’s Tenderloin, the city’s most densely populated neighborhood, will open in 2016. 826 National has also inspired similar projects in England, Ireland, and Italy.
You’re a smart man. I would love to read a revised essay from you on income inequality that takes into account four facts you seem to have failed to include in your analysis of the situation:
Literally no one in America, save for a very few on the fringe, is talking about “eliminating income inequality.” People are seeking to and talking about reducing income inequality. No one believes that there should not be rich people. They do not want to “kill” you, literally or metaphorically.
What people are talking about is a progressive income tax to reduce inequality. Amazingly, your essay on inequality only uses the word “tax” in the body of the essay a single time. If a billionaire is taxed 80% on the year he or she earns that billion, they will still be worth $200 million. And they are still free to start businesses and pursue wealth. They are still rich. They have not been “hunted” or “killed.” The crux of your argument — that “Ending economic inequality would mean ending startups” — is both a straw man (no one’s advocating eliminating income inequality completely) and untrue (people can still pursue whatever they want — they just have to pay more taxes on it.) No one wants to take the money you have away. You could still pursue being rich, and, indeed, you could still get rich. I don’t know TONS about your wealth levels, but if I extrapolate them from my own, and the successes you’ve had, I am willing to wager a large amount of money that in the world these people (including myself) envision, you would still be very, very rich.
People want to take that money from the taxes and provide services so that everyone in America can get the same public services that — to extend your example — Larry Page got growing up in East Lansing, Michigan. You are partially correct when you say that “It’s not economic inequality per se that’s blocking social mobility, but some specific combination of things that go wrong when kids grow up sufficiently poor.” The “specific combination” is no mystery. For many of them, it’s that they also live in areas that are poor, and have low tax bases, and cannot provide the education and services at the same level as rich neighborhoods. So by taxing the wealthy and spending it on services, we can better ensure that the level playing field you allude to continues to exist.
The pie metaphor you speak of is not crazy. There are different ways of looking at the “pie:” National income accounts (growing), money supply/purchasing (the money supply’s gone up, sure, and the value of money is relatively stable,) and the GDP-based purchasing power parity. So by one measure — the one you are presumably speaking of — the pie is growing. By a GDP measure, however, it is growing less and less every year. We haven’t had 5% GDP growth in over a decade. It’s been over 30 years since it hit 10%. Most economists believe that high-level GDP growth is a thing of the past, and we’re looking at 2–3% growth from here on out. So, by this completely rational view of the “pie,” it is, in fact, trending towards a zero sum game. This is not an irrational view.
This post is a book review, but it starts with a story from my past.
Way, way back, before San Francisco begat hip startups with nonsensical names, I found myself on the second floor of a near-abandoned warehouse on South Park, now one of the priciest areas of SF, but then, one of the cheapest. I surveyed the place: well lit in the front, but a shithole in the back. Detritus from years of shifting usage littered the ground — abandoned construction materials lurked in the poorly lit rear recesses, toward the front, where a wall of dusty industrial windows overlooked Second Street, a couch faced outward, and it was in this space I first met Louis Rossetto, founder of Wired and for all I could surmise, Willy Wonka’s twin brother from another mother.
Robert Reich’s Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few is a readable rant that — should you disagree with Reich’s central premise — will elicit eye-rolls and summary dismissal. But while his well-known political ideology (he served as Secretary of Labor under Clinton) is on constant display, I found Reich’s book both timely and important.
I am drawn to any work that posits a better way forward, and as you might expect, I agree with Reich far more often than not. You have to be willfully ignorant to pretend our current economic system is equitable (Reich argues we’re in the “second Gilded Age”) or capable of creating long-term increasing returns. And while many in our industry cling to libertarian fantasies in which technologic silver bullets solve our every social need, back here on earth we need to do better than pine for the singularity. Fixing income inequality and the loss of the middle class requires hard policy choices and a re-framing of the problems at hand.