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HLG Notebook | March 2016

1. The Future Is Bleak

Evgeny Morozov’s latest takedown of tech futurism is this flawless, must-read evisceration of The Industries of the Future and its narcissistic author Alec Ross. Every paragraph brims with (much-warranted) sarcasm, contempt, and mockery. Early on, Morozov describes his first meeting with Ross when he was working for Secretary Clinton:

I went to see Ross at the State Department, just a few blocks from the flat that I was renting in Washington. I was, to put it mildly, underwhelmed. Mr. Senior Adviser for Innovation, I quickly discovered, didn’t have much advice to dispatch and was himself busy recruiting informal advisers to generate talking points for Clinton. That wouldn’t have been so bad if, at the same time, Ross weren’t so keen on namedropping and signaling his status. It took him just a few minutes to mention that he was supposed to have a call with “Samantha Power at the White House”…A six-week-old copy of The Economist, featuring an African woman holding a mobile phone on its cover, occupied a strategic spot on his desk. Here was an important man reading important things and talking to important people.

2. Better Off TED

Tim Urban reflects on his turbulent six months preparing for his first TED Talk. A must-read primer for anyone gearing up for a board presentation, a wedding toast, or any other speaking gig. Of the many fantastic illustrations, this one may be the best. Funny and precise:

3. Andy Grove’s Medical Research

Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky described Intel chief Andy Grove as “one of the small handful of people who created Silicon Valley as it is today.” Grove was also one of the best and most prolific CEO writers. In 1996, he wrote a fact-driven masterpiece about which treatment he should receive for his prostate cancer. Throughout his research, Grove was astonished at the primitive state of the medical profession – even as he was receiving radiation therapy:

Two youngish guys were doing the calculations. They didn’t look like doctors. They looked as if they could be designing chips at Intel. The calculations went on forever. Tongue in cheek, I asked, “What kind of computer are you using?” I was told, seriously, that they were using a 286, a product that we introduced 13 years earlier and stopped producing four years ago.

4. Did Western Civilization End in 2004?

David Hopkins offers this lament that the dumbing down of American culture coincided with the final season of Friends in 2004. His case is both crazy and utterly persuasive:

The show ended in 2004. The same year that Facebook began, the year that George W. Bush was re-elected to a second term, the year that reality television became a dominant force in pop culture, with American Idol starting an eight-year reign of terror as the No. 1 show in the U.S., the same year that Paris Hilton started her own “lifestyle brand” and released an autobiography. And Joey Tribbiani got a spin-off TV show. The year 2004 was when we completely gave up and embraced stupidity as a value. Just ask Green Day; their album American Idiot was released in 2004, and it won the Grammy for Best Rock Album.

5. The Higher Education Bubble

Frederick Singer, a founder of WashingtonPost.com, argues that higher education has much to learn from the decline of newspapers. It’s not that the universities will disappear, he writes, but that their most profitable (and expensive) programs just might:

The explosion of non-accredited programs is beginning to threaten the MBA. They have proven that they can iterate quickly and deliver a more modern learning product at a fraction of the price. Higher education will never be replaced, but the most profitable courses will be attacked, creating revenue implications that have a ripple effect across institutions.

He adds:

In the newspaper industry, the first real blow was not the replacement of the traditional newsroom as we initially feared: it was the erosion of classified revenue that paid for the newsroom.

6. The Over-45 Cohort: Email and Economics

Another obituary for email. Tech Crunch reports on a study from App Annie that finds “those aged 13 to 24 are far more likely to use messaging apps over email on their devices.” Predictably, the pattern of usage is reversed for those over 45. But when you read the actual study from App Annie, you realize that Tech Crunch missed the most important point:

In 2014, [Android] users over 45 contributed more than 60% of all consumer expenditure in the US, with 45–54 year-olds alone contributing more than 20%. By the 2030s, over-60s are estimated to contribute more than 50% of the US’s GDP.