Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Why the Ad-Revenue Model is Doomed

August 31, 2006

My head is spinning. So yesterday, Per wrote about Universal Music’s decision to allow free downloads to folks who agree to watch ads. It’s kind of a radical move for a giant music conglomerate, but plenty of other industries are already on the bandwagon. You can read an ad-free version of Salon.com if you pony up for the annual fee. You can pay extra for TiVO to watch ad-free TV. Ryanair, the nutso European airline, announced recently that someday, flights will be free—if you agree to watch lots of ads on the seatback screens.

It’s becoming obvious that soon, we will be divided into a society of those who watch ads and those who can afford not to. The poor and lower middle class will live rent-free in their ad-plastered homes, get free clothing plastered with insignias, and eat free burgers and cheese sticks tattooed with brand logos. The rich will live an ad-free lifestyle; an absence of ads in one’s surroundings will become a mark of prestige.

But HAHA! How will companies sell anything with their ads if the ads all target folks who never have to buy anything because they get it all free by watching the ads? Maybe it’s too early in the morning for me to be blogging, but really. I think corporate America needs to do a little re-thinking on this one.

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Goldfish Syndrome: the Real Reason Americans Are Fat

August 29, 2006

Want to know the real reason Americans are gaining weight? Never mind all the theories about inactivity, portion size, corn syrup consumption and growth hormones; it’s all about living space. Just as goldfish grow when transferred to a larger bowl, Americans are expanding to fit their homes.

Consider these numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the 1960s and 70s, we gained weight relatively slowly. But from the 1980s on, the average weight rose dramatically:

Average of US Males, in Pounds
1960: 166 (average height 68 inches)
1970: 172
1980: 173
1990: 182
Now: 191 (average height 69.5 inches)

You can see a similar pattern in US Census housing data:

Average New Home Size, in Square Feet
1960 1200
1970 1525
1980 1595
1990 1905
Now: 2225

Not convinced? Consider the folks who live in relatively small spaces: prison camp inmates, soldiers, New Yorkers. They are relatively slim.

There is one anomaly that threatens to disprove my theory: the poor. Goldfish Syndrome would predict fashionably slim folks inhabiting trailer parks, and 300-pound multi-millionaires rolling about in 20,000 square foot McMansions. Instead, we get the opposite. Perhaps this is a function of kitchen proximity. When you are so rich that the kitchen is located in another zip code, a larger home actually becomes a weight loss advantage.

1984 vs. the Blog: Orwell’s Big Blooper

July 24, 2006

Twenty-two years after the big year came and went, folks are still remarking how spot-on George Orwell was in 1984: you know, the all-seeing cameras, the data bases, the bad architecture… But there’s one big thing Orwell got wrong: in 1984 the government was able to rewrite history to suit its purposes, dictate the reportage of current events, even insist that 2+2=5. In short, the government had nearly total control of the truth. That was the essence of totalitarianism–by exercising total control over information, the government was able to exert total control over the population. What we wound up with, thankfully, is 180 degrees from Orwell’s vision.

No doubt, governments around the world still make desperate and clueless efforts to control the truth. Sometimes they even succeed, at least in the short-run. But since Orwelll wrote his book, it’s become almost impossible to exert Hilter- or Stalin-style control over a large population. What Orwell didn’t forsee is that the communication network he described in 1984 would work both ways: not only would it give Big Brother a window into our private lives, it would also give private citizens a chance to report on and share information on Big Brother’s doings. Exhibit A: the Bush Adminstration. For every clumsy effort it made to spin everything from the war in Iraq to, well, its Big Brother efforts to tap our phone conversations, there were a jillion citizen reporters waving their digital hands and saying, ‘Nuh-uh, that’s not what happened!’

Looking back, it almost seems like the totalitarian regimes in Germany and the Soviet Union were the fruit of a never-to-be-repeated phase in the evolution of communications technology. For a brief, horrific period, governments had total control over powerful tools—television and radio—that they could use to communicate with their citizens. The internet, by design, makes such centralized control impossible.

But does that make us safe from groups of super evil mean crazy people? It’s been widely observed that new technologies—from gunpowder to nuclear fusion—have historically been harnessed to serve malevolent ends. Why should communications technology be any different? While mass communication technology helped enable the rise of totalitarian regimes that laid down the law, the internet is pretty good at empowering destructive entitities that work outside the law—terrorists, for one. Just as the new technology has given us a billion little blogs and news sites and tv channels and video streams, it’s also giving us thousands of new, super organized hate-based groups to worry about.

–Anne