Convenience is Boring

Not exactly sure if I agree, but it’s too convenient to pass up.

Not exactly sure if I agree, but it’s too convenient to pass up.

From: “The Tyranny of Convenience” by Tim Wu. New York Times, 2/16/2018


“Convenience is the most underestimated and least understood force in the world today…Convenience is boring. But boring is not the same thing as trivial…The paradoxical truth I’m driving at is that today’s technologies of individualization are technologies of mass individualization. Customization can be surprisingly homogenizing. (Nearly everyone is on Facebook.) It is the most convenient way to keep track of your friends and family, who in theory should represent what is unique about you and your life. Yet Facebook seems to make us all the same. Its format and conventions strip us of all but the most superficial expressions of individuality, such as which particular photo of a beach or mountain range we select as our background image.”

Photo | Julie Clopper | iStock

Is Obama’s Blackberry endorsement worth $50 million?


Now that we have world peace and the economy is under control, we can turn our attention to the important stuff, like President Obama’s Blackberry. Over the weekend, we learned he’s getting to keep his Blackberry, except, maybe it won’t be a Blackberry, but a super-secure Sectéra Edge from General Dynamics. Of course, Microsoft was quick to say, hey wait, he should use a U.S. product (i.e., one running Windows CE) rather than a Blackberry, a product from Canada, a country where lots of people speak French. No word yet from Apple, despite the iPhone playing a supporting role in his campaign communications success.

Unfortunately, the White House email server crashed this afternoon and no one there is getting email anyway. And you thought that just happened where you work.

President Obama’s love of his Blackberry is the type of unsolicited endorsement that comes along once in a marketer’s dream life. I’m sure there is some group crunching away at the equivalency value of the millions of mentions of the Blackberry brand in the media’s obsessed coverage of this puffery. The New York Times ran a story a couple of weeks ago suggesting Obama’s “endorsement” is worth $50 million to the brand.

And even with the device reportedly being the Sectéra Edge, every article is still using the word “Blackberry” to define the category of wireless device it is.

But is the Obamadorsement really helping Blackberry? According to the Wall Street Journal this morning, the company that markets Blackberry, Research in Motion, has sold only 500,000 unites of its new model, the Storm, about 20% of the units of the Apple iPhone that sold during the the same period after its introduction.

Even Obama can’t revive some things.

The notion that a President would actually “endorse” a product may seem far-fetched, but you could argue that Presidents spend a big chunk of their time doing ceremonial activities that are, in effect, a way in which they can lend their stature and media-big-stick to raise the attention of industries and causes. And it’s extremely well documented that if a President mentions he likes a book, the sales sky-rocket in a way that rivals only an Oprah nod. A recent example is the Obama-touted Team of Rivals and perhaps the best known example is Ronald Reagan turning Tom Clancy into a rock-star author by calling his Hunt For Red Octoberunputdownable.”


President Kennedy tried to pump up sales of a Navy buddy’s
hat company, but hat sales still sunk.

My favorite — and perhaps most obscure — story about an overt attempt by a President to help boost the sales of a product is one I read about years ago in the magazine American Heritage. Thanks to Google, I found the remembered article — actually an editor’s letter — on the American Heritage website* and the photo it describes (but is not on the American Heritage site) on the website of the JFK Library.

It has long been an urban legend that President Kennedy is the reason men stopped wearing hats in the early 1960s. ( has a great de-bunking of the myth with photos of Kennedy wearing a top-hat at inaugural-day functions.) But the fact remains that Kennedy, who rarely wore a hat, was perceived even at the time as exacerbating the already-established trend away from hat-wearing by men.

However, President Kennedy one time purposefully had himself photographed with a hat as an active form of product endorsement — what today we’d call a “product placement.” He did it as a favor for a Navy buddy who had served with him on the famous PT 109.

Here’s how the story goes in American Heritage:

“After his PT service, (Al Webb) became vice president of sales for Cavanagh Hats. With his fellow skipper’s famous bareheadedness ravaging his enterprise, Webb had Cavanagh run up two fine custom hats and hurried to the White House to give one to the President and one to Kennedy’s long-time friend, a businessman named Red Fay.

“Al removed the hats from their boxes as though they were fragile Stradivarii,” recalled the writer William Manchester, who was on hand for the presentation. “Jack and the Redhead tried them on. . . . Al stood back to observe the effect. He said unconvincingly, ‘You both look great.’ Jack and Red looked at each other and burst out laughing. ‘Al,’ said the President, ‘are you willing to destroy the beloved image of our country’s leader just to save the hat industry?'” Manchester thought the hats made the two men “look like a couple of house detectives.” Webb retreated, “crestfallen.”

…”Kennedy met the challenge in his own way. The next day he greeted former President Eisenhower at Camp David and thereafter sent Al a picture of the great occasion: It showed Kennedy leaning forward, his right hand extended; in his left hand he held a hat, the lining facing out toward the camera. The Cavanagh Hats label was plainly visible!”

As stylish as Kennedy was, however, the hat never made a comeback in men’s business fashion.

And despite the well-publicized ‘addiction’ of President Obama to his Blackberry, it will be interesting to monitor what sort of sales bump his endorsement will have.

[Photo via: JFK Library.]

*While the website still has some prominent links to, the magazine in now owned independently.

How to bring a higher profile to the moribund office of Surgeon General

I’m a fan of author Christopher Buckley, whose novels are not only biting political satire, but often prove to be amazingly prescient. For example, the novel (not the movie) Thank You For Smoking, pre-dated the federal and state cigarette settlements with the tobacco companies, but predicted some of the more cynical aspects of what has played out: i.e., anti-smoking campaigns aimed at teenagers can “unintentionally” make smoking seem rebellious — and thus, cool.

Early this year, Buckley’s most recent novel, Supreme Courtship was similarly soothsaying in having as its central character, a Sarah Palenesque woman-of-the-people who is nominated to the Supreme Court after the novel’s President has a series of nominees fail the confirmation process (for rather unique and hilarious reasons).

What does the President hope will be the key to the confirmation of Judge Pepper Cartwright? She’s America’s most popular TV judge. And like Palen, Pepper Cartwright’s personality and down-home wit is central to her appeal.

Buckley’s target for ridicule in the book is a TV-culture that spawns a citizenry that has trouble distinguishing reality from reality-TV. Cartwright is a competent local judge, but her real talent is being good on TV — thus, she’s got what it takes to encourage the American people to rise up in support of her confirmation.


Earlier tonight, I couldn’t help but think of Pepper Cartwright when I read that CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been approached to be Surgeon General. According to the New York Times, he is “a pick that will give the moribund office a higher profile.” Was Chris Buckley writing that, I wondered.

At least Dr. Gupta is an actual doctor, and doesn’t just play one on TV. And, no doubt, like Judge Pepper Cartwright, people who know him from TV will believe whatever he tells them.

However, if Dr. Gupta doesn’t accept the job, I recommend Dr. Derek Shepherd or Dr. Gregory House, either of whom will bring an even greater profile to the office.

And if they won’t take it, I recommend nominating someone who slept last night at a Holiday Inn Express.

Update: Upon further reflection, I’ve decided that Doc Searls would also bring a higher profile to the moribund office. “Good health is conversation,” would be his slogan.

The weekend the Internet died

Thanks to those who e-mailed me on Sunday to let me know this blog was off line. It happened as one of those unintended glitches that occur when you de-glitch something else. Fortunately, the glitch only affected my blog and some other items sitting on a server that hosts nothing commercial or business-related.

Typically, I would have noticed the site being down, but I was busy all weekend actively enjoying the glorious weather here in Nashville. Checking in with Twitter last night, I discovered there must have been some problems there also this weekend, as some of my friends who are heavy-duty users of the service noticed some (and came up with a fix for) performance issues.

And then, this morning, the voice-over-IP phone system in our office is having some issues (as in, no one can call us, but we can call out).

The parade of glitches reminds me a bit of last week’s episode of Southpark called “Over Logging.” It is a spot-on satirical commentary on the creeping cultural dependence on the Internet that has developed over the past decade. (Warning: There is some very intense — and gross — adult-related content in this episode — as there is in every episode of South Park.) There is much in the show that holds up a mirror to those of us who have forgotten what it was like in the old-days before, say, 1996.

Spoiler alert: The way in which the Internet is fixed is a classic geek-humor moment. And the plea at the end to not “over-log” the Internet is a clever jab at the faddish way in which some people treat “being green.”

It’s Monday. I’m back online. The Internet is working again.