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Swimming Up A Waterfall


Swimming Up A Waterfall

The following first appeared in an issue of Consider Magazine published October 20, 2016. The prompt supplied asked contributors their opinion on the future of media. All words are my own.

A mere three decades after creating the “Information Superhighway,” we’ve come to a fork in the road.

On one side lies the path most traveled: popular media will inevitably become more digital. 45% of the world now has Internet access, and as that number continues to grow, the same fundamental tendencies that link us all will live online as well. As a species, humans seek novelty, convenience, and stimulus, all three of which are breathtakingly more efficient to transmit through fiber-optic cabling than pressed letterhead. As Digital Features Editor of SHEI, it is my job to facilitate that transmission.

On any given week, I edit 2-4000 words of text, provide everything from language consultation to art direction, and publish original content to SHEI’s many-thousands readership, all from a laptop that cost me less than one month’s rent. What used to take a newsroom and a factory press is now the sole charge of a college junior who needs a Google Calendar alert to remember rent is due.

What a time to be alive.

The purpose of the above isn’t to flex SHEI’s production ability – instead, it’s all about efficiency. If one bored kid in a Starbucks (whose only real costs are his laptop and a latte) can do what once took the work of many, there becomes a rational economic argument for change. Add in the information commoditization offered by social media and the advent of free-to-consumer, advertising-driven news sources, and that rational economic argument only grows louder.

In 2016, we are living in the aftermath of that conflict’s opening salvo: “new media publishers” like Buzzfeed and The Daily Beast have eaten traditional publishers’ lunch to the point where the formerly-impenetrable stalwarts (The New York Times; Conde Nast) must either adapt to this digitalization (and its accompanying revenue models) or face some rather uncomfortable choices. The Times chose T Brand Studio; Conde chose magazine closures. Both were forced into layoffs.

In short: the future of media is digital. Denying this fact is like swimming up a waterfall.

However, while our shimmering digital future appears bright at first, it is naught but gilded: the same economic arguments that dictate the print-to-digital transition have directly sown the seeds of digital media’s worst offenses.

In the last year alone, we’ve seen a tide of ethical breaches directly linked to our hurried embrace of ad-driven, real-time “free” media: Facebook’s Trending Topics, emboldened native advertisers, and the scourge that is algorithmic news filtering. None of the preceding would exist without the new and unfamiliar goal of media to inform people of events that conform to how their world is shaped, not the events that shape their world.

Simply put, if you wrap that novelty/convenience/stimulus trifecta in content someone already agrees with, that person is more susceptible to your message – whether that’s “vote Trump” or “buy these shoes.” What they are not is an analytical, informed, individual human being.

The solution to this stunting of growth lies squarely on that “other path.” I believe the future of thought remains soundly with the past: safely, securely, in print. While those rational economic arguments from the above may mean it’s no longer possible to make a ruinous fortune in publishing, the printed word – in its traditional human-curated, “pay for access” form - must survive.

Are humans inherently biased? Yes. But in the age of digital media, that bias is mitigated by the tangible publishing of a static object. Printed newspapers don’t change in real time because you googled “Nike sneakers.”

In addition, the selection of worthy articles by a vision-driven professional team will provide the diversity of thought needed to nurture a complex, nuanced view of the world. You and I will learn from the same Wall Street Journal, not from personalized News Feeds that handfeed us only what we already want to see.

For these reasons, it is my firm opinion that digital media is biased against providing the intellectual discomfort human beings need to develop, leaving print media to nurture thought and stoke positive growth.

To tie it in a bow: SHEI is fortunate enough to publish both on the web and in a biannual printed magazine. While our website is “viewed” by thousands, when writers look to publish the sort of original editorial content that makes an impact on their world, they ask me first to put it in ink.

I’m more optimistic than I am offended.


Additional reading:

Facebook admits it must do more to stop the spread of misinformation on its platform - TechCrunch

New York Times Asks Subscribers to Stay Loyal After "This Erratic and Unpredictable Election" - Deadline


WAYWT 7/15/2016


WAYWT 7/15/2016

This week's featured outfit: tailored lines, neutral palettes, and remarkable professionalism. I spent a few days out of the office visiting stores, and had to represent Luxottica's Luxury Sales Team by, well, dressing the part. I'm an adult!

Brooks Brothers suit/Charles Tyrwhitt/Cole Haan/Tiebar

Brooks Brothers suit/Charles Tyrwhitt/Cole Haan/Tiebar

Thinking back on how I was treated this week vs. others, it almost bothers me that the world at large chooses to align rule-following with style. I'll start with the obvious: it is easy to tow the line. If you're a dude, dressing professionally is more checklist than thoughtful expression. You have, at most, three color choices for everything. Then, you have a series of arbitrary but authoritative rules based on shoe color, tie color, and the girth of King Edward VII (don't touch that bottom button!).

The end result is a number of accepted outfit combinations so small, you could count them on your digits and have toes left over - as long as those toes are encapsulated in brown shoes unless paired with a black suit. You catch my drift.  

In a professional setting, this makes sense: I want my clothing to compliment my serious, detail-oriented talking points, not speak over them. Even within the fashion industry, what I'm saying means more than what my clothes are. I'd hate to have an unconventional suit (and the connotations that may carry) discredit my unconventional ideas (and the benefits they may ultimately provide as long as the audience is receptive.) It's the idea of picking your battles - of coloring within the lines without painting by number. 

Outside of the boardroom, however, this thinking is dangerous. For many, how I'm dressed today fits their idea of "dressing well." Wool jackets and neutral colors certainly check the boxes for a median definition of how clothing fits, and yeah, a suit typically costs more than casual clothing so it can be expected to project status and wealth. That doesn't mean that slapping one on marks you as well-dressed.

Boyd's Philadelphia/Charles Tyrwhitt/Gap/Cole Haan

Boyd's Philadelphia/Charles Tyrwhitt/Gap/Cole Haan

Out of its proper context, wearing a suit is more codeswitching and aspirational projection than style done well. A tailored white tee and indigo jeans may not telegraph the same "seriousness" of a suit, but for life outside of the 9-5, that aura of professional gravitas isn't particularly desirable. As for dressing professionally 24/7 in case you need make a professional impression at the drop of a hat, this is tantamount to wearing ski boots year round because you spend Christmas in Tahoe.

Conflating the idea of "dressing well" with the rigid rule-following of professional dress is, in my opinion, a little foolish. At best, you'll sweat your body weight if the temperature crests 80. At worst, you'll spend your life off the clock wearing a costume, all because of the false pretense that style can be codified into the same rigid rules that dictate office decorum. Long story short, there's a reason Barney Stinson is a fictional character.



AS RAKESTRAW | The personal site of Alex Rakestraw.