Modern Life

We know everything and we know nothing.

We know that a plane was shot down over Ukraine, but we’ve got no idea what the number one record is.

We’re grazers, we’re surfers, according to Google, we pull our smartphones from our pockets 125 times a day. We want to be on the pulse, but no one is quite sure what the pulse is and everybody purveying is battling for mindshare, unaware that total domination is a fool’s game, unless you’re an element of a shocking news story or provide technology we can all use.

That’s right. Everybody can debate the merits of the iPhone versus Android. Some may only know you can get the latter cheaper, others know further deep details. But that’s because you use your phone all day long, you don’t listen to the same record all day long, you might not listen to music at all!

And everyone’s so overloaded, no one’s got any time. It’s all about the headlines and a few verticals. It may be the golden age of television, but who’s got the time to watch all those shows? And, if you are, you’re not listening to music.

And movies are a dying art form. My recommendation of the day is Bret Easton Ellis’s podcast, wherein he intellectually dissects issues of culture, film and TV. Michael Tolkin said his twentysomething children never go to the movies, Ellis said it’s hard to get his twentysomething boyfriend to watch a flick, and Tolkin said that just because Kevin Smith watches a movie every night, and discusses film with his brethren online, that does not mean it’s a mainstream pastime.

Huh?

We’ve got the bottom feeders, the lowest common denominator sites with traffic and ink that are all about clicks, like BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post. And now even the “New York Times” is worried it’s not playing the game right, it wants its writers to promote their words on social media, believing if you don’t join them, you’re dead, but that could not be further from the truth. Do you remember when “Rolling Stone” remade its magazine into bite-sized chunks when “Blender” made inroads with that style? Turns out “Blender” lied about its numbers, and the magazine is extinct today.

But stories keep getting shorter in the belief that people have a short attention span.

But the truth is people are overwhelmed with grazing, there’s so much information, that they can only go deep in a few areas, and those in the arts just cannot fathom this.

Nobody wants the album because unlike the artists who made them, they don’t care that much and don’t have enough time, they’d rather listen to ten tracks by different people than ten by one. Of course there are exceptions, but that’s just what they are. Some acts have deep fanbases, they’re the iPhones of the world, the rest are Windows phones or BlackBerries, with a few diehard fans who keep trumpeting their features while the rest of us ignore them, because the truth is we all want to be mainstream, we’re all afraid of being left on the scrapheap.

So the true winner in the future will be whoever controls the top list, whoever lists what is popular. This is why sales charts are death, they don’t reflect popular usage. Bitch all you want about streaming economics, but the truth is that’s how the public consumes.

So what we’re experiencing is a winnowing out process. Everybody can play, but only a few can win. If you think the Huffington Post is for tomorrow, you only live in today. The “New York Times” has nothing to worry about, because they’re the only company that features real, in depth reporting, and he who controls information wins in the end.

But the “New York Times” is laboring under the conceit that it’s bigger than its writers, which is completely topsy-turvy. Today we believe in the individual, whether it be Elon Musk, Tim Cook, Ezra Klein or Rupert Murdoch. You hitch your star to the star. Otherwise you descend. Because people don’t trust institutions, they don’t trust corporations, they only trust individuals. So if you’re building an enterprise, focus on the talent. We can all identify with the talent. We believe Nate Silver has authority when it comes to data, the new people writing in the “New York Times” Upshot…WHO ARE THEY?

So you’ve got two sides to the equation, the seller and the buyer, and what’s even worse, so many are both. Very few are passive today. People may be surfing the headlines, but they’re also embellishing their personal brand, they want you to stop by at their Facebook page, check out their Twitter feed, when we ran out of time eons ago. So we gravitate to that which is in our face all day every day. Which is why if you want to be a famous musician, you’ve got to dominate the news cycle. This is what the Kardashians do so well and the bands do so poorly.

Or else you could make a song so good that it dominates the discussion. But we can’t even agree on a song of the summer this summer. Is that because one’s not good enough or because there’s no consensus, because we’re all scurrying off in our own direction.

So there are some who sit home self-satisfied, saying they know what’s going on, when that’s damn near impossible.

And then there are those who not only yearn for the days of yore, they keep bitching about what is lost in the new era.

And then there are those who do their best to keep up. And they’re the majority of the population. They’re trying to cobble together a life. Trying to decide what is necessary. Whether to look for love online or in real life. Whether to turn off their devices to enrich the experience or be fearful of missing out.

It’s the culture stupid!

You might think it’s about money and quality and marketing, but the truth is the culture has changed, and those who do not adopt their companies and their products to the new culture are bound to be forgotten.

Today you can truly be famous for fifteen minutes and forgotten shortly thereafter.

The key is to sustain.

And you do this by being in front of everybody with a quality product on a regular basis.

And that’s damn hard to do. That’s why Luke Bryan puts out two albums a year, why his label keeps pushing singles to the top of the chart, and most Americans still have no idea who he is!

Beyonce may be famous, but few know her new music.

And “Orange Is the New Black” may get great reviews, but who’s got 25 hours to dedicate to the show when there’s so much else to experience? Or, if you do, what else are you sacrificing?

So stop bitching and start figuring out how to play the new game.

Everybody else is.

Bret Easton Ellis Podcast

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  1. […] was just reading one of Bob Lefsetz’s illuminating letters today titled “Modern Life” and in it he talks about how we, as a nation, can’t agree on a song of this […]

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