A great spiritual awakening, postmodern style

Trying to get above or ahead of the public fray about religion in order to make any cultural sense of things is a bit like trying to unscrew a flat head with a Phillips head. As institutions go, this one is a mangled glob of disconnected hierarchies each claiming the high ground from which one can see forever. This is also an apt description for the further tangled wires of individual religions, for each sect within these wholes strives for placement above the rest. It’s the most interesting of all of the worlds that make up Western civilization (and beyond, of course), because it involves hard core beliefs and behaviors that form an expanding circle of influence governing the lives of individual people, families, communities, regions, states, countries and even the world itself.

We all have a religion, even those who claim no religion, for even the tenets of atheism require faith. As David Dark writes in his new book, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious, “If what we believe is what we see is what we do is who we are, there’s no getting away from religion.”

The question I’m going to be exploring in the months and years ahead is where is religion headed and what will it look like in a postmodern world? Since my roots and background are Christianity, the Christian faith will likely be my primary focus. The cultural and intellectual crossover experiences I’ve had, however, tend to provide observations from outside the box of Christianity itself. Consequently, what I’ll be writing will come from a more inclusive window on the world. I realize that even in saying that, I’m opening myself up to criticism from those firmly inside that box, so you’ll likely find me drifting in and out. I’ll be criticized as undisciplined, but I’m ready for all of that.

This may baffle some, but welcome to the mystery of chaos. I hope to shed light on the chaos of postmodernism, too.

In my forthcoming book, How Jesus Joined The GOP, I make the case that the people who scare me the most today are those who refuse to venture outside that box, and I’m not talking about leaders. It’s the foot soldiers of the political right in their “Christian battle” that frighten me most, because they have no incentive to listen, and listening is THE most important skill in today’s networked world. They’re generally too busy talking. Such people are on a collision course with deconstructionists, many of whom came from their midst, and this will not end well. It is however quite inevitable, for the very structure of that connectivity will continue to place ongoing and relentless pressure on those who are incapable of or refuse to deconstruct themselves. The process of clicking on a link for further elucidation is, in fact, an exercise in deconstructionism. Families will be torn apart over this, and the young will speak a language entirely foreign to their elders, and it won’t be rock-n-roll.

There’s no going back, and even the appearance of standing still is illusionary.

Christians who look to tradition only will find themselves caught in this crucible and will have to make decisions that will impact everyone in their tribes of influence. Choosing to stand one’s ground will seem noble at first, led by those who’ll quote persecution scriptures and antiChrist warnings. Convinced that God will protect them FROM all of this, they will be shocked to later learn that God was actually leading this all along. They will also be surprised to discover that the spiritual awakening for which they’ve been praying for so long has actually taken place without them.

One thing is certain: postmodernism isn’t a passing fad or work of the devil. It’s the passing away of the flaws and fallacies of modernity and the opening of the cultural era that will govern Western civilization for a very long time. Just as the printing press struck at the heart of the church’s authority in the fifteenth century, so the internet is disrupting the authority of the hierarchies of modernism. Colonialism is a relic that belongs on the dust pile of history along with the form of Christian evangelicalism that accompanied it, and the funeral service has been underway already for many years.

I’m sure this sounds dark and spooky to many readers, but it’s actually a time of great rejoicing. God isn’t dead; God is Life, so that’s ridiculous. And for millions of people, there IS an awakening underway of Biblical proportions. It doesn’t resemble anything of the past, thank God.

I’ll be writing about that awakening, and I may be clumsy in so doing. Please be patient and don’t be afraid to join in the discussion.

Passages: Put a fork in me, media. I’m done!

terrywhole2As I approach my 8th decade on the planet this summer, I’ve decided to move along in my professional life to something a bit different. I’d like to share it all with you, my friends.

It’s a heady thing when people choose to read the things you write, and I’ve always been extremely grateful and humbled by that. I’ve been writing The Pomo Blog for 15 years now, and we’ve covered a lot of ground in the posts and the essays. I’ve organized groups of bloggers, helped write the book on aggregation, helped originate the idea of unbundled media, wrote about data long before anybody could grasp the meaning, innovated the concepts of Continuous News (which is now everywhere), local ad networks, and advertising as content (aka “content marketing”), and identified things that are still influencing media and far beyond, such as the concepts of spectrum within spectrum and the evolving user paradigm. I’m also the only person who continues to study postmodern journalism and its consequences for tomorrow.

And for all of that, I’m broke.

And you know why? Because the industry that I’ve been trying to help for the last 15 years, local broadcasting, doesn’t give a ripple chip about any of it. Oh, the people in the trenches certainly do, but not those who live in the towers and write the paychecks, including mine. I’m tired of beating a dead horse, and that’s what local TV has become (thanks, Harry). What used to be a thriving industry of innovation, public service, and people who wanted to change the world has become the lifeless bones of an aging and smelly corporate carcass whose owners specialize in sucking the marrow to milk whatever profit is left. These wealthy bean counters, lawyers, and “managers” beat the drums of self-righteousness and the law, while picking the bones through cost-cutting, consolidation, and clout. Am I bitter? Of course I am, but not because I’ve been rejected, but because I actually believed they would want the industry to survive and thrive the disruptions to its core. That’s not the case, however, for the true inspiration of the people who run these companies is a comfy retirement, and the pathway is happy shareholders – the people who care ONLY about profits. Those people are also a part of the 1 percent, each seeking their own comfy retirement, too. I guess I’m angry with myself for ever believing something different was possible.

And so, I don’t care anymore now, and I’ve chosen to say “f**k it.” Effective immediately, I’m removing media and new media from the focus of my attention and moving on into other parts of culture, especially religion. I’m unsubscribing from all the newsletters, RSS feeds, and anything that has anything to do with media, advertising, etc. I’ve finished a new book, “How Jesus Joined the GOP” and while it’s being edited, I’m searching for the right agent and publisher. I was responsible for executing Pat Robertson’s plan to use television to “change America for Jesus,” and I know things about that process that are both fascinating and frightening, especially as it relates to today’s political landscape.

But the most remarkable observation to me is that I have studied cultural postmodernism through a different lens than those who’ve studied it in the name of “the church” and yet we’ve come to similar conclusions. I believe I have a lot to offer this world, and that’s my goal. There may not be much in the way of profit for me financially, but I’m used to that by now. What’s clear to me today is that life itself is changing before our eyes here in the 21st Century, and it goes far beyond the limiting scope of media. That’s where I want to be and need to be. It’s calling me – quite loudly, I think – and that’s where I’m going.

There are incredible events taking place in the world of spiritual understanding. It’s a transformation brought on by the same energy and innovations that are changing media, the kind of stuff that will shock and reinvent religion’s role in culture for the better. Its exhilarating and filled with people who really care about what’s happening. They need (and I hope they want) my eyes and the knowledge I’ve acquired as a cultural observer.

So I hope you’ll join me on this journey, but if you don’t, that’s okay. I’m very proud of the work I’ve done since I left the TV News business in 1998, despite the lack of proof that it has meant anything to the industry that was my life for so long. I’m alright with that, because the end of that story hasn’t been written yet, and who really knows where anyone will end up in the sands of tomorrow? I only know one thing for certain: I have touched The Unbroken Web, and that is worth any price I have to pay in this life.

May God bless and keep you all.

Our addiction to formulas is killing us

pattersonFormulas are the greatest gift and yet the greatest curse of modernity. In a culture where the wheels of commerce are greased through mass marketing, there is no greater path to wealth than a successful formula. However, when formulas are used to stifle creativity, the whole culture stagnates and eventually is ripe for disruption. The United States of America is stagnating, because we’ve steadily embraced this obsession with road maps over the last century. Rather than elect leaders to take us forward, we choose managers who can show us bullet points, formulas, and a spread sheet. The result feels safe but is actually stagnating and deflating, because it has no imagination.

Formula addiction is especially useless for institutions during times when equilibrium is lost amid chaos. In the 21st Century, we are in one of those times.

But formulas can also become counterproductive value propositions when people manipulated by formulas gain their (formerly) secret knowledge. One, formulas then produce a boring and predictable sameness, and, two, anybody is free to take up the same formula, thereby destroying the value of its former uniqueness. Add to this the corporate greed of formula exploiters, and suddenly a formula that used to “work” becomes a net turn-off to its customers. This is where institutions fail the most, for modernist hierarchical groups can’t afford to talk with customers.

Star Wars, for example, is a very successful Hollywood formula. The rarity of its episodes (there have only been 7 in the last 40 years) doubtless contributed to that success, but we’re about to get one Christmastime movie a year (including spin-offs) from Disney, because they like the profits produced by the formula. This means other movies won’t be made, because why should a corporation that’s in it for profit take a chance when all they have to do is copy a known formula for success, right?

It’s the same way with publishing, which is why James Patterson is the only author you see in TV advertising. The man is one giant formula gone to seed. Formula addiction contributes to failures with media, with education, and every aspect of our society, even the arts.

Beancounters love to copy. It’s why nearly every client I’ve had in broadcasting – when offered my ideas – has responded with, “Who else is doing this?” The inference is a reticence to experiment rather than copy something that’s already been tried and proven a success elsewhere. The ability to show broadcasters what’s working elsewhere is the core competency of TV news consulting, so my iconoclastic approach didn’t win any business for my employer. My evidence didn’t matter. I could show clients the damaging pathway of their existing strategy, and it didn’t matter. I could appeal to reason and present clever images to spark their imaginations, but it didn’t matter. None of it mattered, because their profit was based on known formulas, and despite evidence that the formulas wouldn’t ever meet their digital expectations, they still cling to them today. It will be their downfall.

Christianity is another tired cultural formula that’s being picked apart today. The Emergent or “Emerging Church” movement exploded on the scene as a “postmodern” alternative to stagnating orthodoxy, but it has slowed down considerably in the wake of scandals and other mischief. As one who writes of postmodernism, I’ve always felt both kinship with and distance from the leaders of this group, for they were using the basics of postmodern thought and tools to create a new hierarchy (and sell books). This is quite absurd by default, for horizontal chaos is the authority in a postmodern culture, not hierarchies.

Keep this in mind as you go about your lives in this century, for it’s on display everywhere. The left brain thinking that has governed life in the West for so long is crumbling under the weight of its disrespect for imagination.

Broadcasting’s disruption on display in Raleigh

NBCWRALThe affiliate switch in the Raleigh market is BIG news and yet another harbinger of things to come for broadcasting. It doesn’t matter who initiated what in this remarkable event. WRAL-TV claims they did, because NBC is the best positioned broadcast network for the future. However, many observers, such as Al Tompkins at Poynter, are blaming the tough fiscal stance CBS is taking in affiliate renewal negotiations.

The switch was prompted by a disagreement between WRAL and CBS about how much revenue paid to WRAL from from cable companies should go to the network.

It would be easy to dismiss this as just another financial consideration on the bumpy road broadcasters are trudging, but that doesn’t go deep enough. The truth is that the broadcasting business model itself is hopelessly borked, and these kinds of events are simply guideposts along the way to its inevitable collapse. Nobody wants to talk about it, least of all owners, because there’s real money in maintenance of the status quo or at least the appearance thereof.

Local television is falling off the same cliff that destroyed newspapers, but it hasn’t shown up on the bottom line yet, because ever-increasing retransmission consent fees have shielded it from reality. There is no way it can continue for long. Consumers will simply refuse to pay for it when there are cheaper alternatives available. Mass marketing continues to take blow after blow from more cost-effective digital marketing, which is actually direct marketing disguised as mass marketing. Again, nobody wants to admit this, so we all just move forward basing our value on false assumptions of an archaic model. It helps no one except the executives charged with maintaining the hunky dory appearance.

How is anyone surprised that CBS wants top compensation for its top-rated programs? One day, CBS will be a kind of cable network, because it can gain the kinds of program compensation it deserves instead of splitting that money with local affiliates. TV program distribution doesn’t require broadcast affiliates anymore. Netflix and Amazon both won Golden Globes this year. This is all being forced by consumers who are now free to protest the gluttony of 5-minute commercial breaks in “their” programs. Are we really so foolish as to think the era of audience captivity is still moving forward? So much has been written about how the people formerly known as the advertisers are now functioning as media companies themselves that it’s hard for me to believe there’s a single person left who believes the ad-supported content model remains viable as a growth strategy.

The ONLY thing local broadcasters have left is news, and it’s never been more important to be number one. These locally-produced programs historically have generated half of the typical station’s revenue. But half the revenue will never equate to 100% of the expenses, so even the viability of quality local TV news is problematic. There will be cutbacks galore, and some stations just won’t make it. 15 years ago, I suggested stations might want to spin off their news departments into wholly-owned subsidiaries and let them find their own economic justifications. At the time, this would’ve also given local news efforts an opportunity to actually compete with web companies instead of relying on the brands of the TV stations for complete sustenance. Competing as a TV station online has never made sense, and yet that’s as far as most have gotten or will ever get.

In conclusion, the event Friday in Raleigh is stunning no matter how you look at it. To me, however, it’s just further evidence of a predictable future that doesn’t look so bright for my many friends and colleagues still toiling in the trenches.

And to paraphrase George Carlin, “These are the kinds of thoughts that kept me out of the corporate board rooms.”

Why YouTube Red is the future

YouTubeRedsmI’ve been a subscriber of YouTube Red for the last month, and I’m completely sold on its model and its virtues, so much so that I think this is the one everybody in the content distribution world should be copying. Not only does it provide me with the greatest consumer experience possible, but it actually encourages me to spend even more time with YouTube.

No advertisements. Zero. Zip. Nada. That’s the draw, and it’s one in which everybody wins. The only way in for those wishing to do commerce is to participate as content providers. It is the essential distribution point for content marketing, and some of the best content on YouTube is advertiser content such as movie trailers, celebrity interviews, and much, much more.

And I’m personally thrilled that Google is the one to present this, for these guys figured out a long time ago that a clean and simple product such as free search could open vast doors of wealth in ancillary products and services. Good for them.

YouTube Red overcomes the taxonomy challenge of any publisher who wants people to find their content, whether published today or many yesterdays ago. As David Weinberger has taught us, there is no organizational system that humankind can create that will ever surpass the efficiency of search. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, second only to Google itself.

It also provides the front end for a micropayment service for artists of every stripe, and this thrills me for the future of the arts. The whole thing is what many of us envisioned long ago when we first attempted to understand the magnificence of the network and connectivity. This will continue to evolve, and Google continues to prove that what used to be impossible is actually very doable today. It is a breathtaking time to be alive.

The model of YouTube Red works in ways that I don’t even know yet, and it stands as one of the most important applications for study since the advent of the Web itself. My ability to create an endless stream of music videos that play in the background while I’m doing my work beats any mp3 system anywhere, because the cost to me is just $10 a month. Hell, my time alone is worth vastly more than $10 a month. TV viewing comes without interruptions, assuming the programs I enjoy are available on YouTube, and you’d be surprised at the volume of entertaining videos that exist in its library. In my view, this is where the future of video distribution will take place.

Facebook wants to take some of this away from Google, of course, but Facebook’s big weakness is that so far the ease of distribution of its videos beyond the walled garden of Facebook isn’t nearly what YouTube offers. This will eventually work against Mr. Zuckerberg and his wishes to take over the world. Don’t get me wrong; I love Facebook, but I also love the open Web and the idea that I can provide “my” videos anywhere I wish to make them available, including (at least for now) Facebook.

I’ve written previously that YouTube has reinvented advertising for videos via the Web with its 4-second pre-rolls, but once you experience the same videos without even those, there’s just no going back.

Color me happy and amazed.

The media disruption that matters

Please indulge me a wee gloat. I’ve been telling you for years that the real people to watch in the disruption of media are the advertisers, or as Jay Rosen would put it, “The people formerly known as the advertisers.” The business of media, after all, isn’t content; it’s advertising, and this is what will eventually destroy media companies insisting that mass marketing has a viable future.

AdAge published an article featuring a speech yesterday by Pepsico’s President of global beverage group Brad Jakeman to the Association of National Advertising’s annual “Masters of Marketing” conference in Orlando, Fla. I wish I could’ve been present, for AdAge described the presentation as “fiery” and “truth telling.” Here’s a pissed-off guy who spends a fortune to sell his products, and we need to pay attention. Here are a view excerpts from the article:

Ad agency models are breaking. Pre-roll ads are useless. Measurement models are outdated. The ad industry lacks diversity. And the phrase digital marketing should be dumped…

“Can we stop using the term advertising, which is based on this model of polluting [content],” he said.

“My particular peeve is pre-roll. I hate it,” he added. “What is even worse is that I know the people who are making it know that I’m going to hate it. Why do I know that? Because they tell me how long I am going to have to endure it — 30 seconds, 20 seconds, 15 seconds. You only have to watch this crap for another 10 seconds and then you are going to get to the content that you really wanted to see. That is a model of polluting content that is not sustainable…”

“The agency model that I grew up with largely has not changed today,” he said, noting that he has been in the ad industry for 25 years. “Yet agency CEOs are sitting there watching retainers disappear … they are looking at clients being way more promiscuous with their agencies than they ever have…”

He said he has been to many marketing conferences and has seen some really creative things, which he said was “awesome.” But he “hasn’t seen our industry really push for incredibly disruptive things,” he added. “We are still talking about the 30-second TV spot. Seriously?”

If you’re truly interested in this stuff (or if your future depends on it), I strongly recommend studying every word he says, for the utter collapse of Madison Avenue is at hand. Companies like Pepsico are now media companies, thanks to technology, and their money is increasingly being spent in house, as Borrell has been tracking for years.

As the old country song says, “You never heard my words before, but can you hear me now?”