September 24, 2018

“We’re Doomed” or “We’re Saved” (I can’t decide)

Recently, I watched an episode of Charlie Rose in which he interviewed Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, and Mark Andreesen, who is on the board of Facebook (and, seemingly, of almost every other high-flying Silicon Valley company). They were filming the show at a conference of top marketers at some sort of big-time advertising pow-wow. The general tone of the conversation revolved around how Facebook was going to conquer the world, and Sandberg was waxing eloquent about how Facebook is now perfecting advertising in the “mobile space,” when Charlie (if you have seen The Charlie Rose Show as many times as I have, you get to call him “Charlie”) turned to Andreesen and asked, “You have said that software is going to eat marketing, haven’t you?” And the reply was, “Well, yes, software will eat marketing, but what I actually said that software will eat the world.” He went on to support his argument by saying, “…software just makes things more efficient.” To me, this was very interesting.
Earlier in the week, I had seen the latest video about how Google is going about making the driver of an automobile absolutely unnecessary (a human- driven car is now 87.63% more likely to make an error than a software-driven one — and the video assured me that that number would soon be in the 90 percentile level). And, also, since the election, I have been reading almost everything I could find about how Obama was re-elected. Think about this: how did an unpopular president, with upside down favorability ratings, presiding over a weak economy, with a nearly 8% unemployment rate, win with most of the population so volatile and angrily against all government and incumbents? There are a lot of elements here (one is tempted to cite the fact that, generally speaking, he was running against one of the biggest dickheads of all time — but America is in love with dickheads [ref: George W. & Richard Nixon]). The answer it seems, to me anyway, is that Obama had a campaign organization that was inordinately superior, and superior not just by a little, but by an order of magnitude. At the heart of that organization, was a team of high-tech experts (gathered from the elite of Silicon Valley outfits). And these wizards were mastering a new development in the hi-tech world called Big Data. I’ll talk more about Big Data in some future blog, but suffice it to say for now that Big Data is not only able to sort “structured” data (i.e. reports, tables, documents, etc.), but also “unstructured” data (i.e.information from cell phones, GSP devices, meters, etc.). When used properly — which the Obama team was certainly capable of — it creates incredible advantages. For example, normal databases can tell a campaign which areas of a city has a greater percentage of voters most likely to vote for its candidate.With Big Data, Obama’s team was able to identify not only which individuals in a certain block were leaning toward Obama, but also what that particular individual’s “hot buttons” were (i.e. which issues,whether or not they were going to vote, if they were registered, etc.). So when Romney’s teams were sent out, they canvassed large, mass areas with no knowledge of what they would find. Obama work erswere sent to specific addresses, with specific support and arguments for that individual. Obviously, this is what Andreesen would call “efficient.”

But the thing that was said during the Charlie Rose Show that really got me thinking was when Andreesen turned to the audience (of advertisers and marketers) and declared that we have now come to the time when software is finally going to dramatically expand its reach beyond the strictly high tech arenas and get into really inefficient areas “…like advertising, which is really wasteful. But also other areas like health care, insurance, law…” My first thoughts about all this were positive (I mean who wouldn’t want something that obviated lawyers and insurance agents, right?). But the more I thought about it, the spookier it became. I mean if they keep advancing software, getting rid of inefficiencies, how soon before it is realized that humans are, actually, once you get down to it, mostly, well, random. Because write essay of the remarkable women in writegirl, I know that being a young female writer doesn’t have to be a silent act, clutching your pencil in a corner and softly writing the words you are too scared to utter


  1. pbloom says:

    Now, the truth be told… Obama won because of “software smoothies” not the women’s vote… I told you so!

  2. Mike Morris says:

    Outstanding piece. To think that Obama won for reasons totally unrelated to the functions he will perform as president, is scary.

    • Tom says:

      If he had lost, the reasons would be equally unrelated to his performance as president — when money drives the campaign process, misinformation leads the day.

  3. Tom says:

    Efficiency will be the death of us. Year-on-year GDP growth is about the most misleading measure available for the modern economy, which is why you see it dissected 9 ways to Sunday — and debated 24/7 — on every news channel in the western world.

    You’re happy that “your guy” made better use of technology this time around, but as with Moneyball, the advantage is temporary.

    Society now needs a huge dose of inefficiency — I recommend, for example, shifting government education subsidies away from science and finance, and toward art, sports, and cooking classes — to counteract the wealth distortions that our obsession with efficiency has brought. To borrow from Sting, “too many cameras and not enough food” makes for a short-lived culture.

    Kill a marketing guy, and save a child. Kill a marketing professor, and save the whole friggin village.

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