When will the smartphone receive recognition as the controlling medium of today?

While listening to an older Bret Easton Ellis podcast (his fantastic interview with Kanye West after the launch of Yeezus), the thought struck me that we don’t give enough recognition to the smart phone as a medium in its own right.
Easton Ellis was discussing how cinema used to be a controlling (his choice of word) medium. He talked about how, when films would only be shown in the theater, the medium controlled the viewer rather than the other way around. The film started at a certain time, and would continue whether you wanted to go the bathroom or not. Today, of course, the control is firmly with the viewer, who can start and stop at any time, or move the viewing experience between screens. Easton Ellis may or may not be right in lamenting the decline of the power of film.

However, an interesting corollary is the simultaneous rise in the control of the smart phone. Smart phones are now the controlling medium of our time. Recent apps have popped up showing users how often and how much they use their phones per day (e.g. Checky) showing that we are under strict control of our phones.

As any medium in its youth, like the TV or the Internet before it, smart phones are still not being seen as a respectable medium. It’s more common to see articles pointing out increased shallowness and shortening of attention spans coming from the usage of smart phones rather than articles praising their immediacy and proximity to our experiences.

This will probably change as new apps develop and get more and more high brow.

Is the proliferation of apps getting out of control?


With the news of yet another Facebook stand-alone app, Moments, it seems the trend of breaking down the mobile experience in more and more apps is going strong. Facebook’s latest two experiments – Paper and Slingshot – have not picked up that many users. The stand-alone Messenger app obviously has many users, since Facebook forced its users to download it to send messages, but it doesn’t seem that people are happy with it.

New York Times is following the same strategy, with NYT Now, and NYT Op-Ed being spun off as separate apps. These are all nice apps, but it seems to go against the findings that people don’t like to use that many apps. Recent findings showed that people do not download many apps after the first months of usage, many in fact download none.

Facebook’s latest results were stunning in terms of mobile revenue, so perhaps having multiple apps creates an automatic uptick in advertising impressions. However, one would hope that the future of mobile advertising revenue does not lie solely in impressions, but in deeper engagement. If it will be the latter, having complete apps that fulfill all the users’ needs would be a better solution.

10 books that have influenced me

I was prompted recently by a Facebook chain to list the 10 books that have influenced me the most. It was fun to put together the list, and I gave it some thought, so wanted to post it here on the blog also:

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything – Joshua Foer
The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch: Lewis Dartnell
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Letters from a Stoic – Seneca
Underworld – Don DeLillo
The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies – Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
How Proust Can Change Your Life: Alain de Botton
The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study – Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Hitch-22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens

When will Asia get the conflation of offline and online that we see in the US?

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Having recently spent more time in the US than in Asia, I’m finding it fascinating to compare which services are available here in the US compared to Asia.

What we’ve seen over the last years is how easy it is to replicate online services that don’t require infrastructure other than broadband lines, wherever you are in the world. There are even companies for which this is their entire business model (looking at you, Rocket Internet).

In Asia, decent broadband in most places has therefore allowed companies to do things that are pure online, such as sell flight tickets, advertise their brand on social media or market online gaming. However, what we don’t see much of yet is pickup of the services where the online world meets offline, actual products, such as the main sharing economy services Uber and Airbnb and location-based services.

If we look at the location-based services first, Foursquare and other check-in services never took off in Asia. Similarly, Yelp and other recommendation services have not seen any big usage. For these ones, it seems it is not the physical infrastructure that is missing, but rather the human infrastructure. There is probably a lack of trust in the the recommendations of strangers and a distrust of trumpeting one’s location to the world. This will take a long time to change. Airbnb will probably fall on this same lack of trust and habit.

For the Uber and Uber for X services (as detailed very amusingly on Re/code here), however, these seem much more ripe to soon take off. There is no reason why pizzas should be only thing that could be delivered to your house. As this recent article detailed, India’s dabbawallas are a wonder of efficiency in their delivery, that even FedEx is envious of. Motorcycles that navigate crazy traffic is a mainstay of Hanoi/Bangkok/Kuala Lumpur.

Someone recently said that, in order to know what the middle classes will use in a few years, we should look at what rich people are using now. This has been true for going out to restaurants – now an activity for all, and now Uber – personal driver for all. The Asian middle classes are developing rapidly, and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t want what their current rich classes have.

I was disappointed recently when I realized that Zeel, “the Uber for massages” is not available in Washington DC (of course it’s only in LA and Miami). But given Asian audiences love of massages, I would advise them to go to Bangkok next.

More on the choice of name for ISIS

Speaking of which acronym to use for ISIS/ISIL/IS, here is a good WashPo article on it. It suggests that Obama was using ISIL to not mention Syria. I would still argue that using ISIS is the best, since Levant recognizes that they are targeting e.g. Jordan as well, and IS is subtly acknowledging that they would have established “a state”.

US public turns positive to strikes against ISIS

ISIS has received unprecedented attention for their media strategy. Media analysts worldwide have fallen over themselves to analyze, and unfortunately also praise, ISIS’ media strategy, simply because they have set up numerous Twitter accounts and are familiar with YouTube.

Granted, this has led to a large level of attention. ISIS has garnered global attention, there has been ISIS paraphernalia for sale in stores (at least in Turkey), and they have been able to recruit radical young European muslims.

Fortunately, we are now also seeing the flipside of increased attention. The launch/leak of ISIS gruesome videos has led the US public to desert their isolationist views and support strikes against ISIS. A year ago, Obama tried and failed to get US support for strikes in Syria, based on Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Tonight, as he makes his statement, he has support both from the public and Congress to make strikes against ISIS.

Al-Baghdadi has received praise for his military strategy. Fortunately, that might have been premature. Turning the world even more against his organization and assuring airstrikes against his forces hardly seems to be move of a master strategist.

Quick response to Felix Salmon’s Apple Watch post

The inimitable @felixsalmon took to Medium yesterday to register his skepticism against the Apple Watch: https://medium.com/@felixsalmon/apple-hasnt-solved-the-smart-watch-dilemma-5c8b61ca97f0

As much as I enjoy reading mr Salmon (and enjoy listening to his weekly finance podcast – Slate Money), I really think he’s off on this one. His main argument seems to be that people will have to charge the watch. However, I think is the wrong comparison. This is only an argument for people who would switch from a regular watch to an Apple Watch, while it completely leaves out the huge public who no longer wears watches and relies on their phones instead to check the time. They gave up wearing watches many years ago, and would not compare the Apple Watch to a regular watch, but rather to another device. Devices, they now by now, needs to be charged, and they have been conditioned to do so. The Apple Watch will just be another device to charge at night.

Speaking from my own experience, I already charge my phone, my bluetooth headset, my bluetooth speakers, as well as my smart watch at night, and it just becomes another habit. Our habits change continuously, and, given all the other ways in which we act differently from 1995 (remember waiting for people indefinitely at meeting places when there were only landlines?), this doesn’t seem like the biggest one.

Ah, and one more thing, let’s not forget it charges wirelessly!

The Ultimate List of Podcasts for Infovores

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noun: A person who indulges in and desires information gathering and interpretation.

As readers of this blog might have noticed, I’m addicted to podcasts. I find it an unbeatable way to take in information while multitasking something else. (I’m for example listening to the Politico podcast while writing this). Therefore, whenever I see a list of “The Best Podcasts”, I inevitably click on it. These pop up from time to time on all the listicle websites such as Business Insider, PolicyMic or Buzzfeed. This one was on PolicyMic, Biz Insider had this one a while back, and you could find this one on BuzzFeed.

However, there is one big problem with all these lists, they all favor the “storytelling” podcasts. Examples of these kinds of podcasts are This American Life, or Radiolab, or the TED Radio Hour. Don’t get me wrong, these are all great pieces of radio. Especially Radiolab is very innovative. However, they can sometimes feel a bit narrow in their focus on people’s stories or personalities.

Another type of podcast that is often favored in “best of”-lists, are the ones that stretch the medium in new directions. Examples are Welcome to Night Vale, or Love + Radio. Again, it’s great to see people playing with the medium, but those kinds of podcasts are not for everyone.

I’m convinced that there are other people like me who listen to podcasts primarily as an information source, the way that you have Bloomberg on the TV on in the background. This list, therefore, is for you: The Top Podcasts for Infovores. In no particular order.

Definition: A good podcast for an infovore is one that packs the largest amount of information and analysis into the shortest time possible. E.g. a podcast that doesn’t stray too much into unnecessary chatter.

  • 60-Second Science – from Scientific American. Does what it says on the bottle – delivers a quick, one-minute take on a recent scientific discovery. Has established cousins such as 60-second Tech and 60-second Mind. Published daily.
  • CFR’s The World Next Week – A fantastic, 30-minute podcast from the Council on Foreign Relations giving the audience a great heads up on what will happen in the coming week in terms of geopolitical and political economy events.
  • The Economist’s The Week Ahead – The Economist also has a great podcast looking forward to what key events to look out for in the coming week. Theirs is shorter, just 10 minutes, and tends to focus on a few key events, rather than CFR’s broader approach.
  • APM Marketplace Tech – APM (American Public Media) has their Marketplace business podcast, which is a great daily business podcast, one of the few American ones to take a global perspective. The podcast that is truly essential for the infovore, however is the Marketplace Tech podcast, which is a 5-minute daily take on the most interesting developments in the world of tech and digital business
  • BBC Business Daily – BBC’s business show is the best business podcast. It takes a very broad view of business, taking in everything from the economics of unknown elements of the periodic table, to a specific industry’s development in a little-known African country. The only business podcast that is truly essential listening. Not to be confused with their new podcast Business Matters, which is good, but not essential. Also runs for an hour, while Business Daily clocks in at a nice, info-packed 15 minutes.
  • Slate’s The Gist with Mike Pesca – Mike Pesca clearly packs in a lot of information in his daily, 15-minute podcast. It is arguable whether all the information is relevant for everyone, Pesca for example has an unhealthy obsession with vexillology (the study of flags), but he has the most interesting mind of any radio presenter alive and goes of on the most fascinating tangents every single day.
  • Philosophy Bites – Short, thought-provoking philosophy podcasts from Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds. Each episode contains a succinct interview with a philosopher about a specific concept.
  • Tech News 2Night – From TWiT comes this great, short (10 minutes) tech news podcast with Sarah Lane. Its daily companion, Tech News Today, with Mike Elgan, is also great, but it doesn’t make this list purely because of its length (50 minutes).
  • The Weekly Wonk – From The New America Foundation comes this great, newish podcast looking at the week’s wonky news, in terms of foreign and US domestic policy. Great guests join Anne-Marie Slaughter in the discussion.
  • O’Reilly Radar – Some of the most intelligent tech discussion takes place on this podcast from O’Reilly Media. Always impressed with the quality of the participants. Around half an hour.
  • More or Less: Behind the Stats – The Financial Times’ columnist Tim Harford has his BBC show debunking inane or questionable numbers and statistics that are thrown around in the media. Essential companion to news reading. Less than half an hour.
  • Babbage – The Economist’s weekly tech and science discussion. Only covers 2-3 news stories, but covers these well, and clocks in under 10 minutes.
  • Pop Tech Jam – The two presenters from the old New York Times Bits podcast (the blog lives on, but the podcast doesn’t) ventured out on their own, and have a fun and idiosyncratic take on the week’s tech and geek events. 30 minutes, and not a dull moment.
  • The Writer’s Almanac – From APM, Garrison Keillor does his daily take on what happened that day in the history of literature and world events. Ends with a reading of a daily poem. 5 minutes long.

Special mentions: These are really too long to be considered in this list, but are also among my favorite podcasts, so felt the need to mention them:

  • On Being – Technically a show on spirituality, Krista Tippett talks to a wide-ranging group of people on all matters that make us human. Some of the best interviews on the intersection of science, spirituality, and art.
  • The Tim Ferriss Show – Jack-of-all-trades Tim Ferriss sits down to drink wine with everyone from Kevin Kelly to Stephen Dubner.