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The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
This week: the best job for a liar, Trump's unintended benefits, and why brands are going back to the future.
This long, utterly delicious exposé of the successful thriller writer Dan Mallory has been much shared, but I can't resist including it here. The writer, Ian Parker, is a great reporter, masterful storyteller, and a writer with a brilliantly dry sense of humour. Although it's an awful tale in many ways, I read it as black comedy (I'm not sure I've ever laughed at the word 'cancer' as much as I did here). It won't spoil anything to tell you that the article reveals Mallory, who worked in publishing before he sold his first novel, to be a pathological liar. Terrible person that he is, I will give him this: he found his metier. This story would be significantly worse for him if he was writing non-fiction, or really, doing anything else at all. There is no better job for a pathological liar than writing novels.
One of the things I do in my non-writing life is advise a fintech start-up on its brand strategy. I like doing it for many reasons but one is that the office is full of "ver kidz", as Smash Hits used to call young people. One of my colleagues there has a kind of protruding disc attached to the back of his smartphone. I've been meaning to ask what it is, but I was worried I might sound like a High Court judge. Well, now I know. They're called PopSockets, and what they do is - well, people have different views on what they're for. They were invented by a guy called David Barnett from Colorado who wanted something to wrap his headphone cord around. So he made some, but then consumers started to use them as a grip, a clip, as decoration...Barnett's company has now sold over 100 million of the things and employs 200 people. I love this story. The best part is that Barnett is a philosophy professor.
Speaking of Smash Hits, I don't think I realised at the time quite how brilliant Tears For Fears were. Reading this review made me realise how many great songs they had.
This week's Digital Dispatch for the New Statesman is on the difficulty of choosing what to watch or listen to in the age of cultural overload.
Among Americans, concern about climate change is the highest it's ever been, and it's shown a marked uptick since Trump was elected. This piece is interesting on how the public makes up its mind about policy issues. The policy views of US voters are largely reactive to what's happening in politics. Right now, if Trump is very clearly against something, or in this case, is flagrantly careless of it, then voters who merely worried a little, now care a lot. The author of the piece is pessimistic, suggesting things might flip again if a pro-Green Democrat is elected, but we can't know that for sure. It seems just as likely that at least some of these new "reactivists" will stay activated, and that any opposite reaction remains subdued. The next president is unlikely to be as divisive or unpopular as Trump.
Imagine if we'd only ever done shopping over the internet. I'm pretty sure that at some point some entrepreneur would say Hey, how about we take over a building, put lots of stuff in that, and get consumers to come to us? They take it home in their own cars - we don't have to deliver a thing! Plus they'll buy lots of stuff at the same time, including things they didn't even know they wanted. Genius. In recent years there has been a lot of noise around brands who go Direct To Consumer (D2C). They're concentrated in cosmetics (eg Glossier), fashion (Warby & Parker), razor blades (Harry's) and, for some reason, mattresses. D2C brands, in theory at least, skip traditional channels like shops and conventional advertising, and build their brand online, using social media. This approach has attracted a lot of VC money because it feels like the future. But as this excellent article begins by pointing out, 15 of D2C businesses recently opened stores in one small part of New York. The author, Shane O' Leary, argues that D2C brands have found a new way of beginning a consumer business but not of growing one. At the point they move to the mass market they still resort to mass media and retail distribution. This is an example of a persistent mistake we make in our predictions. We either think things are going to carry on as they are, or that there will be a total transformation, when the truth is that the future usually contains large elements of the past. The past has some good ideas!
On American campuses in 2018 there were fewer deplatformings, fewer fired professors, more dialogue and less violence than in 2017.
Bach turned 333 on the first of this month. To celebrate, Classic FM posted this beautiful video of an informal performance of a cantata. It's in a church, light gleaming through a window. The whole thing is absolutely - well, I hesitate to say 'sublime' because it's an overused word, but it's the only one that will do here. Even if you're not a classical music or Bach fan, check it out. Your day will brighten.
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