Distraction Is Hurting Your Career

[Updated September 18, 2015.]

Yes, Virginia, advertising is hurting your career. Well, not just ads, but also crap content. You know, the Twinkies of text. Empty mental calories. It’s all serving to dull your edge and tarnish your chances of getting a promotion and that new BMW.

I know. It’s almost un-American to publicly proclaim one’s hatred for advertising. Maybe I’m weird. Or difficult to please. But I simply hate ads. In Don Draper’s world, he would have already paid someone to snuff me.

About ten years ago, my wife and I did the cord cutter thing, before anyone was familiar with the term or it was a trending topic. Removing Time Warner Cable from our home saved us $95 a month (which has added up to about $11,000 at this point, more than enough to pay for my fancy British speakers). More important, it also eliminated the obnoxious ads that used to emanate from our TV and derail our thoughts.

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Next, I quit playing the radio in my car. In fact, I’ve never played the radio in my current vehicle. As a music lover, it was easy to fall back on compact discs or plugging in my iPod. This freed time to think about career strategies and current projects or listen to educational podcasts, leveraging that valuable and quickly accumulating commute time…as opposed to being mentally jostled by mediocre voice actors trying to sell me carpeting or tires.

But what about those pesky web-based ads, like the stuff you see on Facebook and other sites? For a long time, I simply tolerated them. Crap about online games, celebrity cosmetic surgery blunders, and impossibly low insurance rates dominates the ads of many sites. They’re ugly, obnoxious, and—most significantly—distracting.

This advertising is very carefully crafted to appeal to basic human psychology and steal our attention. I’m typically not the smartest guy in the room, but I try to remember to plug in my brain each morning. I find these ads to be almost surrealistically insulting to my intelligence.

Everyone uses the web differently. Personally, I use it mostly for research. Sure, a bit of social interaction and certainly some entertainment (Netflix, HBO Now, and YouTube are always a click away). But most of my activity is doing research for my freelance writing and books. In this capacity, ads are especially painful because of their distraction.

I’m trying to get work done that directly impacts my career, not have my retinas barraged by frivolous promotions for products or services that in no way help me reach my goals. It’s highly ironic that my laptop and broadband connection, the “work truck” without which I simply can’t do my job, are laced with ADD-inducing ads designed, nay engineered, to derail me from my daily thoughts and work.

It’s as if I’m on a diet and, on every work commute, I lose control of the Ford F-250 I’m driving to the job site as it autonomously pulls into a Dunkin’ Donuts and someone at the drive-thru shoves a double glazed into my yap.

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Thus, last year, I installed an ad blocker in my browser. The particular one I use is fast, effective, and doesn’t slow my computer to a crawl (like some products). But, most importantly, it eliminates hundreds of ads from reaching my eyes every week. No matter how subtly, those ads are very carefully orchestrated distractions designed to suck away my focus from the task at hand (in my case, research for writing projects). If I’m investigating solar energy, for example, I don’t care about Toyota’s latest subcompact or, worse, celebrity dieting tips.

Before you cry foul and accuse me of undermining American democracy or being anti-capitalistic, realize that I’m willing to pay for information services instead of receiving a slew of ads. After all, these companies have to pay the bills somehow—and I’ve never believed in the theft of intellectual property. Often, however, service providers don’t offer an ad-free, paid option.

Take Flipboard, for example. This popular media aggregation app for mobile devices is available free. Unfortunately, there’s no subscription option or method for avoiding advertising. However, the full-page national ads it features are tasteful and professional. There’s no creepy caffeinated car salesman screaming “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday…Everything must GO!!!” at the top of his lungs or the “10 Biggest Celebrity Bikini Disasters” lurking in wait to put me into an epileptic fit.

For those of you unfamiliar, Flipboard displays your hand-picked media sources (from a large collection, in categories like News, Sports, and Tech & Science) in a collage of square tiles that “flip” when they’re automatically updated. I’m pretty picky about my news sources; most are related to consumer tech (like Engadget, Ars Technica, and Gigaom).

But then I noticed something funny: Articles were appearing from an undesired business news outlet I hadn’t selected (which I’ll leave unnamed, because it pays promotional fees to LinkedIn, the gracious home for my Pulse posts). Let’s just say I’m not a big fan of this news source and its use of click bait headlines, hyperbolistic language, and shoddy editing (and no, it’s not the Huffington Post).

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In fact, respected tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Jason Calacanis called this news organization “the masters of linkbait,” adding, “That’s what the link-baiting press does today: They literally make shit up to get you to click the headline.”

It’s this type of trash content that blurs our vision, steals our focus, and doesn’t plant intelligent thoughts. You don’t need to have a journalism degree to find such media sources a waste of mental bandwidth, many of which don’t even try to edit their content (do you hear me, Gizmodo?). Few would disagree that, intellectually, we are what we eat. Doesn’t the quality of our thoughts, spurred by what we read and hear, heavily influence our careers and livelihoods?

I’m not one to tell a business how to run itself. As I’m always preaching, I can easily dump Flipboard and adopt a competing service. The stealthy appearance of these unwanted, smarmy articles in my Cover Stories most likely means that Flipboard is receiving promotional fees from this media outlet. I didn’t select them. But they’re also not ads.

Very sneaky, guys.

Some media outlets get it, though, offering consumers the option of paying more for fewer ads or their complete absence. Hulu Plus, for example, the popular video streaming service that delivers current-run television shows to one’s living room or mobile device, recently rolled out a premium level that eliminates all ads. Customers content with commercial interruptions pay $8 a month, while those like me who value our mental liberation pay a measly $4 per month more to rid our entertainment of them. Now Parks & Rec is interruption-free. Ahhh, sweet bliss.

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Pandora is another example of a service that provides consumers with an option. The free version of this uber-popular internet-based music discovery service delivers obnoxious local ads for dating services and car dealerships, but for a mere $36 per year, these ads can be eliminated entirely. A cheap price indeed to keep the music flowing and avoid the distraction and frustration of those obnoxious ads.

The combination of my ad blockers, Hulu Plus, and the fact that my other media and entertainment sources are already ad-free (like Netflix, iTunes, and HBO Now), means I now have a completely ad-free life, both professionally and personally. I have finally reached an ad-free nirvana.

Despite small setbacks like Flipboard (and the fact that my wife always leaves the radio on an obnoxious FM radio station whenever she drives my car), I’m happy that, in the year 2015, we’re able to so thoroughly eliminate ads from our lives. All while improving our work productivity, enhancing our home lives, and boosting our household budgets by cutting the cord.

Try to rid your life of distraction, in the form of ads and worthless click bait media content. You’ll be surprised how it allows you to focus on the things that really matter—like your work, career, and family.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

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iPod Touch, 6th Generation: A Teen’s Perspective

Both of my kids are addicted to social media and, by proxy, the devices made of aluminum and glass that provide access to them.

For the past several months, my youngest daughter has complained of a very sluggish third generation iPod touch. It was certainly getting long in the tooth; she couldn’t even install the latest version of iOS. The meager 8 GB of storage meant she had to continually uninstall and reinstall apps in the hopes of freeing up enough space.

Feeling her pain, I agreed to purchase her one of the new sixth generation iPod touch units from Apple. While some question the validity and purpose of a new, uber-fast iPod in 2015 (when so many people have opted for a smartphone), my daughter couldn’t be happier. Apps that previously would crash or exhibit extreme sluggishness now load and execute in record time.

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I’ll spare you the hardware spec details of the latest touch, but suffice it to say that it has twice the memory (a full 1 GB) of the fifth generation touch and the same processor chip as the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

Sometimes Faster Than the iPhone 6

However, because the touch features only a 4″ screen, not the 4.7″ and 5.5″ displays of the latest iPhones, it actually loads some apps faster than its phone-based cousin. The math is simple: The touch is simply pushing fewer pixels, meaning it can execute many operations, especially graphically intensive tasks, faster than a similar device sporting a larger display.

My daughter doesn’t care about the processing chips or memory configuration of her new touch. For her, it’s all about performance. When she swipes across the screen, how fluid is the display? How well does it keep up with her multitasking and hyper-fast keyboard entry? Do apps load instantaneously, without hesitation or stutter?

In all cases, the sixth generation touch excels. Those on a budget can get an entry-level 16 GB model for only $200. The latest generation iPod is also available with 64 GB of memory for $300 and tops out at a whopping 128 GB for another $100. Like all Apple devices, the touch supports Apple’s wireless wi-fi-based AirPlay system, allowing audio and video content to be cast to a supporting receiving device (such as Apple TV and many home theater audio/video receivers, like my 2012 Pioneer models).

Cheaper Than The Previous Model

Somewhat uncharacteristically of Apple, not only is the new touch sporting twice the memory and several times the processing power of its predecessor, but it’s also cheaper. The iPod touch fifth generation 32 GB model I purchased for my oldest daughter was $300; the new sixth gen model is only $250 for the same memory configuration.

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The aspect of the sixth generation touch that is most beneficial to my selfiephilia suffering daugher is the vastly improved camera. Sporting a slightly dumbed down version of the iPhone 6 shooter, the latest touch captures beautiful high-resolution images and high-definition (1080 p) video. It even offers a 120 frames per second slow motion mode to further keep kids (and adults) entertained.

Because the unit relies solely on wi-fi for connectivity, it supports the latest home networking standards (for those who own routers that also support the latest protocols and fastest data transfer rates). And, of course, like almost all Apple devices, battery life is stellar.

Sexy Form Factor

All of this technical gadgetry comes in a package that is slimmer than previous generations. The thickness reminds me of the feel I get when holding an iPad Air 2, with the thinness just begging for applause. Like all Apple hardware, the sixth gen iPod touch is a sexy, fast beast that will satisfy even the most hard core user who doesn’t need the cell phone network connectivity delivered by a device like the iPhone 6.

While kids love the iPad and, to a lesser extent, the iPad Mini, they still cling to their most personal of devices, the one that fits in their back pocket. While all use cases vary, it seems that the most mobile of devices are the ones that both kids, teens, and adults most covet and with which they engage for the greatest number of hours.

I realize you might be eyeing a hand-me-down iPhone 4S or 5 for your teenage children, or possibly buying them their own iPhone 6. But for those who don’t need the additional data plan and device charges on their monthly phone bill—or who are typically within wi-fi range and willing to use Skype—the iPod touch sixth generation is a sleek, leading edge solution to the social media and image/video capture needs of today’s millennials.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

The Future of Electric Car Sales

In early February, Neil Winton, a British automotive journalist who contributes to the Detroit News and Forbes, wrote an article headlined “Electric Car Sales Jump in Europe, but Likely to Stall Soon.”

No Consumer Demand?

The Forbes article was based mostly on data derived from Europe’s Automotive Industry Data (AID) newsletter and quotes from Peter Schmidt, its editor. Said Schmidt, as quoted by Winton, “Effectively, you have no detectable genuine underlying consumer demand from private individuals” for electric cars.

nissan leaf for linkedinSchmidt went on to describe how the next few years will be “a scary time for electric car makers, chiefly because, as the price of oil continues to hover around levels inconceivable a year ago, and with fuel prices falling month to month, those people who had thought about buying an electric car may give up when they look at motoring expenses.”

Gloomy Future?

Despite significant growth in electric vehicle (EV) sales in the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe, Schmidt believes EVs face a gloomy future. “The market appears to be going nowhere, absolutely nowhere. The numbers for 2014 look healthy, but they are not,” he reported. Schmidt went on to describe how new EV models experience only “initial fast growth.”

The real quote that caught my attention: “Effectively, you have no detectable genuine underlying consumer demand from private individuals” (emphasis mine). When Schmidt says “numbers for 2014 look healthy,” let’s examine these figures and the trend over the past few years (this is fresh on my mind, since I’m currently completing a book about alternative cars).

From Understanding Battery Electric Cars, a section in Chapter 1, What is an Alternative Car?:

“Sales of electric cars have grown rapidly during the past few years. In the United States, in 2011, only 17,500 EVs were sold. In 2012, the number leaped to 53,000 (a whopping 300 percent increase). Then, in 2013, sales nearly doubled to 96,000 units. 2014 was the first year in which EV sales in the States exceeded 100,000 (according to TransportEvolved.com). Of these, nearly a third, or 30,200, were Nissan LEAFs (an increase from 22,600 units sold in 2013).

If this increase of more than 570 percent in only three years in the U.S. is any indication of the future of EVs, they may be very successful indeed.

In the United Kingdom (a country of only 65 million residents, compared to the 315 million people in the U.S.), sales of electric vehicles reached 10,000 by May 2014. In March 2014, 1,200 electric cars were sold in the country, up from only 270 in the same month of 2013 (according to The Guardian).”

I recently contributed an article to CarNewsCafe entitled “Electric Cars: Low Gas Prices Aren’t Significant.” As you can guess, in it I argued that the current—and most likely temporary—low gas prices won’t significantly affect the upward trend in EV sales. Tesla Model SI referenced a January 2015 article by my colleague Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield at Transport Evolved, which quoted used car portal Carlypso. “By the end of the first quarter this year, [Carlypso] predicts that electric car sales in the U.S. will total around one percent of all new car sales, up from 0.86 percent in December last year,” wrote Gordon-Bloomfield.

Not Just Cheap Fuel

I went on to write of how it is not simply cheap fuel prices that attract prospective EV buyers. Very low, and predictable, maintenance costs are another major reason car buyers are considering electric transportation. Tune ups, oil changes, engine repair, and transmission work are all things of the past in the world of electric vehicles.

In her article, Gordon-Bloomfield emphasized the high-tech convenience features offered by most EVs as being, surprisingly, one of the most popular reasons for owning one. Of course, in a society that’s perpetually connected to social media and commonly toting app-driven mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, this should come as no surprise. (I have often argued that consumer interest in EVs is based in saving money and gaining high-tech, high-status personal transport, not saving the environment or decreasing one’s carbon footprint.)

“Features like remote climate control, remote unlocking, and never having to scrape ice off the windshield are a great bonus of plug-in cars, with pretty much every plug-in owner we’ve spoken to (new and old alike) citing them as their favourite features of owning a plug-in,” wrote Gordon-Bloomfield.

In addition, “low” gas prices really aren’t that low. Current gas prices seem cheap only because they are about 60% of what they were mere months ago. Likewise, $2 per gallon gasoline in the States is expensive compared to charging a battery with electricity, even in areas where electricity is relatively pricey.

tesla supercharger

Consider what $2.16 will get you. Although in many areas of the U.S. it currently won’t even get you a gallon of gas, let’s say it will. It will also fully charge the battery of a Fiat 500e or Nissan LEAF electric car, which will transport you about 80 miles.

The average fuel economy of new cars sold, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, is only 25 MPG. In fact, the most popular vehicles sold, trucks and SUVs, typically get only 15-20 MPG. But assuming the 25 MPG U.S. average, that $2.16 will transport you 25 miles in a gasoline-powered car, or 70-80 miles in an affordable EV like the LEAF or 500e. Or, according to Car and Driver, 17 miles of city/suburban driving in the uber-popular 2015 Ford F-150 truck—but that’s only after this year’s model shed 700 lbs. of weight by integrating aluminum into the body and bed.

Pricey Electricity < Cheapest Gas

But I want to be fair. Just like gasoline prices fluctuate and vary across the nation and between countries, so do electricity rates. That $2.16 is for the state of Washington, which features the cheapest electricity rates in the country (nine cents per kWh). In New York, home of the highest rates (19 cents per kWh), that same Fiat 500e would cost $4.56 to fully charge. Assuming that would purchase two gallons of gas and propel our hypothetical average fuel economy car 50 miles, it still pales in comparison to the 70 or 80 miles delivered by an affordable EV. If we were talking corporate spreadsheets, CPAs and MBAs would be screaming—and demanding adoption of EVs.

Within the past year, residents of major U.S. cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles were paying upward of $4.30 per gallon for gasoline. Again, the petrol vehicle would get only 25 miles from that investment, while an electric car, if charging with the most expensive electricity in the nation, could travel nearly 80 miles (three times further). The sheer unpredictability of gas prices—and resulting inability to accurately manage a family budget—is reason enough for many to dump fossil fuels for electrons.

If you live in the United Kingdom or Europe, this argument is even more powerful. On February 2, gasoline was selling for $7.50 per U.S. gallon in Norway. Now you know why 15% of all new car sales in this Scandinavian country are electric.


No Crystal Ball

Back to AID’s Peter Schmidt and Forbes’ Neil Winton. Winton is claiming, based on quotes from Schmidt, that EV sales will begin to lag and that big companies, like Nissan and Tesla, which have each invested billions in electric car and battery research, will suffer. Of course, Schmidt also said that current gas prices “could hover around current levels for [the] next five years or so.” Nobody has a crystal ball, but that’s one hell of an assumption—especially given the volatility of gas prices during the past five years.

2013-fiat-500e_100410277_lWhat I really question here is Schmidt’s assertion that there’s “no detectable genuine underlying consumer demand” for EVs. According to Gordon-Bloomfield, convenience features are among the primary reasons current EV owners love their vehicles. Fuel is considerably cheaper for EVs, even with temporarily low gas prices. And maintenance expenses are a fraction of what it costs to keep a petrol-powered piston pumper on the road.

If Schmidt is right and there’s truly no “underlying consumer demand” for electric cars, I’d blame it on one thing, and one thing only: Ignorance. If iPhone-toting, Netflix-binging, budget-strapped consumers aren’t enticed by high-tech convenience, considerably lower fuel prices, and immense savings on maintenance, it means they simply aren’t aware of the benefits.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

What is a Luddite?

It’s difficult for me to write about a controversial topic like electric vehicles, cord cutting, or renewable energy without using the term “Luddite.” Recently, my wife’s cousin commented on one of my blog posts regarding Blu-ray players: “I am a real Luddite…I have to read directions to play a DVD…so, what is a Blu-ray?”

I explained that she isn’t a Luddite, but merely ignorant of the topic (a neophyte, if you will—although this label implies she’s already embraced the new system). I realized that, if I’m going to be throwing this somewhat misunderstood historical term around like a drunk college kid hitting on people at a frat party, I might want to provide a bit of definition and clarity.

According to Wikipedia, “The Luddites were 19th-century English textile artisans who protested against newly developed labour-replacing machinery from 1811 to 1817. The stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms introduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace the artisans with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work. Although the origin of the name Luddite is uncertain, a popular theory is that the movement was named after Ned Ludd, a youth who allegedly smashed two stocking frames in 1779, and whose name had become emblematic of machine destroyers.”

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We’re living in a period in which the introduction of disruptive technology is faster and more pervasive than at any time in the history of the world. We used to call it paradigm shift. Now we love the term “disruption.” Whatever the label du jour, it’s a way of describing the merciless onslaught of myriad digital technologies, social media networks, next-gen transportation models, and brilliant biotech breakthroughs.

And then there’s the old guard. The folks who profit from and control the outdated legacy tech used by millions or billions of people; the corporate status quo and their political allies. They don’t easily release their grasp on our lives—or our wallets. Plain and simple, Luddites are protectionists. They’re the mob heavy standing on the corner who sneers, “Beat it, kid. This is our block.”

I’m sure the entrenched, wealthy powers that controlled horses and buggies were freaked out by the first automobiles. It’s clearly evident that television intimidated the hell out of film makers and cinema owners in the 1950s (it explains the plethora of experimental aspect ratio introductions to differentiate cinema from TV’s 4:3 format). Heck, I wouldn’t doubt if whiskey companies were a bit alarmed by the invention of the hypodermic needle prior to the civil war—fast-acting morphine being the disruptor.

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Luddites are everywhere. Ebook authors Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler write about the desperate and short-sighted efforts of those in the legacy publishing industry. Automobile industry Luddites have grabbed headlines recently for their successful campaigns to halt test drives and sales of electric cars in Iowa and Michigan. Cable companies like Time Warner and Cox are acting like Luddites in their attempts to keep you from cutting the cord and using only streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. And, of course, the very Ludditist Koch Brothers and Big Oil will do their best to prevent folks from obtaining new tech like electric cars and power from sustainable sources like solar, wind, and nuclear energy. Despite superior (and affordable) alternatives, fracking continues unabated.

Bloggers and writers, both professional and amateur alike, need to focus on how easily their communications are understood, not necessarily impressing readers with big words. But in a time of severe disruption and technological advancement—and the displacement of entrenched old-school corporate and political players—terms like “Luddite” are more necessary than ever.

Stay vigilant, dear readers. Don’t let the Luddites destroy the new digital looms.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.