19
Dec 14

Six Things I Think About Serial

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Yesterday was the last episode of Serial, the most excellent podcast that has taken the world of audio storytelling by storm.

Host Sarah Koenig has made commutes everywhere infinitely better because of her storytelling abilities, and we’re going to miss listening to her every Thursday.

If you’re one of the 5 million people who downloaded it, good luck finding your next fix. I’ve listened to similar podcasts like Criminal and Sword & Scale, but they don’t have that allure that Serial was able to capture.

If you haven’t listened to Serial yet, I’m jealous that you can binge listen all 12 episodes without having to wait a week in between.

In hindsight, I would have liked to have done that.

But you’re probably saying, “Brad, then you would have missed out on reading the amateur detective work on Reddit!”

This is true.

Like I said: I would have liked to binge listen all at once.

Since I have spent a good portion of my free time discussing the podcast with my wife and my friends, and convincing others to listen, I wanted to share a few thoughts I have as the story comes to a close, at least in serial form.

(Yar! There be spoilers ahead.)

1. We were never going to get a satisfying conclusion. As long as you accepted there would be no definitive conclusion to this story, then it was easier to enjoy the ride. Barring some huge bombshell Koenig was holding back, I think we all knew there would be no closure. That said, I’m pretty happy with some of the information that came to light in time for the last episode.

2. It lost steam. In the end, the podcast became became less about the whodunit, and more about hearsay and psychology. While it was fun to think about, it didn’t add a whole lot to the mystery.

3. Adnan should not be in jail. It’s pretty obvious at this point that the state did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that Adnan committed this crime. This sounds like a case of the jury not following their instruction, but what do I know?

4. If Adnan is guilty, he’s a good liar. I can’t fathom being in jail for 15 years and never, ever slipping up when it came to telling my side of the story. Saying he can’t remember that day sounds so implausible that it might just be true.

5. There is such a thing as too much information. Before this story was told, hardly any of us had ever heard of Adnan Sayed or Hae Min Lee. But now that we’ve spent so much time crowded around iPhones listening to the episodes, we think we knew these people. This has led to people expressing outrage for various reasons, including a harmless tweet from Best Buy that I’m surprised took so long to see the light of day. People need to get over themselves. The podcast has entered the lexicon of pop culture. Everything’s fair game. Even tweets about a 15-year old murder case. (Don’t even get me started on Redditors discovering Jay’s identity and stalking him on Facebook.)

6. Occam’s Razor might be our only saving grace. After the first four episodes, I repeatedly referred back to the idea that the theory with the fewest assumptions is probably the right theory. That’s Occam’s Razor. And after listening to 12 episodes, and becoming even more confused, that’s the only thought that brings me comfort.

Possibly the best result we get from this podcast are the copycats that are sure to follow. Now that it’s been proven there is an appetite for podcasts told in installments, I’m sure we will see many podcasters try to emulate the success of this one.

Speaking from the perspective of someone who spends two hours in a car every day driving to work, I’m surely not going to complain.


26
Nov 14

The Social Media Expert’s Guide to Using Twitter During Civil Unrest

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I don’t know about you all, but when ABC News broke into Dancing With The Stars on Monday night to share the verdict from the grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., the first thing I thought was “Gosh, I hope Sears isn’t going to tweet an ad for 50 percent off pants on Black Friday. What a tragedy that would be.”

Thankfully for us plebs, hundreds of social media experts took to Twitter to remind our beloved brands to turn off auto-tweets and, in the process, earn some well-deserved Twitter karma.

Because when we are watching riot police lob canisters of tear gas into crowds of protestors and CNN reporters interviewing each other, the last thing we should have to concern ourselves with is whether or not ads for Kate Upton’s new video game are going to interrupt our stream and cause us to chuck our iPads against the wall in disgust.

It really puts things in perspective when you are watching riots unfold on television and are forced to endure and avoid 140 characters about a special at Amazon.com.

How do we do it?

So let’s give those gurus of social media a round of applause. Their selflessness saved brands from humiliation and they should be commended and re-tweeted from here to eternity.

After all, nobody likes it when a brand tries to use a national tragedy for their own personal gain.


04
Nov 14

When Will It End?

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At a time when 70 percent of Americans hate their jobs, we are putting in more hours than ever before.

When Mother Nature blows her brutal winter winds across the Midwest, it’s not uncommon to leave for work and return from work in the dark, only seeing the sun’s light (when it shines) through the windows of the skyscrapers that house our bland home away from home: the office cubicle.

But our complaints are invalid if we don’t do anything to right them. As a people, it appears we are content to lament to friends and family (and surveys) how much we hate going to our jobs every day.

Yet, as a country of workers, we left $52 billion on the table in unused vacation benefits in 2013, which comes out to 169 millions days of paid time off.

Once you pass the point where it becomes impossible to use up your remaining vacation days, you’re working for free.

So I ask again the question that headlines this post: When will it end?

I can’t predict a time when the working population will be able to work less. That just seems like an impossible possibility.

We have more demands than ever on our time at the office. Clients want more hours spent on projects.

In my industry, over-servicing is the norm.

Public relations is a results oriented and competitive industry. There is always someone willing to work insane hours to get ahead. Relax for one minute and you risk being pushed aside.

Look –  we know that stress related to working too many hours can be, and in some cases is, deadly. While that is probably taking overwork to the extreme, it’s a sign that there should be cause for some concern.

But we avoid it.

Instead, we put in more hours at the expense of seeing our family and our lives become dictated by our work.

Confucious once said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

That’s a nice sentiment, isn’t it?

I fear, though, that for most of us, it’s a pipe dream.


15
Oct 14

Seven Podcasts That Will Make Your Commute Bearable

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Ever since my family moved earlier this year (a move that added 30 minutes to my commute) I have come to appreciate the value of a great podcast.

Not only does a great podcast make you think about things differently, but it can also soothe even the most savage beast when traffic starts to build up, helping your brain retreat to a faraway place where road rage isn’t a thing.

With winter approaching, we in Michigan are going to need something to take our minds off the fact that the commutes from hell are coming.

What better way to do that than by giving you some brain candy to make that commute just a little sweeter?

Here are seven podcasts that will make your commute bearable.

Serial – This is my favorite podcast at the moment. Created by the team behind This American Life, reporter Sarah Koenig is re-investigating the murder of Hae Min Lee, a Baltimore high school student whose body was found in a park in 1999. The ex-boyfriend has been serving a life sentence ever since, but some people believe he was wrong accused. Each week is another chapter in this story, and Koenig has many assets at her disposal to tell a compelling story: court testimonies, case files, and even telephone conversations with the accused. Needless to say, Thursdays are my favorite day of the week.

The Episode You Need to Hear: All of them. Only three have been released, so go ahead and binge.

Radiolab – This podcast takes stories and science and sound and puts them all together into one cohesive storytelling platform that is music to my ears. They do full episodes and shorts, but it really doesn’t matter what they release, as long as they release something. I have yet to download a podcast that doesn’t leave me wishing for more. I promise you’ll be hooked if you give it a chance.

Episode You Need to Hear: Patient Zero. Among other things, the hosts trace the AIDS virus all the way back to the point in time when it jumped from monkey to human. Fascinating.

Nerdist – Hosted by Chris Hardwick, this podcast is a collection of free flowing conversations with a number of individuals who make up the actors, authors, comedians, TV show hosts (and even wrestlers) we know and love. I’m convinced Hardwick wants to interview every person who has ever graced our pop culture, eh, culture.

Episode You Need to Hear: Ben Folds.

Love + Radio – This was a tough one to include because it updates so infrequently. But kind of like RadioLab, they find the extraordinary in our ordinary lives. I mean, you think everyone is like you and I, but there are people out there with crazy stories to tell. Someone had to find them. That’s where this podcast comes in.

Episode You Need to Hear: Choir Boy. The story of the cyclist who became a bank robber.

The Ross Report – I’m not ashamed to say I’m a pretty big wrestling fan. Jim Ross, former wrestling announcer for World Wrestling Entertainment, interviews a wide range of individuals in the wrestling business who share the stories behind the big events in wrestling history. As a wrestling fan who really got into it in the mid-90’s, these are compelling stories, and sometimes I wish I could keep driving.

Episode You Need to Hear: The interview with Eric Bischoff gives the avid wrestling fan some great behind-the-scenes stories about the rise of professional wrestling in the 90’s and the Monday Night Wars between WCW & WWE.

On the Page – I’m not a screenwriter, nor to I aspire to be one. But this podcast on helping writers bust out of their rut provides a lot of sound advice on writing, which is something every communicator could stand to hear from time to time. I don’t listen to all of the episodes, but I’m drawn to certain ones that focus on getting over rejection, how to move past mistakes, and anything that answers questions from writers.

Episode You Need to Hear: There are 370 to choose from, but listen to the one from Josh Stolberg on how he scored some big hits in Hollywood. Pay special attention to his work ethic. *hint hint*

Welcome to Night Vale – I’ve spoken highly of this podcast before, but that doesn’t mean I have to exclude it from the list. If anything, I want to be sure I remind you all to download the series. Night Vale is a show emanating from the studio of a public radio station in a mysterious town that bears the name of the series. Regularly occurring characters and plots throughout the series give the listener a sense of familiarity with the story, no matter how strange that story really is. I can’t really explain more, or else the Sheriff’s Secret Police will get me. (Oh, and the music adds to the story.)

Episode You Need to Hear: There’s no better place to start than at the beginning. If it hits you right, you’ll walk away thinking “WTF?” Then you’ll immediately download episode #2.

Now it’s your turn: Which podcasts should we be listening to?


19
Sep 14

Why I Deleted My Facebook

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The first rule of deleting your Facebook account is that you don’t talk about deleting your Facebook account.

But I can’t help myself.

I figured that when I finally deleted Facebook (trust me when I say it was only a matter of time) it would give me some decent fodder for a blog post.

(And since this is my blog, I can write about whatever I want, right?)

***

Deleting Facebook was not something that came to me one morning when I awoke.

No, I’ve been noodling on it for a long time. And there are quite a few reasons.

When I was stuck in traffic (which is, like, all of the time) I would bring it up on my phone and thumb my way through recent updates.

While sitting on my couch watching a baseball game, I would open the app on my phone and absentmindedly scroll through the recent updates.

Before I turned off the light at night I would check Facebook again, just in case something important was shared that I just had to know about. (Spoiler: That’s never the case.)

No, the idea to do so has been festering in my mind, showing up at regular intervals, suggesting that today would be a good day to cut that cord that once brought me so much voyeuristic joy.

Facebook had become something that felt necessary, rather than something that felt organic and enjoyable. And why use something if you get no joy out of it?

***

But if I’m honest, the real reason I deleted it was because it was turning me into someone I didn’t like.

Like most everyone on Facebook, I hid people; people I know in real life.

We all know those people. They over-share. Or they use the social network to put up a shiny and perfect persona. Or they share viewpoints you disagree with.

Everyone knows these people. And, I would guess, a large percentage of these people can hide someone and forget about them.

But I couldn’t.

Rather than interact on Facebook with people I like, I found myself looking at status updates for the people whose online personas I didn’t like, just to confirm my belief that I hid them for a reason.

Isn’t that terrible?

I was spending the majority of my time hate-reading status updates.

For my own sanity, I had to stop.

I didn’t want to hang out with friends in real life and let their Facebook activity, of all things, color my impression of them. I just wanted to like them for who they were; not for how they portrayed themselves online.

So, a little over a week ago, I deleted my account.

It hasn’t been a life-changing experience. But nothing has felt different, either. If anything, I don’t automatically visit the site when I have a few minutes of downtime. I do something that’s a bit more productive instead, even if that’s just finishing an email for work or reading another chapter of a book.

And it’s not like I suddenly fell off the face of the earth. I’m still very active on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. There’s also this thing called e-mail that works wonders for communication with friends and family, even though my dad thinks it’s just for forwarding email.

Since cutting the cord, not one person has asked me why I unfriended them, either. But maybe that’s because Facebook’s algorithm doesn’t let you see what all of your friends are doing.

If anything, the lack of a response indicates nobody pays attention on Facebook.

***

I got on the Facebook bandwagon a few years after I graduated from college. So I didn’t get to use it when it was restricted to kids with university e-mail address.

If I had, maybe that would’ve changed my perception of the site.

But I didn’t, so I’m used to my feed clogged with ads, promoted posts, and the occasional interesting post.

The rest was just clutter.

And nobody wants more clutter in their life.