Sometimes the cost of not showing something horrific is too high. Would gun legislation move faster if people could see the violence of Uvalde and other mass shootings? Center director Jeffrey Cole explores.

The news coming out of Uvalde, Texas in late May was horrific. Nineteen elementary school children and two teachers were murdered by a lone, crazed gunman. Only by entering the deep recesses of a diseased soul of unimaginable evil could we understand how someone could tell a 10-year-old “it is time to die,” then look into their eyes and pull the trigger.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, reporters told the stories of the twenty-one human beings who did not make it out of the classroom. Earlier in the day, several of the fourth graders had been honored at a ceremony for academic distinction. Parents shared heartbreaking details of the lives of the children they would never see again.

From the same reporters we learned of the damage that an AR-15 assault weapon does to a human body. It is manufactured not just to stop someone but to inflict irreparable damage, making recovery nearly impossible. It tears the body apart so much that the families could not make visual identification of the remains.

Instead, the authorities had to rely on DNA and clothing to identify loved ones. The images we conjured in our minds were so devastating that it has led to the first bi-partisan discussion of even minor revisions to gun laws and policies in twenty years.

To accelerate that discussion and to move even gun rights advocates off the fence, some journalists have argued that the pictures and videos of broken bodies, so mangled that even their parents would not recognize them, should be shown to the public.  (more)

What makes things special, memorable, satisfying, says Center strategic advisor Brad Berens, often has less to do with the things themselves than with the context where we experience them.

Some mysteries are eternal.

If the Coyote can afford all those expensive items sold by the Acme Company, then why doesn’t he just visit a desert KFC to eat plumper poultry than the scrawny Roadrunner? Why doesn’t Charlie Brown ask somebody more trustworthy to hold the football? Why does Mr. Darcy jump in that river? Why can’t a genius Professor who can make internal combustion engines out of bamboo fix a boat to escape from Gilligan’s Island? And why do AirBNB hosts always have thimble-sized coffee mugs in their kitchens?

That last one gets me every time.

I prefer coffee mugs large enough to double as hot tubs. More times than I care to confess, when staying at an AirBNB, I’ve dashed to a nearby store that sells adequately-sized mugs and purchased one so that the rate of my early morning coffee intake need not change.  (more)

A new campaign by Check My Ads to get advertisers to stop supporting the conservative news network, reports Center strategic advisor Brad Berens, prompted an entirely inadequate response.

On Thursday, the folks at Check My Ads received widespread coverage about their new campaign to stop advertisers from supporting Fox News. The three Check My Ads founders—Claire Atkin, Nandini Jammi, and Mikel Ellcessor—believe that Fox News has created and disseminated disinformation about the 2020 Presidential Election and other topics. (You can see representative coverage here and here.)

Regardless of whether or not you agree with Check My Ads, the statement Fox News put out in response was inadequate.

The Check My Ads Campaign

What’s unusual about Check My Ads is that they’ve gone after online advertising exchanges instead of advertisers themselves or their advertising agencies.  (more)

With most streamers already accepting advertising and Netflix joining by the end of this year, what does that mean for programming? Will creativity be stifled to satisfy the demands of advertisers? Center director Jeffrey Cole digs in.

The party’s over.

Imagine The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, or even the recent four-hour tribute to George Carlin appearing on broadcast television. All were on HBO. Carlin’s most famous routine is “the seven words you can never say on television.” Even The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or Ted Lasso could not be shown on network television without so many edits for language or nudity that they would be unrecognizable to fans.

We pay up to $20 a month to watch content that is not censored and only available on pay-cable or streaming. The fact it is not interrupted by ads is important, but it is the lack of a nanny deciding what we are allowed to see and hear that has really driven the rise of pay channels.

All that is about to change. (more)

Lots of walled gardens and videogame platforms are now touting themselves as part of the metaverse, says Center strategic advisor Brad Berens, but there’s an easy way to tell if it’s true. Plus, revisiting Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” in our digital age.

Two shorter (although slightly connected) main stories this week…

1. Revisiting Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death

If you subscribe to Audible, then you should know that terrific audio content comes as part of the subscription—originals, podcasts you can’t get anywhere else, and audiobooks. Right now, one of the included-with-subscription audiobooks is Neil Postman’s 1985 masterpiece, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. (You can find the paper/ebook version here.)

Descriptions like “prescient” or “ahead of its time” don’t capture the importance of Postman’s thinking. Re-reading or listening to the book today helps to explain Fox News, Trump, and our hyper-polarized society.

Postman’s argument is that, as the USA moved from a print-based culture to a television-based culture, American attitudes toward news shifted from a desire for information to a desire for entertainment. Americans had been afraid of the world turning out like the dystopian dictatorship of Orwell’s 1984, but it had really turned out like the self-medicating society of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World(more)

A handshake, says Center strategic advisor Brad Berens, is worth a thousand Zoom calls. This has implications for going back to the office, building corporate culture, and democracy.

You’re on a short elevator ride with one other person. Neither of you speak, but you get a lot of information.

Does the other person politely keep a distance? Make momentary eye contact? If you’re a woman and the other person is a man, does he look at parts of your body in a creepy way?

If you’re a black guy, do you see the other person uncomfortably pull a bag closer or shift a package to the other side, thinking that you don’t notice the racism?

If you can smell the other person, then is it because she or he just went running? OK, the person is health conscious. Can you smell perfume or cologne? OK, the person is going out. If the person smells bad, then your Spidey sense tingles: am I trapped in an elevator with somebody who isn’t stable?

None of that information comes through on Zoom.  (more)

The recent crypto currency downfall eerily echoes the dot-com bubble of 2002 — two moments when disruption failed or at least appears to have failed. Why do many cheer when they believe disruption has failed?  Center Director Jeffrey Cole explains.

“Thank God I never invested in Crypto!”

“See, it was always a scam. Now the laws of nature have been restored.”

“Those who thought they would get rich quick have gotten what they deserved!”

“Now it’s back to business as usual.”

“Maybe the name Stadium will be removed, and it will be Staples Center again.”

It has not been a good year for investors. Even Amazon and Apple — and especially Netflix and Facebook — are down, more than just an adjustment.

But the year has been particularly harsh for those who invested in crypto currencies like Bitcoin, whether they saw them as extraordinary investments or a new and digital way of moving money around and eventually becoming a currency.

This month, crypto currencies lost over $200 billion in one day. By some estimates the world of crypto has lost over $3 trillion from its highest point. These are investments that can grow by 90% one day and be down 80% the next day. Perhaps this is just a blip on their way to economic dominance.

But that’s unlikely.  (more)

The latest phase of the digital revolution, says Center strategic advisor Brad Berens, is a Read/Write/Own structure where more culture creators can join a new Artistic Middle Class…maybe.

Calling something “Web3” makes it sound like everybody agrees on what it means. That’s not the case: we’re at the start of our Web3 journey.

It might be more accurate to call it Web3.001.

There are different shapes of Web3, including DeFi (Decentralized Finance), Cryptocurrencies, Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), and digital goods like Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). This boosterish PDF from Andreessen Horowitz, a Venture Capital (VC) firm that has invested heavily in Web3, is useful if a bit uncritical.

In this column, I’m focusing on creators—artists—and how they might and might not use Web3 to make a living.

Web3 in Context

It’s important not to talk about trends in isolation because trends tend to collide. Here is my current, most optimistic model for how Web3 fits with other trends. (more)

Two smaller stories this time from the Center’s strategic advisor Brad Berens.

The Fragile Glory of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”

I’m a nerd. A big nerd. Across many directions. (Just ask my kids.) One of my biggest and longest-term nerdy interests is Star Trek. For just one piece of proof, in the 1980s I went to a design-your-own t-shirt store called “Chicken Shirt” in my home town (Encino, California) and created a t-shirt that said “Trekkie” on the back.* (This was from the heart but—shocker!—did not win me cool kid points at school.)

You can imagine my joy when Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premiered two Thursdays ago on Paramount+.

The show is fantastic!

It’s a prequel to and stylistically hearkens back to The Original Series (TOS, from the 1960s) with self-contained adventures rather than season-long arcs, although the character development arcs do extend from episode to episode. Strange New Worlds has the breakthrough racial and gender diversity of the original (although it’s strangely devoid of LGBTQ+ characters, unlike its sibling show, Discovery, and why are there no Jewish characters?), and shares the original’s “we can build a better future” optimism.

We really need that now.  (more)

So much information comes at us all day, every day, that it’s a wonder we ever get anything done. Center strategic advisor Brad Berens describes a collection of apps, products, and services to help you manage the torrent.

Recently, in Distraction Audits & Why to Do One, I discussed how information and attention are inversely proportional. Or, as the great 20th Century polymath Herbert Simon put it, “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” The earlier issue was about throttling back distractions. This week’s issue is about managing the super-soaker of information squirting at your face all day, every day.

(Note: I first wrote about the suite of applications, services, products and gadgets I use to keep my head above water in 2012, then updated it in 2015, but so much has changed that it’s time for an update.)

Here are my “Change Your Life” productivity apps and how I use them.

This is a long piece, but, unlike my usual, it’s skimmable. I’ve divvied up the apps into sections, alphabetized within each section:  (more)

Three years ago, Center director Jeffrey Cole predicted that after a charmed decade, Netflix, faced with rising competition, might be navigating treacherous waters. Cole’s prescription for what the streaming giant needed to do in 2019 is even more relevant today.

Until two weeks ago, Netflix has led a charmed life. It successfully transformed itself from a DVD-by-mail competitor to Blockbuster Video (which turned down the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million) into the first superstar streaming service.

For years, Netflix had complete access to the best product from all the Hollywood studios. Its unparalleled success in attracting subscribers across the globe then gave it massive budgets to create original programming exclusively for Netflix.

Disney, realizing that by selling its content to Netflix it was creating a competitive monster, decided to stop making its content available outside the company. The other studios followed suit. Soon, it became clear they would start their own streaming services. Still, Netflix had a budget of $20 billion (this year) to fund its own content; Netflix grew like a prairie weed when it had almost no competition for the consumer’s wallet.  (more)

Although the Twitter board accepting Musk’s acquisition offer seems to settle the issue about the Tesla founder’s true motives, Center strategic advisor Brad Berens suggests there’s a lot more to this story under the surface.

Two weeks ago in Musk, Trump, Twitter, and New Media Math, I argued that Elon Musk doesn’t really want to buy Twitter: he just wants to use the earned media to help him sell more Teslas.

Then, on Monday, to my surprise the Twitter board accepted Musk’s $44 Billion offer, for which Musk had arranged the financing. I thought, “Boy, did I call that one wrong,” and contemplated sending out a mid-week, “mea maxima culpa” special issue.

But by Wednesday I was back on the fence. That was the day Musk criticized Twitter’s chief legal officer, Vijaya Gadde, over her handling of the Hunter Biden story. This is just one of many of Musk’s tweets criticizing the company that he is trying to acquire.

This violates the terms of the takeover agreement filed with the SEC, which includes: “the Equity Investor shall be permitted to issue Tweets about the Merger or the transactions contemplated hereby so long as such Tweets do not disparage the Company or any of its Representatives.”  (more)

Biometrics aren’t new, but a fresh payment technology turns Amazon into a competitor to Apple Pay, Google Pay, Square, Venmo, the Cash App, PayPal and others.  Center strategic advisor Brad Berens speculates: can the Bank of Amazon be far behind?

If you live in Austin and love experiencing the sharpest edge of technology, then head to the Whole Foods at Arbor Trails. There you can use a new service called Amazon One to pay for your groceries simply by putting your palm on a scanner. Here’s an excerpt from a fascinating piece in the April 19 edition of Progressive Grocer:

Customer enrollment in the Amazon One service takes less than a minute, which involves linking credit/debit card info and creating palm signatures for one or both palms. A palm signature is created when a customer holds their palm over the Amazon One device, allowing the technology to evaluate multiple aspects of the palm. With no two palms alike, vision technology analyzes all aspects to select the most distinct identifiers on a palm to create a unique palm signature.

Once they’re enrolled and done shopping, customers come to the checkout counter or point of sale, hover their hand over the Amazon One device for about a second or so, and the card linked to their palm will be charged for their purchase. Customers don’t have to worry about fumbling with their wallets and handbags anymore to pull out credit cards at checkout counters.

Some things worth noting:

The service is called Amazon One, not Whole Foods One. Amazon always has at least two reasons for everything it does (I call this “the two-strategy strategy”), so expect the service to roll out first to other Amazon brick-and-mortar retail environments and then as a service that other businesses can use.

However, caveat emptor: when other businesses do enable Amazon One, then they’ll be sharing some of their purchase data with Amazon, which might not work out so well for the other businesses.  (more)

Since Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at The Oscars, everybody has had an opinion about Smith’s action, but what about ABC’s decision to censor Smith’s post-slap profanity? Center founder Jeffrey Cole weighs in.

What did he say?

The adult audience viewing the 94th Oscar Broadcast on March 27 could tell that something had happened when Will Smith got out of his seat and approached Chris Rock as he was about to list the nominees for best documentary feature film.

Smith appeared to slap the comedian. It was difficult to tell if it was a staged bit or if something completely unprecedented had occurred. After Smith returned to his seat he was shouting at Rock, but it was impossible to hear what Smith said because ABC bleeped out the entire exchange.

Had the viewers at home been able to hear what those in the Nokia Theater heard (especially Lupita Nyong’o, sitting next to Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith), they would have known something intense and unpleasant had happened. Watching from afar, we could see the stunned look of Nyong’o and know it was not good.

If the Smith-Rock verbal altercation not been completely censored, viewers would have quickly realized that the slap was not comical. It was a physical assault. They also would have seen a side of Will Smith that might have been a once-in-his-lifetime outburst or a reflection of a deeper anger running through his personality that he has kept hidden until that moment.

In short, without bleeping, the audience would have understood what it saw. Instead, it had to wait for others to interpret it for them or go to YouTube or other places on the internet to see what they missed on the broadcast.  (more)

Looking at the Tesla CEO’s offer to buy Twitter through the lens of AQ (Attention Quotient), says Center strategic advisor Brad Berens, makes Elon Musk’s real motives clear.

It’s a good thing for the commonwealth that Elon Musk was born in South Africa; that fact bars him from seeking the U.S. presidency. Otherwise, it’s a sure bet that he’d run as a third-party candidate in 2024. He’d win, too. Musk understands the media better than all but one other person.

That one other person is Donald Trump.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not a Trump fan. I loathe the man and think that he was the worst president in the history of this great country. But I recognize that Trump is the greatest marketer the world has seen since the early Catholic Church (in its world domination days before the Protestant breakaways).

Musk is a better person than Trump across nearly all criteria:

  • Trump inflates his net worth (he’s a fake billionaire); Musk is the world’s richest individual
  • Trump’s products are terrible and fail; Musk makes best-in-class products (disclosure: I drive a Tesla 3; it’s the greatest car I’ve ever had)
  • Trump makes the world smaller and worse; Musk creates technologies that make the world bigger and better, even planning to take humanity to Mars
  • Trump famously doesn’t read; Musk reads voraciously
  • Where the two men are the same is when it comes to playing the media like Joshua Bell plays his Stradivarius: they are virtuosos.

In a column a few years ago, I posited a new metric for attention called AQ, for “Attention Quotient.”

If IQ (Intelligence Quotient) measures raw intellect and EQ (Emotional Intelligence) measures self-awareness and empathy, then AQ measures how much raw attention an individual can pull towards him or herself.  (more)

Typically, people explain new subscription models as a way of stabilizing monthly revenue. But as Center strategic advisor Brad Berens suggests, subscriptions also point to a massive failure in advertising.

Two recent articles caught my eye about a new vogue for subscriptions for products that are typically transactional.

The first has a misleading title: “Apple Is Working on a Hardware Subscription Service for iPhones” (Bloomberg, March 24th) is misleading because the planned service actually covers all Apple hardware software.

In the March 29 episode of The Pivot Podcast (to which I am devoted), Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway talked about the customer experience side of an Apple subscription in what I can only call twin arias of self-involved entitlement that nonetheless had savvy observations (it starts at 27:00… I laughed and thought at the same time, a neat trick).

The second article’s title is accurate: “Airlines, Restaurant Chains Join the Subscription Bandwagon” (Wall Street Journal, March 30th). The subscriptions covered are odd. (more)

Although 50% of Americans want a new job, that’s only one part of a bigger story. Center founder Jeffrey Cole explains the broader context.

As we come out of the greatest disruption of our lifetime, half of us want to find another job, and half of those in a different industry. The toll the pandemic has taken on our lives is producing a mountain (actually, an entire mountain range) of statistics. None is more compelling than the 50% that make up what social scientists are calling “The Great Resignation.”

The last time we witnessed such a seismic shift in the employment market — with massive job openings and transitions — was in World War II when millions of soldiers went off to Europe and Asia. To fill those jobs, millions of women entered the workplace for the first time.

It should come as no surprise that we have not all come through COVID equally.  (more)

What do Tinder, Free-Range Kids, Wattpad, CoComelon, and the movie business all have to do with each other, asks Center strategic advisor Brad Berens

The world seems more dangerous today than it ever has before, but study after study shows that we’re safer now. Hans Rosling’s Factfulness, Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist, and Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature are three books that dig into this.

In part, life feels more dangerous today because we have so much information about bad things that happen via the news and social media, both of which are incentivized to lead with what agitates us. Don’t get me wrong: horrible things happen to people all over the world all the time, like Russian atrocities in Ukraine. For most people reading this piece, though, things outside your front door aren’t deadly.

Life also feels more dangerous because as individuals we have less practice taking everyday risks today than we did a few years ago.  (more)

From Zoom to cannabis, from telemedicine to leisure travel, Center director Jeffrey Cole analyzes the industries coming out of the pandemic stronger than ever.

This is the third of a three-part series about the winners and losers as we start to emerge from the COVID pandemic.

In Part 1, I covered COVID losers: cash, Uber and Lyft, in-person shopping, commercial real estate, business travel, and mental health.

Fortunately for all of us, there are more winners than losers, so I started reviewing the winners last time in Part 2, talking about Amazon, Disney, Netflix, and Labor.

Let’s continue with more winners.


The ecommerce and grocery store giant, predicts Center strategic advisor Brad Berens, needs expertise that only America’s favorite coffee shop can provide.

I’m not usually one for predictions with due dates. I see the trends, where the dominos are falling, but spotting precisely when a trend will happen is harder. This time, though, I’ll go out on a limb because two events this week have combined to make me think that Amazon will buy Starbucks within the next two years.  (more)

With infection levels dropping and the end of COVID seeming to be here, what companies were big winners because of how they reacted to the pandemic? Center director Jeffrey Cole digs in.

Last time, we looked at the industries and companies that lost ground during the COVID Pandemic. This week we look at the winners, those who emerged stronger than ever before. We often resist finding new ways of doing things until its necessary. During COVID lockdown, it became absolutely necessary.

Trends accelerated, some by years. A few well-placed and nimble companies benefited.


How do you find the right superlatives?

In the first nine months of 2020, Amazon saw its earnings increase 70%. No big deal for a startup experiencing explosive growth, but at the beginning of 2020 Amazon was already a trillion-dollar behemoth. The stock price — at a record high of $1,785 on March 13, 2020 — almost doubled to $3,401 in a little over five months!

You can’t make these numbers up!  (more)

The search engine collects more information about us than the social media company, but somehow, says Center strategic advisor Brad Berens, we resent Facebook more.

A February 18 article in the Wall Street Journal by Suzanne Vranica, Patience Haggin, and Salvador Rodriguez—Inside Facebook’s $10 Billion Breakup With Advertisers—shows that when it comes to restraining Facebook from tracking us the real power doesn’t lie with the U.S. Federal Government, which is still spinning its wheels on any regulation of Big Tech. (Congressional gridlock makes this even harder.)

The power doesn’t lie with big advertisers. During the 2020 big ad boycott. Facebook yawned and watched its stock go up because it doesn’t make its money from Unilever and Capital One: it makes its money from small businesses.

The power to neutralize Facebook lies with Apple, which cost Facebook an estimated $10B when it deployed the “Ask App Not to Track” option in its mobile IOS software. This move made advertising on Facebook less effective and more expensive. From the WSJ article:

“Lots of other companies that depend on e-commerce sales, including makers of nutritional powders, eyebrow stencils and toilet sprays, are taking a look at their bottom lines and deciding the same thing. They are slashing their spending on Facebook and Instagram and sending their ad money to Google, Inc., Snap Inc. and other platforms, according to ad buyers and e-commerce companies.”  (more)

With Omicron fading (fingers crossed!), Center director Jeffrey Cole starts the process of looking at winners and losers as we emerge from the worst pandemic in 100 years.

This time it feels real!

Last June, when most of us had been vaccinated and COVID was starting to recede, it felt like the crisis was waning and we could resume our old lives. We fled our homes onto airplanes, to restaurants and movie theaters, sporting events and concerts. Life was getting back to normal.

Like the groundhog on February 2, we didn’t see our shadow and believed Spring was on the way rather than facing another six weeks (in this case nine months) of pandemic Winter.

Despite our optimism, Delta and Omicron soon followed.

Today, we again see no shadow and hope an endemic rather than pandemic, spring is ahead. We have decided that the pandemic is over… whether it really is or not. We need it to be over… whatever the science says.

After two years, the world has completely changed. At the Center, we have been tracking this change in our COVID Reset Project. Now we can see which industries and companies will emerge weaker and diminished coming out of the pandemic and which have gained strength and market share.  (more)

In 1965, a year after Sinatra’s iconic recording of “Fly Me to the Moon,” Tony Bennett released his own version which was also a hit. The Center’s strategic advisor Brad Berens explains what dueling tunes can teach us about immersion today.

The point of optical illusions like “Duck-Rabbit” and “Young Woman or Old Woman” isn’t that one of the options is correct. Instead, the point is that both are right even if you have to toggle back and forth, taking turns, to see each separately.

I have yet to find a good term to describe this phenomenon where the thing we’re talking about is actually two things that orbit each other and never occupy the same space at the same time. It’s neither satire nor parody because one isn’t making fun of the other. It’s not interpretation because both comment on each other; with interpretation one interprets while the other gets interpreted.

The Russian thinker Mikhail Bakhtin talked about dialogic ideas, which is close, but it misses the invisible extraness of what I’m talking about. You can live your life without penalty if you only see Bugs or Daffy. Toni Morrison’s short story “Recitatif” (no spoilers; go read it) is a powerful version of this phenomenon: once you see the extra context, your head explodes, and you can never unsee it, but it’s still a terrific story if you never notice the extra layer.  (more)

Whoopi Goldberg handled an insensitive moment on The View perfectly, so why did the President of ABC News suspend her? Center founder Jeffrey Cole weighs in.

By Jeffrey Cole

Now in its 25th year, The View has not only built a reputation as a place where controversial views can be shared, that sharing is encouraged. It even designates the beginning of the show (and some entire episodes) as Hot Topics.

There have been spirited — sometimes explosive — exchanges in the past between conservative hosts such as Elizabeth Hasselbeck and Megan McCain as they sparred with their less-conservative co-hosts. Those exchanges have become the signature of the show.

It is why many people watch: to see what happens.

On January 31, 2022, and for a day after, it happened.  (more)

Sometimes what’s important about a big business story isn’t obvious unless you look at it from an odd angle. Here are two recent examples.

By Brad Berens

When a big business story hits, I try to ask myself, “what else is going on?”

When Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017, for example, the obvious story was that the ecommerce giant wanted to tap into the nearly $800B annual U.S. grocery business. Less obvious was that by buying Whole Foods, Amazon also acquired a lot of geography that they could use for logistics and distribution for ecommerce. Plus, getting customers — even Prime subscribers trained to expect things in two days or less — to drive down to their local Whole Foods to pick up a package or make an easy return would reduce Amazon’s last-mile delivery costs. Likewise, there are non-obvious strategies behind Amazon’s recent decision to open department stores.

These are the secret stories behind the stories. Sometimes looking at the big story from an odd angle (my old boss Randall Rothenberg loves to use the word “orthogonal” to describe this sort of thing; I like “blind spot”) can light up a company’s strategy. Other times, it can reveal missing context. In the last couple of weeks, two such secret stories caught my attention.  (more)

Incumbents rarely disrupt themselves, leaving themselves vulnerable to blank-sheet-of-paper thinkers like Tesla’s Elon Musk who built the car he wanted to drive. Center director Jeffrey Cole explains.

Tesla doesn’t need to change its corporate name. It is not necessary to obfuscate the identity of its signature product, protect its tone-deaf CEO from public and government scrutiny, or suppress the way its products affect the health and well-being of its users.

The more sunshine it lets in, the more impressive the Tesla story becomes. Fifteen years ago, Chris Paine released a little-seen but award-winning documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car. The premise of the film was that the wide acceptance of the electric car would have been the most important development in automobile manufacturing since Henry Ford introduced the Model T, which is when private transportation began to replace public transportation for many Americans.

The electric car meant lower costs for fuel and maintenance, more reliable vehicles, and zero emissions just as demonstrating concern about the environment and climate change became mission critical to all companies—regardless of whether that commitment was genuine.

Instead of lauding the movement to electric, Paine’s film pointed fingers at the manufacturers, oil companies, and local and national governments for conspiratorial efforts to make sure a popular electric car never reached the streets. It was a sad story, and one of the few conspiracy theories that rang true.

Remarkably, within six years of the film, there was a stylish, well-made, and attractive electric car available. Starting at $70,000 and rising to six figures, it was not for the masses. But it demonstrated what could be done. Nine-years later in 2021, that sedan, the Tesla S, is still a state-of-the art vehicle, although it is finally about to meet some serious competition.

Tesla’s identity, like those of all the trillion-dollar tech companies, is tied up with the image of its founder. For the next hundred years, business schools will debate whether this is good or bad for the company.  (more)

October 13, 2021 — Almost half of Americans say wearing face masks in stores and other public places should continue as a mandatory requirement in a post-pandemic world, according to a study released today by the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg.

The Center’s third-quarter findings, based on a survey completed last week, found 46 percent of respondents said wearing face masks in stores and other indoor locations outside the home should continue permanently, even after COVID-19 ends.

“We are still concerned about being near other people as we resume our normal lives while COVID recedes,” said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future. “Perhaps without even realizing, we will maintain social distance, and a large percentage will want to wear masks.”

The findings about wearing face masks when COVID-19 is over are part of the COVID Reset Project, the Center’s studies on how the nation is changing as it battles and emerges from the pandemic.  (more)

Although in-person school was back this fall (with few hitches), the same is not true of the return to the office. Center director Jeffrey Cole explains that we now have two different kinds of employee, and why that’s the case.

Early last summer, COVID numbers everywhere were headed downward. It looked like things might be returning to normal. After close to eighteen months of working from home, most offices and workplaces announced that employees would head back to the office just after Labor Day.

Many companies implemented mask and social distancing policies. Some went further, mandating full vaccinations to return to work or even just to stay employed at the company.

Then the Delta variant arrived. As we have experienced repeatedly with COVID, our hopes were dashed, and we had to move backwards.

Returning to the office in early September shifted to mid-October and then to November. For many organizations, the return is now planned for the beginning of the new year, a full 22 months after we gathered all our work and headed home.

If it happens.  (more)

In a three-part series, Center director Jeffrey Cole explores what happened to movie theaters during the pandemic, how the movie studios used a natural experiment, and what the future will bring.

September 28, 2021 — The experimenting is over, and after eighteen months the results are in: movie theaters are here to stay!

It may take years to learn whether workers fully return to the office, students to the classroom, and shoppers to stores, but even while COVID is still raging we already know that movie fans will return to the theater.

In the darkest days of lockdown, streaming usage soared when people couldn’t go to the theater. Out of streaming emerged at-home hits like Tiger King, The Queen’s Gambit and Ted Lasso. It looked like it might not matter if theaters ever re-opened. Streaming was both more convenient and less expensive.

Now, the evidence is clear that the theater remains an essential part of the film distribution chain, especially for high-profile and big-budget films.  (more)

In the second of three parts, Center director Jeffrey Cole explores what happened when the movie studios used a natural experiment for their releases

September 29, 2021 — By the middle of June 2021, half the nation had been vaccinated and felt COVID might be entering a more manageable phase. The country began opening up, especially after the CDC allowed vaccinated people to shed their masks in most indoor spaces (although not airplanes).

After 15 months of staying home, we could escape from Zoom and our own four walls. Within a week or so, 15,000 people poured into Madison Square Garden to see the Foo Fighters. Bruce Springsteen was back on Broadway. Sports arenas and theme parks re-opened. There was euphoria as we began to resume our old lives.

And movie theaters were back in business.  (more)

In the final column in his three-part series, Center director Jeffrey Cole explores what the future will bring for movie theaters

Paramount, Sony, and Universal were fully committed to returning to the old model of exclusive releases in the movie theater followed by a shorter window (60 days?) before making the movies available for in-home viewing. Warner’s Tenet experience convinced it that fans were not ready to return to the theater. It made all their films available on HBO Max and the theater the same day. This was a strategy born of frustration: the studio was uncertain what to do with a library of unreleased films and attempted to recover from the mishandled unveiling of its own streaming service.

Disney, the studio that controlled 40% of domestic box office in 2019 and had the most to lose if theaters were greatly diminished or disappeared, was the most motivated to explore how films could be best released in the post-COVID world.

As audience fears about returning to movie theaters waned (even with the Delta Variant), Disney wanted to see if the time was right to release the old way: only in movie theaters. Although testing could have gone on for years with lots of different films, stars, and options to generate data, a return to an exclusive theatrical window would give it enough evidence to make fundamental distribution decisions.  (more)

Five-year survey will track broad societal change during the recovery

September 27, 2021 — As the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg has begun a five-year, seven-part study of daily life, work, and society to understand change and opportunities in a post-pandemic world.

“The end of the COVID-19 pandemic marks the first time since the end of World War II that we as Americans are reconsidering everything in our lives – how we live, what we buy, how we work, and how we entertain ourselves,” said Jeffrey I Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future (CDF).

“After a year of confinement by COVID-19, we have an extraordinary opportunity to explore issues that affect everyone as we emerge from the pandemic,” said Cole. “As society begins to rethink work schedules, travel plans, the nature of schools, the changes in entertainment, and the future of cities, we need to understand the temporary effects as well as long-term change.”

Seven major sectors examined quarterly

Along with Bovitz Inc., the Center’s research partner, the COVID Reset Project is conducting studies of views and behavior about seven distinct yet overlapping sectors: health, entertainment, homes, learning, shopping, travel, and work – each analyzed and reported quarterly.  (more)

Why would Amazon, the emperor of e-commerce, decide to open department stores when shopping malls are failing all over the country? Center Senior Research Fellow Brad Berens has the answers.

Amazon never does things for only the obvious reasons, which makes me wonder what the company is up to with its latest retail foray: department stores.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported:

The new retail spaces will be around 30,000 square feet, smaller than most department stores, which typically occupy about 100,000 square feet, and will offer items from top consumer brands. The Amazon stores will dwarf many of the company’s other physical retail spaces and will have a footprint similar to scaled-down formats that Bloomingdale’s Inc., Nordstrom Inc., and other department-store chains have begun opening.

These new department stores will extend and complement the company’s other brick and mortar retail endeavors that started with bookstores, 4-star, and the Amazon Go robot bodegas, and then extended into their purchase of Whole Foods and launch first of the short-lived 365 grocery chain and later the new chain, Amazon Fresh.

Having almost annihilated brick-and-mortar bookstores and massively contributed to the perils of ordinary retail and shopping malls, the obvious reason for Amazon to move into department stores is that there’s a vacuum the company can profitably fill.  (more)

The second installment in a five-year study by the Center shows a host of concerns for school leaders and policymakers.

August 9 — As students prepare for a new school year, a new survey of K-12 and higher education shows that their reasons for wanting to go back to in-person schooling are primarily social, and that mental health is a major struggle.

The results of the quarterly survey by the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism are one sector from the five-year project tracking seven key sectors and aspects of daily life to understand how the world changes as it battles and then emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The USC Rossier School of Education’s Center for Engagement-Driven Global Education (EDGE) is partnering on the education sector.

A preview of the second quarter results, presented today at the ASU+GSV Summit in San Diego, shows:

  • Students most miss face-to-face time contact with friends (69%) and interaction with classmates or other students (60%).
  • Only 36% of respondents from Generation Z (18-24 years old) rate their physical health as good or excellent — this compared to 46% of those over 65+ rate their physical health as good or excellent.
  • While 48% of all respondents rate their mental health as good or excellent, only 22% of respondents ages 18-24 do so.

“The data are clear that when COVID—the greatest disruption ever to interfere with education—ends, learning will never be the same,” said Jeffrey Cole, director of USC Annenberg’s Center for the Digital Future. “There are things about remote learning that we liked and expect to see some of them incorporated into school learning as we move into the future.”

More on the study is here.

A summary that compares key issues in the Q1 vs. Q2 findings on learning is here.

Having transformed computing, music, phones, cameras, and now watches, what will the next products from the world’s most valuable company be? Center Director Jeffrey Cole examines Apple’s field of potential innovations.

When talking about Apple, you quickly run out of superlatives. Its performance and story require new words, not yet developed, to describe the company that sits atop the throne of the technological revolution.

Apple was founded in 1976 and is now the grandfather of all the other tech companies. But the journey has been rocky. One of the co-founders, Steve Wozniak, left the company after nine years in 1985 to pursue his own interests. The other co-founder, Steve Jobs, also left in 1985, after losing a board struggle to John Sculley, the Pepsi executive brought in to manage Apple.

At the time, neither founder took out a lot of money by today’s standards. Even with the phenomenal rise of the company, neither accumulated anywhere near the kind of wealth of other tech founders such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Sergei Brin, or Mark Zuckerberg.

Apple floundered until the company brought Jobs back in 1997. That led to one of the greatest waves of innovation ever and the most spectacular business success story in history. The newly re-designed iMac was followed by the iPod and iTunes (2003), the iPhone (2007), and the iPad (2010).

Jobs also re-imagined what a product launch could be. On stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco in his signature jeans and black turtle-neck sweater, Jobs would come near the end of the presentation and coyly add, “One more thing.” That’s when he introduced products that changed the world. Fans would re-arrange their schedules to watch the launches on television. A lucky few would do whatever it took to be there in person. It was like watching Picasso create a painting or Toscanini conduct an orchestra: a genius at his prime in his element.

It all worked beyond anything ever seen before.  (more)

In school, film, and literature we are taught the importance of strong relationships with our neighbors. Not very many Americans seem interested in knowing the people who live next to us. Center Director Jeffrey Cole explores the causes.

Building good relationships with neighbors is one of our fundamental core values. Not only is it the right thing to do, it also builds safer neighborhoods, better community relationships, and raises property values.

Core values teach us to help and love our neighbors. One of the few public figures that everyone admires, Mr. Rogers (Fred Rogers), opened each of his 912 shows by asking his audience, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Another hero, George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life, gives up his dream of traveling the world to stay in Bedford Falls and help build homes and create neighborhoods. Only at the end does he fully appreciate how important he has been to everyone in his community.

In film and culture, we place immense value on the importance of building deep and lasting relationships with neighbors.

There’s just one small problem: most of us do not know our neighbors very well and have little interest in getting to know them.  (more)

From the Center’s 2021 Digital Future Project

Infographic by Sarah Liu.

See all of the Center’s infographics here.

February 19 — The Center for the Digital Future has released the 2021 Digital Future Project, the longest-running study of Americans and their behavior and views about computers and mobile technology, internet use and trust, and the effects of social media.

The report continues the Center’s work as one of the first research studies to explore the impact of digital technology on internet users in the United States. The Center was the first to develop a longitudinal panel study of these issues, beginning in 2000.

For more on the 2021 Digital Future Project and to download the report, click here.

From the Center’s 2021 Digital Future Project

Infographic by Michael Bronstein.

See all of the Center’s infographics here.

Last month, AT&T threw in the towel on its adventures in the media business when it decided to spin out WarnerMedia. Center Director Jeffrey Cole explains how the telco got to this point, and why getting out is a good thing.

By Jeffrey Cole

Phone companies should stay out of the media business!

Everybody would be better off. No good comes of it. Egos are wounded, shareholder value is lost, great companies are weakened, and it does nothing for consumers.

While we are at it, soft drink bottlers, liquor distillers, waste management companies, electronics manufacturers, and most other companies ought to avoid the media business as well.

The simple rule is that everyone except those with vast experience running media companies should stay out of the entertainment industry. And we have several case studies that prove this point.  (more)

From the Center’s 2021 Digital Future Project

Infographic by Ani Tookoian.

See all of the Center’s infographics here.

It was hard to learn how to behave during a pandemic. Now that the CDC’s mask mandates are coming to an end, we have a new challenge: unlearning. Center Director Jeffrey Cole explains.

This week, in the most positive sign yet (after vaccines) that we can see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel, the CDC lifted almost all outdoor and indoor mask mandates for those who have been vaccinated.

Since March of 2020, the CDC (and the rest of us) have had to deal with those who didn’t believe the Coronavirus was real, those who would not wear a mask, and most recently and dangerous for all, those who will not get a vaccine. To get people vaccinated, Shake Shack is offering free hamburgers and fries, West Virginia a $100 savings bond, and Ohio a weekly lottery with a grand prize of $1 million.

Getting people to re-consider deeply held beliefs and change behavior is a difficult business. Bribes may not be enough.  (more)

As the U.S. pivots into post-COVID re-entry, a group of industries may spring back while others may dwindle towards insignificance. Center director Jeffrey Cole explores who is likely to win and lose.

To almost everyone’s surprise, the Warner Bros. film Godzilla vs. Kong led the re-opening of America’s movies theaters after COVID, and earned close to $100 million in its first month at the domestic box office. International grosses are closing in on $500 million.

While in any year these would be respectable numbers (even though it cost $160 million to make), when you factor in that some movie theaters are still closed and that most of those that are open are operating at limited capacity, a strong case can be made that movie theaters are on their way to returning to their historic place in American’s lives.  (more)

The country’s biggest online retailer is also the master of logistics, a streaming company, and has a series of grocery chains… so what’s next for the house that Bezos built? Center director Jeffrey Cole explores the options.

When I was a kid, I didn’t know anything about monopolies (except the board game), anti-trust laws, barriers to entry, or restraint of trade. Why, I wondered, didn’t a successful, well-run company (GM in the 50s, IBM in the 60s, AT&T in the 70s) take all that management experience and branch out into other related and unrelated businesses: a Swiss Army-knife of companies?

GM could run an airline; IBM could manage department stores, and AT&T could make television sets. They could have gone on to run dozens of disparate businesses.

Only later did I learn about laws preventing any one company from completely controlling an industry, making it impossible for others to enter the field and compete. Consumers needed to be protected from such large companies that could, without fear, raise prices as much and often as they liked.  (more)

From the Center’s 2021 Digital Future Project

Infographic by Paris Asterino-Starcher.

See all of the Center’s infographics here.

After a year of Zooming instead of traveling, building relationships virtually instead of face-to-face, and testing the business impact of not going to events like CES, will business travel rebound as we emerge from COVID? Probably not, argues Center director Jeffrey Cole.

It’s almost the end of the first quarter of 2021. In any other year, I would be taking a short rest after speaking at a number of media or technology conferences. The new year usually began with CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, followed by NATPE (National Association of Television Program Executives) in Miami, and then the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau’s) ALM (Annual Leadership Meeting) in either Palm Desert or outside Phoenix.

About now, I would be planning another five or six events over the second quarter, including the Cannes Lions Festival in June. No complaining about jet lag or being away; it was a good life.

Over the last 13 months, of course, none of those events took place anywhere except on the Internet. A lot of money was saved on airfare, hotels and Uber (and earned no frequent flyer or hotel points).

What was not so good for the economy was very good for my mental and physical well-being by not disappearing for a week or two at a time from family, friends and work colleagues.  (more)

The pandemic separated the major streaming players from the minor ones. As movie theaters may return with less hold on viewers, the ground has shifted. The next twelve months should determine the next generation of entertainment. Center Director Jeffrey Cole explains.

And then there was one!

With the March 4th launch of Paramount+, Viacom’s entrant into the streaming wars, there is only one studio, Sony, left without its own streaming channel.

Two years ago, there were six studios (before Fox disappeared into Disney). Only one of them, Warner Bros., had placed a bet on streaming.

Netflix, with an assist from Hulu, owned the streaming field. Warner Bros. had access to HBO as a sister company (now unified into the WarnerMedia brand along with Turner Broadcasting). HBO was barely a streamer in 2019 (the year after AT&T acquired Time Warner). It was a legendary pay TV service available on cable. Although founded in 1975, HBO didn’t even consider getting into streaming until only a few years ago with HBO Go and HBO Now.  (more)

From the Center’s 2021 Digital Future Project

Infographic by Dylan Mahoney.

See all of the Center’s infographics here.

Facebook has just fired the opening shot in its first major fight against a well-matched opponent, and has already made an enormous blunder. Riding on the outcome is the power of the tech companies and the future of journalism. Center director Jeffrey Cole explains.

Facebook and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. are at war. The battleground is Australia. That location is serving as a proxy for all of the global battles of government vs. technology vs. traditional companies that are sure to erupt over the next few years. A lot rests on who is the ultimate winner (or suffers the least damage) in this ugly dispute.

The issue is: can Facebook and other platforms freely use publishers’ news content, or should they have to pay for the privilege?  (more)

Decision-making about issues involving freedom of speech, says Center director Jeffrey Cole, requires knowing where to draw the line.

I don’t like anyone messing with the First Amendment.

The United States was the first country and still one of the few to spell out in our constitution explicit rights to freedom of speech, the press, religion, peaceful assembly and the ability to petition the government for redress of grievances. If America has ever been (or is now) exceptional, it derives directly from the first 10 amendments to the Constitution: the Bill of Rights. When we fight to preserve and protect the Constitution, this is what we fight for.

There are two concepts around freedom of expression that have always stayed with me: the importance of the marketplace of ideas and the danger of creating a chilling effect.  (more)

From the Center’s 2021 Digital Future Project

Infographic by Nicole Rasmussen.

See all of the Center’s infographics here.

The right-wing news channel’s flirtation with honest reporting was short-lived after ratings and profits declined. Center Director Jeffrey Cole explains.

That didn’t last long!

Starting on Election Day and for the next several weeks after, Fox News began to put some distance between itself and Donald Trump. The marriage that had served both parties so well for years finally unraveled and then broke.

That all was not well in the relationship had been clear for months.

It was a marriage of great convenience. Trump found Fox News to be a readily available and sympathetic channel for his ideas dating back to the unfounded birther theories, through the racist origins of his campaign, and then through the chaos of his four years in office.

With a push of his speed-dial, Trump could get on Fox News within seconds and spin his version of events with himself as the hero taking on leftists, fake news, or the villain of the day (Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift, low-flow showers). Some days he hogged a show for a full hour. Careful viewers could detect the hosts on Fox & Friends looking awkwardly at each other, wondering when he would finally hang up the phone.  (more)

From the Center’s 2021 Digital Future Project

Infographic by Mirabai Venkatesh.

See all of the Center’s infographics here.

In these dark first weeks of 2021, the cycles of history make a case for optimism. Center Director Jeffrey Cole explores what we can learn from the 1920s and the 1820s.

Between the catastrophic storming of the U.S. Capitol and record levels of infection, hospitalization, and death from the coronavirus, 2021 is off to a bad start. Fortunately, with the ramping up of vaccinations and the inauguration of a new President, hopeful resolution of both crises is within sight.

Then what?

The year-old decade of the 2020s is just the third 20s decade in American history. There may well be some important parallels from 100 years ago in the 1920s. If we are lucky and all our stars align, there may also be some parallels from the 1820s.  (more)

Global business leaders gathered online on November 10 for the Paley International Council Summit 2020: “Globally Connected: Media in the 21st Century,” to hear a discussion of “Little Screens, Big Releases,” including Center director Jeffrey Cole (far right) as a featured speaker.

The summit explored how well-attended theatrical releases — long a key part of the strategy for building film franchise value — have been limited by the COVID-19 pandemic. What does the current state of theatricals in the pandemic mean for franchises and movie audiences? How does the pandemic change the economic model for the film and television industries? Will those changes be permanent?  (more)

In a post-election world, Center director Jeffrey Cole sees reasons for hope that truth may become depoliticized.

The year 2020 cannot end soon enough. Putting divisive politics, devastating economic recession, continuing social injustice, and the Coronavirus pandemic in our rear-view mirrors brings hope for a better 2021 and beyond.

It has been a terrible year — one that will join 1918 and 1968 in the unhappy history books. But out of all the chaos and anxiety of the past decade, culminating in 2020, may emerge a hopeful development: the return of the professional media gatekeeper as citizens try to separate truth from disinformation. A lot of money has been made and political ground gained by catering to what former Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway memorably dubbed “alternative facts.”

Now, finally, there are some glimmers of hope that this may be starting to change.  (more)

The goal of teachers building real, caring relationships with every student has never been more critical — and it has also never been more challenging. But as BARR Center executive director Angela Jerabek describes, we’ve learned much during the pandemic about how teachers can succeed.

Jerabek is the founder and executive director of BARR (Building Assets, Reducing Risks).

There was no shortage of stories about the tenuous state of schooling in this country as school districts began to reopen this fall.

Now that students are back in class — either in class or online —  we continue to hear about the challenges of making sure that each and every student’s needs are met when they are physically dispersed. Every district is tackling important decisions to ensure they are implementing the right plan for their community at any given point in time. Although students are back to school, there are many strategies requiring continuous roll-out to make sure students have what they need for a successful school year.

The hurdles of this past spring linger into the fall. School leaders are constantly reassessing models that work best for their district, knowing that swift changes may need to occur to contain the spread of the coronavirus in communities. Despite smoother transitions to online teaching, educators are still feeling upside down. The summer and first few weeks of school have provided teachers time to reflect on that experience and focus on how they can keep making improvements.  (more)

Forget the partisan diatribes of commentators like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. In the hours after election night, the journalists at Fox News did what was needed. Center director Jeffrey Cole explains.

I cannot believe I am saying this, but kudos to Fox News for its role as a responsible news organization during the 2020 election of Joe Biden as President of the United States.

Credit where credit is due: Fox’s reporting was fair (It’s a very different story with its on-air commentators). Fox understood its role as the only major source of information its loyal audience trusted, and that its reporting in the moments and days after the election could inflame or contain its base’s worst impulses. While no one has the right to such power, Fox News had the choice to stand as an impediment to democracy or as a facilitator for the peaceful transition of power. For choosing the latter, Fox deserves our thanks.

Many of my friends and colleagues in the media and at the USC Annenberg School would surely argue that Fox News does not deserve any credit—and especially thanks—for merely doing what all the other professional news outlets do by reflex. Those other news organizations’ reporters and anchors do not require special instructions on how to cover stories that might disappoint or infuriate its viewers.

While all the above is true, any other behavior could have been dangerous to property and lives as well as our faith in democracy and the future.  (more)

August 12 — A majority of Americans say national elections need to change because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including broad support for voting by mail and online political conventions, reports a new study by the USC Center for the Digital Future.

The study also found major differences in views among liberals and conservatives about the American political process.

The findings on proposed changes in the political process were produced in the second study in the Center’s comprehensive project on the social impact of the coronavirus, conducted during the fourth week of June.

Americans want changes in voting methods and political conventions

The study found 16% of Americans say conventions should be held “as usual.” A majority of Americans believe the national political conventions should change: 51 percent say the conventions should either be held completely online (44%) or not at all (7%).

Statistically identical percentages of Americans support voting by mail (65%) and traditional polling places (64%). Forty-four percent want voting online.

“Americans overall make no distinction between voting in person in a polling booth or voting by mail,” said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the USC Center for the Digital Future. “But based on political affiliation, we found dramatic differences in views about who should vote, and where they should vote.”  (more)

October 8 — More Americans rely on CNN as their primary information source about COVID-19 than other cable outlets, and Anderson Cooper is trusted by more Americans than other cable commentators, a study by the USC Center for the Digital Future (CDF) has found.

The CDF study also reports extreme differences in views about cable news channels and commentators based on political viewpoint of the respondents.

CNN’s popularity declines, but still leads as cable news source

The CDF study, conducted twice since the pandemic began (April and June), found CNN continues to be the primary source for pandemic news for the largest percentage of Americans – 40% in the June study, down from 49% in April. Fox news held steady with 33% reporting the network as the primary source about the pandemic, the same as in April. The popularity of MSNBC grew in the June study – now 24% of Americans, up from 14% in April.  (more)

October 1, 2020 — In spite of the stress from COVID-19 and stay-at-home restrictions, many Americans continue to say the relationships with their spouses and children have improved during the pandemic, a study by the USC Center for the Digital Future (CDF) has found.

The CDF study, conducted twice since the pandemic began, found in its first survey in April that large percentages of Americans say that relationships at home are better since the pandemic began – and those percentages increased during the Center’s second study in June.  (more)

September 24, 2020 — After more than six months of living in a pandemic, large percentages of Americans continue to indulge in unhealthy lifestyle habits, including overeating, and increased use of alcohol and marijuana – all while many are exercising less, according to a study of the cultural impact of COVID-19 conducted by the USC Center for the Digital Future (CDF).

The CDF study, conducted twice since the pandemic began, found in its first project in April that indulging had increased while exercising declined; the behavior persisted into the Center’s second study in June.  (more)

September 16, 2020 — Six months into the most severe global pandemic in more than a century, are Americans complying with basic precautions to avoid infection and spread of the coronavirus? And will they be vaccinated when a proven treatment for COVID-19 is released?

For many Americans, the answers are no.

A study of the social impact of COVID-19 by the Center for the Digital Future found that while large numbers of Americans do indeed use recommended precautions against infection and spread of the disease, alarmingly high percentages do not participate in these safety programs, and one-fifth will refuse to receive a vaccine.

Do you wear a mask and participate in social distancing?

The Center’s study found many people – but not everyone – take precautions to avoid infection with the coronavirus.

Eighty-three percent of Americans said they participate in social distancing. However, only 77% say they wear a mask.  (more)

September 9, 2020 — A growing number of college students like their online instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many want reduced tuition if their education is online and not in person, reported the second study on the social and cultural impact of the coronavirus conducted by the USC Center for the Digital Future.

The Center’s study found an increase in college students who reported satisfaction with their instruction on the internet: 43% of college students say they enjoy remote learning better than in-class instruction — up from 34% in the Center’s first study in April. While a majority of college students in the current study (52%) say they prefer in-person classroom learning, that number was down from 63% in April.

Fewer students say their teachers are good at adapting their courses for online instruction — now 46%, down from 51% in April. A slightly smaller percentage say they learn less online than in person – 52% in the current study, down marginally from 54% in April.

How do students feel about the online learning environment? A majority of college students in the current study (54%) say they have to work harder when learning online, down slightly from 56% in April. Although a large percentage of college students say their online instruction makes them feel more isolated from their learning community (55%), that number was down from 61% reported in April.  (more)

September 2, 2020 — Increased levels of loneliness and anxiety reported early in the COVID-19 pandemic have declined in recent months, but about one-third of Americans say they are more depressed since the pandemic began, according to a study by the USC Center for the Digital Future.

The second study of the social and cultural impact of the coronavirus conducted by the Center also found two-thirds of Americans who reported increased anxiety are concerned about the future of the world – higher percentages than those who reported being anxious about their own health, politics, their jobs, or safety.

Anxiety and loneliness drop

The study reported 32% of Americans say they are feeling more lonely since the beginning of the pandemic, down from 37% reported in April. Forty-nine percent say they are feeling more anxious, down from 62% reported in April.

However, more than one-third say they are more depressed: 35% of Americans say they are somewhat or much more depressed since the beginning of the pandemic.

Nearly twice as many women (11%) compared to men (6%) say they are much more depressed since the pandemic began.  (more)

August 26, 2020 — Almost all Americans want to change their work life when the COVID-19 pandemic ends, with large percentages ready to shift to a permanent home office, according to a study by the USC Center for the Digital Future.

The study found that working from home during the pandemic has created unique opportunities as well as unprecedented challenges for millions of Americans, including reduced visits to an office, increased working from home, or not going to a traditional office at all.

The study found:

Many Americans want to change their careers and work from home – More than 40 percent (42 percent) want work from home to be permanent, while 25% disagree.

More than one-quarter could adapt all of their job to working from home — For many, working from home could be a permanent reality; 26% could adapt all of their job to work from home; 22% most of their work, 17% some, 9% a little, 26% none.

Work after the pandemic — More than one-third of employees anticipate they will work more from home when the pandemic is over (38% would work more from home, 43% the same, 18% less).  (more)

August 19, 2020 — In spite of efforts to re-open the nation’s economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, most Americans are not comfortable resuming daily life outside the home, and one-quarter say they will do nothing in public until a vaccine is available, reports a study by the USC Center for the Digital Future.

Low percentages of Americans are ready for return to public activities

The study found that other than grocery shopping, most people are uncomfortable doing anything outside their homes right now. For example, only 41% are willing to see a doctor for a non-urgent appointment, and 39% would shop in retail store.

Even fewer said they would dine in a restaurant (25%), stay in a hotel (19%), use public transportation (14%), go to a movie or play (11%), travel by plane or train (11%), or go to a live sports event or concert (8%).

One-quarter will wait for a vaccine to do anything in public.  (more)

Study finds reliance on Trump drops; public support of government response to the coronavirus declines

August 5, 2020 — A growing number of Americans say federal, state, and local governments are doing a poor job of responding to COVID-19, and Anthony Fauci continues to be the nation’s most relied-upon source about the coronavirus, reports a new study by the USC Center for the Digital Future.

Fauci still #1 source for pandemic information; Trump slumps

The Center’s second survey of the social impact of the coronavirus, conducted during the fourth week of June as follow-up to an initial study in April, found more Americans (44%) rely on Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, than any other individual for information about the pandemic.

After Fauci, individuals rely on New York governor Andrew Cuomo (19%), CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta or the respondent’s own mayor (16%), and Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx (15%).

The June survey found President Donald Trump is relied on by 12% of Americans for pandemic information, down from 20% in the Center’s survey in April. In the June survey, 29% of conservatives and 2% of liberals said they rely on Trump. The largest level of reliance on Trump was 40% of those who identify themselves as very conservative.  (more)

The coronavirus pandemic has produced unprecedented disruption of our generation, but it could have been So. Much. Worse. Jeffrey Cole explores what our pandemic experience would have been if — like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” — the internet had never been born.

The internet won!

In the middle of March, with little warning or preparation, we moved our lives online.

What couldn’t be transferred online simply stopped. Movie theaters, concert halls, and theme parks closed. Baseball and basketball suspended their seasons, and it is still not clear if they will resume, or if the football and hockey seasons will ever start.

Almost all dining in restaurants stopped, and many people were hesitant to eat even at outside tables at the small number that stayed opened. Travel came to a standstill with airlines barely operating and hotels facing little occupancy. Cruise ships will not see passengers for a very long time.

If it couldn’t happen on the internet, it didn’t happen. If it could, it did.  (more)

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated many trends that already existed, teaching us to stream more and forcing us to reconsider how much we need offices or stores. But as Center director Jeffrey Cole describes, one environment that has resisted evolutionary pressure, though, is college.

This column focuses on how the coronavirus pandemic and the move to learning online has affected the lives of traditional college students under the age of 25 who live on or near campus. A later column will look at less traditional students who may be older, attending part-time or working full-time and may not live near campus.

It’s the middle of June: all across America families are celebrating high school and college graduations. This year it’s very different. Graduates of the class of 2020 will be forever remembered as the Covid Grads, finishing school during the pandemic.

In 2020, there were no proms, grad nights or graduation ceremonies. Some graduated on Zoom—celebrating virtually with their classmates—while others stood in the street in front of their homes while friends and families drove by honking from a safe distance.

Most college students living away, whether they were seniors or not, finished the last months of the school year by packing up their belongings and moving back in with Mom and Dad.

As bad as it was for those finishing the school year, it will be even worse for the high school grads starting their first year of college in the fall. Forget summer travel before starting college. Forget freshman orientation as they get introduced to their living arrangements on a new campus.

The only travel in their future will be to their parents’ basement, where they will not need an orientation. All of the experiences of moving to college, making friends and meeting roommates, regulating their own hours and behaviors, and sitting in a classroom soaking up knowledge may have to be deferred for a semester or more.  (more)

How much of our lives can we squeeze through Zoom and other videoconference services? A recent funeral marked out a boundary.

By Brad Berens

When a family member dies, the script is clear: you scramble the jets, cancel your appointments, lean on a friend to watch the dog, and get there. For me, that means getting to Los Angeles from Portland.

My aunt, Marlene Meyer, my mother’s sister, died on May 15th. She was 86, vibrant, still working as an insurance agent days before her death, not ready to die. Our family wasn’t ready either. We do not know if she had contracted Coronavirus — a maddening ambiguity — but we do know that Coronavirus changed her decline, death, and funeral.

I’ve lived in Oregon since 2009, always aware that the biggest challenge of being far from where I grew up and where my first family still lives would be moments like these.

The script is clear, but Coronavirus changed the script.  (more)

May 21, 2020 — While many Americans agree that the coronavirus is changing life at home on an unprecedented scale, men and women report significant differences in their views and behavior, according to the first comprehensive study of the social and cultural impact of the pandemic conducted by the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

“We are seeing many differences between how men and women are experiencing life during the pandemic – especially in their levels of concern about the effects of the coronavirus, what they miss, and what they enjoy,” said Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future.

The overall findings released April 29 in the Center’s study, “The Coronavirus Disruption Project: Living and Coping During the Pandemic,” revealed many changes in views and behavior – both positive and negative – reported by Americans since the pandemic and safer-at-home restrictions began.  (For an overview of key issues found in the study, go here.)

Looking more closely at the study’s findings about life at home reveals some sharp differences between men and women and how they are experiencing the pandemic.  (more)

(For comprehensive material about the Coronavirus Disruption Project Study — reports, PDFs, and releases — go here.)

Going to work: a commute of ten miles or ten feet?

Data from the Center’s new Coronavirus Disruption Project suggests that many Americans will never go back to daily commutes to work in offices, and as Center director Jeffrey Cole explains, that’s not a bad thing, either.

The phrase “going to work” has taken on an entirely new meaning.

Two months ago, most of us had never heard of Zoom. Now, for those who are working at home during the Coronavirus pandemic, Zoom is a way of life.

Zoom has moved into a rarefied atmosphere of the tiny list of companies whose brands that have become verbs: Google, Xerox, Uber. The invitation is not, “do you want to join me in a Zoom Meeting,” but rather, “let’s Zoom.”

The latest unemployment figures, the highest since the Great Depression, show that about 15% of Americans are unemployed. Other than essential workers (health care, delivery, police, supermarkets), the rest have moved much (if not all) of our jobs online. We made this move in a matter of days without preparation. Many of us did it without any prior experience doing our jobs online.

Data from the Center’s new study with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, “The Coronavirus Disruption Project: Living and Coping During the Pandemic,” shows that moving our work lives online has been a success — particularly compared to other activities we have been compelled to move online, such as school work.  (more)

April 29, 2020 – Americans coping with the coronavirus are reporting changes in their lives occurring in days that previously took months or years, a wide-ranging study of life during the pandemic conducted by the USC Center for the Digital Future and the Interactive Advertising Bureau has found.

The study shows Americans report many concerns about their lives as well as increased loneliness and anxiety since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, but they also describe strengthened relationships and enjoying the benefits of working at home.

Titled “The Coronavirus Disruption Project: How We are Living and Coping During the Pandemic,” the study also found significant percentages of Americans who had never previously banked online or bought from internet sources have now been pushed into the online experience because of the pandemic.

“We are exploring the biggest disruption of our lives,” said Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future in the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “Daily life is far more disrupted by the pandemic than after 9/11 or the beginning of World War II, and anxiety is at levels only seen after Pearl Harbor and the Great Depression.

“Yet in spite of the upheaval,” Cole said, “we also found that Americans have positive views about their relationships and hope for how their lives will proceed after the pandemic ends.”  (more)

From the Center’s Future of  Health Care Study.

Infographic by Kelsey Dempsey.

See all of the Center’s infographics here

How quickly should one reply to a personal message received online? What is the appropriate length of time? And has the perceived appropriate length changed over the years?

We have asked this question in our Digital Future Survey since 2012… (more)

The Center has published the tenth edition of World Internet Project report, the collaboration between the Center for the Digital Future and partner organizations in countries worldwide.

The 47-page study explores views and behavior about internet use and non-use, devices for internet access, years online, user proficiency, reasons for not going online, politics and the internet, freedom of expression online, media reliability, online security and personal privacy, and activities on the internet.

Download the tenth World Internet Project Report here.

Center director Jeffrey Cole explores transformation of the media for the keynote address at the leadership meeting of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

View the video here.