Blink. Rethink TV.

Blink. Rethink TV.

Blink. I am in the TV.

Blink. But the TV is broken….and may be dead.

I recall the first signs of TV cracking like an egg.  Prime example,  Janet Jackson’s nip-slip during the 2004 Superbowl half-time show, alongside Justin Timberlake.  In that moment, time-shifting (the ability to pause, rewind, and fast-forward the TV show you’re watching) upgraded from analog VCR to Digital DVR.   Viewers digitally paused,  replayed and gawked at the infamous half-second transgression, more than any moment of the game and the multi-million dollar commercials that paid for it. To this day, “Nipplegate” is the most watched video for DVR platform pioneer, TiVo.


Before VCRs there was no time machine, or “time shifting” of TV at home.  One was stuck on the network’s one-to-many schedule for programming. And if you had to run to the lavatory, you held it in until there was a commercial.  (For me, commercials were great excuses to do high school homework!)

Nowadays connected viewers via handsets and tablets are not only driving the rise of Social TV and cord-cutting from cable subscriptions, their activities are opening new windows for real-time multi-screen experiences .  The Pew Internet and American Life Project recently published a study that found 50% of cellphone owners use their phones while TV channel surfing.  And the third screens, smart watches, are not far behind to offer more media fragmentation.   With all these methods of consuming and interacting with video, it is not surprising  children have little patience with live TV, not understanding why we can’t simply “make it go fast”, i.e. record the future so we can skip over the commercials.

For that to happen, we must move beyond breaking down TV into short-form video over the internet to more personalization and curation.  At home, I am paying over $100/month for 1000 cable channels, 90% of which I do not use.  Set top boxes like Roku, Apple TV and Chromecast internet video stream into the living and solve TV wasted in the long tail by freeing up cable’s bundled model and on-demand distribution. But for TV to truly mature, the next battleground for interactivity is virtual reality/augmented reality.  Similar to the myth that we only use 10% of our brain capacity and we could achieve superhuman levels like telepathy and psychokinesis by increasing brain utilization,  virtual reality could enhance learning and create a non-linear, multi-screen experience spanning connected devices –IP TV, handset, tablet—and the social platforms that link them together.


Marcel Proust divined “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”  Interpreted another way, the voyage of TV is not in seeking new TV channels but having new eyes like a VR headset to see the channels differently.   Passive TV watching and channel surfing frosted forms of blindness over our eyes for a long time, growing our appetite for the braille of 4D interactivity.

In 2014, Facebook purchased Oculus for $2B for its Virtual Reality Headset technology, Oculus Rift. They plan to build on their face-time app z-like dimensions adapted to convivial settings to enhance their social networking.  Sony also plans to release Project Morpheus the immersive 3D head-tracking helmet next year.  Imagine enjoying dug out seats at the World Series baseball game, or memorizing a language like Russian and studying for a year abroad in Russia, or bringing the boardroom to the beach smelling salt and seaweed in the air – just by putting on visors in your home.  As a tool for education, VR may make us smarter.   We can learn Latin in two hours or move a can of spinach with our mind.  With millennials’ DNA pre-encoded with online education,  researching on the Internet, self-teaching to instructional videos on YouTube and distance learning powered by video technology, they can invent the future and prototype endlessly.   None of the associated materials costs to experiment, practice, and train will prohibit them.

Blink. The TV that I am.

In Virtual Reality, the television set is not broken like a machine, it breathes like a human;  time-shifting is not triggered by DVRs but rather when we can plunge artifacts like the videocassette inside the machine of our own bodies, our own human stomachs to birth new stories;  and as companies like Facebook and Google invest in telephony to share those stories without friction,  the “boob-tube” dies with Superbowl 2004 and the resurrection of the TV experience will be signaled by every smartphone on the planet ringing simultaneously.

The Wifi Wars, The Wifi People

Simulacra, Simulacrum

For many caught on the wrong side of the Digital Divide, reality is under suspicion of being a simulation,  a dream deferred.

In one-stoplight rural towns and urban pockets across America, internet connections are dark with low broadband subscription rates.  According to the US Census Bureau, cities such as Detroit, Michigan and Macon, Georgia, have broadband subscription rates less than 50% and a median income of less than $25K.

In 1992 Geoffrey Moore argued in his tech book, “Crossing the Chasm” that it is particularly challenging for a technology to cross from “early adopters” to the “early majority”, because both segments possess different characteristics (dreamer vs. pragmatist) and expectations for technology.  New high-tech ventures must reach “critical mass” of diffusion and adoption to self-sustain. But since technology spreads virally through the sequential hand-offs of these consumer segments, success is crucial in these early stages.

To build a harmonious society, I would argue Crossing the Digital Divide is no easier than Crossing the Chasm that Moore described.  Today, two huge walls of water stand across each other like Moses’s parted Red Sea, representing the gap in equity between those who have access to internet and computers and those who do not.  In that gap is a dry seabed, where an orphaned tribe of Digital Natives is attempting to make its way to the opposite shore of Digital Inclusion, before they get engulfed by the Data tsunami (the expectation that with the rise of connected devices and internet of things people will generate at least 4.3 exabytes of data in their lifetime).

Digital Divide

Historically, the army of chariots chasing these orphaned Digital Natives have been ISPs including cable and mobile operators, charging high prices for data speeds considered sluggish and medieval by European and global standards.(According to digital traffic company Akamai , U.S. ranks 17th in world re: connection speeds) However, a new miracle-worker is upsetting the apple cart of the Big Four.  He is not descending from Mount Sinai, sun burnt with a long goatee and two stone tablets, but rather he is a technology – WiFi.  At first friend to the Big Four, Wi-Fi is emerging as saboteur, as the 5th carrier.  Wi-Fi was unlicensed  5GHZ frequency to which mobile operators diverted traffic off their 3G/4G networks to unwind congestion from bandwidth hogs.  In fact, according to Cisco Systems Inc.’s Visual Networking Index, in 2013 wireless operators offloaded 45% of all mobile data traffic onto a fixed network using Wi-Fi/femtocell technology.  And by 2018 Cisco predicts that percent will be even higher.  Most of the internet will be powered by Wi-Fi.

Enter the Wifi Wars, the Wifi People

In the future, Wi-Fi could be the bridge technology to closing the Digital Divide, serving as a great platform for innovation at the bottom of the pyramid in underserved communities.   As a result, an arms race between the cable and telephone companies is intensifying over Wi-Fi as it is the “new black”,  the new digital oil to acquire and retain customers.  Major cable companies have teamed up to provide Wi-Fi roaming for their customers. Time Warner, Comcast, Bright House Networks, and Optimum cable all allow their cable  subscribers to traverse each other’s cable Wi-Fi networks by selecting the “CableWiFi” service on their connected device.  Google, a new entrant to the telecommunications game, launched a wireless service, piggybacking on Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s network, which can also make calls over Wi-Fi spots lit up in Google Fiber-hoods.  Facebook acquired Whatsapp which eventually will be able to offer free services like free calls over Wi-Fi.  Many will be able to “build their own prosperity” using the free Internet to start or grow a business.

X wing fighter

Low income people and especially minority populations depend on mobile devices.  In order to “jack in” to the internet without a hardwired fiber solution, they have to send a wireless signal.   So having Wi-Fi they can use on-the-go is an effective way of keeping living expenses down.  Because it is open source for anyone to use and barriers to entry are low, any entrepreneur can bring low-cost wireless products and applications to market.

To cross the Digital Divide, these orphaned Digital Natives, or  “Wi-Fi people”, must focus their innovation on using fewer resources to generate the critical mass of social proof.  Until their creativity establishes a beachhead of critical mass of customers within their extended peer groups who can provide credible references, they will be stuck in the divide.  Learning to manipulate code by memory will be a prerequisite for survival in the Wi-Fi wars.  Digital literacy and coding must be in one’s DNA to control the software of their destiny; whether it is to do homework, fill out applications for jobs, create a killer-app, or apply for social benefits.  There is equal opportunity for everyone to become literate in these technologies so that they are creating #digital futures and not only consuming content.

The FCC government is helping with increased e-rate funding which provides internet access at schools.  But the money goes to schools, not home Internet access, and approximately half of low-income homes nationwide lack proper Internet service.   Thus the next opportunity is providing public Wi-Fi,  allowing many consumers to make free calls from their mobile phones via the Internet.  Chicago public libraries are lending out hotspots like books to help combat the city’s digital divide.   Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio is accepting proposals to retrofit 10,000 existing payphones with WiFi hardware.  Homeless people are being converted into walking Wi-Fi antennas with “I’m a 4G Hotspot” T-shirts as part of a “charitable experiment” by a New York ad agency.  In Salton, California, yellow school buses are being repurposed at night in downtime as Wi-Fi mobiles crashing parking lots in welfare projects to keep disadvantaged students connected at home.

Although kids are bringing more technology to school in their pocket than NASA packed into the first shuttle that landed on the moon, access to cell phone usage is still limited and demonized in school.  Thus, the potential of these students are falling short of reaching the moon.   At school, students use tablets and the Internet to tap into a variety of educational resources, including self-paced lessons, but if availability to these technologies remain distant on the bike path home, the Data Tsunami will wipe them out. Therefore, local communities must leverage the rise of mobile technology and the capacity of Wifi networks to make learning more authentic and powerful for students to become the next generation of tech visionaries, policy influencers and money men. This is the only way, the Wifi people will clear a path through the sea of the Digital Divide on dry ground to an equitable future.

Black Swan Surprise

Black swans are outliers.

At least that is what everyone thought in Europe, when all swans were assumed to be “snow white.”

By the 18th century, Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh landed in Australia, discovered black swans and altered the science of zoology. After the fact it seemed obvious to armchair scientists that black swans had to exist. Making the impossible, possible.  But even the other furry genetic mutations (boxing kangaroos, duck billed platypus and teddy-bear koalas) that were discovered had to roll their eyes at such ludic fallacy.

black swan 2According to Wall Street derivatives legend, Nassim Taleb, “black swans” are wildly unpredictable human events that occur when we least expect them. Like 9/11 and the rise of the PC, internet and Google, they cannot be predicted based on what we know no matter how much we rewrite our ignorance in the past to suit a predictable future.

For example, in the “hood”, black swans are quite common.  Ask the homeless.

They are the albino pigeons that leave exploding surprises on windshields and pedestrian heads.  They fight for bread scraps outside restaurants and pose with statues for picture-taking tourists.

They are also the iPads and cellphones the homeless use as vital links to friends, employment opportunities and housing to build a light-tunnel out of isolation and despair.  Who would have thought the new wave of digital technologies – cloud, Big Data, social, mobile, 3D printing, the Internet Of Things – intended for commercial enterprises and paying consumers, could launch a flock of black swans to help the poor?

As bizarre a juxtaposition as it seems, access to digital technology from smart watches to Wifi is like drinking water for the disenfranchised in poor communities.  Technology allows them to defy the physics and social stigma of an address or zip code. Less status symbol and more survival apparatus, these cheap communication technologies are like feet kicking down the fourth wall to the theater of their lives; where they can fully engage and contribute to the conversation on Facebook and Snapchat.

When technology is used to solve real world problems, a cyclone of black swans circle to raise the roofs of our assumptions. For example, Leo Grand, a homeless man in New York City, was given the Matrix-like choice ( blue pill/red pill) to take a one time $100 gift or coding lessons for an hour a day with mentor tech programmer Patrick McConlogue. Leo chose the red pill and learned to write javascript. After three months, he developed a mobile carpooling app,called Trees for Cars (, that connects drivers and riders in an effort to reduce CO2 emissions from cars.

Other attempts have been made to tackle the challenges of education, computer literacy and speedy Internet access, unleashing potential black swan surprises.  Bill Gates issued the Reinvent the Toilet challenge to bring sanitation solutions to 2.5 billion people in the world.  The contest engendered ideas like solar-powered electronic toilets to a prototype that helps recharge mobile phones from urine.

Google launched Google Fiber to cover the last mile into the “hood” and stimulate more high speed broadband adoption and innovation across the digital divide.  Additionally, they devised Project Loon, bringing internet access to rural and remote geographies with floating balloons in the sky (inspiring the imaginations of UFO conspiracy theorists,

1b7e670In all these use-cases, when we concentrate on things we already know and fail to take into consideration what we don’t know, a black swan surprise hits us with its wing, beak or tail.   We tend to put on rose-tinted blinders to the impact of randomness and fail to appreciate the imperfection in our perception of events. Yet reality is not linear math; it is a complex bending mosaic of ones and zeroes swiped with the pads of our fingers, whose rising and falling patterns find comfort in the cumulative effect of a handful of shocks.

Count the game-changing events, the technological advances and inventions that you have witnessed in your lifetime; and compare them to what was there before. How many of them came on the schedule of a toaster?

The mother of invention is need and there is greatest need in poor U.S. inner city communities.  Although we like to simplify, narrate, and categorize, and remain cynical about rewarding those who can imagine the “impossible, I predict the next black swan technology will come from these communities.  It is already there, waiting to be discovered.


Hip Hop is not going to save their lives… of Black-Eyed Peas fame, got it right, when he intimated:

“Music saved my life, but it’s not going to save their lives in the next 10 years. It’s going to be math and science.”

In 2013, amongst a tech panel of industry insiders at the Consumer Electronics Show, the rapper expressed why he works with inner city youth to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.

Recently, I had an opportunity to address an audience of high school students at Blue Valley CAPS program in Overland Park, Kansas about the knowledge economy.  CAPS, short for Center of Advanced Professional Studies, is a $12M state-of-the-art tech facility, giving a leg-up to the next generation of engineers and scientists, while still in high school.

I did not have to sell these young suburbanites hard on the skills they would need for the future.  At the beginning of the 20th century, hard hats and big muscles were the inputs for a competitive economy.  Output was measured by widgets produced.  Today, ideas kindle growth, not objects. People have the power to innovate faster than diminishing returns.

These classroom digital natives, musing in the telepathy of social networking and texting did not need an old world settler (like myself) with one foot in analog and floppy disks to proselytize them.  But in major urban pockets of the US, a different story is unfolding.  A different tribe in black hoodies cloak themselves in plain sight with smartphones in hand as Amazon drones circle like bats overhead; the smoke screen is the American city itself… and the ghost-underdog is hibernating in the belly of the machine.

Digital Crack, Digital Natives: The Turntable and a Mic

In 1978, the crack cocaine epidemic was ripping apart homes all over the country, spreading like a virus, with African-American youth, as its primary host; integrated schools and neighborhoods were backsliding into segregation; the ‘American Dream’ was hiding out in abandoned lots, near busted parking meters and graffiti bridges as politicians puffed their chests, reasserting free-market values to victims handcuffed by generational poverty.

But two simple pieces of technology – a turntable and a mic – changed all that. The turntable and the mic became weapons of choice of the Hip Hop movement like the slingshot David used to slay Goliath in the Bible.

Hip Hop was a function of what I call the “Ghost-Underdog in the Machine”, where the machine is the system and the ghost-underdogs are those who live in the machine, both haunting it and haunted by it; a super-consciousness that monitors our skeletons and like an unexplained bug overtakes the computer, moving the cursor by itself, helping us to rectify our transgressions when we do not catch them.

Hip-Hop saved lives, where schools, homes and leaders of the community profoundly failed.  However, as digital technology continues to reconstruct the value chain of distribution and wipe out album sales, Hip Hop (which in the 2000s was making $10 billion annually) cannot save lives the way it did emotionally or economically.  If one takes a look at the urban unrest from Ferguson, Missouri to Bronx, New York, where Hip Hop started, poverty and crime are probably worse than ever.  A new divide is forming: The Digital Divide.  In the era of big data, cloud computing, mobile and the Internet of Things, 1 in 4 US homes lack a broadband connection.  To worsen matters, low income and American minorities are disproportionately finding themselves on the wrong side of that Digital Divide.

David And the Slingshot of the Future

Is there some lightning of hope striking across the bleak horizon? Yes.

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath, the strongest does not win all the battles.  When it comes to innovation, size and spending does not correlate with success. In fact, Goliath had size and muscle but David innovated; he took a rubber-band, a stick and a stone, which by themselves were useless. But when he combined them he created a superior technology, taking Goliath out.  This innovation is akin to the turntable and a mic that poor African-American youth combined to revolutionize a music industry that historically drowned its voice out due to lack of capital and market influence.

In 2015, the Goliath are tech companies that are shutting the voices of diversity (women and minorities) out when they recruit talent. Last summer, major tech companies including Apple, Google and Facebook released employee statistics that confirm what critics had suspected: opportunity is not created equal.  Yet this gender and racial composition of the tech industry does not reflect consumer demand. (A 2014 Pew Research Center report found 92% of African Americans own a cell phone, and 56% own a smartphone and show high levels of broadband, internet and Twitter usage).

There is a sea change and the Goliaths are in trouble.  The large tech incumbents are vulnerable to a new breed of very able competitors that reflect the diversity of thought and richness of society.  One of the reasons most of the innovation out of Silicon Valley seems trivial and revolves around apps like Angry Birds and Farmville that distract us in our downtime, is because many of the young entrepreneurs are not exposed to real-world problems like crime, traffic, unemployment, disease and poor health.  However, many inner-city youth do not suffer from that problem. They fight very differently and are not bound by the accepted ways of doing business.

As a result, an army of David’s are rising from the ashes around the world planting the seeds of change and innovation. For example, Kelvin Doe, aka DJ Focus, a teenage African built a generator from scraps picked out of the garbage of Sierra Leone. At 13, he became the youngest person to participate in MIT’s Visiting Practitioners program.

Obviously, there are structural challenges like an equitable education system, a deliberate tech talent pipeline and access to venture capital that are necessary to harness the forces of disruptive innovation at scale.  But the socio-economic conditions today are no less daunting than they were for the “Crack generation” in that they require creativity, resourcefulness, passion and vision.  The major difference is the hardware of turntable and mic has lost its relevance. As we move into a semantic economy, the slingshot of the future will be a connected device (iPad, smartphone) with a web browser and a high speed broadband connection.

Additionally, teaching children of color about math and science, coding and building robots will be paramount to their future livelihood.  Why not begin teaching them general engineering and entrepreneurial concepts and how to become technocrats in kindergarten? Poor inner city youth have to get technical, learn software, write code or at least hang around groups that do.  They cannot see these experiences as “nerdy” or something other cultures do.  They have to start their own tech companies like they started their own rap and breakdance crews on the cardboards of New York City, battling for the donations of tourists.

As little “Davids” in a battlefield dominated by size they are not going to be able to compete with Silicon Valley’s IPO bound “killer-apps.” But if they follow the rules of disruption that Clayton Christensen has laid out, they can burrow a tunnel in the low end of the market under Silicon Valley.  They will win with “saver-apps” of the streets that will save lives, save a generation.  The Ghost Underdog in the Machine has re-awakened. Be on point for the future shock!