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Instagram, Tom Sawyer, The Terminator and Don Draper

I’m almost convinced Facebook staged Wednesday’s all-day near-blackout on purpose.

If Instagram is still down by the time you’re reading this, then you’ve certainly got a few extra minutes to burn, so do me a favor. Read Chapter 2 of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, where Mark Twain explained social media marketing all the way back in 1884.

Oh great, you’re back. More on Tom Sawyer in a moment.

The blackout was devastating. Lindsay Lohan couldn’t take it, requesting that Instagram contact her. The lower-case, no punctuation request/demand was softened by a “please,” but she seemed to mean business.

The Fat Jewish (no really, that’s a popular influencer’s nom de guerre on social media) wondered what would happen if the ‘Gram never returned. Joking about Instagram models going unemployed was low-hanging fruit, knowing he’d garner tons of “engagement” when people clapped-back at him, asking where he’d go to steal content.

Others wondered if Elizabeth Warren had already broken up Big Tech.

Everybody was talking about it on Twitter, since it was the only major platform operating at the time. (Sorry, Snapchat.)

Make no mistake, the prolonged Instagram blackout was a cultural event. It was bigger than Beto O’Rourke confirming his presidential run (maybe push that back a day, strategy team?), The Bachelor Finale recaps or Donald Trump grounding faulty 737s.

The visceral, unhinged reaction to the longest blackout in Facebook’s history was a depressing confirmation of what we’ve long since already accepted: our phones own us, and it’s rapidly getting worse. It’s a runaway train, and the distracted conductor’s not looking at the tracks ahead.

The alarming chart below made the rounds on Twitter two weeks ago. It’s no coincidence that the spike in pedestrian fatalities, which dropped consistently from 1990-2008, started climbing again in 2009, just two years after the introduction of the iPhone in January 2007. While the simultaneous proliferation of SUVs certainly plays an important role in this chart (heavier vehicles with more force, more horsepower and higher carriages creating deadlier impacts to the torso), phones monopolizing our attention both inside and outside of the vehicle are, without question, an irresistible force.

This chart is truly tragic. The “Don’t Drink and Drive” message we were bombarded with since the late 1980s made a protracted but significant impact over a 20-year period. Sadly, all of that work has basically been undone in half the time. Our smartphone addiction is Exhibit A.

The machines are literally killing us, and Skynet isn’t even self-aware yet. Or is it?

Maybe that’s why Mark Zuckerberg reportedly has a secret escape hatch under his office. So he can slither out of Menlo Park when Judgment Day is upon us and the machines have no use for us.

They’re already messing with us.Social media platforms are engineered to create psychological cravings. So what do you do for news, information or entertainment when you can’t get on Facebook or Instagram? Tun on the TV? Go to your local newspaper website?

What’s the URL for that again? (“Nevermind – what’s new on Netflix?”)

Journalists didn’t seem to mind Facebook and Instagram taking a siesta. After all, Twitter drives their relevance, and to a lesser degree, referral traffic. When actual news happens, people find out first on Twitter. But wouldn’t it be nice if it was 2005 again, when people talked to each other at dinner, and you had to type in or to find out what’s really happening?

The replies to this tweet were fascinating.

For one, people don’t want to pay for content. They’d rather be the content. (“@OneSlowDude” is an interesting handle, all things considered.)

Dear @OneSlowDude: If it’s free, you’re the product, brother.

Journalists rely on those subscriptions (that you don’t want to pay for) to feed their families. After all, who is going to work for free?

Henry Apple (no relation to Tim Apple, at least as far as I know) certainly isn’t willing to work for free. But guess what? Everybody on social media is. Zuckerberg must have read Chapter 2 of Tom Sawyer, because he’s convinced a billion people to whitewash his fence every month.

But back to the replies:

“The local news is fake, but Instagram ain’t!”

Perhaps you want more world news, and don’t care about what’s going on in your own backyard.

World events are important. Alicia makes a point. Then again, what if the only news worth sharing is the news that hey, Facebook and Instagram are down?

It’s been a tough year for Facebook. Basically every story that’s come out in the last year has been negative, and now politicians want to break them up. They’ve lost control of their own narrative, which reminds me of the old Don Draper axiom of marketing.

Perhaps a little reminder from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp was just what the doctor ordered. “You love us, and you can’t live without us.”

Finally, I’ll leave you with some Mark Twain:

“Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

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Media Masters #18 – Bob Ryan, Legendary Boston Globe Sportswriter


Bob Ryan is perhaps the greatest American sportswriter of all-time, with a 44-year career covering some of the greatest moments in Boston sports. In this episode, Ryan discusses his outstanding career, how sports journalism has evolved over his newspaper days, and talks about his new book, “Scribe: My Life in Sports.”

For a kid who grew up wanting to be the Celtics beat writer for the Boston Globe, Bob Ryan was required reading, especially when I got to college and started journalism school at Boston University. During junior year, when I was asked to write a profile of someone noteworthy, I picked Bob Ryan and called his desk at the Globe. Ryan was very gracious, inviting me to interview him at the Globe offices, and was very generous with his time, talking for well over an hour at the time about his career and how he got started.

Decades later, Ryan’s still just as passionate about sports as he was when he started, and he was equally gracious with his time talking about his career and his new book. For a podcast called Media Masters, Bob Ryan fits the bill perfectly.

Buy Scribe: My Life in Sports on

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Media Masters #10 – Molly McGrath, Fox Sports 1

For the 10th episode of Media Masters, I talked to Molly McGrath, an NFL sideline reporter, anchor and host at Fox Sports 1 who launched her on-camera career as the website reporter at the Boston Celtics. In under one year, Molly’s become a break out star at the new network, and is now featured on the nightly SportsCenter competitor, “America’s Pregame,” which airs five nights a week on Fox Sports 1.

Molly talked about her work ethic and drive that led to her success, what it was like to help launch the network, and how far her career has gone in such little time. She also offers insights for young reporters hoping to follow a similar career path, and shares some stories from her incredible journey.


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Media Masters – Jessica Gioglio, Dunkin’ Donuts

I recently talked to Jessica Gioglio, Social Media Manager for Dunkin’ Donuts, about Dunkin’ Donuts social media strategy. Jessica also gives us a preview of “The Power of Visual Storytelling” book she co-authored.

Finally, she explains how Dunkin’ handled social media during the Boston Marathon tragedy in 2013.

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Media Masters – Chris Nowinski, Concussion Expert and Retired WWE Wrestler

My most recent podcast is easily the most important episode I’ve done. I talked to Chris Nowinski, a Harvard grad who pursued a dream by becoming a WWE wrestler, only to have his career taken from him because of concussion problems.

After retiring, Nowinski went on a crusade to educate athletes about the dangers of concussions, and has worked to change the culture of denial in the NFL, WWE and other sports. Nowinski’s tireless work continues to this day, and he’s making a real impact on the way concussions are both prevented and dealt with in sports.

If you’ve ever played contact sports at any level, give it a listen. And if you have young children playing football, hockey or other contact sports, you MUST listen to this podcast. It literally could save your child’s life.

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