First Hand View of the European Migrant Crisis

The ongoing European migrant crisis in nations such as Italy, Greece and Hungary has had frequently fatal consequences for refugees traveling from Syria and other war-torn nations in the Middle East or North Africa. While this news topic has often made headline news in 2015, it’s rare for me to have an opportunity to see beyond the camera lens. A few weeks ago while traveling with my family in Messina, Italy, I had the chance to see face-to-face a few of the millions of unfortunate victims of violence and oppression.

Italian Navy in Messina, Italy rescuing refugees.


From the point of view of the cruise ship my family was staying on, the ultimate juxtaposition presented itself: A luxury cruise ship with passengers awaiting their next cocktail, right beside the Italian Navy who are rescuing refugees from a dinghy lost in the Mediterranean Sea. It was a humbling experience to watch women and children first exit the Navy vessel, stepping foot on European land for the first time, with just the clothes on their back and maybe a small bag. The migrant crisis is a fight for survival, as documented by this excellent article, “What Refugees Bring When They Run for Their Lives“.

Fortunately the Red Cross and many other humanitarian organizations are offering immediate assistance for the refugees who make it safely to Europe. The Pope has even called on all European Catholics to take in refugees if they have the means to do so. As you can see in the photo below, the refugees are first inspected for illness and disease before being bussed to a temporary housing location. This is what today’s Ellis Island looks like:

Italian Red Cross Messina, Italy


Video of this scene where I took photos was later aired on BBC News and various other International media outlets. But the media will fade, and this is just documentation of the beginning of their journey. Most will take refuge in central Europe, and many may never return home ever again.

What is next for these refugees? I don’t know exactly. But the collective story of over four million individuals and families displaced, people who are being pushed to the extremes of human willpower, is bound to shape the economic and political landscape of Europe for decades to come. May these struggling refugees not be forgotten, for they provide a certain reminder that freedom is never free.

How to Help


Migrant Offshore Aid Station

UN Refugee Agency

Or, host a family, similar to this creative German Airbnb-like community: “Airbnb for Refugees


09 2015

Not All Stock Analysts Are Created Equal

What if we tracked professional stock analysts similar to the way that we track professional sports players?

The NFL, NBA, MLB and many other sports organizations are well-known for taking a data-driven approach to selecting their teams in recent years. Many of you even know the popular book and subsequent film, Money Ball, which tells the story of the Oakland Athletics’ success. They were the first MLB team to discover that a player’s on-base percentage is a better indicator of “offensive success” than historically valued statistics such as batting-average.

What if there is a similar story out there in the stock market? I’m sure there is. TipRanks is off to a great start.

TipRanks tracks stock ratings published by the ~5,000 professional stock analysts in the U.S.. Specifically, TipRanks measures the performance of each analysts’ ratings 1-month, 3-months, 1-year, and 2-years out, and then calculates the average performance of each analyst.

The truth is that most of the 5,000 analysts underperform the market. However, TipRanks’ “Financial Accountability Engine” lets the top-performers really shine through the fog: Every day TipRanks updates its results for the top 100 analysts; meaning people who not only consistently outperform the market, but people who also make better picks than everyone else who rates stocks for a living.

I subscribed to TipRanks six months ago, in February, and the results have been very promising. Since February, my modest brokerage account with ~$2,000 is up over 40%. Here is a table of my performance:

2/3 picks made money. That’s not exactly a sure bet, but it’s beating the odds of emotional investing. And if you look closely, you’ll see that a few big wins which count for a majority of the gains. But that’s the whole point. TipRanks exposes casual investors to the big wins that the top analysts are consistently predicting before the rest of the market. (Similar to how Y Combinator exposes casual angel investors to the most promising Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.)

For example, Pieris Pharmaceuticals, Regulus Therapeutics, and Cytrx Corp, all currently have upside of over 100% in the next quarter, as rated by at least one of the Top 25 Analysts on TipRanks. By trading based on suggestions from top performing analysts, I’m much more likely to see strong gains in at least 2/3 of these up and coming healthcare companies. And importantly, as a casual investor with just a couple of thousand dollars in a brokerage account for experimentation, I am seeing meaningful gains.

Previously I was an emotional investor, such as when I bought shares in Tesla because I thought their technology was cool, or when I invested in Delta Airlines because I’ve flown them frequently in recent years. Now, my human algorithm is simple and rational:

  1. Login to TipRanks and scan the recent “Buy” ratings from the Top 25 Analysts
  2. Research the companies with strong upside
  3. Submit a trade, and then hold for a few weeks.


If you’re interested in continuing the TipRanks conversation regularly, ping me to join the Wall Street group I’ve started on Skynet.

Disclosure: Previous earnings do not guarantee future performance. Trade at your own risk.


08 2015


Having returned back to the startup world for over one month now, one word that I have been reminded of repeatedly is “focus”. Focus means doing one thing really well, not a handful of things decently well. I work on user experience at Tsumobi, a startup company focused on building a Peer-to-Peer instant messenger, Skynet.

In the startup setting, having focus is critical, because startups are always resource constrained, whether it be money or time. With a limited amount of human capital each day, it’s important that our team choose the right things to work on each day. In fact, our very livelihoods depend on our ability to block out distractions, and simply focus on completing the tasks that we choose.

Perhaps it seems obvious on the surface, but once internalized I believe its even more powerful. The power of focus, I believe, is the ability to quickly make decisions. Focus helps me choose opportunities that push forward towards my goals, and quickly decline or hold on opportunities that lead to alternative outcomes.

Paul Graham often talks about the two tasks software startups need to focus on:

  1. Writing code
  2. Talking with users

In his essay “Startups in 13 Sentences” he wrote:

“Though the immediate cause of death in a startup tends to be running out of money, the underlying cause is usually lack of focus.”

PG is saying that teams losing focus is very often a pre-requisite to a company running out of money. This may be no surprise, considering that focus is counter-intuitive to exploratory thinking encouraged in liberal arts education models, that humans lose focus frequently. Or especially considering that more adults than ever are taking focus-drugs. The business of focus is a good one all around. Productivity tools, eye glasses, SPAM filters, and more, all in the pursuit of focus.

During Peter Thiel’s years leading PayPal, he similarly identified focus as a top management priority. For example, he was known for requiring PayPal employees to identify their single most valuable contribution to the company during their annual review, in addition to limiting business discussion to each employee’s single priority. His approach drove focus and encouraged the pursuit of excellence towards each person’s singular priority. (Peter Thiel’s Philosophy of Extreme Manager Focus)

So, to quote my friend James Beshara (co-founder of Tilt): Whatever you’re working on, make sure you’re working on it”.


07 2015

Artsy Link Scheme Exposed

Soliciting links is wrong. Unfortunately, exceptionally smart, creative and well-funded companies still participate in this kind of activity that manipulates SERP’s (Search Engine Result Pages), such as Artsy. Last week, Theo from Artsy reached out to me regarding a blog post I had written a year ago after having participated in JR’s InsideOut Project in Shanghai:

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 10.05.16 PM

JR is one of the most well-known artists in the world, having gained fame after winning the TED Prize in 2011 for his portrait photography and public art installations. Meanwhile, Artsy is a talented and well-established startup that has successfully brought the art world online. Artsy’s business depends on capturing the attention of as many art galleries, dealers and collectors as possible.

Artsy recognized that they could gain the enormous amount of organic search traffic that well-known artists generate by building out great content resources. Simply put, ranking on the first page of Google for terms such as “JR” would likely bring Artsy much of the attention that they seek to capture, and thus act as a source of lead generation for their other services to the art world.

Currently Artsy sits on page 5 of the results for the term “JR”:
With much room for improvement in their rankings, Artsy chose to solicit unnatural links in order to boost their rankings towards the first page results, which is in clear violation of Google’s guidelines.

The page that Theo from Artsy refers to is the URL ““, which is an archive of the posts that I had written last June, and this only provides further evidence to speculation that his “finding” was likely the result of a scrape for “JR” or similar terms.

Not to mention, if Theo had simply read a little into my blog, he would learn that I am probably not the best person to contact when soliciting links:

Back in December 2013, I wrote about one of New York City’s other big tech startups, Rap Genius, who also attempted a link scheme in bad faith, and they paid a heavy price: Rap Genius’ rankings on Google were pushed down to the sixth page for results, including search terms as simple as their own company name at the time, Rap Genius.

Rap Genius experienced a penalty that Google calls a “manual webspam action“, which are “…actions taken by the manual webspam team that directly affect that site’s ranking in Google’s web search results”(Matt Cutts). Again, it continues to surprise me that companies such as Artsy, who have $50 million in the bank, participate in deceiving link building activities. And again, we’ll see what Google decides for their efforts.


06 2015

Containment and Liberation

This is exactly the title of one of my favorite courses at Wake Forest — “Containment & Liberation” — a section of English 111 that I took in the Spring of 2013. After a year of work under the Thiel Fellowship, I returned to Wake Forest, and I spent many of my days wondering if I was being contained or liberated.

The course description reads as follows:

How does American society contain individuals and groups through its institutions, structures, and policies? What prisons — both literal and figurative — entrap Americans? In what senses and through what means is liberation possible?

My journey through college, I realized, was an exploration of this narrative, “Containment & Liberation”, and I think discovered a few metaphorical prisons along the way.

The Academics

Language and mathematics are the areas of study that I think are fundamentally important to college education, or education more generally. Language is not the alphabet (most of us go through college trapped in the Indo European alphabet), and mathematics is much more than proofs and equations.

Students can explore language through a variety of ways, such as foreign language learning, the dissection of political propaganda, or literature analysis. Additionally, most colleges offer students many avenues for learning mathematics and how math applies to our world. For example, biology is just chemistry, which is just physics, which is just math.

I believe that deeply exploring language and mathematics is critical to developing a holistic sense of place in the world. Courses that I took in Computer Science, English, and Linguistics are courses where I found a consistent liberation from my previous ways of thinking; they were courses where I mainly found the ability to express myself freely or develop new understanding. Though, I’m sure other students could report the same experience for a variety of disciplines.

As far as I can tell, the academics at nearly all top colleges are pretty similar. I am willing to bet that academics at Wake Forest are at most 2x better than competing institutions, with particularly high quality quality classroom experiences in the humanities and business courses, and much room for improvement in disciplines such as engineering. Thus, the content of a Wake Forest education (or any college) is hardly unique or distinguished.

For example, the Computer Science student at Wake Forest is —required— by the accrediting institution, IEEE, to complete the same set of courses as the Computer Science student at Harvard or University of Illinois or any other college that seeks to maintain its accreditation.

So, what is unique? The professors are unique. We pay (theoretically) for access to their attention and for their guidance through difficult textbooks or a variety of course materials. The difference between Wake Forest and other schools is that classes are small, and when a student screws up on a test, most professors will reach out directly to offer their assistance.

Social Life

This is one of those topics where one might say, “If you don’t have something good to say, then don’t say something at all.”, however I feel compelled to share my thoughts on this topic.

Greek Life currently dominates the social scene at Wake Forest. The institutional research statistics purport that only “50%” of students participate in Greek Life. These statistics are grossly manipulated because they are calculated during the Fall semester, during which the freshman class, 25% of the student body, is unable to participate.

Besides that, I have found that the pervasiveness of Greek organizations creates a social atmosphere that places prizes on the many identity divisions and exclusions on campus that they create, rather than a culture that promotes unity, as in “Proud to be a Demon Deacon!”.

Not to mention some fraternities cost upwards of $5,000 per semester, fraternity pledges suffer for a semester as servants (dare I say slave?) to their “college educated” “brothers”, and all of the untold stories of post traumatic stress unnecessarily caused in many young adults.

There are a variety of reasons for the popularity of fraternities at Wake, including a lack of extensive night life options in Winston-Salem, though Winston-Salem is improving as a college town. However, I did not select a college with the thought of joining a fraternity and I did not join one during my time at Wake. I don’t advise that anyone join based on the behavioral stereotypes that have been reinforced through my own experiences.


I think it goes without saying that the housing system is over-priced for the quality of the facilities. Wake Forest (and many other colleges) earns nearly $20,000 in rent for small dorm rooms (two roommates at $9,000 each, plus summer programs). I would be in favor of a system that prices rooms based on the quality of the building, location, and other amenities. Why not charge more for the new dorms versus the less popular buildings?

Despite the high cost of on campus college housing, I do believe this is one of the greatest selling points for higher education today: the residential college experience creates serendipity and proximity with peers and that’s hard to find in many other places.

Was it worth it?

“If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?”

It is questions like this that I think a humanities based education is supposed to help the human mind answer.

The short answer is that it depends on who you are asking. The simple answer that Martin Porter, a reader of The Guardian newspaper, once wrote:

The traditional answer is that it makes a sound but not a noise – noise being a subjective judgement.

My analogous question is, “If we drop off an 18-year old boy from New Jersey does it make a difference?” Yes, it makes a difference. More than anything else, I developed many relationships, challenged my mind in the classroom, and found a place to grow independently for the first time in my life. I was contained at Wake Forest and my mind was liberated.

120 credits, 4 years, thousands of hours of studying, friendships made, friendships lost, a mind expanded. And $250,000. (Ouch!)

To be sure, I feel a sense of sorrow to see one door close, especially because Wake is a place where I invested a lot of my time and developed strong relationships with many talented people. But still, I find myself filled with excitement to move past this stage of my life and redirect my energy towards building things once again.


I would like to congratulate my wonderful sisters Megan and Melanie who graduated from Loyola Maryland and Fairfield, respectively, this month. They are an inspiration to me and I am very proud of their efforts towards their accomplishments.

Lastly, I would thank my Mom, Sherry, and my Dad, John (Sr), who have supported and guided me throughout all of my life. They deserve much credit which I will always be unable to repay.


05 2015

The Death of Wake Forest

In U.S. in particular, it’s becoming especially clear that the cost of college is growing unsustainably. From the surprise closing of Sweet Briar College, to world renown academic Noam Chomsky denouncing the American University, you know things are getting bad when institutions of academic success are waving flags for help. I am a senior in college who is graduating from Wake Forest in a few weeks, and I promise you that this distinguished school in the American South is hardly an exception. Let me explain:

Over my time at Wake Forest, the annual cost of attendance has risen at a compounded rate of 3.7%. Standard inflation is about 2%.

Over just the four years since I started here, the excessive cost is noticeable. Below is a chart comparing annual cost increases at the Wake Forest compounded rate, 3.7%, versus standard inflation, 2%, during the four years following the academic year of 2009-10, which cost $49,032:

As the graph indicates, excessive cost increases have caused the annual cost last year (2013-2014) to be about $3,668 more than the cost would’ve been at standard inflation rates. This trend has been underway for decades, and there are no signs that the cost increases will slow down.

The average person may say, “Oh, well Wake Forest must be increasing the quality and variety of their academic programs to stay competitive.”. Sadly, according to the Instructional Expenses per Student report published in 2014, the number of dollars spent per student has actually gone down over the past four years!

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 9.27.02 PMWhat is happening, in my opinion, is an arms race to build the most attractive facilities and amenities before the education bubble bursts. College’s in the U.S. have essentially become an amorphous packaged goods product, and the desire to pick a school with a really shiny package of goods is stronger than ever before. No longer are students on campus for the lectures on Keynesian economics; they are attracted to and stick around for the sports, farm-to-table food, and lavish gyms.

Not surprisingly, amenities such as newly built dorms are equally over-priced. Consider that the cost of a coveted ~150 square foot Single in the Dogwood and Magnolia dorms next year, 2015-16, cost a total of $10,116, about $1,124 each month (9-month academic year). This equates to a $89.92 per square foot rental price.

To put this in perspective, the average Rental Price per Square Foot in Manhattan is currently $55 (Elliman), with the Luxury market topping out at $79/Sq Ft. Thus, the Wake Forest dorms, which offer “generous” amenities such as “free” laundry, utilities, and 24/7 security, are over 60% more expensive than New York apartments, one of the most expensive real-estate markets in the world.



In the end, I think the hope of most students is a valuable credential that’s helpful towards getting a job. But when the average starting salary for Wake Forest grad’s is $53,300 (Payscale) and the average debt per Wake Forest student is $35,902 (Princeton Review), that student debt could burden many graduates into their thirties.

By the way, Wake Forest scores the highest student debt burden among the Princeton Review’s 150 “Best Value” colleges for 2014. It’s no wonder that students have been increasingly responsive to “microaggressions” occurring around campus in recent years.

So, what’s an senior in high school supposed to do? That answer depends on their financial situation. If their parent’s aren’t paying for the cost of college and they aren’t selected for merit aid, then they might be able to get a decent deal at certain community colleges and state universities.

I think that within five to ten years, the cost of private higher education will reach a tipping point and demand will swing towards alternatives. However, for now I’ve got some walking to do.


04 2015


One month since TEDxWakeForestU “Hearts & Minds”, and I have found myself continually discovering new innovations in the healthcare sector. Whether it’s investigating the specs on Apple Watch, learning about the serious medication adherence problems, or keeping up to date on my favorite startups, 2015 is becoming the renaissance year of health technology.

One startup in particular, Amino, is building a product at the intersection of routine healthcare decisions and big data. For example, a common problem for heavy computer users, carpal tunnel surgery, is highlighted as an example in their recent update. I personalized the Amino recommendations to myself, a 21 year old male.

Amino breaks down the three parts of a medical procedure: diagnosis, repair, and recovery. Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.09.13 PMScreen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.09.33 PM

Then Amino explains common risks and complications associated with the procedure:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.09.53 PM

Finally, Amino shows you a map of doctors near you that can help.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.10.07 PM

This is a classic 0-1-2-3 product design, meaning that Amino is simple and provides simple but meaningful results in just seconds.

I suspect they are tracking this data from the millions of publicly available health records that are tied to Medicare claims. As my Mom (a computer systems manager at Johnson & Johnson) advised me, this is part of an industry-wide trend of health companies incorporating real-world-evidence into new products.

IMSHealth, a popular provider of anonymized healthcare data, mentions that RWE is “…becoming the new currency in healthcare”. Amino is off to the races to turn anonymized patient-level data into their own small fortune, and thus more informed healthcare decisions for all.

The team behind Amino explains it all. They are lead by David Vivero, former founder of RentJuice (software that helped real estate agents market their listings) who sold his product for $40MM to Zillow. And thanks to funding from RockHealth (source: tweet from Partner Halle Tecco), their bank account is most likely ready-for-hiring as they build “the digital doctor“. With an A-list design team to compliment Vivero’s leadership, Amino is on track towards building a landmark healthcare web property.

Keep checking back at as they add more medical treatments and conditions.


03 2015


Every now and then I come across a place in my travels where I can feel future coming alive, with new energy continuously brewing. That was the feeling that I had in the Wynwood section of Miami this past week.

Despite having visited Miami about a dozen times in the past few years, I had never been to Wynwood. Perhaps this is because Wynwood still has an “insiders-only” type of vibe, where the outer appearances only scratch the surface of what is truly happening.

Tony Goldman, a visionary real estate developer, was the driving force behind the revitalization of Wynwood beginnig in 2009. The neighborhood is situated in what was once a neglected warehouse district, in the backdrop of waterfront skyscrapers; the classic storyline of dozens of industrial neighborhoods around the world. Goldman brought over two decades of Miami real estate redevelopment experience to the table, having already having been a key figure in the preservation efforts of the architecturally significant buildings in Miami beach, such as the Park Central Hotel on Ocean Drive.

He combined his real estate knowledge with that of Jeffery Deitch, a prominent art dealer and early advocate of street art in New York, to create an exhibit for the newly popular Art Basel Miami beach in 2009. (Fun fact: Art Basel Miami drew over 75,000 visitors in 2014 and more than 1,000 private jets, according to Bloomberg.) The result was stunning: The Wynwood Walls.

In a 2012 interview with Art Business News, Goldman noted: “The vision behind Wynwood Walls has always been to create an international outdoor street/mural exhibition showcasing the world’s greatest artists working in the genre, …the project has truly evolved into what my friend Jeffrey Deitch calls ‘a Museum of the Streets.’”

In subsequent years Goldman recruited even more international and domestic artists who are drawn to make their mark on the buildings of Wynwood during Art Basel Miami. Today, gallery openings are booming, and both residential and commercial real estate is in high demand. Goldman Properties says it best on their website:

Today, when you are in Wynwood, you know you are in Wynwood. It is like nowhere else. It has a “sense of place.”

Wynwood is a welcoming home for anyone willing to embrace it. Even more importantly, it is especially attractive to creative entrepreneurs who subscribe to Goldman’s vision and want to push it forward with their own investments. Thus, what was once just a few colorful murals is now a self-perpetuating economic engine, rooted in a neighborhood with the arts at its core.

I’m excited to track the development of Wynwood, and I encourage you to check it out on your next trip to Miami.

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03 2015


The “world’s economy” is a confusing term often described in terms such as “globalized”, “interconnected” or “free”. Stepping one level lower, economists often compare economies based on “Gross Domestic Product”, in order to determine the two “P’s” and the two “D’s”: profitable versus poor and developed versus developing. But underneath all of the economic activity and the invisible market forces, there are “institutions”, which stand to measure, regulate, and facilitate economic growth.

In the book Institutions and the Economy, Francesco Duina explains the seemingly ambiguous term “institution”, and he explores the various functions of economic institutions in the world’s economy. Duina explains institutions as they are understood from a sociological perspective, the impact of institutions on individuals and larger groups of people, and the challenges that institutions faces from the outside and within.

What are institutions?

Institutions have been around for centuries and are a fundamental asset to civilized life. However, the word “institution” was rarely used beyond the most recent two hundred years. During the Renaissance as the academic world began to open up and explore various new disciplines such as Economics, Political Science, and Sociology, the term became increasingly useful.

“Institution” is used to describe a wide variety of functions depending on the person you ask, but Duina explains that “…virtually all scholars agree on at least two aspects of institutions: institutions are fairly stable entities (i.e., if they change at all they typically do so slowly), and institutions exert some sort of influence on actors in society…”(22). To summarize, institutions are stable and exert influence.

Duina notes the important distinction, stability, amongst institutions because, “They stand in contrast to other spaces in society, such as networks of friends”(22). And perhaps the most surprising and important variance in Duina’s theory is the following distinguishment: organizations in the economy are entities that are heavily influenced by the rules and traditions set forth by institutions, but they are not institutions themselves (22).

He provides numerous specific examples of institutions, such as the notion of property rights (49) and the failure of Enron (88), but all the while repeating that the impact of institutions “…is multifold and varied. Sometimes they are intimately and causally connected to the economic reality we observe. At other times, they provide the broader context in which economic activity unfolds”(60). This overarching influence of institutions is especially present at the nation-state level. Both formal institutions, such as intimately written laws, and informal institutions, such as the tradition of a 9AM to 5PM work-day, significantly dictate day-to-day life.


Laws and traditions exist, but so what? Why do participants in society follow them? Interestingly, Duina goes as far as to comment on the reasoning for which institutions are created and then perpetuated into infinity: isomorphism. The idea of isomorphism “…refers to the fact that widespread conformity to certain models and myths produces organizations that look and behave alike”(88).

Through coercion, entities are forced by dominating institutions to follow a certain code of behavior or face penalties. For example, city governments impose parking fines if you park a vehicle in the wrong spot.

In moments when rules are not clear and uncertainty weighs heavily into decision-making, mimetic desire applies. Rene Girard believes this is why Christianity remains the world’s most popular religion.

Finally, normative isomorphism simply describes a continuation of the status quo; meaning that some entities in society take certain actions not necessarily because they are required, but instead because they are motivated out of  habit and social acceptance. Peter Thiel believes this is the root cause for a widespread belief in college education in America.

Thus, the power of institutions is conformity. An organization’s decision to conform depends on how vulnerable it is to issues of legitimacy.

Organizations that produce products or services that are vaguely defined (such as the college that I attend, Wake Forest) may need to do more to establish their legitimacy compared to those that produce more recognized outputs. Hence the abundant evidence of this type of behavior on the homepage of the Wake Forest website, where the school is described as “…consistently ranked among the top 30 universities in the nation.”. This description exists to reassure uneasy visitors of Wake Forest’s legitimacy.

Expanding Thoughts

Despite a continuous dominance of institutions in all facets of life, they are especially vulnerable to change. The interconnected nature of the economy is such that almost any change in institutions at the nation-state level is bound to have a far-reaching rippling effect. For example, the idea of the Western nation-state, one that has an “…education system which is secular and universal, offering instruction in scientific, humanistic, and artistic disciplines” is constantly under fire from religious radicals. Furthermore, an increasing homogenization of cultures throughout the world provides an efficient basis for grouping and organizing economic activity, but also threatens to preserve centuries-old institutions that cannot compete on an economic basis.

Finally, I am personally most looking forward to tracking the challenges that are faced by institutions which stand to exist independently of other institutions, such as the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Is it right that all money has to be legitimized by some sort of governing agency? Or can economic activity sustain and thrive outside of formal institutions? Will experiments in alternatives to college and alternative currencies offer a path to reconsider the role of institutions? I am interested to find out.


02 2015

Mass Culture Versus Popular Culture

Culture” is one of the more vague and confusing words in the English language. For example, is Chinese culture Chinese food or Chinese films? The word “China” is confusing in and of itself.

What scholars know is that the vocabulary of culture is increasing. From a term that was limited to high culture versus folk culture and mass culture versus popular culture, now exists a term that is appended onto an array of terms that describe sub-cultures and counter-cultures, such as sports culture and gay culture. There are now entire college departments designed to promote multiculturalism and diversity of all kinds. “Culture”, whatever that means, is on the rise.

Mentions of the word “culture” via the Google Books Ngram Viewer:

Are we experiencing a culture shock? Probably, but that’s not news. The first Portuguese and Spanish explorers that sailed around the world were likely surprised to meet indigenous people with vastly different beliefs and behavior.

What is rapidly changing, however, is the methods for which mass culture is produced, and popular culture is consumed. That’s the difference right there. Mass culture is something that is produced and popular culture that is consumed.

Governments, multinational corporations, and individual people have the ability to influence people more quickly than ever before with web technology such as blogs, YouTube, and Twitter. And each individual citizen now has more influence in choosing popular culture in the form of text message votes for American Idol, Instagram likes, and Reddit Upvotes.

I am interested to track how popular culture evolves. Mass culture is unlikely to change much beyond its primary mediums, because it is rooted in maintaining ignorance, oppression, and passiveness. Meanwhile the latter, “culture”, signifies a chance to grow, develop, and to change the present.

The U.S. in particular has a variety of institutions that are strong producers of popular culture, such as Disney, Universal Studios, and Warner Music Group. But these institutions are facing troubling times. Substantial markers of change include the YouTube Music Services Agreement and also what Y Combinator calls “Hollywood 2.0“:

In 2014, movies had their worst summer since 1997. Just like future celebrities are unlikely to get their start with talent agencies, future content consumers will watch content online instead of at the theater, and probably in very different ways.

Celebrities now have direct relationships with their fans. They can also distribute content in new ways.

There are almost certainly huge new businesses that will get built as part of this shift.

I agree. The businesses of entertainment and popular culture are not going away but they are already shifting in who has control. My hope is that this shift will further empower the producers of great content and the fans that adore them.



01 2015