“Persuade Like a Pro”

One of the most interesting things I read last week [via RadReads] was a breakdown of an argument I didn’t read in the original and don’t plan to.

James Altucher wrote that New York City is done forever. Jerry Seinfeld responded in the New York Times. Altucher responded to the response — and, in one blogger’s estimation, utterly destroyed Seinfeld.

I cite this piece for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest is that it’s an interesting example of internet culture and communication versus mass culture and communication. Regardless of what happens to New York City, it’s essential to understand this shift: Jerry used to be mainstream; now, most people get most of their information and opinion from people like Altucher.

Let’s keep pushing this thought in a couple of directions, based on a couple of lines in that blog post:

First, mainstream politicians and columnists still tend to write and speak more like Jerry. Whether or not they resort so quickly to ad-hominem attacks, they generally communicate according to a scripted and poll-tested formula. We’re already drowning in fairly unimaginative ink, and the next couple of months are going to spill a lot more.

Second, there might be a good reason for mass culture to sound the way it does (or did). As the blogger, Matt Tillotson, writes, Altucher “stakes out clear and bold positions that half his readers will hate.” If you’re selling sneakers, go ahead and segment all the way down to your niche. But a political culture that revolves around angering half of the people it governs will be lively but not sustainable.