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Editor's Note:

I just wanted to let my readers know that I've created a blog where I will be posting essays and articles I've written on digital and online marketing. It's an extension of Media Perspectives. I hope you continue to read and enjoy!

Here's the link: Jaffer Ali's Blog - Perspectives from a Media Contrarian

Thanks for Reading!

Will the Tallest Midget in the Room Please Stand Up!
by: Jaffer Ali
(Originally Published: 2/16/11)

There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you've made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery.
--Enrico Fermi

The title of this article may not be the most politically correct one I've ever used, but it just might be the most descriptive. In the fifteen years of working in the online industry, I firmly believe that the industry has beaten a path to becoming more and more ridiculous.

Why do I say this?

Simply put, we have declared "measurement" as our virtual pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a circuitously foolish pursuit that now has us measuring the metrics. Ever since Vedics instructed us that we become our attention, isn't it obvious that we have done exactly that? In fact, we have taken things to such an illogical extreme that the old carpenter's rule of "measure twice, cut once" has become "measure forever, cut never".

Our industry is awash in folks getting out their yardsticks to measure the tallest metaphorical midget in the room. And if that midget is just a quarter inch taller than the next tallest, it's as if we've encountered a veritable Manute Bol! It's like crediting a behavioral targeting algorithm for doubling the clickthrough rate on a banner ad. Sounds great until you realize that you've just increased response from .1% to .2%. Like I said, the tallest midget.

I participate in a few discussion lists with some very intellectual and capable industry veterans. But I find myself becoming increasingly bored with the topics of discussion. Discourse involving real issues that capture the sense of wonder and imagination are sacrificed on the altar of discussions about tools that, by design reveal our shortcomings instead of our potential.

"We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us."
--Marshall McLuhan

I have two sons taking a course at Bradley University called "The Big Questions" and we have more relevant and interesting discussions when we visit at the dinner table than we could ever hope for if we focused - as many today are wont to do - on reductionist predictive modeling that is absolutely useless in a chaotic environment.

A case in point is worth mentioning: The US government (NSA and CIA) has the most powerful computers in the world. The amount of information amassed is almost mindboggling to contemplate. The computer calculates MORE than 10 TRILLION calculations per second. The goal is to predict the events in hot spots around the world and to influence those events in a manner consistent with perceived national interests (opposed to value-driven principles).

The Egyptian revolution was not predicted. Nor was the Tunisian revolution. And the freedom virus spreading across the entire Middle East has taken the CIA and State Department completely by surprise. These "deer in the headlight" government agencies rely on the same methodologies employed by online marketers and stock market quantitative analysts. And whereas these methodologies are great at measuring the most minute details, to what end are they any reasonable means? All of the sophisticated tools ...all of the king's horses and all of the king's men couldn't keep Mubarak on his throne. Our tools were useless.

You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.
--Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian author

I guess the above quote gets to what I am trying to say here. As an a nation...we are becoming less wise because we are asking the wrong questions and measuring the wrong things. We have indeed become tools of our tools, and we are all shrinking because of it.

Original Article: Will the Tallest Midget in the Room Please Stand Up!

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