Editor’s Note: No Mercy/No Malice is a column from Professor Scott Galloway, where he shares various reflections on business, tech, and life each week.
Exercise and time with family are my antidepressants. Not trying to be Hallmark Channel here — I get seriously down if I don’t sweat or scream at my kids 3–5x/week. Humans are happiest hunting and gathering. It’s hardwired into males to recognize movement and then apply strength and violence to bring home the kill, the prize — a wildebeest or a Hyundai Sonata. I envision myself in a cliff-like setting coupling speed and cunning, pursuing a herd of elk. I’ve evolved to a mammal that gets motion sickness and doesn’t like to be outdoors.
Truth is, for almost 2 million years we’ve been sitting in trees chucking spears down on unwitting gazelles or using noise tactics to scare away a predator from its kill. Eating something else’s hard work. We’ve evolved from hunting to working out in an air-conditioned room with few windows, where you battle machines all named after the next-generation of erectile dysfunction drugs — Cybex, Nautilus, Rogue. “Honey, it’s go-time, I just took a Rogue!”
I work out at Equinox, which is $250/month and is no different than NYSC ($50/month), except the guys are hotter, and women wear seriously fabulous athleisure. This makes Equinox, for me, an incredible value, as I feel hotter and more fashionable, via association, 2–3x/week. I wear headphones, as I don’t want to talk to anybody. The last sentence is a delusion — I believe it, but know deep down it’s just not true. People want to speak to me at school, work (sometimes), at conferences (rarely), but nobody wants to talk to me at Equinox. When I went to sign up for a membership, the sales associate wouldn’t even look me in the eye, just swiped my AMEX and told me to download the app.
Hunting inside (on the second floor above an Allbirds store) gets boring, so I’m constantly looking for other forms of torture. I boxed, for a while, at a downtown boxing club that had become popular with people from the inner city willing to risk tardive dyskinesia to escape their hard-knock lives — models, investment bankers, and depressed professors.
To my surprise, I’m a deft pugilist. I manhandle the speed bag with instruction from a nice twentysomething kid named Anthony, whom I’m paying $80/hour (35, 40 minutes max) to get me sweating and convince me I’m a deft pugilist. The gym had bouts, so at Anthony’s urging, I signed up. The bell rings, and 22 seconds later I think I see Nana — what I’d call my dead grandmother had I ever met her. Despite headgear that could deflect a laser, I’ve been hit hard, and after returning from temporary unconsciousness, I can’t feel the left side of my face. It appears speed bags that hit back render me an awful boxer. Men are just wired to misinterpret signals that inflate our confidence so we’ll hunt bigger prey and approach potential mates. #Irock
One of the biggest mistakes in business strategy is thinking your adversaries are speed bags and won’t hit back. You might believe firms go into a state of suspended animation when you introduce your invulnerable strategy and will be flat-footed for several years. Apple and Facebook, and now Google, are in a border skirmish. Apple has shut down Facebook’s ability to distribute internal iOS apps. Apple likely recognized they were singling out Facebook and covered their tracks by going after what’s Darth Maul to Darth Vader, Google.
This is the Menlo Park stop of the most successful PR tour of 2018 — Tim Cook’s indignation tour. Mr. Cook starched Apple’s hat white by claiming “Privacy is a fundamental human right.” The universe has an incredible sense of karma and humor. About the moment Mr. Cook gets really righteous, the iPhone begins eavesdropping on people before they answered. The firm patched it, and similar to Bono getting a sore throat, it’ll slow down the tour but not end it.
In addition, I believe Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg hate each other. Tim Cook grew up a gay man in sixties/seventies Alabama, rose through the ranks of tech firms to report to Steve Jobs, and after assembling the most profitable supply chain in history, was then tasked with filling the shoes of the Jesus Christ of our digital age. Mark Zuckerberg was raised in eighties New York and dropped out of Harvard to become the youngest self-made billionaire after launching a site that evaluated women on their physical appearance. I don’t believe Mark and Tim will ever be good friends. Tim has been openly critical of Zuck in a world (tech) where there’s an unwritten law — you be you, I’ll be me, and we’ll never speak ill of one another. And while I don’t want to judge neither of them (yep, here it comes), I believe Tim Cook has pieces of better men in his breakfast.
Mr. Cook is my fitness and fashion icon /role model. He wears John Varvatos head to toe and is in fantastic shape. He works out every morning. Zuck is pretty jacked, not creatine-taking, “alive girl” Bezos jacked, but jacked. I hate the way he dresses, but I digress. Mr. Cook’s flaw here is he thinks he’s fighting a speed bag, not recognizing that Facebook and Google have Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson fists of stone. Both firms can, and will, hit back. Apple is arrogant enough to believe it’s their role to fill the black hole void of regulation from a government asleep at the switch (“We decide who gets access to the contents of a terrorist’s phone”). After discovering the social network and search engine have their own dragons, they will all decide to return to their monopoly swim lanes.
Hands on the dials
Speaking of nodding off at the wheel, the most under-reported story of the year so far is Facebook’s decision to integrate its back end across the Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram properties.
“I hope Zuck and Sheryl gain access to a more robust platform with greater reach!”
— Nobody, ever
The back-end integration creates a seamless network of 2.7B people. The end-to-end encryption and free flow of content across platforms will be good for consumers and advertisers. It’s also an enormous danger. Albert Einstein said, “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” I believe the third world war is being waged with likes and retweets. Similar to the war in Afghanistan, this doesn’t feel like a war, as it spans several decades (numb to it), and the damage/sacrifice is mostly outsourced to others or difficult to attribute to a specific act. What percentage of Americans know who/what/why we’re fighting in Afghanistan?
Facebook Inc. has artillery that turns content into projectiles from one cohort to another. The negligence of Facebook management has resulted in bad actors getting their hands on the dials. To consolidate dials is to turn a neutron bomb into a hydrogen bomb. We now have a more dangerous weapon that can, and will, be commandeered in this decades-long conflict. The combination is also a “conjoined triplets” strategy that will serve as a prophylactic against antitrust, as “it would be certain death for all of us if you try to separate one,” Zuck said to the FTC in 2020. Our elected officials should take pause and reflect on why the founders of these platforms (WhatsApp and Instagram) left the firm after stating publicly they were deeply concerned with Zuck’s invasion/integration plans.
Most seminal moments in history don’t feel that important in the moment. It’s years on when the action or inaction of our leaders results in enormous harm or prosperity. I believe this is one of those moments, and the 7% of our elected officials who have a background in technology, or a backbone, need to stop this. Just as breaking up Facebook would oxygenate the market and mitigate risk to the well-being of our teens and democracies, the integration of these properties promises not just more of the same, but worse. They need to do better, and they won’t.
Life is so rich,
P.S. This week on Pivot, Howard Schultz is a civic-minded, principled guy who’s making a mistake, and Facebook shows no signs of deceleration despite bad news.