Letterman as everyman: What Dave’s Luddite stance tells us about late career social media use

Photo by the Star Press

Much has been made about the Luddite tendencies David Letterman displayed at his recent Ball State appearance with Twitter co-founder Ev Stone. As the story in the Muncie Star Press noted:

Letterman never touched the open laptops on the table between him and Stone. Although Letterman was reading questions submitted through Twitter, he read them from blue note cards like those he uses on his show.

It’s tempting to criticize Letterman for being out of touch with the times. But it’s worth considering whether late-career social media adoption is necessary for those like him who have enjoyed tremendous success.

Think of it this way: Letterman is a pioneer and a true television legend. What would he gain, then, by acquiring technology/social media skills? More to the point, what might he lose by doing so? It’s a matter of opportunity cost–and for the Late Show host, the late-career costs likely outweigh the benefits.

There’s a lesson here for all of us, even if we’re not TV icons. If you’re near the end of your career and you’re very successful, it may be better to persist in doing the things you’ve always done instead of taking time to learn something new (especially if your audience shares your apathy about social media). The key, however, is being honest with yourself: few of us are successful enough to honestly say we can avoid learning something new, and if you simply don’t want to, it’s easy to convince yourself you’re an old dog. However, if you’re in mid-career, or even early-late career, learning social media is not optional. In fact, there’s nothing more certain to erode your success than a resistance to educating yourself.

Skeptical? Well, compare it to email use: when email first landed on our desktops, use varied–some immediately started using it daily, but most didn’t. And some avoided it altogether, thinking they could get by without it. Today, however, email use in the workplace is all but universal. What would you think of someone who didn’t communicate–ever–via email?

The same is true of social media. It may seem like a fringe phenomenon. It’s not. You may think it’s a trend. It’s not. And you may think the whole problem will go away if you avoid thinking about it. It won’t. As social media use becomes a more integral part of our communication environment, using it will no longer be a choice. If you can honestly say you can get to the finish line without it, congratulations. But if you can’t, there’s no time to waste. You’ve heard of the Late Show’s “stupid human tricks,” right? Well, what else would you call not taking the time to learn a critical communication skill?

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2 Responses to Letterman as everyman: What Dave’s Luddite stance tells us about late career social media use

  1. Matt Kelley says:

    Pretty good article, Anthony. One thing about Dave—as a regular watcher, his show plays a LOT of attention to Twitter. The staff seems obsessed with it. Dave talks about it with a fair number of his guests (and admits it’s foreign to him), but the show has a decent enough account (@Late_Show) and his writing staff is the best “follow” out there, in particular head writers @EricStangel and @Justin_Stangel.
    Headline writers should take note—they must write 100+ jokes for the Top Ten list, and you get the 90 that got away via their tweets.

    Anyway, I guess to keep this on topic—should the CEO or president of a company have a social media presence, or is it enough for the organization and staff to handle that? I know Dave singularly represents the Late Show brand, but as an org, it’s doing a fine job.

    • ajjuliano says:

      Hey, Matt–thanks for the comment. I definitely think an organizational presence is enough. CEOs can improve an organization’s social media presence (Zappos’s Tony Hsieh being just one example), but they don’t have to participate (and, in many cases, shouldn’t). When I wrote this post I was thinking mainly of professional services providers and others who don’t have the organizational bandwidth to get it done otherwise. Letterman’s in an unique position because he has enough staff to make sure his organization has a strong social media presence despite his aversion to technology. And his cluelessness about Twitter can then act as a kind of (probably exaggerated) ongoing bit.

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