David Letterman’s demographic problem

For many years I’ve taught a computer-based strategy simulation game, Markstrat, and I have required my students to prepare a presentation at the end of the course to demonstrate what they learned from the simulation. For many years I used a ponderous description of what I wanted from the presentation, suggesting all kinds of concepts that they might want to draw on for their ideas.
Probably ten or twelve years ago I felt that (1) the students weren’t having any fun because what they produced was so dry and drab that (2) I was bored out of my skull by the monotony of the presentations. I set out to correct the situation.

A new set of presentation instructions was issued, this one requesting that the students prepare a “Top Ten” list of things they learned from Markstrat, illustrated with whatever charts and graphs were appropriate, and that they make sure to balance humor and content. The presentation instructions include a link to David Letterman’s most recent “Top Ten” list and his “Top Ten” archive. For ten or twelve years, now, I’ve found it much more interesting to watch the presentations. And I think it gave me another dimension of the group’s performance to measure – something like “aptness of thought.”

Thoroughly unsuspecting, I sat down this year to receive the presentations. The first group went through an entirely humorless presentation with ten major slides detailing what they thought were the ten elements of the simulation that they had learned (“Understanding forecasting for production estimates”). Wow, I thought, I’m surprised that none of the other students in the room are muttering about how far off the mark this is.

As you can guess, the following five (!) groups all followed the same pattern as the first. No humor, no “Number 6 – Find out which side of his mouth the instructor is speaking from when he gives you advice.”

What makes this a little more difficult to understand is that I had six groups undertake the same assignment last December and all of them produced the intended tongue-in-cheek performance review. I am left to conclude that David Letterman has fallen off a demographic cliff, that the graduating class of this year’s college crop is clueless about his monolog and schtick.

Relative to newspapers announcing closings and TV networks scrambling to find revenue streams to keep their news organizations going this may be small potatos. But it doesn’t sound good for Mr. Letterman.



The fog was thick on the harbor this morning. Formatted 1920 pixels by 1200 pixels.

Bristol RI harbor in morning fog

Bristol RI harbor in morning fog

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