Wait, who’s Jeff Bezos?

I’m Bill Murphy Jr. Welcome to Understandably, my new regularly published email about “the story behind other stories.”

If you’re not signed up yet, I hope you will consider subscribing ahead of the official launch November 1!

You might have heard that on Monday, Jeff Bezos made a surprise visit to a Washington DC high school where Amazon has donated a bunch of computers and funded a computer applications class.

The students’ teacher was excited. But she also acknowledged later that about 12 out of 15 students in the classroom he visited apparently had no idea who he was.

In fact, one one of the students can be seen on a video of the Amazon founder’s surprise entrance, asking others around him: “Who’s Jeff Bezos?”

Some of the reaction to that was predictable: OMG that kid doesn’t know who the founder of Amazon is!!!

But a couple-a-three points:

First, sure, Bezos is the world’s wealthiest person and the founder of Amazon. But this is a 15 or 16-year-old kid, caught by surprise. I’m guessing he doesn’t have a credit card at that age, which would make it kind of hard to be an Amazon customer anyway.

Second, quick: Who’s the CEO of Salesforce? Of Microsoft? Of Google?

(Answers: Marc Benioff, Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai.)

It’s okay if you didn’t know right away. It’s also the point. I’ll bet 99 percent of the wildly intelligent (and attractive!) reader base of this newsletter didn’t get all three right.

Heck, I write this stuff for a living and I had to search quickly to make sure I spelled Nadella and Pichai correctly.

Third, here’s the real, deeper point: It’s all fleeting.

Part of the reason I started this newsletter (originally called The Byliner), was to explore how often we don’t even notice who’s shaping the narratives we read and absorb.

A couple of weeks ago, I got sucked into an article on CNBC about something called “Coin hunting.” Only at the end did I realize it had been written by my colleague Minda Zetlin.

Same thing happened over the summer, reading this article by an American who lives in Europe, discussing the things she misses about U.S. culture. Turns out it was written by another colleague, Jessica Stillman.

Those aren’t exactly the most consequential examples ever, but they’re on point.

We don’t even notice. We all get into our own little bubbles and assume everyone else has the same base of knowledge that we do.

They don’t. At least, not necessarily.


I’m going to leave the observations there for now.

I’m still in the early days of Understandably, with a “real launch” coming on either October 31 or November 1. Call it November 1.

I can’t quite say what the big milestone date is about yet, but everyone will find out soon. In the meantime, thanks so much for being on this list early.

I’ll have to give out t-shirts or laptop stickers or something for the early adopters once this thing gets really big.

photo credit: Steve Jurvetson