A Blob Begat
It is a time of change, whether tethered by Barack Obama, or merely the little edges of our lives. We all feel it, we sense it. We sort of just know that somehow tomorrow will bring a new view a new technique, a new process that was invented last night. For most of us we have come to understand change as part of the natural order of things. The acceleration of change is what is, in itself, surprising. It is self-begetting. You know, like the bible. The tube begat the transistor, the transistor begat the circuit board, the circuit board begat the CPU, the CPU begat the disk drive, the disk drive begat the CD-rom, the CD-rom begat the DVD, the DVD begat BlueRay. Or was it Blue Tooth. No, wait, Blue Tooth is that ear catcher which makes even intelligent people look like idiotic robots. Sometimes it’s tough to remember what begat what, but what you know is, while you were dozing off in bed last night, some 20 year old Chinese kid in Shanghai was begetting something which will be in your favorite computer store before Labor Day.
I have always admired the way my dad, born in 1906 adapted to the begetting of changes in the last century. He was born before the words “fighter” and “plane” were even in the same sentence. He witnessed unsurpassed breakthroughs in transportation (the steam engine begat the subway, the subway begat the 40 hour work week; the Wright Flyer begat the Biplane, the Biplane begat the Spirit of St. Louis, the Spirit of St. Louis begat the P-51, the P-51 begat the jet powered P-59, the P-59 begat the 707, and the 707 begat the 757 in whose 17C seat I am begetting this blob) and civic / cultural life which we barely remember. The availability of modern medicines (pre-penicillin, there are a lot of diseases from which we just didn’t recover), communications, etc. were things which were just taken for granted in that American Century. Not that we invented them all, but we surely learned how to put them to use on a wide and massive scale. The way we took them all for granted, shortly after their arrival is one of the great illustrations of the ability of man & woman to keep adjusting the bar higher and higher in short order. No where do you see it more than the ubiquitous cell phone and Blackberry craze we are the poor suffering fools of. No one really questions (do they?) the potential for intelligent use of mobile technology. Well, there really is nothing like a text message reminding you to pick up a head of lettuce at the Safeway, or a bag of ice at the 7-11. Those are the kind of things which didn’t even exist, except in Dick Tracy comics, until the late 80s. In 1978, with my old pal, the late Olivier Rebbot, we would drive through Cairo, Egypt (it was a Presidential trip…) with a telephone handset – the ear piece – with a wire connected to it. We’d pull up next to a car at a stop light, press the battery powered ringer on the accompanying box to imitate a phone ringing, and lift the receiver to our ear. After a brief “uh – huh” we’d reach the handset out the window to the driver in the next car, saying “It’s for you!” and all of us, the other driver included, would collapse into hysterical laughter. It was only funny because it was so absolutely unlikely. Now, as wander through airports, or even on the sleek new BoltBus ($20 one way, New York to Boston or Washington!) you hear that unmistakable quality of voice which can only be on a cell fone. It’s not just that you hear only one side of the conversation, but there is something in the way that ‘cell fone’ voice is projected which is a giveaway.
Though we never actually printed it out, Iris and Jordan and I always joke about stitching into the inner lining of a jacket, a page with the following, in large readable type: “NONE OF US THINKS YOUR CONVERSATION IS NEARLY AS INTERESTING AS YOU DO.” It’s a kind of civilized way of reminding some loud mouth to shut his trap, or at least modulate it. There isn’t a day that goes by when such a notification wouldn’t come in very handy. There is a mathematical correlation, not quite sure what part of high-math it comes from, which states that the more boring and annoying the talker is, the louder the voice will be. Recently at an airport waiting lounge, there was a woman who, as is normal, had no real need of a phone at all. Her voice carried loud enough to be heard by her friend 400 miles away. And it was so compelling, so news laden, so immediate. “So, I ‘ll call you when I arrive!!!” She must have said it a half dozen times, as if letting the whole airport know her plans was a way of validating the intelligence there of.
We have written often of the new etiquette concerning Blackberries and cell phone texters. In this day and age, the new crutch for avoiding conversations in public situations (i.e getting on an elevator) is to flip out your Blackberry and look for some new message,. Instead of there being something germaine to a million dollar deal, or notification that you are already the winner of a LOTTO, it’s more likely to be “Ill call you when I arrive…” or even more probably, nothing at all. But the physical act of flipping open that appliance is a justification of existence, a way of showing you have arrived in the digital world. I find it appalling bad manners (and I have a pretty low threshold of manner acceptance, just please cover your mouth on the plane when you cough) and yet am constantly amazed at how this new mode of living is taking us over. Yet I stand by my assertion a year ago that there is nothing in a Blackberry message which will equal a face to face meeting, eye to eye. And the more the digital devices find acceptance, the more a phone call (from an actual phone!) or a face to face meeting will have value. Early last week, the Gefilte Fish Chronicles received an order from a woman in upstate New York for a half dozen DVDs. Iris personally looked after the packaging and shipping to the lady customer in question. When you are selling retail like we are, every little order is a potential pain in the ass. Customers do feel a certain sense of entitlement (I am an Amazon.com customer, so I know whereof I speak) but if you are a small outfit, all that bitching and moaning comes back directly to you. We have had, of our several hundred orders we’ve done this past year, a handful of complaints: They pretty much sound like Lucy complaining to Charlie Brown why she couldn’t hit the softball (the bat was too short, the pitcher’s mound too high, the ball to small, the sun too bright… you get the idea). So when I get a note from a disgruntled customer, I just try and fix the situation and move on. One lady complained that our cookbook should tell you at the beginning of each recipe how many it will serve, despite the fact that in the opening page Iris describes exactly why she DOESN’T do it that way. But, the customer is always right (or… is it “the customer is always a putz>?”) so we gave her back her money and moved on. And if you must know, the formula in the cookbook is: make the dish, see what you end up with, and invite enough people to finish it!
Yesterday I received an email from the lady who bought the 6 DVD’s bless her. Her email address was a webtv.net one, so I knew she was probably over 70, and had limited capabilities. WebTV is an amazing device, uncomplicated above all, which Seniors seem to have embraced to be able to do rudimentary email and surfing. It’s dog slow, but it does at least work, which is saying something in a world of systems Begat by ATT, Verizon and Comcast which everyday linger on the edge of “No Service.” Her email had a minor air of panic, and stated that, having already sent 3 DVDs as gifts to family, she was unable to get it to play on her DVD player, and wanted her money back. There was no kiddin’ around with her. No trial period, no back-up stance, just that ugly marketing word: “refund.” So I sent her a note saying that virtually all of our many hundreds of happy customers were able to play the movie, and that she should try it in a second DVD player (we have one Toshiba which is very temperamental) or be sure to hit the right PLAY button once the opening screen shows up.
She emailed back saying “a technician is coming over this afternoon, stay by your email so I can tell you what happens.” Another reminder that Retail Sucks. You have to stay near your terminal just to be sure she can play her movie. Well as it happened, I was near my terminal half an hour later when I received the following message: “David Thanks for your help. Apparently I have to hit the PLAY button once the Gefilte Fish Screen comes on my TV.” Maybe that is the secret of life in this age of zeros and ones ruling everything. Sit back. Grab a bag of popcorn. And don’t forget to hit the PLAY button. It could be the best thing you do all day. We’re just sayin’ David