Archive for the '20th Century' Category

15
Oct
18

I Killed Sears, And I’m Sorry

Today’s news that Sears has finally filed for bankruptcy protection has me thinking about my own role in the legendary retailer’s demise at the hands of the internet.

In 1995, along with a business partner in Chicago, I founded an “online presence” consultancy called Automatic Media Group. We consulted for businesses, connected clients to internet service and built websites with software tools that were incredibly primitive by today’s standards. A pair of technology-friendly creative types, we understood that the internet and the web were going to change how most businesses communicated.  We knew that the web would completely transform internal and external messaging and workflow for practically every business. We set out to show companies how to manage that change.

That decade, Chicago’s giant business sectors were retail, insurance, finance and logistics. We had friends working in some of these companies, and we could get meetings with decision-makers.  Sears — specifically its catalog production team based in Hoffman Estates — was a major target for us.  My partner and I had equal strengths in the print and creative worlds, and we were ready to talk to the makers of the world’s most famous mail-order catalog in their own language.

We could see the digital future: the Sears catalog’s pages would not be mailed in three-pound bricks of glossy dead tree to millions of postal customers. Those pages were headed instead toward the World-Wide Web.  And knowing this was half the battle, we were very sure.

But once we were in the room, the catalog’s future wasn’t the topic. Instead, the team asked us about something more modest: how to put internet email onto everybody’s desk. Two thirds of their hundreds of Mac computers weren’t on a local area network (LAN) and a third were on a hodegepodge of different, not-working-well-together network technologies. They asked: is email compatible with Aldus Pagemaker and Photoshop 4.0?

Yes it is, but first things first, I said. A bunch of things need to change, because the network itself is the point.

I then let them know that they were asking the wrong questions, not seeing the big picture.  Instead of talking about their email, I told them that the catalog team needs to create a LAN where everybody is on the same network, because the network is the point. That they should use 10Base2 NICs and AppleTalk and accounts from our ISP and…

Something was going wrong. I saw their eyes glazing over.

“We just need email,” they said.

I wasn’t getting through to them, so I doubled down on communicating the vision. “I think you need way more than that. Ultimately, your catalog pages need to be delivered to the world using the network, using the web, not paper mail. This is just step one.”

Long story short, we were shown the door.

It took time for me to see what had gone wrong. I was so sure of the future — so right — that had I more or less overlooked what the client was asking for. They were asking for X, which meant they were thinking about X. But I was looking beyond X, to its context. That was the big mistake. Being right about that context didn’t matter much at that moment.

In hindsight, we weren’t in the room because we were right. We were in the room to listen to the client.

Had I listened to them talk about their smaller problem, instead of fixating on their big problem, we could have solved the email on the team’s own terms, and, having stuck around, we might have let what would have naturally followed — e-commerce and all the disruption it brings — present itself for our likely involvement and guidance.

Today, I’m indulging in a bit of tongue-in-cheek — I obviously didn’t “kill Sears”.  But it is true that the once-powerful brands of Sears never connected in time to the serious technological and company-cultural guidance they needed to avoid today’s fate two decades later.  If I had known what I was (and wasn’t) doing that day, maybe we could have changed that at least a little.

In my defense, I was a very green twentysomething, and this was my first company. I was the first entrepreneur in my family. I was so inexperienced that  I didn’t even realize I was in a sales role, let alone that I was screwing it up.

Sorry, Sears.

You’re welcome, Amazon.

07
Dec
13

Mouthbreather Bar Misremembers War

History Is Bunk (To Brahs)

Call me a stickler, but when Murphy’s Bleachers in Wrigleyville decided to infamously promote its drink specials on Pearl Harbor Day, it wasn’t the cheap marketing I found galling. If not for cheap marketing, the backward-hatted morons who frequent places like Murphy’s would have no idea what to do with themselves, and everybody needs guidance in a confusing world, especially our dumbest bros.

What irritated me about the sign wasn’t the pimping of the 72nd birthday of our country’s sadly eternal military-industrial complex.  It was the predictably boneheaded bungling of the underlying history itself.

See, brah, you can’t commemorate Pearl Harbor by buying a Kamikaze cocktail.  It’s impossible, for the same reason that you can’t commemorate the 1990 Iraq War by buying a 9/11 t-shirt with a crying eagle on it.

Because there were no Kamikazes — aka suicide pilots — at Pearl Harbor, nor fighting anywhere else in Japan’s military for years following.  Suicide attack is a tactic born of desperation.  On December 7, 1941 the Japanese were anything but desperate.

The Imperial Navy and its aviators, having sunk most of the US Pacific fleet on Dec. 7th were left on Dec 8th as the dominant force in the war in the Pacific.  For six months, the US was unquestionably losing World War 2.  It wasn’t until June, 1942 that the US Navy’s aircraft carriers engaged in the Battle of Midway the same Japanese carriers that so successfully attacked Pearl Harbor.

Midway was the beginning of the end for Japanese ambitions in the Pacific, as three of its aircraft carriers were sunk and most of the pilots and aircraft that won the day at Pearl Harbor were killed.

When your A team is wiped out, you’re left with the B and C teams.  Soon after, Japan lost even those, as US manufacturing power poured ships and planes into the Pacific in the following years, mounting an inexorable island-hopping march toward the Japanese mainland.

It was desperation, years after Pearl Harbor that brought forward the Kamikazes in late 1944.

See, brah, things have dates.  Events occur in order of time. Dumbing history down to high-five-engendering drink specials is no way to go through life.

Here’s a hint, broseph.  Just down the street from Murphy’s, there’s a tavern where you can bet your sandals and fannypack they won’t get these details wrong.  It’s called Nisei Lounge. 

Nisei, you may be surprised to learn, is not the name of a cocktail.  It is the name given to the Japanese-American citizens who, despite having their families rounded up and shipped to concentration camps in remote locations across 18 US states, signed up to fight for the US in WWII.  If you head over there to learn something, good for you.

Just remember: you can’t listen while you’re flapping your Miller Lite-hole. Smarten up and quiet down.

25
Nov
10

Gerry Casale’s Oral History Of DEVO

In a turkey(monkey) coma this Thanksgiving? Snap out of it with these 1995 clips of DEVO’s Gerald V. Casale as he tells the story of five pilgrims from Akron, OH who sailed to Los Angeles in a Plymouth only to collide with a rock called the music industry.

Marvel at tales of Booji Boy, he who is old as the mountains but as yet unborn!  Learn of the earliest days of Art DEVO, of the Poot Man and his dairy intake, of janitor supply stores,  McDonald’s restaurant managers and other stanchions of Akronian society!

It’s a wiggly world full of strange pursuits and unkeyed chroma.  Light up a stogie (really?) with Gerry and reflect on a job well done.

22
Nov
10

Chalmers A. Johnson 1931-2010

Have closed libraries, unfixed potholes and darkened streets gotten your attention?  Wondering why the country’s come down with a nasty case of the declines?  Curious about how the abuses of runaway capitalism seem sharpened and deepened for everybody, yet somehow, business is actually booming for builders of fighter aircraft and submarines designed to combat the Soviet Union in 1978?

Chalmers Johnson was way ahead of you.  As a cold war Navy and CIA analyst, Johnson carried a spear for empire, then laid it down and began talking in great detail and clarity about the “military Keynesianism” he had served. His “Blowback” trilogy is absolutely essential reading that illustrates the hidden reality of the US’s unchallenged permanent war economy.   Johnson’s work reveals that far from being a cyclic ill, militarism is actually life’s blood to every corner the US economy. His trilogy is the categorical detailing of Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address warning concerning the military-industrial-congressional complex.

Hours ago, Chalmers Johnson passed away, and is already missed. While many who served US policy knew something about Eisenhower’s speech, far fewer acknowledged its ramifications and even fewer had the guts to talk about it.

12
Jul
10

Harvey Pekar 1939-2010

Sadly, the RW370 NBC Letterman category gets a bump today. Harvey Pekar, writer of American Splendor, the deeply funny and mordant autobiographical comic book anthology that obliterated the long-presumed gap between comics and literature has passed away in his Cleveland home. He was 70.

Pekar’s insistence upon maintaining his idea of the lifestyle and ethos of a steadily and modestly-employed, nose-to-the-grindstone midwesterner (he kept a job as a file clerk in a Cleveland hospital his entire working life) brought him attention beyond his writing work, culminating in the terrific 2003 film adaptation of Splendor starring Paul Giamatti as Harvey.

During the 1980s, the irascible and combative Pekar appeared on David Letterman’s show several times. Always essential viewing, these were cut short by Pekar’s unwillingness to overlook the many sins of General Electric, NBC’s corporate parent, as the clip demonstrates. So long, Harvey.

10
Jul
10

Pere Ubu On Letterman: Worlds In Collision

We get a glimpse of show business’s hidden ritual abuse of musicians as Dave discusses the effrontery of the show’s performance arrangements for Pere Ubu in the 1989(?) clip. As per the show’s other longstanding policy of requiring musical performances to be shared by Paul Schaeffer and the house band, the forced hybridization of Ubu is in this case not a displeasing one.

06
May
10

DEVO’s Gerald V. Casale on Kent State Massacre’s 40th Anniversary

Eyewitness recounting of the Kent State shootings from DEVO’s co-founder. Witness the birth of DEVO – the sound of things falling apart – on a campus hilltop in Ohio.

http://www.ustream.tv/flash/video/6676985

(RW370 video embed not working)




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