Hulu Hoop

6 02 2011

The ancient Greek word Exodos means “exit,” or “departure.” It is the word Greek scholars used when translating the Hebrew Old Testament prior to the birth of Christ. “Exodus” is the Latinized version of the same name. Today we know it as the second book of the Torah or Old Testament.

The very word “exodus” has come to mean more than just the story of Moses leading the covenant people, the Israelites, out of Egypt. Sometimes metaphor, sometimes literal leaving, any exodus today is associated with the movement of people, away from one thing, and toward another.

I suppose that means we all still have a little nomad in our DNA, never sitting still, perpetually in flux. Coming. Going. Not always sure where we’re heading, but focusing on the windshield. And only using the rear view mirror as guide and touchstone, not anchor.

At least I hope so.

Today our exoduses (or is it exodi?) tend to be in the technological arena more than anything. My storage building is beginning to resemble a museum of obsolete gadgets, most of which are not even twenty years old. Darwin would not need to travel to the Galapagos were he alive today, for he could see the change before his very eyes.

The current exodus is from cable and satellite TV to internet TV. Sites like Hulu and Netflix are changing the way we view shows and movies. Netflix just topped 20 million subscribers, while the premium Hulu Plus is nearing 1 million.

Whereas standard Hulu is free, Hulu Plus is $8 per month. Hulu (owned by NBC) keeps inking distribution agreements with Hollywood, bringing ever more content to the web (and mobile devices). Basically, sites like Hulu and Netflix, plus the numerous other network sites, allow viewers to cobble together their own programming suite for a fraction of the cost of cable or satellite.

And Holy Moses, people are doing it!

Roughly 335,000 households cut cable or satellite in 2Q and 3Q 2010 combined. While this is a drop in the bucket of over 110 million households, it signifies a trend. A departure. An exodus.

And I bet it is only going to pick up steam.

Sure, there are still some stations not yet available on internet TV or mobile devices, but give them time. Were it not for the fact that I am a news and weather junkie (read: CNN and The Weather Channel), I would tear down my satellite dish. Because I can get just about everything else of interest elsewhere.

So where does that leave local news? In a very precarious situation. Local stations are all rushing to offer apps, which let people like you and me essentially pick and choose what news clips we wish to view or read. Of course, if you can receive local stations with an aerial antenna, this is not even an issue. You can still see Faith and Justus every night at 5, 6 and 10.

But it shows just how serious this digital emigration could be.

And lest you scoff at the idea of having to gather up the family in front of the computer monitor just to watch this week’s episode of The Office, think again. It is a piece of cake to connect a computer to your 50″ LCD. Furthermore, some newer models are available internet-ready, while the new Google TV box is a relatively inexpensive add-on.

Which means it may be time for the rest of us to start packing. And cutting the cables that bind us. Besides, it’s too expensive to live in Egypt anyway.

Dr “Changing Channels” Gerlich

Super Bowl Of Cliches

4 02 2011

It doesn’t take long these days for something to go from cute and clever, to hackneyed and cliche. Fourth of July fireworks are the perfect metaphor to describe the meteoric ascendance of flash and sparkle, only to be replaced momentarily by a wake of smoke and ashes.

I’m talking about Super Bowl advertising, of course.

This year the big rage is showing everyone how ultra-hip and cool you are by stirring new-school social media into your game plan.

Not that I am opposed to this or any other form of creativity. But in a few years, we’re all going to look back and say, “Wow, that was lame.”

Ten to fifteen years ago, the Big Thing was to proudly announce to the world in your ads that you have a “WWW” address. You know, a website. Because the phenomenon was still so new, advertisers had to spell it out very slowly and prominently, inserting arrows and flashing lights at every turn. Today, we laugh and say it was no different from a Neanderthal boasting “we have fire.”

More recently, UGC (user generated content) has been all the rage. The YouTube generation made each and every one of us a Spielberg clone (at least in our own viewfinder). I think Doritos has completely forgotten how to assemble its own advertising campaign, because they have left it in the hands of consumers for so long now.

And now we snicker and say, “Sheesh. I can’t believe we actually did that kind of stuff.”

This year it’s all about social media. Zuckerberg is a silver screen star thanks to last fall’s blockbuster movie, and FB has become verb, cultural signpost and habit of choice for the masses. So, naturally, everyone needs to find a way to integrate Facebook, Twitter or whatever social media site they happen to like the most.

Hey, it’s all about engagement, right?

My fear (not just for myself, but also the NFL) is that we might find ourselves so wrapped up in the social media aspect of the advertising that we forget there’s a game being played. Might we pick up our iPadPhonePod and zone out, not to be heard from again until after the 4th quarter? Is it possible we will find out the final score not from the television in the room, but rather our Twitter feed?

Yes, Super Bowl XLV could truly go down in history as the game that everyone started watching, but by the end, everyone had forgotten why they were assembled amid all that food and beverage in the first place.

Which might be something to FB or tweet about, come to think about it. “What’s On Your Mind?” “Have no idea how I got here. Food was great, and enjoyed interacting with a bunch of ads. Now who are these other people in the room?”

Wow, that was lame.

Dr “It All Ads Up” Gerlich

News Not Fit To Print

3 02 2011

It is rare indeed when I blog about the same topic twice within the span of about a week, but sometimes the subject is so huge that it begs to be revisited. Last week I wrote in breathless anticipation about a new phenomenon that was to be released yesterday. Today, I am writing to tell you about my experience with that very product.

And if I didn’t think this release won’t be heralded one day as a landmark day in the ongoing evolution of media, then I wouldn’lt be wasting my time. (I have quite a few unwritten topics in my blog bank, but they can wait for now.)

So to resolve your curiosity, let me just say that The Daily lived up to my expectations. And then some.

For those who don’t recall, The Daily is the first newspaper developed specifically for iPad. It is produced by a new division of Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp, which also owns FoxNews and the Wall Street Journal. “Published” seven times a week, The Daily is a bargain at 99 cents per week, or $40 per year.

Well, you do have to own the iPad first, so add about $600 up front.

The Daily is intriguing on many accounts. First of all, it was truly developed for the device, so this is not some cheesy version crammed onto a 10″ screen. Just like the Google Boutiques app I discussed a few days ago, this was engineered from the ground up specifically for iPad. That Murdoch would willingly limit himself to an initial market of 7 million iPad owners is perplexing, unless he thinks he will have high market penetration and or see a lot more iPads sold in the future (definitely the latter, and hopefully on the former).

I spent two hours this morning reading my first issue, and can honestly say it was one of the best “newspaper” reading experiences I have ever had. One could argue it is really just a news magazine, but magazines aren’t released daily. Nor do they have updates after the issue has been released.

I loved the reporting, the overall subject matter and the color photos. Better yet were the videos and other interactivity embedded into stories. Try doing that in print. Even the ads were interactive and had videos (think commercials, movie trailers, etc.).

Navigating was also a snap, using either the carousel (which functions much like the Safari 4 browser), or the standard menu bar in the header and footer. Flipping pages used the standard iOS finger swipe. There’s even a crossword and Sudoku for puzzle freaks like me.

Oh yeah…and it is completely linked to the social graph so articles and ads can be shared on FB and Twitter, as well as email.

So, you might ask, what does The Daily mean for news media in the future? A lot, I say.

Basically, The Daily is newspaper, magazine and television all in one. Murdoch has simply found an easy way to combine all of the stuff his company is already doing anyway.

But will The Daily and what will no doubt be many me-too competitors signal the end of the printed paper? In the near term, no. But in the long term, I wouldn’t be surprised. Daily newspapers have been taking it on the chin for years already. The Cemetery of Dead Newspapers is rapidly filling. Given that few folks under 30 ever touch a newspaper anyway, a digital version may very well be the only chance we have to reach this demographic.

Earlier this morning, I posted my initial comments to my FB page. I received several very interesting comments. One high school pal mentioned that The Daily is very green. She’s right. It doesn’t get much greener than this. An alum of WTAMU had concerns about the digital divide, that older and poorer people would not be able to access papers like now and in the past. A dear friend from my childhood also raised the relevant issue of our over-dependence on all things digital. What if, she asked, our government were to ever kill the internet much like what happened in Egypt recently? If we give up print, it could be all too easy to silence US citizens. Finally, a pal from our camping group joked that he just couldn’t imagine swatting his dog with an iPad.

Yeah. A $600 swat is a little much!

These are all important considerations, and I do not have the answers for all of them. I do know that we will probably always have some degree of digital divide. No matter how ubiquitous the internet, some will always have more than others. But some people drive Mercedes while I drive a 10-year-old Hyundai. And I hope and pray we never reach the level of frantic tyranny that Egypt has witnessed. The optimist in me says that our freedom of the press will always extend to the internet, even when we say things that the powers that be might not like.

But my bigger concerns are about the implications for local media. Even in a metro area of 250,000 we have a lot of media outlets (print and broadcast) that are going to have to figure out how to evolve quickly, or die gracefully.

And this is where I see opportunity, not impending death and destruction.

Rather than digging in our heels and begging people to not make the leap to new media and technologies, our media outlets should be figuring out ways they can either create their own iPad app, or, hold on to your hats here, partner with Murdoch.

How’s that again?

I think there is a huge opportunity for Murdoch to offer local content via The Daily, which would be provided by local outlets, and then sold as an add-on. I for one would love to get my Amarillo Globe-News packaged within The Daily (or as its own stand-alone app). Face it: There isn’t a lot of local content being generated in a town of our size. The daily newspaper carries a ton of syndicated stuff, all of which I read the night before. Same goes for local TV. We’re left with a little bit of regional news, pics of yesterday’s traffic accidents, weather map, WT and high school scores, obits, and a few very good homegrown columns. Local content can be supported by local advertisers (solving that problem), and will let us get everything we need or want in one handy location.

Oh, and I won’t have to wait for the newspaper courier to finally get to my house at 7:00am.

I fully understand that employees of traditional media may be quaking in their boots over the implications of a formidable electronic competitor. Change can be unsettling, especially when your job might be on the line. To the credit of our local media, they have done a good job thus far evolving into communications companies (which is what they really are). I have quite a few good friends and contacts in the local media, and I know they are striving valiantly to prosper during a period of rapid change.

It’s just that Murdoch has suddenly raised the bar a good foot.

Survival in today’s media jungle requires not only a stalwart defense, but also an aggressive offense. I could be wrong on this, but I think we will one day look back on 02/02/2011 as the day the news industry started writing a new chapter, and putting the finishing touches on another.

Dr “Twice In One Week” Gerlich

Drive Time

26 01 2011

When XM Radio launched on 25th September 2001, I thought it spelled the beginning of the end for broadcast radio. After all, suddenly we had 100 new channels from which to choose, with extremely narrowcasting the norm rather than spinning tunes for the masses. Like new country? No problem. Soft jazz? Go ahead and mellow out. Grunge? Get your Cobain fix in no time.

But satellite radio has never really taken off (ha ha), perhaps because of the nagging little subscription fees. At first, it required the purchase of add-on equipment, but eventually, new cars came equipped with satellite-ready radios. This gave broadcast radio some breathing room to figure out how to stay alive.

But the Grim Reaper is once again knocking at radio’s door. The iPod (also introduced in 2001) quietly started a music revolution (even though it is but a digital version of the Sony Walkman). Today, most new cars have an auxiliary plug for iPod-like devices.

The story gets juicier. With close to 50% of Americans now owning smartphones, and those same people rapidly embracing mobile apps, there is less and less reason for people to listen to regular radio. With over 80 million people already listening to Pandora, there is almost a mandate to let us take our custom radio with us in our cars.

So Ford was among the first to offer smartphone app integration between Pandora and car stereos. In fact, several automakers are rushing to integrate numerous apps into the driving experience.

Which means we may be listening to our Pandora stations more and more in the days ahead, not just by plugging our headphones into our phone, but by connecting via bluetooth between the phone and the car stereo. As for broadcast radio, the time has come to reconsider how it is going to survive. Local weather and traffic may not be able to carry the day.

I have somewhat mixed emotions about the phone-car connection. Personally, I would rather the car stereo have its own data plan (pulled from the same cell towers as the phone). There would be built-in GPS, which would be a great theft deterrent (much like OnStar), because a car could be located quickly before the thief disables the stereo.

And there is that other conundrum about how and why people were reluctant to pony up $12 a month for XM, but have no problem with $30 at ATT. But that puzzle solves itself when you consider that Pandora allows for mass customization, plus the phone data plan is far more cross-functional.

But in my perfect world, we would be able to have a Rhapsody app so I could hand-pick not just a genre or “sounds like” a certain artist, but rather a specific album, artist or song. And let’s toss in Netflix streaming for the backseat passengers (aka, our kiddos).

Still, I am happy to see the progress being made in car entertainment systems (because that’s what they really are). I hope an after-market of app-ready stereos blossoms so that we do not have to purchase a new car to enjoy this technology. And I really do hope they can just set up my van and RV as if they were their own mobile phone account. I want a legitimate data center in my vehicles, not one jerry rigging a connection.

That’s when you’ll see me tuning in and turning on. But not dropping out.

Dr “Crank It Up” Gerlich

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

31 10 2010

I suppose it all started with Seinfeld. Without doubt, Seinfeld is one of the most iconic of all TV sitcoms, and yet it admittedly was a show about nothing. It revolutionized the way sitcoms are written and shot. Each episode had a stand-alone theme, but with three and sometimes four story arcs meandering through the fabric, stitched together with those trademark thumpy bass riffs. Oh yeah…and it all managed to fit into about 22 minutes (what’s left after you remove the commercials).

If anything, Seinfeld ushered in the era of ADHD on TV. It bounced around so quickly you dare not step out of the room for a beer lest you miss something funny going on with Elaine. Amazingly, by the end of the show, it all came together and Jerry tied the story knot. But your brain was just a little tired from being stretch in so many directions in such a short period of time.

Seinfeld’s impact is now being felt in the world of TV advertising, with commercials having shrunk first from 60 seconds to 30, and now down to 15 seconds. If you feel like you are being yanked around every time you watch primetime, you are not imagining things.

There are a number of factors at play here. Marketers now correctly assume that we 21C citizens have very short attention spans, that our lives have become like Seinfeld episodes of old. The only things missing are those quirky bass riffs to serve as segues from one seemingly random idea to another. If you feel like a pinball ricocheting between the bells and bumpers, you are not imagining things. Our lives have become as disjointed as those of Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer.

But there are other good reasons why commercials are becoming shorter. One is cost. The economy has made it difficult for companies to advertise, and media to sell ad time. The 15-second burst is perfect. While the cost-per-second is about the same as for longer spots, the shorter versions allow companies a chance to at least put their name before the viewing public.

But there is another fact working here as well, and that is repetition. The assumption (and it is one based soundly on theory) is that repetition is good, and that it takes numerous exposures before people finally pay attention, remember, and then act. Short ads allow companies with sufficient ad budgets to scatter many seeds, and in some very creative case, even wrap their ads around others, all during a 75-second commercial break.

So while our lives may read like the fabled 90s sitcom, and economic expediency may dictate the terms, the truth of the matter is that short, repetitive bursts may actually serve their purpose better than less frequent long ads.

The only problem I see, though, is an increasing clutter. If everyone is doing it, then there will be hundreds of voices in the air, all screaming in short, calculated outbursts. And just like we quickly immunized ourselves against ubiquitous banner ads a decade ago, we may very well find ourselves doing the same today. In the era of the DVR, we are already zipping and zapping our way through ads as it is, and a 15-second message could be practically obliterated in 8X speed as we skip forward.

I can only imagine the ads of the future: 5-second screams, repeating every 15 seconds, at triple the volume of the regular show. Have a Coke. Eat Cheerios. Drive Toyota. Have a Coke. Sale at Target. Red Robin…Ummmm! Have another Coke.

It’s enough to make my already addled ADHD brain tired just thinking about it. I can’t handle any more bass riffs. I can’t process any more story arcs. I can’t handle Kramer sliding in unannounced.

All this noise is about to convince me that, instead of a cornucopia of meaning, we have devolved into a commercially nihilistic reality. Nietzsche would be proud. It’s time to head down to the diner for some lunch.

Now that’s a story arc I can stomach.

Dr “It All Ads Up” Gerlich

User Friendly

26 09 2010

A revolution took place in the last 15 years, a revolution that has chopped media outlets and corporations off at the knees. And it is only in the last couple of years that these companies have figured out how to turn lemons into lemonade.

That revolution (surprise, surprise) was the internet and the power it put into the hands of the general population. No longer would we be subjected to carefully crafted information and images provided by media moguls. If anything, this era should be called We The Media.

Because it means that our voices are on equal footing with those professionals who are paid to write, speak and shoot.

This leveling of the playing surface has spelled trouble for print and broadcast outlets, as well as the corporate world in general, because often we (as in you and me) are able to post newsworthy information faster than they. When at least one-half of the population not only has a computer with broadband access, but also a smartphone with still picture and video capabilities, that means everyone is a reporter. “This just in…Dr Gerlich is enjoying a Fat Tire with his colleagues over at Buffalo’s Southwest. The foam is over the top.”

So what’s a company to do?

Simple. Ask them. Welcome them. OK, beg them…to contribute.

Which is what Disney has done with their new Memories website at which people can post pics and videos of their family outings to Disney theme parks. Think YouTube, but Disney is footing the bill.

Now User Generated Content is not exactly a new thing. We have been entertained by UGC ads for Doritos the last few Super Bowls. UGC materials have run the gamut of consumer products. By embracing UGC, Disney and others have recognized that consumers have a valid voice (not to mention sophisticated electronic gear), and so it is better to invite them to the party than to run the risk of them holding their own.

The fact that I can upload memories created the next time we go to Disney is actually very effective means of brand reinforcement. Sure, the odds are slim that my videos will go viral, or even be seen by more than a handful of people, but my kids will have a blast returning to the site in the months and years to come. It will be a repository of our memories, all of which came about because of Disney in the first place.

Did I say that this will reinforce the whole Disney experience?

Granted, opening your website to every Spielberg wannabe carries great risk, for it means there must be some semblance of governance. Disney had better make sure each and every pic and video is fit to appear on their branded site, or run the risk of being embarrassed. Or insulting others. This is not like YouTube, which is digital land grab of the highest order.

And should viewers take the time to peruse the uploads of total strangers, perhaps they will be inspired to the return to the park…or others in the Disney line-up. It wouldn’s take much to get me to consider going to Anaheim next time instead of Orlando anyway, so maybe all I need to see is some footage of Disney’s California Adventure.

As a former collegiate journalist, I am fully aware of the conflict that has occurred because of all this technology and access. You know what they say about opinions, right? Yep. Everyone’s got one…along with something else I won’t mention. And when everyone starts spouting off those opinions on a public forum, it can only spell troubling times for the old guard. I suspect that this revolution is a big part of the reason why newspaper readership and TV news viewing are down. Who wants to listen to others when our voice can be just as loud?

That the extremely conservative Disney has now come to grips with this reality speaks to the need for all traditional media and corporations to recognize the change that has occurred. Each and every customer who totes a camera is now embraced. Each time Mickey, Minnie and friends appear online is just another advertisement. Each upload is an advance ticket sale on a future visit.

That lemonade taste pretty good, doesn’t it?

Dr “Fresh Squeezed” Gerlich

Swagger Wagon

2 06 2010

It was in 1983 that North American automotive history was made with the introduction of the minivan. Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca rolled out both the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager to a driving public ready to ditch the station wagon in favor of a more family-friendly vehicle.

And a new star was born.

While there had been many vans before, and even a few that technically could have been called minivans (the Volkswagen Bus comes to mind), it was the prescient Iacocca who saw the Baby Boomers coming of age and in need of something to haul their kids and all their stuff. Soon GM, Ford and the Japanese makers followed suit. Minivans were all the rage, symbols of American mobility and active lifestyles.

But by the time the 21C rolled around, minivans had become decidedly declasse, replaced by SUVs with higher seating and 4-wheel drive for all of those suburban curbs we encounter. Uncool. Unhip. Hopelessly mired in the 20C.

Skip forward to 2010 and Toyota, who had for an instant catapulted into world leadership in the auto industry, found itself drowning in a sea of bad publicity concerning a little acceleration problem affecting many of its vehicles. In the wake of Chrysler announcing its plans to ultimately kill the Caravan, Toyota was still quietly producing Siennas for the few soccer moms not embarrassed to be seen tooling around town in one.

And then a stroke of sheer genius happened. With one broad swipe of the marketing brush, Toyota made the minivan hip and cool once more by utilizing social media to launch an entire ad campaign. Enter, stage right: The Swagger Wagon.

While a few of the ads have been running on prime time TV, the whole campaign is available on YouTube. It’s a slice of life straight out of the early 80s: a young mom and dad, with two young kids in tow. Except these parents can rap. And can toss out a few subtle hints of their own marital enjoyment.

Did I say this was genius?

Is it ever. While TV ads are usually in the realm of chunky 30- and 60-second blurts, web-based ads can run free-form as long as Toyota wants them to run. Like even 2 1/2 minutes.

Better yet is that the TV ads drive viewers to the Sienna YouTube channel where they can view all of the ads in their long-run glory. The rap clip has been viewed well over 2 million times as of this writing.

Yes, and people are actually going to YouTube to be entertained. By ads. Go figure.

Leveraging the social graph to pump some life into both a dead category and a dying company is marketing of the highest order. A Facebook Fan Page is one thing, but a dedicated YouTube channel exploiting the power of the medium stands head and shoulders above all other social media platforms.

And while dad may look quite the nerd, mom is, as her neighbor says, pretty cute. It’s almost enough to make me want to go check out Siennas. Lee Iacocca can’t hold a candle to her.

Dr “Where My Kids At” Gerlich

Missing The Point

24 04 2010

Sometimes I just don’t get it. Big companies can sometimes be the slowest to respond to market changes. I suppose it’s not a lot unlike trying to turn a large ship around. Too bad, because you can miss a turn that way.

And such is the case of CBS Radio, which bought way back in May 2007., in case you have forgotten, is in the same league as Pandora and Slacker, providing customizable stations. Pandora is clearly the most successful in the genre, with over 40 million registered users. It also scored its first quarterly profit earlier this year.

Earlier this week I wrote about how Pandora has partnered with Ford to include an app in the 2011 Sync model this fall. Pandora is poised to appear on more and more car dashboards in the years to come, making it as analogous to music as is Facebook to social networking.

So what has CBS been doing with Nothing. Pretty much.

Now I don’t know if CBS bought with the notion of simply putting it on the shelf and effectively killing it, but it sure looks like it. One would think that, with the financial wherewithal of a media giant like CBS, would have been promoted to the ends of the earth. There really is not reason that isn’t the Pandora of 2010, but its luster is fading faster than an unwaxed automobile in the hot Texas sun.

At least Slacker is doing something, although I think it may have arrived at the party a few hours too late. Slacker, too, is fumbling for a foothold, insisting on also selling another gadget in our pocket.

Still, it is CBS’ lack of action that befuddles me the most. Three years ago I fully expected to jump to prominence, but instead it has gotten shoved farther and farther back in the center drawer of the CBS desk. For $280 million, that’s one expensive acquisition to let sit idle.

If CBS were really thinking, they would be partnering with an automobile manufacturer to get a app on a different dashboard. Because it really is all about being everywhere. It’s about never giving your customers a chance to try the other guy’s product. It’s about turning that ship around to avoid icebergs and other threats.

And because if you miss the point, that point can turn around and stab you in the back side.

Dr “Finishing Last Sucks” Gerlich

A New Kind of Smarts

8 03 2010

The other night my 9-year-old daughter awakened me at 2:00am and shoved my iPhone in my face. “Dad, punch in your code. I want to see what the temperature is going to be today.”

Pretty much still asleep, I entered my security code. Just as quickly as that phone was put before me, it was whisked away. “Thanks, Dad!” I heard as I closed my eyes. A couple of minutes later I roused from my slumber, and quickly realized something monumental had just happened. No, it wasn’t that my little girl was awake in the middle of the night (this happens all the time). I had just witnessed evidence writ large that a paradigm shift is happening, a technological tremor whose magnitude of which Richter would have been astounded. Off the scale, even.

Whereas today’s college students and high schoolers are very web-savvy because they happened to grow up in the last decade, today’s children have leapfrogged all that and landed on the lily pad of phone apps. Of course, my daughter went straight to The Weather Channel app on my phone, and retrieved the forecast for the day. Hey, even little kids need to plan their wardrobe, you know. “Sheesh, Dad…web sites are so lame.”

And to think I once designed web sites on the side. Along with sledgehammering large stones.

I am firmly convinced we are raising a new generation of techno-stars who will see the world through a very different lens than we. And I am not afraid of this idea. A few years ago, Steven Johnson wrote Everything Bad Is Good For You, a somewhat sarcastically titled defense of all the things Luddites and fearmongers love to bewail. If anything, Johnson should write a sequel, and it should be titled I Told You So. The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that the internet is not making us dumb; in fact, it is making our brains different. Now I will confess that rewiring old brains present challenges, but what if you are starting with the clean slate of youth?

Evolution never had it so easy.

While I have done all the rewiring (not to mention disk reformating and the occasional defrag), I will be honest and say that I never for one moment in my youth pictured a time in which I could do so many things wirelessly and with the mobility with which we have today. The cogs still clank and grind on occasion when I have to ponder yet another revolution. But for my 9-year-old, getting the weather off a phone app is as second nature as it once was for me to read about it in the morning paper. Heck, when The Weather Channel hit cable TV in 1981, I was floored. Who would have thought that the weather could justify a 24-hour dedicated station?

The only thing standing in the way of my daughter is her old man who won’t reveal his security code. I just hope I dressed appropriately today. Maybe I should have asked her.

Dr “Cloudy With A Chance of Curmudgeons” Gerlich

Abbee Road

1 03 2010

Back in the early-70s. while still living at home in suburban Chicago, I would practice a very crude (yet technically legal) form of music piracy. I would lock myself in my bedroom, tune in WXRT or WDAI on my transistor radio, and line up my portable cassette recorder right next to the speaker. And there I would wait until the first cue that a favorite song was starting. With lightning-fast precision, I would lock down the Play and Record buttons.

And just hope I didn’t miss too much of the intro.

Naturally, just about every song I captured included voice-over by an idiotic DJ prattling on about the weather, why the Cubs lost again, and his general awesomeness. And it was always tough knowing when to punch Stop, because stations were prone to bleeding one song into the next (and it was usually one you didn’t want anyway). The result was a home-made tape of botched attempts to steal music so I could avoid buying records.

I am so thankful now to be way beyond the Stone Age of personal music libraries. Like most people, I just carry my tunes with me in my pocket. So imagine my gasp when I read about the Abbee. It’s a base station with a plug-in portable unit that can record songs off the FM airwaves, and magically remove the commercials. Take the portable player with you and have up to 500 songs sans advertising.

Wait a minute. Did I just say 500 songs? Wow. Let’s all take 10 steps back in time. My first Rio MP3 player could hold 128MB worth, which was about 40 songs. Back then the Abbee’s storage capacity would have been a godsend. But today it is a retro-grouch’s dream come true.

Especially when you consider that there are no computers involved in this exchange. None. At all.

Let me tell you what I really think. This is an iPod for morons. There. So sue me.

Sure, parent corporation Myine intentionally markets the Abbee as a product for Baby Boomers who have yet to acquire fire in their arsenal of tricks. It’s for the Metamucil-sucking, Jitterbug-dialing technophobes we love to ridicule. And the problem is that you’re still going to get the same crappy recordings I did with my cassette player 38 years ago. We’re talking FM, guys…not streaming audio. Not digital downloads. No static at all? Ha!

Worse yet, this is no plug-and-play device. Abbee wants to ease into her new task, so it takes 24 hours to “profile” your listening before it starts serving up tunes. Want to add another station? Add another 24 hours. And Abbee still won’t be able to quiet the DJ trying to cram a station ID into the mix before the first lyric is uttered. All this, and for only $250.

I’m sorry, this is one of the silliest new products I have seen in a long time. Why anyone would want to turn back the pages of technology is beyond me. About the only thing I miss from that era is the excitement of discovering new artists…like Jimmy Buffett (WXRT would play Why Don’t We Get Drunk And Screw when no one else dared) and Lynyrd Skynyrd (thereby giving rise to millions of Freebird-shouting drunks the world over).

Otherwise, I have erased that tape. My music is dear; Abbee isn’t. Hit the Stop button now.

Dr “Watch Out For That Pothole” Gerlich