Class Is In Session

13 06 2011

My life changed forever in the Spring of 1997.

I was summoned to the office of Dr. Vaughn Nelson, then the Dean of the Graduate School. He asked if I would be willing to help lead WT into the then-entirely new field of distance learning.

Not really knowing what I was getting into, I said yes. What the heck. He promised me a laptop and my own GA. How could I say no?

And so in one the great role reversals of my time, my GA taught me how to code web pages, and in the span of a few months, I had my MBA Marketing Seminar class ready to go for Fall 1997 deployment. Today, I have over 50 online teaching experiences under my belt (not including multiple sections within a semester). It’s gotten to the point that I have almost forgotten how to speak in front of a classroom.

But oh, can I type.

There is little doubt that online education has changed the way we learn. For the last 9 days, I have been traveling around the southwest with my family. At the moment I am typing this from the Luxor Casino & Hotel in Las Vegas. If I hadn’t mentioned this to my class, they never would have known the difference.

And I’ll bet most of my students have attended to their duties from many places other than home or office. That’s the beauty of online learning.

To be sure, there were many naysayers back in the late-90s. “It’s just a high-tech correspondence course!” they exclaimed. “Why should I have to learn something new?” the Luddites complained.

But we have moved far beyond this initial resistance. While there are still some problems to iron out (like cheating…but that has always been a problem, including in the traditional classroom), I argue that distance learning affords me more options than I have available to me in even the smartest of smart classrooms.

Other critics have denounced distance learning as an easy way out, and should not be allowed for students living in the dorms. I could not disagree more. In case you (and they) have not noticed, our lives have changed considerably in the last couple of decades. I prefer to now call online education “lifestyle learning.” It makes it possible for students working 30-40 hours per week to take classes, single parents to earn a degree, working professionals to either finish a degree, or earn a master’s degree. Yep, and wherever there is a wifi signal, you are technically in the classroom.

In other words, have technology, will travel. Work. Study. Live. Life.

Teaching online has forced me to stay abreast of all the latest developments in technology. Presently I am working on making all of my course materials compatible with e-book and tablet devices, because I see the laptop becoming less and less essential. I, too, hope to one day ditch my laptop and do everything from my iPad. As for my students, they have been bugging me for a couple of years now for e-book content. So I am spending my summer wisely, figuring out how to ride the current wave, and not just content to watch from the safety of shore.

Much has changed since that first online class I taught in 1997, when everyone had shaky dial-up connections. We even had mandatory chat room discussions back then, somehow overlooking the fact that online equals asynchronous. Go figure. And just imagine 40 people trying to post something via a 28K connection.

Dial-up connections will become the “I walked 3 miles to school” story we tell our grandkids.

As for me, I am thankful Dr. Nelson saw something in me, a glimmer of potentiality. Because had he not, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog.

Dr “It’s My Type” Gerlich

Seas Of Change

1 06 2011

I just returned from England. Where people eat mashers. Rashers. Bangers. Bubble and squeak. And if you ask for chips and salsa, you may be in for a surprise. (As if the first four items aren’t.)

But one thing did not surprise me, and that is the familiarity of everything else. Coca Cola. Pepsi. McDonald’s. Pizza Hut. Budweiser. Heck, were it not for a few thousand 400-year-old buildings and the Cockney accent, I never would have guessed I had left the terra firma we know as the USA.

Sure, it’s probably cliche to say that the Guinness just tastes better when you’re close to the brewery, but the fact of the matter is that in this era of global brands, there is a certain homogeneity steadily overtaking the world. As consumers, we are increasingly becoming innured to the fact that we are beginning to look and consume quite a bit alike. Change has been so rampant these past few decades as to almost erase the major differences between us all, replaced with a major sameness.

Heck, about the only thing that hasn’t changed is Stonehenge. Those rocks aren’t going anywhere.

Sure, there are some differences, albeit minor ones. For example, we tend to source our off-season fruits and veggies from Central and South America, whereas the UK and Europe gets a lot from east Africa. But if you check the tags on any clothing or trinkets you might find there and here, you are more than likely going to find the words Made In China (or some nearby Third-World nation) stitched or printed.

Which is why I opted to have my MBA students get a jump on next year’s Common Reader at WTAMU, Where am I Wearing: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People that Make Our Clothes, by Kelsey Timmerman (2008).

Timmerman had found himself pondering the labels in his garments. T-shirts from Honduras. Blue jeans from Cambodia. Underwear from Bangladesh. Flip-flops from China. You and I are probably not a bit unlike Kelsey. We wear the United Nations on our backs.

While my colleagues and I were in the UK, we led 23 students on a study of the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics to be held in London. We toured the Olympic Park, and saw various venues and monuments in different stages of completion. We learned about the many companies that have signed on as either major or regional sponsors. And we noticed how all of those entities were global brands, so well known that their names bridge any language or cultural differences. Coca Cola tastes the same in any dialect. And Adidas (be sure to pronounce it correctly: Ah-Dee-DAHSS) means athletic gear.

In other words, while the athletes may arrive draped in the colors and cultures of their homeland, they are perhaps less different from everyone else than ever before. Global monoculture may soon become the norm, not because of some melting pot process, but rather because of the tossed salad metaphor making the rounds: collectively we are one flavorful conglomeration, but each part still has a delectable, albeit small, taste of its own.

One big universal salad bowl. You say “toe-MAY-toe,” I say “Pass the dressing, please.” Yummm.

Timmerman worries that, among other things, we have lost our zest for local manufacture, the result being we are all pretty much wearing the output of steamy Asian or Central American sweatshops. And I can vouch for that, for I saw many of the same novelty t-shirts that can be found in the States for sale in the stalls in the very bohemian Camden Town neighborhood. You just thought you were cool with that shirt you bought at Cafe Press. Imagine bumping into a fellow global citizen 5000 miles away wearing the same garment.

As for me, as much as I love Stonehenge and the 5000 years of mystery in which it is shrouded, I do not have a problem with being a global citizen consumer. It does not mean we have to completely shed our local cultural identities. Instead, it means we are freed to work for the larger common good, which is the well-being of us all. Yes, even if it means that some are employed in less than optimal conditions. Even if it means we all drink from the same bottle and wear the same running shoes.

And as for those chips and salsa…well, click here to see the look on Dr. Browning’s face when her order was delivered at the Hard Rock. We laughed so hard I swear I heard some big rocks shaking atop an English hill.

Dr “Pip Pip, Cheerio London…We’ll Be Back!” Gerlich

Yeah, I Said It! So Fire Me!

10 02 2011

The other day I was trying to describe social media to my student worker, but in 1970s terms. I said, “Facebook is the CB radio of the 20-teens.”

She looked up at me and said, “What’s a CB radio?”

Now I can forgive her innocence, because two generations of people have been born since C.W. McCall entertained us with “Convoy” on the AM dial and silver screen, not to mention the millions of road warriors who felt it their civic duty to chirp in with a “Breaker, 1-9.”

It was anything goes on those 40 channels. Often I listened to get Smokey reports, so I would know when and where to slow down. But sometimes I just listened to get a good laugh from the crazies telling raunchy jokes.

Of course, CB radios have joined the ranks of other low-tech banalities of the day. We’re no longer interested in a device that has at most a 3-mile range. No, we have become residents of Facebooklandia (and/or Twitterville), speaking our minds in 420-character (FB) or 140-character (Twitter) bursts.

And that’s where, it was argued, you could get in trouble. But yesterday’s ruling by the government in which they sided with the National Labor Relations Board makes it perfectly clear that employees have every right to tell it like it is on their social media accounts.

The American Medical Response of Connecticut had fired an employee last year for posting comments critical of her employer. AMRC fired her, but the NLRB sued. The employee has been vindicated, and we are free to say what we want.

Hold on there, Facebook breath! With freedom comes responsibility, and just because we are legally protected does not mean we should launch a social campaign against our employer.

Remember, impressions can quickly be formed by perusing an employee’s profile page, impressions that may not result in termination, but could certainly taint one’s efforts for promotions and raises. I have a hard time imagining any loose cannons being promoted from within.

Furthermore, one’s online rants could seriously injure efforts to seek employment elsewhere. I routinely do a FB background check of any and all faculty candidates (not to mention My boss does likewise.

You may be free to rage on, but it doesn’t mean no one is watching. Or making value judgments about you.

The other thing this case does not even begin to approach is whether employees can or should be using social media while on the job. That’s where company social media policies enter the discussion. While an increasing number of companies now have such policies, at best they are knee-jerk reactions to a very new phenomenon. They will all have to be tweaked in the very short term once the courts figure out who can say (or restrict) what, like yesterday’s ruling. Since sdo many people now have smartphones, banning workplace Facebooking is like telling people they cannot breathe.

I can see the day coming very soon in which we will not only have college courses in Employment Law (like my department is now doing), but more esoteric subjects like Social Media Law. The number of law suits in this area is exploding over night, as evidenced by a seminar track I sat in earlier this month in Austin.

To be on the safe side, though, it is important for us all to remember that, just like in the 70s, a lot of people have their ears on. They are watching. They are reading. They are remembering.

And that’s a 10-4.

Dr “This Here’s The Rubber Duck” Gerlich

Chicken And Egg

24 01 2011

It costs a lot of money to go to college these days. It has never been cheap, mind you, but the inflation rate of academia has been around 8-10% for many years, the result being that a college education now consumes a higher proportion of one’s income than it once did.

But paralleling the rise in tuition and fees has been the rising price of text books. A student taking a full load of 15 hours could face up to $750 each semester if new books are the only option. The question is almost the chicken-and-egg dilemma, for I am not really sure which came first: expensive books, or expensive tuition.

It has been this way for years. As for text books, the more esoteric the subject, the more expensive the book. And the thinner that book is. I remember paying $150 for an Econometrics book in 1984 that was no thicker than a book of prayers I had seen in a religious bookstore. And believe me, the book of prayers would have been a lot more helpful (and worth $1000 at least).

Sure, most state universities have competing off-campus bookstores nearby to tr to help students save a few bucks, but the fact remains that college text books are enormously expensive. OK, go ahead and say it: “Outrageously expensive!”

I led a student group in 1999 that built the first online store for WT’s campus bookstore. It was during that process that I learned something about the pricing game for these books. New books only net the store about a 25% margin (the publisher getting the bulk, and the authors a couple of bucks). But used books are an enormous profit center, with up to 75% margins. Which explains why the bookstore only gives you $10 for you seldom-used Principles of Finance text.

But the game has changed now, and students are quickly finding themselves in the driver’s seat. Starting first with eBay, Amazon and, and now a more mature offering of options from Chegg, eCampus and Campus Book Rentals, students can look their campus bookstore manager in the eye and say, “Au revoir.” Hey, it never hurts to practice your French.

So big is this threat to campus bookstores that I have heard that our very own store is only ordering a few copies for some classes. With students now able to rent, buy and resell online with competitive and fair prices for all, it makes little sense for universities to stay in the book business. They simply cannot compete.

Which is another way of saying that I fully expect campus bookstores very soon to just be in the t-shirt and gift business.

But even the new breed of competitor had better not get too comfortable. Once a preponderance of students own tablet devices like the iPad, there is little sense in buying or renting any tangible book. Already some publishers are testing the waters with digital texts, and I expect this to explode in the coming years.

This makes sense for many reasons. Publishers and authors can revise texts far more frequently than the current 2-3 years (which is a huge benefit in fields that seemingly change over night). Universities will no longer require faculty to adhere to a 3-year adoption cycle (which necessarily ensures the used book market market…and whoever is selling or renting them…a captive audience). Finally, publishers can embed access limitations such that the e-books can only be downloaded to one device. Students could retain their digital copy, but with new editions appearing regularly, the ability to pass them along to subsequent students would be slim.

If you ask me, the campus Humpty Dumpty is about to fall off its wall. And all the king’s hoprses and all the king’s men won’t be able to put Humpty together again.

Anyone want some eggs?

Dr “Over Easy” Gerlich

In Living Color

18 11 2010

It’s fun to watch marketers duke it out for our attention, as well as our pocketbooks. The battlefield is littered with the remains of companies who have tried but failed, yet the war goes on to win us over.

The battle for our digital reading just intensified yesterday with the release of the Nook Color from Barnes & Noble. At $249, it promises to deliver books and more via wifi, and give users a touchscreen experience similar to that of the iPad. Just in time for Christmas, right?

Thus far the e-reader market has been fragmented, with Nook and Amazon’s Kindle fighting it out over the low-end price point (basic Kindles now start at $139), and iPad and its competitors (more aptly called tablet devices), on the high end of the spectrum ($500 and up). The Nook Color tries to reach a middle ground of sorts, albeit without the computing power and apps native to the iPad.

The e-reader/tablet landscape is only going to get more crowded. The much-anticipated Galaxy from Samsung is going to challenge iPad for supremacy. And as others reach market, there will no doubt be more price erosion as competition heats up.

I am particularly enamored of these devices, and argue that they have a place in academics. I anticipate students very soon toting them around in backpacks instead of laptops and textbooks, because everything can be done on the more powerful high-end products. My colleagues and I have written papers and made presentations touting the benefits of academia going this route, and our works has been well-received by our peers.

But try as I might, I just may still be a curmudgeon at heart. I have been successful thus far in cutting the ties that bound me in so many ways: CDs, movies, cameras, magazines and newspapers. But when it comes to books, I am having a hard time.

After all, books are to my mind as bikes are to my legs. Both take me places. And I just cannot (yet) wrap my mind around the whole shopping experience of downloading books to an e-reader device.

Not that I can’t handle actually using such a device, or even reading a book on one. I already devour the Austin American-Stateman and several magazines completely digitally. And I would like to add books to the list.

Here’s the problem: Shopping for books on my iPad is a very unrewarding experience. There’s the New York Times best seller list to peruse, plus iTunes’ best sellers, but that’s about it. It is completely unlike the full frontal assault of walking in a bookstore and seeing 100,000 or more books at once, or even the almighty suggestion engine for which Amazon is famous. I effectively have to pre-shop for the book elsewhere (at Amazon or a brick-and-mortar bookstore), and then return to my iPad to see if it is even available via iTunes for purchase. Heck, if I’m going to have to make that much effort, I may as well just buy it there.

I am willing to forgo the tactile experience of holding the book and turning its pages, but the way I shop for books is simply not conducive to buying them for my iPad. While Kindle and Nook have the modest benefit of the complete online catalog (and suggestion engines) working, iPad’s sales pitch is simply terrible by comparison.

You see, I am a serious reader. I’ll say it again. Serious. And I am open to many types of books. I go into bookstores (or login to Amazon) with a completely open mind (and wallet). Hit me with your best shot, Mr. Bookseller. I want to peruse the pages, not just the jacket blurbs and author bio. I want to start at the back to see where it ends up, then jump to the front to see how it gets there. I want to skip around and sample a few pages, in the beginning, the end, and in the middle.

And it is just too hard to do this on any e-reader or tablet, and not much better online.

So in response to my student last night when I posted from Red Robin that I was enjoying a book and brew, this is why I wasn’t reading it on my iPad.

In my mind, the success factor of these devices depends in large part on how marketers can simulate the in-real-life shopping experience of actually being in a bookstore, or else mass adoption is going to be slow. Required texts are one thing, but when it comes to avid leisure reading, sellers need to recognize that the hunt is often as rewarding as the kill.

And that, to me, could kill these products if they solve this problem soon.

Dr “By the Book” Gerlich

Back To School

7 11 2010

This one isn’t going to be pretty. It’s not going to be funny. It’s about a subject near and dear to my heart, for it is my career: Education.

And it is something we are sorely in need of more in this area.

I have been at WTAMU since 1989. During this time I have seen our institution grow from about 6000 students to about 7850. I have also seen the Panhandle population (that’s the “top 26” counties of Texas), grow from about 360,000 to about 440,000. Which is another way of saying both are growing at about 1% per year over the long haul.

It’s also another way of saying that we at WT are just hanging on. Holding our own. But really not growing, because we are still pretty much at the same percentage of the local population as we were when I arrived.

And this deeply saddens me.

It is my hope that when the 2010 census data become available, I will be proven wrong. I truly hope that we have turned the corner on education and will have witnessed an increase in the percentage of adults with a college education. Because our future as a community depends on our ability to provide educated workers to prospective employers.

A decade ago, though, the stats were not very promising. At that time there were 23.2% of all Texans with at least an undergraduate degree (the US average was 24.4%). Since Amarillo straddles two counties, we have to look at two sets of data. Randall County reported a very impressive 28.9% with a degree (with about one-half of them sticking around to earn a graduate degree as well), but Potter County notched an abysmal 13.5%. For the sake of comparison, our neighbor to the south, Lubbock, reported 24.4%, matching the US average.

It is in combining Randall and Potter Counties, however, that we see an overall average that is still very low. Since both counties are very similar in size, the Amarillo metro comes out with about a 20% college degree rate. And this does not bode well for our community.

Our ability to attract employers with high-paying jobs depends completely on our ability to provide an educated workforce. While Amarillo boasts a very low unemployment rate (hovering in the 5-6% rate throughout the recession), much of our employment is via retail and call centers. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I will say that this is no way to fuel the long-term growth of an economy.

Aside from the highly educated faculty and administrators at both WTAMU and Amarillo College, our “higher-ed” employers are pretty much limited to the Pantex facility, the medical center, and the local school districts. There are a few other employers requiring college degrees, but for the most part we are a pass-through town with lots of motels, restaurants and stores. Say hello to minimum wage and tips.

When a community has a low rate of higher education, it means that change is effected slowly. Educated minds are open minds. The Panhandle 20/20 group has as its mission the continued promotion of education in this area, but change comes slowly on the High Plains. I am hoping the 2010 data show positive change, not inertia, but given our current market penetration rate at the University, I am not holding my breath.

I realize there are many plausible explanations for what might be viewed as an anti-education ethos. Poverty is rampant in Potter County, with about 25% below the poverty line, and 50% below 2X the poverty line. This in a state that ranks 50th in terms of people with a high school diploma.

And I also realize that colleges and universities have become expensive. Very expensive. But people cannot afford to not receive a college education, for it spells a life of low-paying jobs. The Panhandle 20/20 website quotes the Council on Competitiveness with this sobering reality: “Only households headed by a college graduate saw their income rise over the past 20 years.” I doubt the future will be any different.

Now I do not blame my institution for our lack of college degrees in the area. These are choices made at the individual level, so I place the blame squarely on the local population. If we do not embrace a culture of education, we will forever be an intellectual backwater.

I also am very proud of my institution. OK, let me be a little more blunt: Damn proud of my institution. I have taught at a flagship university while in my PhD program, and I would hold my discipline’s programs up against theirs any day. I would also send my children to WT, not because it is nearby, convenient, or cheap, but because it is good. If that isn’t testimony, I don’t know what is.

But until we convince the local population at large that education is worth the effort, the cost, the commitment, we will continue to see pathetic summary statistics about our region. It is a marketing message we all must carry to the region. Here’s hoping that you will join me in this noble quest.

Dr “Student For Life” Gerlich

Road Does Not End

28 04 2010

The end of a semester is always a bittersweet time for me. While my students and I are always relieved to finally be able to take a breather, a big part of me wants the journey to go on. It’s like practically any other journey I take. Endings can be sad, and you want the road to keep going.

Which is why I have always loved the sign pictured below. It is another one of the quirky signs appearing around Amarillo typical of the wit and wisdom of Stanley Marsh 3 (think: Cadillac Ranch). While I am not exactly sure what the sign painter was thinking at the time, to me this sign symbolizes my take on classes and on life in general. That barricade you see is just an illusion; that large body of water ahead simply means you may need to take another form of transportation.

It was on January 11, 2010 that we began this journey. My first blog of the semester pushed you out of the boat and into deep water as I discussed Everything Is Miscellaneous. Now I will confess: I have blogged about that book before. But it is such a challenging idea that it is worth hashing and rehashing.

And for the last 3.5 months I hope that I have continued to challenge you with what probably seem like radical ideas. My goal has never been to make you comfortable. No, I want to make you exceedingly uncomfortable. You see, to navigate the choppy waters ahead, you have to be willing to row through the night, through uncharted territory, amid sharks and numerous other threats to your very survival.

It is my hope that your journey does not end. Sure, as an academic, my year repeats itself quite nicely. There are seasons of academia, and I follow them like the seasons of earth. Heck, I get to teach this course again in 5 weeks.

But there is one thing you can bet on: It will be a completely different experience from the one we just had. Because everything is in a constant state of flux, and if you can’t handle all that flux, you had better find a rest area. No, every time this course is offered, the content changes to reflect what is happening right then and there.

And so must you. Your content, your very “put together,” as someone I recently met so eloquently said, must be in a constant state of flux.

So as I sign my final blog for this semester, please know that I am plowing ahead. And I hope that you do, too. Keep going. Drive right around that barricade. Blaze a new trail. Cross uncharted waters.

Because the end is nowhere in sight.

Dr “Best Wishes To All” Gerlich

On Three Legs

25 04 2010

I have been teaching this class for over a decade now. It started out as the then-revolutionary topic of e-commerce. Few universities had even broached the subject in curriculum meetings; after all, academia is often the last place new things happen. If anything, a special course in a topic is probably the best validation there is that a topic has merit.

So revolutionary was this subject that back in 1998 I quietly co-opted what was once my Marketing Channels class, and changed the entire course during cover of night. Students were expecting another boring semester learning about distribution methods and strategies, which is about as exciting as watching an old brand die a slow, painful death.

It took another year before I could convince the Powers That Were that the course should be renamed. Naturally, there was resistance. “Are you sure this thing is even going to be around in 10 years?”

Yeah, I’m pretty sure.

And so I was off (and running, not off-base).

Back then, a company’s online strategy had but one leg…the website. If you had one, you were cool and definitely ahead of the curve. This one leg would more than likely be basic brochureware, although there were a few avant garde folks actually selling things from their site. Everyone fell in love with the metaphor of an online shopping cart, for it made the e-commerce experience very relatable.

Fast-forward to 2010, though. That one-legged online strategy has grown considerably, and so has my course (hence the new name, Evolutionary Marketing). We have grown a couple of appendages to the point that a company must use a tripod to prescribe a firm’s online strategy.

And so as we continue to evolve, the three legs of our online strategy must now consider the following:

    • The website.

    • Social Media.

    • Apps and Permission-Based Marketing.

The website is still the website, but it has a much different role today than it did a decade ago. No longer is it the bleeding edge; in fact, it is now really just a necessary evil. Everyone has to have one; you may or may not conduct sales from it. No longer is the website a badge of honor; it is more like a lowly business card. Show up at a meeting without one, and you look pretty foolish.

As for social media, it is now imperative for companies to consider not only The Four Pillars I pushed a few days ago (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube), but also take a look at LinkedIn for employees to network with other associates, and now location-based social network providers such as Gowalla and 4square.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy here, because not all companies will need the same cocktail. Bars and restaurants will definitely benefit from using the leading-edge GPS-based locater apps in order to crowdsource, but an office supply store would probably be stretched to just have a Facebook Fan Page.

Finally, and growing quickly in importance, is Permission-Based Marketing, under which umbrella I lump mobile phone apps and outbound SMS blurbs along with the more traditional email blasts. Email is so last-decade anyway, and pretty HTML-based email newsletters may look nice, but only reach the 50+ segment who still actually opens them.

But outbound text messages are the perfect way to reach customers if they are under 30, for they are glued to their phone. There is perhaps no faster way to communicate directly with a customer short of actually calling them (which is so last century).

Finally, apps are invited by users too reside on their phone, but can be used not just for pull activities, but more importantly, for push messaging. The CNN app lets users accept breaking news pushes; Gowalla pushes my location to my friends whenever I check in somewhere.

Like all tripods, the thing only works when all three legs are functioning. Depending on the shot you want, as well as the surface on which you stand, those legs may vary in individual height. But you still need all three to make it work. It just depends on the situation

And as for this class, I suspect when I step back from the forest again in 5 years, much will have changed. We may very well have evolved a fourth leg. And there will be no denying there are evidences of that vestigial tail of traditional old-school marketing (print and broadcast). It’s hard to make things go away, but in this business, it is not only possible, but desirable, to keep evolving and growing.

As long as we can avoid tripping over all those new feet.

Dr “Channel This” Gerlich


11 04 2010

When Aretha Franklin sang what became her signature song, little did she know it would one day be tied to Mother Earth. But with Earth Day’s 40th anniversary rapidly approaching (on the 22nd), more and more companies are jumping on the “RE” bandwagon by offering recycling programs at their local stores.

And it’s about time.

Target and Whole Foods are the latest to announce expanded programs, which include everything from cans and bottles to cork. Walmart already has recycling bins at many of its stores, so these new efforts are nice complements. I’m thinking we may have now reached tipping point.

Here in the Amarillo area, recycling has been a tough row to hoe. The most common rebuttal is that it is simply not cost-effective. This just in: It’s not about cost, you dunderheads! It’s about respecting our planet. Mount Trashmore outside Canyon will be with us forever, testament to our profligate and careless materialistic ways. Its sister peak just northwest of Amarillo, although a little more out of visual sight range from town, is even larger.

Maybe someday an enterprising person can turn it into a recreation area. Add a lift and some fake snow, and we will eliminate our need to go to New Mexico or Colorado.

The marketing value of companies embracing recycling is huge. Critics may scoff and say that this is mere window dressing, a prop in the drama of looking good. But I don’t care. Even if Target is merely posturing, the posture is one that will benefit our planet. And in the process, it will keep this place habitable for my children’s children.

I realize that in an area heavily dependent on agriculture for its economy, anything green is a hard sell. Face it. The Texas Panhandle is home to numerous feedyards and dairy operations, all of which produce enough toxic runoff to make the Love Canal look like a fun place to swim. Add in all the chemicals used for farming and you quickly realize this is a showcase for DuPont’s “better living through chemistry” mantra.

Maybe I’ve been hanging around too many tree-hugging, granola-munching, TOMS-wearing people these days, but I think it is high time we all REconsider this issue. It is cavalier to think we can just keep on throwing it all away.

I think I hear Mother Nature singing in the distance. “All I’m askin’ is for a little respect when you get home.” I hear ya, lady. And I’m taking my trash to the store.

Dr “Paper or Plastic? Neither” Gerlich

From Annual to Eventual…Demise, That Is

25 02 2010

In the middle of Indiana, on the campus of Anderson University, there is a part of me still strolling through The Valley, still working until 4am every Monday night, still handing out copies of the Andersonian every Thursday morning after chapel. Still living in the misty memories of a tangible world.

I was Editor of the Andersonian for the 1980-1981 school year. It was one of the best years of my life. I was Woodward and Bernstein wrapped into one, the arbiter of all things newsworthy on our academic island on the Hoosier prairie.

We shared office space with The Echoes, the campus yearbook. While our deadlines were weekly, theirs was an ongoing exercise leading up to One Big Thing at the end of April. Often staffers would straddle the mediums, toiling for both and creating printed proof of all that happened during those nine months.

But something happened since then, and I wonder if that wandering wispy vestige of a younger me got the memo that paper is out and digital in. You see, The Echoes ceased publication in 2007. And the Current Me works at an institution (West Texas A&M) also wiping a lot less ink from its hands, with The Prairie student newspaper now a “magaper” with a glossy cover, a bunch of ads and little content. The Eternal Flame has gone from big-and-heavy bound coffee table book to annual photo magazine with a DVD. Shadow of former existence? That may even be a bit too upbeat.

We are witnessing the end of an era, especially when it comes to yearbooks. In fact, some have nominated the college yearbook for the endangered species list.

It is one thing to recognize that our daily media consumption habits have changed, thanks to the internet. We just don’t read newspapers often (unless you are in my age group). But with production costs of yearbooks often exceeding $100 per copy, there just aren’t many takers for the college annual, so few that it’s just not worth the effort. Who wants to pay the yearbook tax every April? And who wants to wait until late Spring to see what happened early last Fall? Can’t we just admit that square dinosaurs don’t fit through round technological holes?

I think it’s time for me to use the F-word. As in Facebook. It’s not just the ultimate Contact List (if you use the iPhone FB app, you have come to this realization). No, it is the visual soundtrack of our lives.

I realized this the other day when I noticed one of my high school peers was busy posting ancient pics from The Postscript, the yearbook at my alma mater, T.F. South High School. And tagging individuals, thereby making those some pics appear in other people’s FB albums. If only it had been this easy in 1977.

Yes, I still have every yearbook from my high school and college years. I will do everything I can to protect them as long as I live, but the ravages of time may preclude that ambitious goal. Another of my high school peers was grateful for the picture uploads because his ex had made off with his annuals (I guess the CD collection wasn’t worth taking?). Any number of things could send those bound memories to the landfill of media past.

And today’s print media students had better be thinking about where their careers are going. Yearbooks are almost dead, and newspapers are helping push them down that slippery slope, headed together to their eternal flame out.

If I listen carefully, I can hear my echo from the steps of Park Place Church. I can see an inky tattoo on my thumbs that just won’t go away. I can feel the haze from that week’s all-nighter still pushing my eyelids down.

And I know that things will never be the same. Except for the fact that I need to ride down to the end of my driveway. Like I do every day. Like I have done for the 21 years I have lived in this house.

Because my newspaper is there, waiting for me. To take. Smudge. Read. Because that’s what will be written in my postscript rewind, a volume about a place called Indiana. A state of mind. A place of mine.

Coffee anyone?

Dr “I Love A Good Metaphor” Gerlich