Wednesday, May 20, 2009
I feel there is cause for alarm when I have a look at how children in the western world are growing up and their behaviour patterns that result. Obviously for every parent or teacher out there, there would be another gripe about kids of today. This was surely been the case when I went through my fun childhood years (1974 till 2004 and possibly still a few more to come) and was the case when young Churchill threw his peas on the floor in a tantrum 100 years earlier, or 100 years before that even, when little Johnny Appleseed (really John Chapman) would not tuck his hoes into his breeches no matter how much his nurse maid scolded the lad with threats of no candlelight for a month.
Yes I am sure every age and generation has had the same woes over their young and the rebelliousness of the ungrateful sods. That's not quite what has got my attention. What worries me is the lack of influence real people now have on children, whether they are trying to mould them or not. With the incredible amount of opportunity for youngsters to interact in a somewhat superficial, but seemingly very real platform, of social networks and all things computery, I feel that the yout (as Danny DeVitto calls them in my cousin Vinny) are sliding to a point where the masses of them are loosing vital experience of life ... the experience of how to deal with other Humans.
What sparked this off in my squishy brain, perhaps a little undernourished and beat up after a few recent drinking bouts, was firstly a trip in the local Rikki Taxi service. My car was in for repairs of the window that had been smashed by dem crooks. I was catching a ride with the Rikki service to retrieve my car. The interesting thing about the Rikki service is that it picks up other passengers on route to your destination if it, more or less, fits in. Its quite fun to meet some exotic hot Dutch angel who is heading to the beach at 10:30am on a Tuesday morning or a ditsy hippy from Obs who can't quite remember her own name and pays for the ride in coppers.
Today though it was at the St Cyprians Girls Diocese/Convent/Castle/School or what ever the church calls it, that the Rikki was heading for his 2nd pick up once I was already comfortable seated in the old London taxi, complete with Nedbank branding from top to toe.
The passenger in waiting was a 16 year old cute little thing extremely overladen with bags and guitars and more bags. Files, novels, textbooks and science projects all included in her load scholarary paraphernalia. I helped the young thing into the Rikki while she explained in the strangest English that only parents or teachers get to experience, how she is always carrying so much stuff and what an effort it was. Not complaining mind you, just commenting through some deeply drawn breaths and rosy red cheeks brought on by the effort. Now this was clearly one of the studious girls of the Convent paying much diligence to her studies and academia rather than on the other distractions and vices a 16 year old faces at that delicate age. Yet her ability to talk to me was incredibly sad to see. There was no awkwardness nor embarrassment at all, just an extremely limited set of skills - and I am not talking traditional ones that a Duchess would be sent to Switzerland finishing school to acquire- just a basic switch from her favoured buddies speak to be able to talk to a 35 year old. Not able I am afraid to report. I did find it poor form I must admit. Then it came time to pay the taxi and she had no clue how to adapt to make him understand where he was to take her or how she would prefer a certain break down in her change from paying a cheap fare with her R100 bill.
I helped Miss keen bean school girl out the car with all her baggage and marveled at the level communication, or as this case unfolded, the lack there of. The Rikki dude was clearly not aware in the least and carried on to the location I had asked him for. Now while waiting for the car in a dodgy part of Woodstock a little 9 year old comes cruising along the road with a dilapidated soccer ball under his arm. I motioned for the lytjie to drop the ball and have a kick about with me. He looked at me as if I was freak show. So I went for a more explanatory tact of communication and said "hey ... kom ons speel" hey come lets play. The little droll just walks straight past me. No fear, no jealous possession of his ball, just a total lack of energy or understanding to what I thought was an ingrained in guys young and old when there is a ball in our midst and an opportunity to kick it, throw it, lob it, pitch it or hit it to each other.
Is the interaction between today's youngsters and their elders slipping to levels of grave concern as quickly as I think they are? Don't get me wrong. I think there are incredible children out there with skills way beyond what elder generations had, but its like having a brand new car with all the fun stuff and you don't know how to actually drive. It could be a difficult battle to strike a balance with all the incredibly awesome opportunities that are available to the under 18's and keeping them involved in real life at the same time. I hear that these days when a 14 year old pops round to visit his/her buddy to 'play' for the afternoon or for a sleepover, it's not uncommon for them to sit in separate rooms on two different computers to talk to each other and those 'out there'. I think the potential for these fortunate kids is phenomenal if they are kept in touch with the many other benefits of life that are still worthwhile to them besides the new new stuff. Things that are real are still easily the most important as we are finding out, sometimes at the harsh end of some difficult experience. Real food is better than processed crap, real medicine is better than that which is made in a laboratory (still learning the lessons here) and Real people are better for children to interact with when growing up then the other options.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
So I arrived at this event on about 45% full as only ended up having 3 weeks to train and some of that needed to be recovery from the training ... anyway I did about 6 runs totalling 100km in those three weeks and rocked up at the event with running buddy Greg Goodall who would do the three days with me.
The event turned out to be as tough ... so tough in fact that I struggled to overcome the challenge ... I just managed it though so was happy with that.
Anyway that's not what the blog is about. I wanted to write about what happened on the 2nd night of the event. It was all well catered and comfy for 300 competitors. Greg and I managed to find an extra tent to avoid having to spoon in a tiny one together as many others ended up doing. There was a 'chill out' tent where a surprising amount of beers were drunk and a large tent for dinner and prize giving each night. Now, on the particular night in question, I noticed that those sponsors and brands involved with the event were being called up to be introduced to the audience of competitors and to hand out the odd prize or do a lucky draw or something of that sort. Each time the DJ dude would play some old classic track to spice up the occasion and keep everyone interested. I realised that as the Runner's World Magazine representative I was likely to be called up to present something and I thought to myself how cool it would be if they did call me up, the DJ would play Eye of The Tiger. You see I was wearing a black hoody and I thought it would be cool to put the hood up and do some sparring as I walked up to Eye of The Tiger.
So there I sat waiting to see what was next in the agenda. A guy was called up to do a lucky draw as a promotion for his race that was tacking place on Table Mountain in September. Its a popular race and costs over 200 bucks. The draw was done on a laptop and picked randomly from the 300 competitors. A lady won it and went up for the prize. Cool. Then the music started. For the first time that night the DJ decided to spin Eye Of The Tiger ... I looked around as if people could read my thoughts. I felt so strange, as if everything was open and I was able know anything and in control. There was one more name to pull from the lucky draw. I knew it would be mine. I felt light and content ... the guy called out the number followed by the name RYAN SCOTT.
I was not surprised at all but did feel a bit awkward. Did everybody else know what I knew? Of course not. One of the strangest things that has ever happened to me fore sure. So strange and so powerful in a non intrusive way. What an incredible experience.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
The Coming End of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook Socialism
Thank God for Tech Moguls Who Redistribute VC Wealth So We Can Cybersocialize Freely. For Now, That Is.
Twitter founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone should thank God it was just a cardinal, and not the pope.
Last week, according to the Times of London, Cardinal Sean Brady of Ireland told the country's Catholics to "Make someone the gift of a prayer through text, Twitter or e-mail every day. Such a sea of prayer is sure to strengthen our sense of solidarity with one another."
Oh, my. That's a nice sentiment, but Twitter really doesn't need more users around the world tweeting in ways that can never be monetized. Ireland's got just 4 million Catholics, but the Vatican counts more than a billion baptized Catholics worldwide. If the pope endorsed tweeting prayer, Twitter could be out of business by the end of the year! The 3-year-old company, remember, still lacks a revenue model and just burns through more venture capital every time a new user signs up. (Fortunately, given how retro-conservative Pope Benedict is, he seems more likely to issue a papal encyclical condemning Twitter. We all know it's more likely to enable sin -- pride! sloth! -- than piety.)
It's telling that Cardinal Brady grouped Twitter with texting and e-mail. The former, of course, is a paid service and a massive profit center for cellular carriers around the world, and the latter you also pay for, albeit indirectly, as a service bundled with your monthly internet access or by allowing yourself to be subjected to advertising. (As a Gmail user, I decided to see what would come up when I e-mailed myself the Lord's Prayer. The ads Google served included ones for BeliefNet and Don Helin's paperback pulp thriller "Thy Kingdom Come." Ka-ching!) But when it comes to Twitter, we not only don't pay, but we all take it for granted that somebody's going to keep footing the bill for the rapidly expanding server farms needed to process and store zillions of tweets per minute.
It's sweet, really, that venture capitalists have ponied up millions so that we can all keep tweeting. It's also more than a bit scary. Because more and more of us are increasingly addicted not only to Twitter, but to other services that lack workable business models. What happens if the "dealers" who feed our habits disappear? (It's been known to happen. Last week, for instance, Yahoo announced it was shutting down last century's hot social-networking-esque service, GeoCities, for which it paid $3.5 billion in 1999.)
I've been thinking about all this a lot since I wrote, a few weeks ago, about how Susan Boyle has been on what I called the "Google Dole" -- her fame fueled in a nonsensically nonprofit manner by Google's YouTube unit, which hemorrhages cash serving up too much video with nowhere near enough advertising support. (I'll again refer you to Benjamin Wayne's Silicon Alley Insider piece, "YouTube is Doomed," which deconstructed the recent Credit Suisse report that puts YouTube's estimated 2009 losses at nearly half a billion dollars.) You'd think a clip of Boyle singing a song from "Les Misérables," one of the most popular musicals of all time, on one of the most popular TV shows in the world would be semi-monetizable. (I mean, geez, at the very least stick a pop-up overlay on that video with a link to the "Les Miz" soundtrack on iTunes.) But no. Adam Ostrow at Mashable further proved my point with his piece, "Susan Boyle Video Profits: $0," which explained that disagreement between "Britain's Got Talent" owner ITV and YouTube over pre-roll vs. overlays prevented ad placements in Boyle's YouTube streams.
And then last week The New York Times reported about the hazards of international expansion for the likes of Facebook. Getting million of new users in the Third World, it turns out, really sucks, because Facebook will never really be able to meaningfully monetize those eyeballs. It's tons of cash out (bandwidth, data storage, personnel) with little hope of cash in.
Weirdly, some of the management at these companies don't even seem to be trying that hard to make money -- a consequence, perhaps, of still being awash in millions of dollars of VC money ("venture charity," as I like to call it). In fact, Abbey Klassen, Ad Age's digital editor, tells me that she once heard a Facebook exec joke to an agency exec, "Didn't you know we're a nonprofit?"
I'll go one step further: They're socialists! OK, yes, I'm using the dumbed-down definition of socialism championed by numbskulls like Sarah Palin, but regardless of the finer points of economic theory, you've got to admit that at some level the boys at Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are actively choosing to redistribute the wealth. They're taking money from venture capitalists and deploying it so that millions of people far beyond Silicon Valley can get something for nothing. Entertainment, information, and self-marketing opportunities, mostly.
And, oh yeah, a sense of "connectedness" -- cyber companionship -- which makes this particular era of VC-wealth distribution all the more ... touching. (Let's all be friends -- on someone else's dime! Let's all be perpetually jacked into the hyper-insta-now global hivemind of human consciousness -- for free!)
I am so appreciative. Seriously. I love YouTube, I've made some interesting connections through Facebook, and I enjoy Twittering. (Last week, for instance, I tweeted about an astonishing bit of information I came across in Britain's Daily Telegraph: YouTube "reportedly uses as much bandwidth as the entire internet took up in 2000.")
But I also know it can't go on like this. The digital Robin Hoods can't keep redistributing the wealth forever, because eventually the wealth runs out. Investors get sick of propping up private ventures that don't have viable business models, and shareholders of public companies, like Google, get cranky about flushing cash down the drain.
So what can we do? Not much, I suppose, other than enjoy it while it lasts -- and maybe twitter a prayer for VCs everywhere.
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Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco