Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Change without progress.

Last night, though my wife and I had just flown in from the Caribbean, arriving in our apartment at six, we had dinner plans with my oldest friend, Fred, and his wife of 29 years, Celia.

Fred and I met when we were 13-year-old ninth-graders and before long, we became best friends. Though we come from dramatically different backgrounds—his dad was a New York City cop and mine was a New York City copywriter, and he’s black and I’m white, Fred and I have stayed friends for almost 43 years.

And when Fred was ambushed and laid low by cancer late last year, Fred and I despite our four-decades of closeness, became even closer. We became closer in that we talked about life and mortality and aging. We became closer because we were there together during the worst of times, as earlier we had been together during some of the best of times.

Last night my wife Laura and I met Fred and his wife Celia at a little restaurant in midtown. For perhaps the first time in my life the first half-hour of conversation was dedicated to things medical. The big question…how is the big C? How are you doing. i.e. are you going to live?

Fortunately, Fred seems to be doing fine.

Late in the evening, the talk turned to children. Fred has two boys just a bit younger than my two girls. Like my two girls, neither of Fred’s sons are ensnared by social media, but Fred’s oldest son, Michael “got into it” this summer as he was working an internship at a PR firm.

Somehow, from talking about social media, we began talking about hipsters. Neither Fred nor Celia, both of whom are lawyers knew what a hipster is. They live in suburban New Jersey. They’re lawyers. They just don’t run across hipsters in their day-to-day.

I tried to explain. In Yiddish, you could say I “fun-ferred” around. I couldn’t put my finger on a good definition or example.

And then it hit me.

A hipster is someone who believes in change without progress. Or, perhaps better, believes that change is progress.

When I think about advertising and the uses of social media and other forms of “digital marketing,” I can clearly see the enormous havoc they have wreaked on our industry and on the media industry in general.

But has anything gotten better?

Finding out information about a product is nearly impossible. Finding a differentiated brand is similarly slippery. Finding a brand you like (though purportedly you are having conversations with many of them) is as difficult as finding an independent bookstore.

Has “news” improved now that it is 24 hours?
Has “art” improved now that we have “millions of colors”?
Have movies improved now that everyone has studio capabilities?
Has advertising improved through crowd sourcing?

Sometimes I avoid the subway and eschew taxis and walk the nearly three miles from my office to my apartment. As I walk I remember.

An independent bookstore used to be there. A real Hungarian restaurant across the street. A genuine non-chain-store ice-cream parlor was on the corner.

They’re all gone now. Forced out by circumstances and more. Look, there’s a new nail salon. Another Starbucks, just one block from another Starbucks that’s just one block from another Starbucks. And chain stores.

There are forces behind this, of course. Globalization, for one. Changing tastes, etc. And I, like King Canute cannot hold back the tide. (Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina taught us that nothing can, though as a society we do nothing about global warming.)

But there is change that is progress.

And then there's our era today.

Change. Without progress.


Rob Hatfield said...

Or possibly change that is actually regressive. I believe the world is taking a turn for the worse.

george tannenbaum said...

Rob, I agree with you.

In this post, I was trying to be gentle.

Sean Peake said...

As we age, must we all become George Bowling? Some things may change for the worse, but those that have improved we don't notice anymore. They have slipped unnoticed into our everyday lives.
Sure, I may pine for objects and places of my past. That happens to every generation. But I also enjoy countless things my parents did not. I have more choice and greater access to ideas and knowledge (past and present)from around the world. I can read the opinions of people similar to me online and even make a comment to them (by typing in some f**king capthingy I have to keep refreshing because I can never read goddamn thing first or second time). I can use my phone to see and speak to my grandchildren who live miles away. All this and a lot more has happened in less than 15 years. It is hard to imagine what things we will choose to make part of our everyday lives over the next 20.