Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Whatever Happened to Driving Nowhere?

When we were really desperate to drive somewhere, anywhere, we would pry out the back seat of the Mercury to look for loose change. In the bowels of the strange brown matting beneath the seat we would find nickels, dimes, pennies, and every now and then, a precious quarter. It may not sound like much now, but gas was 22 cents a gallon in those days, so 50 cents bought us some quality time on the back roads of New England.

We could take the old MG out by the reservoir and watch the beams of light from the headlights bounce off the rows and rows of pine trees that made up the watershed. After midnight, with the top down, all we could hear was the roar of the wind and the purr of the motor. Long straight roads were our late night entertainment as we pushed the MG to see just how fast it could go. The speedometer hit sixty, seventy, eighty, and sometimes ninety before the lights of an oncoming car would force us to click off the high-beams and ease off the accelerator.

Other teenagers parked at “the plaza” and went from car to car, making up lies about who was having sex and who wasn’t, which “good girls” really weren’t good girls, and countless other topics of absolutely no importance that whiled away their time. We, on the other hand, had to be on the move. The whole point of having a car was to be in it, to be one with it, and to always, always keep moving. Could we make it to the border of the next state and back on less than half a tank of gas? It’s not as hard as it sounds in a region of small states, but it was about the adventure. We tested our driving skill and teenage luck.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see how invulnerable we thought we were. It never occurred to us that you might lose control of an Oldsmobile Starfire doing 110 m.p.h. out on the interstate. All we knew back then was that our instincts were telling us to get out on the highway and drive.

Whatever happened to driving nowhere? Four dollar per gallon gas would be one answer, but maybe computers and video games provide a vicarious (and safer) sense of escapism. Besides, cars have become so complex that we no longer understand how they operate, and where’s the romance of that?

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Tel-Spell Madness

Are you as sick of phone numbers that spell things as I am?

I’m talking about 1-800-MY APPLE, 1-800-CALL ATT, 1-800-THE CARD, 1-800-COLLECT, 1-800-CONTACTS, 1-800-GO FEDEX, 1-800-FLOWERS, 1-800-MATTRESS, 1-800-METLIFE, 1-800-PICK-UPS, and 1-800-WESTERN.

What about 1-800-HAIRLOSS? 1-800-CANTPEE? 800-SEESRED? 800-GEEZERS?

Call 1-800-U-R-IDIOT because you have to spend extra time looking at the phone buttons in order to dial the number.

If you’re old enough, you remember when there were place names in front of the numbers, such as MUrray Hill 5-9975 (the number for the Ricardos on I Love Lucy). Likewise, PEnnsylvania 6-5000 and BEechwood 4-5789 made popular in songs, or BUtterfield, LUdlow and hundreds of others. As more and more people got phones, there were not enough numbers to go around, and that’s when AT&T went to all number calling.

Now we’ve come full circle and advertisers hit us with letters that spell out what they want us to do or what they want us to buy. You can even go to DialABC to find out if your number spells out anything, or to convert words to numbers.

At least some advertisers put the all number translation in parenthesis after the letters so you don’t have to waste time doing it yourself. This is also useful to foreign callers who are frequently baffled by a series of letters that means absolutely nothing to them when their phones have only numbers printed on the dial buttons.

I’m putting my money on voice dialing. Every phone will have it some day soon and then none of us will need to look at numbers or letters. If we see a number on our computer or TV screens, you’ll probably be able to click it with your mouse or laser pointer and it will dial up the call for you. It won’t be long before we forget our own phone numbers (that’s already happening to lots of cell phone users).

Maybe phone letters will have a useful function after all. They might play a role in helping us remember our own numbers. Telephomnemonics is the term coined for using letters to remember phone numbers. Now you just have to ask the phone company for 800-IFORGET (800-436-7438).

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

They’re All A-Twitter

If you haven’t come across it yet, there’s a new internet social networking tool known as Twitter. Their slogan is “What are you doing?” And my rejoinder is “It’s none of your business.”

Suddenly the “whole world’s a-twitter” is what it says on their website, but maybe the world is just full of twits who need to tell you everything they are doing. "I am taking a bath now. I have a bad case of diarrhea. We were going to have sex but Hank can’t maintain an erection. Julie and I were going to have dinner out but she says she’s all gassy."

You are limited to 140 characters in your message so you can’t get all literary with it. Would William Faulkner or Truman Capote be Twitter fans if they were still alive? Maybe Capote, but Faulkner? Never.

Twitter calls it being hyper-connected, but it seems to me that it’s another case of TMI – too much information. The funniest claim they make is “Twitter puts you in control and becomes a modern antidote to information overload.” The only control you have is to shut the damn thing off so that you don’t have to witness the constant stream of useless information being beamed at you every time you log on to your computer. It’s not an antidote to overload, it is the overload!

One of their endorsements reads as follows: "If you aren't familiar with Twitter, it is one of those things, like MySpace, that sounds totally ridiculous and stupid when you first hear about it. But once you start using it, you realize how much fun it is." That constitutes an endorsement? It’s fun to know exactly what your friends are up to every minute of the day? You can be sure their constant stream of "tweets" will hold you spellbound.

The big knock on baby boomers has always been how self-centered we are, but I would have to say that anyone who needs to tell everyone else what they are doing all day, every day, has a lot more ego issues than boomers ever had.

I get that Twitter wasn’t targeted to boomers, but that doesn’t calm my fears that twenty-somethings are spending their days all a-twitter. I want them out there working hard to pay for my social security, not twittering away their days. You think America is going to continue to be the world leader in worker productivity with gimmicks like Twitter nibbling away at our best workers? I don’t think so.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.


That’s right – we want a little respect here. There are over 100 million consumers in the United States who are 50+ years old. But look at the ads on TV (forget Depends) and you would think only 20-somethings have any money to spend.

The reality is that those 100 million consumers have about $8 trillion in assets and 70 percent of the disposable dollars in the U.S.

So what’s the problem? I used to think that the conventional wisdom among advertising execs was that you want to focus on the 18-24 demographic to win their hearts and minds at an early age and maintain their loyalty over the long haul. However, the latest research is demonstrating that the 18 to 49 demo is no more willing to demonstrate brand loyalty than the over 50 demo.

It doesn’t help that most advertising creatives are in their 30s and 40s – it gives them a great sense of how to sell to their peers, but for the over 50 crowd – not so much. Some ad agencies are beginning to lessen their reliance on demographics and put more stock in psychographics – the study of personality, values, attitudes, interests and lifestyles. That’s okay with me as long as they don’t pigeon hole us as being only in the market for denture products and funeral homes.

Sometimes, products that are meant for a younger demo take a strange twist. The classic case for this is the Honda Element. The initial spin for this boxy looking vehicle was that it was a “dorm on wheels,” so they clearly thought it was going to appeal to 20-somethings. When sales exceeded expectations, they analyzed their sales data and discovered that the average buyer was over 44 years old. Boomers were buying them to haul the dogs and carry their gear to second homes. Amazingly, this discovery led to an analysis on their part as to “what did we do wrong.”

Boomers need cars, homes, vacations, gadgets, flatscreen TVs, running shoes, gourmet foods, wine, drugs, and hundreds of other consumer goods, and we have the money to pay for it. And since we are going to live longer, we are going to keep paying for these consumer goods for a lot longer.

So I’m not going to tell you advertising people again – we want some respect. When do we want it? We want it now!

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.