In the saddle with a lance and a gasmask

I’m well into the second episode of Hardcore History’s series on the First World War. I can tell you about the second all day long, but I’ve never spent much time on the original.

What’s striking about the war itself is watching as 19th-century gentlemen-soldiers, with frilly 19th-century uniforms and a romanticized 19th-century outlook of war, run headlong into a 20th-century machine gun fire. It wasn’t the first time that industrialized technology saw battle, but it was the first time that major powers faced each other using these technologies. What happens when 19th century people have to solve for a 20th century battlefield?

The French rode off to war wearing metal breastplates, white gloves and red pants. It was honorable for officers to stand and wave their sabres around during firefights. It didn’t take long to learn that charging calvary at machine guns presented some problems. Thousand year old tactics suddenly made obsolete, the entire war becomes a series of experiments. Lose a few hundred thousand troops using one tactic, switch it up.

While it’s easy to condescend to generals sending hundreds of thousands of people armed for Waterloo to a front line of drum artilary and chemical gas attacks, I get the feeling, a century later, we are at a similar crossroads. People are going to look back and see 20th century people dealing with 21st century technology. An estuary between ages.

Governments are still using the word “cyber.” The hacking and data collection that we hear about is only a fraction of a percentage of what is really going on. ISIS uses video on the web successfully, the US learns from that and begins to counter with videos of their own. Modern warfare is as much about communication, data, and ideas as it is about troops on the ground.

On the civilian side, we’re using the most disruptive technology ever invented as a new way to watch television, read books, listen to radio and send mail. We’re using 21st century technology for 20th century ideas of media and interaction. If you need any evidence that marketing hasn’t figured out what to do with the internet, look no further than the continued use of display advertising, despite overwhelming evidence of its ineffectiveness.

The more I think about it, the more I’m starting to think that being born before the Internet was widely in use isn’t all that different from having been born before electricity. When people look back, they’re going see us just as we see that German on horseback, carrying a lance and wearing a gasmask.

Telly on the Internet

Russell has written a great post about the BBC being innovative with storytelling on the Internet before iPlayer enabled them to become lazy:

If you really work at it, you can always make the internet fit the business model you understand.

I’m not saying this to carp. (Except a bit.) I’m saying this because the biggest challenge in Digital Transformation is not in the initial refocusing on a new organising principle, it’s in resisting the steady drift back to the old one.

Or, worse, to something that looks like the new one but is, in fact, the old one.

The BBC did strong, important refocusing work in putting ‘online services’ right up there in their charter alongside ‘television and radio’ – with equal weight and status. The inevitable drift back towards telly has turned online services into ‘telly on the internet’.

I’d argue that the Cannes Cyber Lion has created an entirely new and innovative way for telly to win Cannes Lions.

Mobile Shopping or No Shopping

Emarketer released a report in which mobile was shown to be augmenting, not replacing, retail stores:

Even as many retailers dawdle, consumers continue to change their shopping behaviors. They still head to stores to actually purchase, but they shop continuously on their devices. Smartphones aren’t replacing stores—they’re augmenting them. In 2015, for the first time, the majority of sales in stores will be influenced by digital media, according to Forrester Research.

Mobile has been a part of how I’ve shifted my shopping habits. I still expect to have my wrist slapped when I’m in-store and scanning barcodes for Amazon reviews. But I’ve been doing that for a long time.

The bigger shift over the past year or two, for me anyways, has been less about mobile and more about the elimination of shopping in the first place. When sites like The Wirecutter and The Sweethome do such a fantastic job of pointing readers towards best-in-category products with an accompanying link to buy on Amazon, why would I browse the aisles of a store?

The new assumption is that anything on the shelves at a Target or Best Buy is going to be subpar. It won’t be good enough. A mistake. Even if I get a recommedation online and I want to buy at a brick and morter, the chances of finding exactly what I’m looking for are slim.

So yeah, retailers need mobile. But then what?

The Answer is the Unchanging

Jeff Bezos’ advice for anyone running a business:

If you want to build a successful, sustainable business, don’t ask yourself what could change in the next ten years that could affect your company.

Instead, ask yourself what won’t change, and then put all your energy and effort into those things.

Reminds me of Bernbach’s thoughts on the unchanging man:

It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary.

It is fashionable to talk about the changing man.

A communication must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.

There is a fundamental nature to things, ambivalent to the steady march of shiny technologies and data of various sizes.

It doesn’t mean those things can be ignored. They just can’t bear the weight of the long term.

Yesterday was tax preparation day. It was also Super Bowl Sunday.

I’m not much of an NFL fan. I’ve never had a favorite team. I thought that the Dallas Cowboys were my team when I was a kid. But that was because my dad is from Fort Worth and I had an officially licensed pillow-case.

Wearing Dallas Cowboys gear in the DC suburbs, at a time when the Redskins were winning Super Bowls, at an elementary school that considered the Redskins fight song essential curriculum, didn’t have me running to sign-up as a fan. I was an insurgent, deep in enemy territory, on the losing side of a cause I wasn’t fighting for.

I didn’t follow football until college, where fandom is grafted onto your bones like Adamantium. Your body in constant pain as it tries to heal itself for the rest of time. It’s an intense experience that causes people in the deep south to shoot at each other if things don’t go their way. NFL fandom seems a little boring in comparison to the white hot passion and stray bullets of college football season.

I don’t think it’s as simple as just picking a team and leaning-in. No, you can’t have it all, ladies. If Saturday is full of college football, you can’t possibly make Sunday all about the NFL while also having a house, kids, and oxygen in your blood, you have to also be ready to have a fantasy football team and follow fantasy news. And if you haven’t grown up with a local team to go nuts about, choosing one is an arbitrary exercise, like picking a favorite mineral to follow.

Which is all to say that I’ve been doing my taxes on Super Bowl Sunday for the past three years. Yesterday included. Super Bowl Sunday makes a fantastic annual tax day. It’s far enough into the year that you have all of your various W2s and 1099s, but it’s not so far that you can’t find a tax guy to figure out if you’ve screwed up, or if you really have to leave the country.

The best part is that while the rest of the US is 7-layers deep in store-bought dip and dumfounded at the best that the advertising industry has to offer, you’re earning the right to act smug and write a blog post on the following Monday.