Social Media Week* unfurled at a dozen cities around the globe last week. I was fortunate to attend several events in Los Angeles and enjoyed the irony of finding pleasure and purpose in interacting with people in the flesh (real live human beings!) rather than via Tweets, blog comments, and Facebook messaging. Read more
Hyper communication is not necessarily effective communication. Sure, we increasingly have access to almost any person or piece of information at any time. But too often we just talk or Tweet past each other, sticking to scripts without really listening. If nothing else, the modern age is a boon for irony.
The ongoing strife in Washington brings this to mind, naturally. But this is an everyday problem, for just about all the frustrations you and I are likely to have are related to communications, and technology has done little to free us from the drudgery of ourselves.
Carmageddon begins today. That’s what wags are calling the traffic nightmare that’s supposed to befall Los Angeles because of the three-day surgical closure of the Westside’s main artery, the 405 freeway. It might as well be called Karmageddon; it seems fitting that L.A.’s lifeblood mobility should come back to strangle it.Since we're avoiding the roads, we're left to transport ourselves with thought, and here’s one that seems apropos: the English language is a lot of fun. We can play with it endlessly, savoring its ancient words and idiosyncratic pronunciation, while concocting new terms sharp or sweet with meaning.Wordlovers are forever coming up with their list of favorites. (Wordlover is no more a "proper" word than carma- or karmageddon, yet. It's just more descriptive than the more correct logophile. Common usage tolerates the violation. In fact it doesn't give a damn.) Deshoda.com, cribbing from a blog called So Much to Tell You, recently presented a selection of 100 of the “most beautiful” [http://bit.ly/qJvnfs]. Many selections shimmered on the (web)page – how can one argue with epiphany, sumptuous, or woebegone? Then there were “ailurophile” (meaning cat-lover) and “chatoyant” (like a cat’s eye). Uh … no. Honestly, when are you ever going to use those terms (and still have people willing to associate with you)?
Other offerings such as "ratatouille" made no sense at all. Love the word, love the dish, love the movie. But it’s purebred French. If that qualifies, then why not put Beaujolais on the list? Phooey is a more worthy candidate. Oh, well. Everyone spouts an opinion in a democracy, which English not incidentally fosters because it's inclined to let people follow their bliss.English is a mutt with French, Germanic, Latin, Greek and other parentage, and its best words tend to be resilient old simpletons and crazy bastards. Whatever their etymologies, English boasts an astounding hoard, more than half a million gems and nuggets, and its enterprising promiscuity adds to the trove each day like a smartphone does apps.If you're a certain kind of person it can leave you feeling a little giddy. (Does nerdy rhyme with wordy for a reason?) Bang, dazzle, glee, languid, mist, perky, pesky, pipsqueak, resplendence, sigh, silly, smidgen, soft, velvet, whimsy, whisper, zephyr … Whoa, I feel dizzy.Of them all, I particularly favor the word laugh. You can’t help but smile just saying, or even looking at, that word. It gladdens the heart. “Love,” “joy,” and “grace” prompt much the same response – how can you resist them? They’ll help see us through any -mageddon life throws at us.
It’s not just mobile devices that are increasingly “smart” – they’ve earned their sobriquet by greatly boosting their owners’ intelligence as well. Consider how they’ve broken the bar code, that series of thick and thin vertical lines attached to a product that contains price information and helps vendors track inventory. Now your clever little hand held friend can scan it and track down the best price, wherever it may be. You may only need you to type or speak the name (or even just description) of your object of desire. And shazaam: the best deals, online and in stores.Retailers have grown afraid of these ruthless new competitors residing in the pockets of their erstwhile customers. But not nearly enough.Almost half (45 percent) of shoppers with smartphones use them to do on-the-spot price checks, according to consulting firm IDC Retail Insights, putting huge pressure on retailers to compete on price – on everything, all the time.The big box has become a big sponge, letting all sorts of precious, valuable information in and out. “The four walls of the store have become porous,” Greg Girard of IDC told The Wall Street Journal. “The retailer’s advantage has been eroded.” [WSJ, 12/16/10]That leaves the salesman with less and less to do. Almost three quarters (73 percent) of shoppers with smartphones preferred to consult their mobiles rather than an appliance jockey on the floor, according to a 10-nation study in 2010 conducted by the big management consultancy Accenture.The casualties are already mounting. Best Buy, the nation’s largest electronics chain, saw its stock plunge before Christmas 2010 (typically its most lucrative period) after it conceded it was losing market share, which analysts said was due at least in part to mobile-equipped bargain shoppers.On the day retailers traditionally go “into the black” for the year (dubbed “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving), 5.6 percent of shoppers used a mobile device to access retail sites in 2010 – a 56-fold increase in one year, according to Coremetrics, an IBM division that measures e-commerce activity. [WSJ, 12/16/10] Soon enough it will be the percentage of those not shopping with their mobiles that will be in the single digits.There are ways for retailers to suck it up and make lemonade from the new reality. Beleaguered Best Buy, for instance, has partnered with TheFind (which was downloaded 400,000 in its debut month) to target consumers with ads while they’re in the store – or at a competitor’s like WalMart. “That is an opportunity to steal a sale right when someone is in the throes of making a decision,” Barry Judge, Best Buy’s chief marketing officer, told The Wall Street Journal. “That is what makes mobile so powerful.” And shameless.Siva Kumar, chief executive of TheFind, is unapologetic of playing both sides of the transaction. “It is not a consumer-only game,” he told the Journal. “Retailers can use it to their advantage.”Nobody said war was pretty, but competing strictly on price is a losing battle, especially with the high upkeep of physical stores. More promising survival tactics would include:
Selling merchandise that customers can’t get anywhere else
Bundling special services with products
Removing or encrypting bar codes to stymie deal-seeking mobile customers
No matter how retailers adjust to the mobile age, it seems clear there will be less need for so many or such large retail showrooms, especially those selling commoditized merchandise or stuff readily available on the web. You have to wonder what’s going to happen to the commercial real estate market when this realization really sinks in.
Forget about rooting around in the sofa cushions for your remote control. Just reach for your mobile. It’s soon all you’ll need to navigate your life – not just on Facebook or Mapquest but among the ever-expanding choices you’ll have on internet-fed TV.A number of companies already make apps designed to task your mobile device as a remote control. Google’s TV app runs on Android or iOS (iPhone, iPad); Apple’s TV app only on Apple’s own iOS devices. Google’s has voice search; the Apple Remote app lets you control your Apple TV as you would your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. http://rww.to/eJ1DcmNot known as speedy technology adopters, pay TV distributors are also in the game of enabling mobile devices to serve as remote controls and program navigators. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Dish Network, Verizon and others have apps for iOS and Android devices. http://bit.ly/dK55DwVerizon’s FiOS Mobile Remote app lets customers change channels, manage parental controls, pause, rewind and fast forward or record a TV show. Customers can also click on the video on demand (VOD) button or switch to live TV. And here’s an interesting bonus: customers can transfer apps from the mobile device to the TV. http://rww.to/eJ1DcmCertainly viewers crave new ways to search and discover content, to escape the up-down-left-right “grid” that has displayed program line-ups for decades. Universal remotes have tried to solve the problem of choice but they’re too big or too complicated. If we’ve learned one thing about consumer electronics it’s this: it has to be easy to appeal to the masses.The remote control even as it is still plays a crucial function. Its real estate is consequently highly valuable. Television will feature more apps as it becomes an appliance of the Internet, and those apps will compete for viewers’ attention. No wonder streaming movie provider Netflix has struck deals with TV manufacturers to feature a Netflix button on next-generation remote controls (yes, even before they become an app on your mobile). [ http://on.wsj.com/icYxJY] With Amazon, Apple, Hollywood, and the cable companies gearing up to keep Netflix from extending its lead in movie exhibition, you can’t blame the scrappy company from thinking ahead. Which is the lesson for all of us in the rapidly moving tech-dominated world: think and act strategically or get buried under someone’s backside.