The recent violence in Broad Ripple has freaked me out a little. The split personality of daytime/nighttime Broad Ripple is reaching a boiling point. As a Broad Ripple business/building owner I hate to see the village I love be on the front page of the news for violence. What got us here and how do we address this problem? Should we just put more police on the street?Read More
Everywhere you go people are staring at screens. I’m just as bad. In line at Starbucks- escape to the tiny screen! Taking a walk- let's check Facebook! Pulling up to a stoplight- save me from boredom oh tiny screen! We are getting further and further away from full sensory experiences and being pulled deeper and deeper into increasingly thin experiences via screens.
Why do I think screen experiences are thin? They barely engage our senses. We use our hands and eyes and maybe our ears but the medium itself (the screen) is hardly remarkable. This is a bigger problem than you might think.
Memories feed off of physical and emotional markers. Simply put, we don’t remember many digital experiences very well. Study after study has shown this. You are more likely to remember content from a paperback than a Kindle. The physical anchor of that paperback creates stronger memories. Same with emotion. Memories that have stronger emotions connected to them are more likely to stick.
This is why digital communication sucks- conference calls, email, etc. They all strip out emotion- the undertones in our voices, the body language, the physicality of a letter- all gone with most of these communications. People just don’t remember stuff when their senses aren't fully engaged. They aren't fully present- not even to mention they are probably multi-tasking.
I long for a day when we no longer have to stare at screens all day to do meaningful work. A musician buddy of mine, Vess Ruhtenberg, said to me recently- “I don’t think I would have started recording if I’d gone to a studio and everyone was starting at screens. What appealed to me was how studios looked like the deck of the Starship Enterprise”. I totally get that. There are many beautiful, wonderful things that technology has brought up but the screen is proving to be one of my least favorite. I’m hoping that the lords of tech will help us get beyond the screen and bring rich, human interaction back to technology as it existed pre-screens.
Yes, I totally get the irony that this post was written and read entirely on a screen. I wanted to send you all a hand written letter but... and yes, I also know you will probably not remember any of this. Damn screens!
Some research and references for this rant:
When I was in the auction and antique business we had a saying- “it’s all about the stuff”. And it was true. If you had great “stuff” people would show up in at a barn in the middle of nowhere to buy it. And this is still true in many ways. The best art, antiques, furniture, etc, still gets a premium price but the rest of it is increasingly just “stuff” and sells for whatever it sells for, there is less and less of a floor for antiques and collectibles.
This is not an isolated trend. Objects are transitioning from destination to vessel. Older generations amassed collections of “mint in box” objects- dolls, pottery, etc. But more recent generations collect experiences- stories, photos, videos, etc. Before, a collector's quest was a complete collection of objects (Hummel figurines, for instance), now it is a complete set of experiences (a fully realized persona/story).
This is not to say all physical objects have lost their relevance, it’s just that their role is changing. They are increasingly playing a supporting role to experiences.
As we have begun to collect experiences the objects accumulate meaning by association. That experience, or story, ties itself to the physical object and deepens that object's meaning in our lives. It goes from being anonymous to personal. To gather this meaning the object must color and add to the experience in some way.
Consider our phones, those marvelous little things that follow with us wherever we go. A phone only has value as the device which enables and documents experiences. We understand that we can quickly backup and reload the data on another device. In many ways the data is more real to us than the device. The device itself has passing relevance. It adds very little color to our experiences. It's no surprise that very few people collect digital devices, mostly we recycle them.
So where does this leave us? Value is shifting from stuff to experiences, from collecting items to collecting memories. The objects that remain in our lives will mostly fall into two categories- they will fill a very basic human need or they will be tied to an experience. Toilets or totems. “Stuff" that falls in-between risks obsolescence. So if you want to bring more objects into this world I suggest you find ways to tie them to compelling experiences.
I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know who Carl G Fisher was until a couple years ago. My buddy Dan Ripley turned me on to him. He kept going on about everything Carl had done- the Speedway, Indy 500, Prest-O-Lite, the Lincoln Highway, (the first transcontinental highway) the Dixie Highway, Miami Beach, Montauk Bay… it seemed impossible that one guy could have been responsible for so much and yet known so little. If you think I’m making this up then check out his Wikipedia page.
So I dug in and Dan’s obsession became mine. I read a biography over vacation and then another when I got back. I began to see something very specific in Carl’s life, something, perhaps, unique to Indianapolis.
Carl never cared much about recognition, despite being a brilliant marketer, he hated being in the spotlight and rarely gave interviews. But this didn't stop him from pulling brilliant marketing stunts when needed. See the picture above from the Indy Star when he flew a car across the city attached to a hot air balloon to promote his auto-dealership (the first in the state). For Carl it was always about the idea. He loved cars, planes, boats...anything that went fast, he was obsessed with speed.
He left his name on none of his achievements. Carl served whatever idea captured his attention and felt that any focus on him was a waste of time. That being said, he had one of the most interesting personalities of his time. Stubborn and persistent, charming when needed, whatever it took to get something done.
I see so much of that entrepreneurial DNA still bouncing around Indy. People coming together to do great things, not worrying about the credit. I see this spirit alive in many Indianapolis entrepreneurs and residents. Sometimes we chide ourselves for our lack of ego but I suggest we look at the life Carl lived as an example of a deeply passionate and impactful life in the service of big ideas, not big egos.
I urge you to take some time and get to know Carl, he’s someone well worth obsessing over.
It was 1996 and I lived in Bloomington with 3 of my closest friends. It was our last year of college. We were all fans of Big Star, myself especially. I realize not everyone reading this is a music nerd so here's their Wikipedia page. Big Star was a rock band from the early 1970s that influenced almost every "Alternative/Indie" band that came after them- REM, The Replacements, Teenage Fan Club, etc. They put out three albums, going from pristine power pop to heartbreaking sketches held together by threads. When I first heard Big Star's "Big Black Car" in 1991 it felt like I'd made land. It gave me a new vocabulary, a new world to explore. I was in love.
So me and my friends decided to go on a pilgrimage to Big Star's home town of Memphis. We piled into a 70s Econoline van with no seats in the back. We decided to turn it into a living room on wheels, pulling in every blanket, pillow and bean bag we could find along with our guitars. We didn't have a plan as much as a map. But I knew what success looked like for me. I wanted to find some original Big Star albums, on vinyl, the real stuff.
I hadn't really started collecting records before then. I switched to CDs around 1984, an early adopter I guess. CDs sounded so amazing back then. No background noise, just bright, crisp and consistent sound. They seemed so much better than records. Now I know that in reality I probably just needed a new needle for my turntable- in fact, I think this was a big driver of the CD revolution, people had gotten lazy and their records all sounded noisy and dull thanks to old needles.
By the mid-90s I'd started listening to records again and was liking how they sounded, how they felt more "real" than CDs. But finding rare records back then was a real challenge- no internet, no eBay. Original Big Star records were, and still are, pretty rare things, selling for $50+ when you can find them. You almost never see them in the "wild", i.e. record stores. But I figured if any place would have a Big Star record it would be their hometown of Memphis.
After digging through a number of Memphis record stores and coming up empty I was beginning to give up hope. Then I got lucky at the last store we visited. I asked the guy behind the counter if he knew how I could track down some Big Star records. He completely shocked me when he said "actually I was just at a garage sale for an old Ardent Records employee (Ardent was Big Star's original label in Memphis) and they had the first two records but without the jackets, I guess they were promos or something. Not sure if you still want them but I can do $8 each". He then went behind the counter and pulled them out. Sure, I would have loved to have the original jackets but I was thrilled to get them for so cheap. That's one of the records (#1 Record, to be specific, what a great title for a first album!) in the picture above. I listened to it while writing this post. I have a much "better" copy now I still like to listen to this one. Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems to carry some of my personal history in its grooves.
So here's where I going with all this, I believe that physical objects can attach themselves to our memory in a deeper way than digital objects. Think of your phone, almost no-one saves their old phones. It's the content on that phone that matters, not the vessel that carries it. For most people, losing a phone is simply an inconvenience (buy new phone, hit restore), not an emotional event. We don't feel like we have lost any of ourselves in losing that device. I did a little research on this topic and came across some studies that show we remember content better when reading on paper vs screen.
I think some of this stems from the fact that reading on paper engages more of our senses. The more senses we engage, the richer the memory. I believe the same goes with records. We have a deeper connection with the sound we are hearing when we know it is coming from a physical object- one with artwork and grooves, something we can physically engage with, one that can travel with us through time and build its own life alongside ours. It is no longer just sound we are hearing, it is our sound, it is our object, we own it and it becomes part of us. When we lose it, we lose part of ourselves. When we give it away we share part of ourselves with others. I love giving people records for this reason, it feels like I am connecting with them on a deeper level.
Over time I have come to see my record collection as my memory bank. Every record tells a story. In the past few years I have started hiding little ephemera in-between the records. Little drawings my kids have done, tickets from shows, cards from my wife, letters from my parents. These things matter more and more to me as so much of my life becomes digitized.
I'm not a hater of digital things, they are awesome in their own way, but our digital experiences often feel thinner than their analog counterparts- like going from whole milk to skim. Digital experiences don't engages us as deeply, they don't travel with us through life, they become "outta sight, outta mind" far too often. I expect to see more of us going back to analog objects and experiences as we find digital experiences more and more unfulfilling. I think the opportunity here is to bridge the analog and digital worlds, finding ways to create meaningful experiences that jump between the two. I look at our friends over at BrainTwins as pioneers in this new handicraft digital world. I love how they move seamlessly between analog and digital experiences.
So I hope we can find the right balance, embracing analog and digital experiences while pursuing the magic that happens when they come together. Oh, and Long Live Vinyl!