Saturday, November 28, 2009


Between reading about the media’s apocalyptic, tide-altering times with “The Chaos Scenario - Amid the Ruins of Mass Media, The Choice for Business is Stark: Listen or Perish” and “Googled: The End of the World as We Know It”, I needed a safe harbor and shelter from the harsh bookish storm.

I found the brackish eddy alongside our port while on a school visit to the Baltimore Museum of Industry beside Key Highway not far from the venerable Domino Sugar plant.

Amongst the ruins of long lost labor was memorabilia with names like Allied Signal, Head and our most recently poorly departed Black & Decker, whose HQs will be exiting north next.

At the museum, children learned about the stuff we once made in this great land and how here in Baltimore we had a hand in much of it, from Henry Ford’s assembly line to printing on movable type by printing press.

Decidedly, if our harbor is ever to again be a beacon to the world, we need to plan and dam quickly for what’s to come, because this new tide of change is no longer just coming, but is already causing us to bail.

Sure, there have been monumental shifts due to innovations and inventions before, but never with the same degree of momentum surging over the gunwales.

If Noah’s flood took forty days and forty nights, the current speed of today’s change is a tsunami and will leave much of what we’ve relied on buried with the tide.

Recall Perchik’s prognostication, “A revolution is coming” in Fiddler On The Roof. I don’t have to tell you how that one turned out.

But when you are in the eye of a storm it’s difficult to know you are in one.

So take a look at Bob Garfield’s Jeremiad, “The Chaos Scenario” where he writes, “Traditional media are in a stage of dire retrenchment as prelude to a complete collapse. Newspapers, magazines and especially TV as we currently know them are fundamentally doomed…”

Or read Ken Auletta’s “Googled”, where he compares this era to other times of historic change whether the wheel, Guttenberg or even electricity and points out that what’s made this one different, is the velocity. “It took telephones seventy-one years to penetrate 50% of American homes, electricity fifty years and TV three decades. The Internet reached more than 50 percent of Americans in a mere decade.” Today that number is over 80%.

So we’ve seen how fast this sea can come in, yet it’s the speed by which it ebbs that’s most devastating. Witness how quickly investments can be cut in half, how quickly dwellings we thought we owned can enter foreclosure and how many businesses that once called Baltimore home can fast become candidates for entry into the Museum of Lost Labor.

It might seem appropriate to ask for leadership to guide us out of this current typhoon, but the whole paradox is that the power is no longer in their hands. It’s in yours and mine.

If you have a digital camera and a computer and these days everyone does, you are a reporter, a photojournalist and an ad exec.

On Youtube you can find a video of a car driving recklessly in a parking lot and suddenly, like one of those Monster Trucks it lands on top of two others. One of the crushed cars was a Hyundai. The next day, Hyundai came out to the same lot and gave the guy who owned the crushed Hyundai a new one. Hyundai filmed their act and posted it to Youtube garnering millions of hits.

What was the other car? No idea. But Hyundai was just named Best Marketer of the Year by Ad Age Magazine.

The irony is there was no ad agency, no television, no newspaper needed. Just you.

Now, pass me an oar.

Abe Novick, whose work is at abenovick.com , writes regularly for the BALTIMORE JEWISH TIMES on the intersection of American and Jewish culture.