Sunday, August 03, 2008

Luddites Of The World Unite-- McCain Has A Plan To Turn Back Time


Before moving on the blogging, I worked for AOLTimeWarner's Warner Bros Records. My last job for them was as president of Reprise Records (a label with artists like Green Day, Eric Clapton, Depeche Mode, Fleetwood Mac, Barenaked Ladies, Lou Reed, Joni Mitchell, Morrissey, Neil Young, Enya, Wilco...). Since then TimeWarner sold-- more like dumped-- their music division which has now shrunk down to about a third of what it had been and seems to stay afloat by selling bonds to hapless and sentimental Baby Boomers rather than CDs to savvy music lovers from the post-MTV Gen Y. My boss, the chairman of Warner Bros Records, and I recognized that there was no stopping the tidal wave that the Internet had unleashed and we were eager to dive right in. We asked my friend Jimmy, who has been making me look tech savvy since the late 70s and who was our Chief Technology Officer-- though only he and I knew that-- to design a system that would allow Warner Bros to harness the power of the Internet. He did. We brought it to AOL for approval. They kept it for several months and said it was brilliant. But they prohibited us from deploying it. "We don't want to set any precedents," I remember their guy in NY telling me when I called to appeal. And they didn't. And that was the flush that sent the music business down the toilet. A few months later Jimmy went to work at Apple and was part of the team that developed... iTunes.

Not everyone was as eager as we were to jump into the tidal wave. The chairmen and presidents of almost every major label were completely computer-phobic. I remember the first time I met the right-wing, coke-snorting Republican head of marketing at Columbia Records in 1979 or '80. He had an office filled with the latest computers and tech gear. I was drooling. He asked me if I knew how to work any of this stuff and what it did. Later one of then men I respected most in the Music Biz told me he considered computers to be fancy typewriters and he had two secretaries who could handle them. His attitude was prevalent and prevailing throughout the industry. My colleagues joked that my interest in technology was faddish-- like being an advocate of hula hoops or Crocs. Of course, that's what many of them had said about CDs and rap as well.

Once I showed the president of another label how useful computers could be. He glazed over. I showed him how easy it was to meet people. He perked up, very noticeably. I bought him a brand new Mac as a gift. A year later I happened by his office and it was still in the box. He said he was still looking for an antique computer table to put it on. These were the guys who had to make the decisions on how the industry would proceed into the brave new world. They were frightened-- frightened that the interns in the mail room knew far more about these things than they did. The world was turning topsy turvey and their immense and hard-earned power was threatened. Except they didn't understand where the real threat was coming from. It wasn't the mail room.

My neighbor's aunt in 94 and lives in a retirement community. She orders lightweight walkers for the other ladies online. She downloads music to her iPod and leads discussions about Eric Clapton's newest release. She's comfortable with the contemporary world. McCain isn't 94 and isn't comfortable with the contemporary world he aspires to lead. It's a frightening prospect even beyond his unsuitable hotheaded and vindictive personality, his questionable character, and the failed, even catastrophic, policies he has championed for decades-- and continues to champion today.

This morning Ben Smith, writing in the Politico, postulates that McCain's tech deficit poses a problem. There are many ways to look at it but the easiest is the one Smith brings up first, pointing out that McCain's "low comfort level with the Internet, a technology familiar to 73 percent of American adults, poses a political problem for his campaign and exacerbates mostly unspoken concerns about his age." McCain is a young man compared to my neighbor's aunt. What she wouldn't give to be in her 70's again!

McCain's advisors have told him to stop admitting he's clueless about (and disinterested in) the economy, that he doesn't know or care what it costs for working people to gas up the SUVs his votes have subsidized, and that apart from the "donations" he receives from Dell, Compuware and EMC, he doesn't know a PDA from a microwave oven-- or a checkout scanner in a supermarket. It was just 6 months ago that he admitted, when asked whether he uses a MAC or PC, “I am an illiterate that has to rely on my wife for all of the assistance that I can get.” You probably won't be hearing that again, but if he were to win in November he'd do for America what the hapless bosses of the music business did for their industry-- and for similar reasons.



At 4:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My dear departed mother-in-law (who passed away just last year) loved her email, computer games, and web-browsing -- at the age of 97.

In her late 80s, she received a computer from one of her many kids, and took to it like a duck to water. I remember she once told me she loved email because it had brought back the art of letter writing. Plus, as her hearing was increasingly disabled, email gave her the means to stay in touch with friends and family.

There's no excuse for being a Luddite in today's world -- except a certain degree of intellectual laziness, which John McCain has in spades.

At 9:44 PM, Blogger tech98 said...

When I saw the headline I was deathly afraid the picture would be a photoshop of McCain wearing Cher's outfit from the "If I Could Turn Back Time" video...


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