Archive for October 2009
Um…no. Or would that be, yes? In a world where old is suddenly new, the correct answer is: Maybe.
Gordon Atkinson (Real Live Preacher) talks about Generate, a “yummy beautiful” magazine to which he actually—yes—subscribed (sounds like he purchased it with cash money, right?). Glancing through the sample pages he shows made me think, “Hmm. Yes. I want to look at that.”
And that is just the way with old stuff that comes around again with a post-modern twist. Sort of like Pink Martini, old music from my parent’s generation recast for today (or maybe tomorrow). I listen to be reminded of melodies and words long forgotten. But I also listen because I get the joke: it’s old but there is something of today happening in the connective tissue of the music. And I listen because no one sings like China Forbes.
In the writing classes I teach at Northwestern College, we’ve been talking about how old communication vehicles can suddenly become extremely effective when composed today with a vigorous nod to today’s aesthetic. Pamphlets are finding their way back as a short form of communication. Brochures and Slim Jims can be repurposed so they suddenly don’t fit the category you thought they did when you picked them up—possibly resulting in not a small amount of delight. And who can keep from actually reading through a personal letter delivered by the postman (I don’t mean that generically—ours really is a guy).
Starting a magazine when most are dying doesn’t sound like a winning endeavor. On the other hand, one of the lessons of social media is that audiences can be found and they can find our project if it is repurposed to become ”yummy beautiful.”
The Berkeley Pit is an open pit mine on the edge of Butte that had gobbled up neighborhood after neighborhood for years. In 1982 the mine ceased operation and began filling with water. But not just filling with clean swimming pool water. The water in the pit is highly acidic and so full of minerals that today it (yes, the water itself) is “mined” for copper. It may be a myth that migrating birds die instantly if they land in the water, but vigorous hazing activities include a houseboat that moves around the lake to get birds off the water and to collect those appearing to suffer ill effects (they dump the birds in an on-board five-gallon barrel of fresh water and release them from fresh-water).
Standing on the viewing platform, the scale of the pit is amazing. And the chamber of commerce runs a brave Orwellian soundtrack complete with patriotic, upbeat music that describes all that is going on to clean up the mess and how nobody needs to worry about the toxins seeping into the ground water for a variety of reasons. So just enjoy the view. [Addendum: The level of the water in the pit is carefully monitored so the toxic mess does not seep into the groundwater. The number of people and groups watching the pit is quite amazing. ]
The beautiful bit of honesty came from a resident I spoke with. What was her impression of the Berkeley pit and what did other residents think of it?
“We know we live next to a lake of battery acid.”
No spin. No soundtrack or patriotic music. Just winsome honesty. And let’s get on with life.
We stood looking at the broken window. I wanted an estimate. But the window salesman was unspooling a monologue about the wood in windows these days: something about 80-year old trees, then 50-year old trees and 35-year old trees. Then came sealant rates, the attributes of vinyl, why his company of craftsman were utterly dependable and more than just sales guys, and then another round of features so precise and minute I would need to plot them on a spreadsheet to begin to understand them. Most of what he said was entirely unverifiable—especially at the rate he was spewing it out.
I suddenly realized it’s been some time since I’ve heard one of these old-school sales pitches. And I remembered why: I hate listening to sales pitches. I’ve been writing about the switch from monologue to dialogue so much that perhaps I had convinced myself the sales pitch was dead.
For all the reasons I’ve been writing about, from lack of curiosity to the absence of questions to simple lack of insight into his audience, his sales pitch did not address my central question: Will you give me an estimate on replacing this window and, even more, can I trust you to do the job effectively?
It’s too bad, really. I used body language to say “I’m not interested” and “I don’t believe a word you are saying.” And two or three times directed him to the question of the estimate, even so, the pitch soon came tumbling out again at full speed. I despaired of getting back to work. He seemed to not get that the pitch was not working, nor that it was affecting me negatively. Maybe he didn’t care. He clearly seemed to not care that I didn’t care.
Even Mrs. Kirkistan, in later conversations with the window pitchman, found herself attempting to cut through the monologue to force an estimate. In fact, long before the actual estimate came, we decided we could not trust this guy or his company.
Two things about the pitchman and his monologue:
- Dialogue is a way of establishing trust. It proves someone is listening. By way of contrast, monologue proves someone is not listening. Do I really want to work with someone who is not listening?
- Feature-laden promises delivered at a rate that makes them unverifiable (even if we cared, which we didn’t) have “scam” written all over them. Maybe the pitchman and his company were legit. His monologue led me directly away from that conclusion.
Dialogue helps disperse skepticism.