Dematerialization And The Irony Of Applied TechnologyJune 30, 2021
Wow, what a Scrabble word.
What does this word mean? It sounds like some ominous threat to the world as portrayed in a Batman movie. It could be what happens to whatever a new weapon is pointed at in a sci-fi movie. Nope. It’s actually what’s happening to the stuff around us, and dare I say, it’s happening to organizations.
Especially, post-COVID, as we’ve learned what we can live without.
Today, if you’re not disrupting yourself, someone else is; your fate is to be either the disrupter or the disrupted. There is no middle ground.” Salim Ismail, Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster and cheaper than yours. “
According to Salim Ismail, author of Exponential Organizations, it’s one of the Six D’s: Digitized, Deceptive, Disruptive, Dematerialized, Demonetized and Democratized.
My late uncle, Bruno Giordano, was one of the coolest guys I’ve ever known.
He was a Marine and a trained toolmaker and machinist by trade, a meticulous craftsman who designed and manufactured products for a company that made pocket knives, military knives, and home carving sets, but mostly a guy who was way ahead of his time. He could make anything out of steel, brass, wood, bone.
Of course, a great husband and father, but also a gentleman and guy in the know about the finer things. He could have easily flourished in multiple episodes of Mad Men.
My uncle was like equal parts GQ and Esquire and Motor Trend and Popular Mechanics. An aficionado, a connoisseur, a disrupter. Equal parts Steve McQueen, Matt Helm (you’ll probably need to look that one up) and J Peterman with a little bit of 007’s “Q” thrown in.
The guy had taste, and nerve.
He had one of the first Audis ever sold. He had a Buick convertible. He bought it in January.
He traded in my aunt’s four door Ford for a Jaguar XKE. In the middle of February. A feat only surpassed by the time he traded in her air conditioned Mercury for a one of the first BMW 2002’s. The BMW had no A/C. It was the middle of July.
Auntie Norma was kinda ripped. Which made him retreat to his awesome den which had books, encyclopedias, WorldBook annuals, albums.
My uncle was an expert on HiFi long before there was WiFi. Ever see a piece of “hi-fidelity” stereo equipment known as an analog tube amp? See that McIntosh 275 there? The McIntosh ($444 in 1961 dollars, when the average salary was $5700. And the $444 was just for the amp) was the Ferrari or Bentley or Rolex of audio equipment (still in business by the way), the tube amp was an amazing piece of equipment with glass tubes which would burn out, but would produce warm, deep, loud sound.
He would connect his receiver and pre-amp to this. His pre-amp would be the conduit to connect the turntable, the reel-to-reel, then the eight track, later his cassette deck, then the CD player, e.g.
He’d crank up Whipped Cream and Other Delights by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Amid the trumpets and brass you’d hear the scratch and pops and clicks of vinyl. Still music to my ears. That record was released 56 years ago and sold 6 million copies that first year alone, mostly because of cover model Delores Erickson. Later we’d discover that it was shaving cream, not whipped cream covering Ms. Erickson, an expectant mother, and that the Tijuana Brass was led by a gentleman who was from the Ukraine and Romania, leading session musicians who were Italian, Jewish and good old American. Herb Alpert was the “A” in A&M Records which he later sold for some $300 million.
The marketing of bands and albums — It wasn’t all what we thought, but we thought it was all good. And all that masterfully produced material played and sounded better on material goods — big clunky, maintenance-intensive equipment.
And all of that luscious sound would blare and boom out of some enormous pieces of hand-oiled walnut veneered speaker boxes with tweeters, woofers and midranges. Ahh, the Acoustic Research ARIII speakers. Magnificent. If you’d dare turn the dial more than halfway to the right it was the equivalent of opening up the secondaries on your GTO’s Rochester carburetor, and if you dialed it up you’d blow out the windows of your home or apartment.
My uncle, aunt and cousin lived in the top apartment over my grandparents, and my grandmother didn’t like music that wasn’t Italian opera, so amazingly my uncle could only blare his music when my grandparents were out of the house. God, did the man exercise such restraint.
That McIntosh system was just dying to generate decibels.
An alternative was, he’d often enjoy the music privately by plugging in a heavy cord that looked like a telephone cord, connecting the receiver to the massive KOSS headphones he wore.
Where’d It Go?
What happened to all this stuff?
This heavy, well-built, over-engineered entertainment infrastructure? Gone. Companies that made it? Mostly gone. Like the album cover and the vinyl. Poof.
Who needs that, you say, you have all of your music on your I-Phone? And listen to it through ear buds which weigh practically nothing. But they don’t sound like the clunky KOSS phones.
In fact, that same phone has replaced your camera. And your video camera. And your DVD player.
- And your flashlight.
- And your clock.
- And your radio.
- And your clock radio.
- And your calendar.
- And your wallet with your frequent flier cards.
- And your “Walkman”
- And your GPS unit
- And, believe it or not, your radar detector
- And your wrist fitness thingy
- And your __(insert something you use here)__.
Wow, what an amazing time.
See, what’s happening here? It’s like magic. A disappearing trick as things dematerialize into other, collective things.
But now we have strange objects like Alexa that we talk into. Alexa, please order me Whipped Cream and Other Delights. (One can only imagine what will show up the next day).
It’s what is happening with organizations. Look at what happened to Kodak and Blockbuster.
Your IT server and large, maintenance-intensive desktop PC’s have gone the way of the VHS cassette. Clouds, remote servers.
Your external salesforce has been streamlined with salesforce.com. (or, maybe not.)
Your HR department is being outsourced.
Your in-house legal counsel is covered by a part time shared attorney who provides this service for many other companies.
Your secretaries are no longer.
Your company executives don’t use a travel agent, they make their own arrangements, and in fact, pay for them using their own credit cards. Or in some corners, cryptocurrency.
They do still need to fill out expense reports, but there are efficient software packs and apps to do so.
When they do travel, they perhaps no longer rent cars, or use cabs, they “Uber.”
Until there’s a shortage of rental cars, like, uh, now.
The organizational footprint is getting smaller. Office space is shrinking as employees spend more time working from home, on the road, or in front of customers.
Companies are working to downsize fleets and reduce fuel consumption.
The manager or owner can look at surveillance cameras on their phones to see what’s happening at the office and plant.
These aren’t luxuries, these are necessities as competitive intensity increases and companies are forced to cut margins and be lower cost providers.
If your firm or organization isn’t consciously making strides to dematerialize and improve organizational efficiency, it needs to.
You may very well enjoy being a cassette deck, 35MM camera, VHS player, or tube tv, but your customers and employees are living in an I-Phone, hologram 3D printed, blockchain, AI-kind of universe.
Sharing and renting has replaced owning and financing.
Staffs and departments and structures are dematerializing before our very eyes — eyes for which we likely no longer have eyeglass frames, due to corrective surgeries, lenses and other applications of materials and technology.
(The good news is you can download Whipped Cream from I-Tunes — and Herb Alpert wound up donating more than $30 million to CalArts for a music curriculum.)
Oddly, vinyl is making a comeback. Industry analysts note that buyers are attracted to the “physical dimensions of albums” and the warmth of turntable-driven “imperfect sound.”
The Irony of Applied Technology
While material stuff has consolidated, gotten smaller, there’s lots of irony in applied technology can be equal parts panacea and frustration. We often wonder why it’s applied in some areas and not others.
When I wrote this article, the news featured a $1 million a day manhunt by authorities are trying to find two escaped convicts. I find this ironic since a golden retriever can be located one block away with a tracking chip. (Maybe they should put these two guys on a parochial school alumni list (Sister Rose will track them down for a donation) or send them a limo via Uber.)
How about installing cameras or baby monitors in the cells?
Trackable luggage. It’s impossible to find an entire missing plane, but you can find your luggage and your phone on an app. You will have to borrow someone else’s phone if yours was on the plane, to track it. You will still need the common key that everyone on the planet has 13 of, to open your luggage, once you find it.
Through the Internet of Things, your toaster and fridge can talk to each other but your teenagers pass their siblings in the hall like two ships in the night. Kids FaceTime their friends who live on the same street and text their siblings down the hall. They play virtual basketball on the couch even though there is a little used hoop in the driveway.
At least they can track their progress on the school’s website to see which assignments they didn’t complete when they were playing DrivewayHoop7.
The greatest thing ever was invented: The Sanidoor system.
Wave your hand over the wall plate and it opens the bathroom door in the restaurant or other public places so people don’t have to use a paper towel and throw it on the floor. Nice. Now your sons will take twice as long in the bathroom. This is really a cool product though.
Restaurant electronic menu IPad. They can simulate what an actual printed menu looks like. Maybe they can figure out how to get the food to look like the menu, that would be something.
Phabulous. Yes, Phablet Phones. Phantasic. The IPhone, what are we on, now, 13? Is it an IPad Mini, Mini? Or is it a phone? Apple really missed the boat not having Mike Myers as Dr. Evil and Verne Troyer as MiniMe doing the television commercial. Riiggghtttt. (Mike, if you’re reading this, please make more movies.)
I love the cash register that spews out coupons based on extensive market research for 1. the black pepper you just bought that will still be around after you are long gone, and 2. the items you’ll never buy. Sorry, I don’t buy cat litter. I don’t have a cat. It is tempting to buy some, though. Such a good price.
Flying bicycles. Alas, someone has combined the Flymo hovercraft lawnmower of 1980’s fame, the bikes which kids no longer ride and the Sharper Image drone to make a bike that flies. Now that calls for wearing a helmet. And maybe even knee and elbow pads.
Underwater bags for your electronics. Nothing says “trust” like putting your electronic devices in a bag to take them swimming. Why not take some underwater photos with an IPad because surely that’s what the designers had in mind when they engineered it out of stuff that shouldn’t be dunked in a pool full of corrosive water. Too bad the SkyMall catalog is gone, this would have been somewhere between the laser hat that makes your hair grow back and the end table that doubles as a place to keep your dog. When guests come over they won’t notice that you have an 85-lb dog Boxer under their glass of Cabernet and a lamp.
Several online learning companies have essentially made college something you can download. Brilliant, but can they come up with a module for replicating “bad choices make good stories” moments, virtual fraternities, simulated rancid beer smell and professors whom you can’t understand? That stuff alone is worth the $350K in student loans.
WiFi in the truck. Now there’s really no good reason to bring the Silverado or Sierra back to the driveway. If only we could get the price of gasoline lower. In an interesting twist, we even have electric pickup trucks by Ford and some mutant love child between a DeLorean and a Pontiac Aztek Tesla pickup truck thing. Someone somewhere is 3D printing a 1:1 scale pickup or building one out of Legos.
We have incredible medical detection technology yet our health plans want us to go for one checkup a year. We go to the dentist at least twice. Wow, quite a lot can happen in the 364 days after your last checkup. At least we’ll have nice teeth and great 3D pictures of our spleens.
Road sensors. It’s great that highway departments can now monitor rainfall and temperature on bridges and highways that they don’t have money to maintain, that are structurally deficient, mostly because they spent their entire budget on bridge and highway experts who come up with ways to spend money in such a way that there isn’t enough to fix bridges and highways.
ATM receipts. You can choose to get a receipt. You can choose to get a receipt and an email of the receipt. You can choose to get a receipt, an email of the receipt and a picture of the check you deposited. Why can’t they give you a picture of yourself depositing the check? Better yet, the picture of the person using your ATM card. Even the identity theft people are confused by the eight different ATM cards you’ve had this year because some thief hacked Target’s computers.
We are living the Chinese Proverb: May you live in interesting times.
I wish my Uncle was around to see all this. He’d probably love the interesting times we live in, a strange world of things getting simplified and complicated at the same time.
He’d probably play Herb Alpert on his I-Phone.
And when he got home, he’d power up the McIntosh. And play Whipped Cream and Other Delights again.
And piss off my grandmother.
Not everything should be dematerialized.