Thursday, March 31, 2011

And When I Die. . .Just Take The iPad

A few years ago after my mother died, my wife, sister and I had the somber task of cleaning out the condo in which she and Dad had lived.  There are few harder things in life than going through your parents’ stuff and having to make decisions about keeping, giving-away or tossing-out.  The giving-away and tossing-out feel a little bit like betrayals, even when it’s hard to see how anyone could really want a slightly charred, very thin oven mitt with a rooster on it.

Think, though, about all those photo albums. (My father took a million pictures.)  The stereo and all those CDs (and cassettes and albums!).  Books everywhere, including beloved cookbooks.  Radios.  Old calendars. The game closet with the beat-up versions of Life and Clue. Forty years of collected Christmas cards.

Christmas ornaments, too.  That was the saddest part for me.  Of course, we kept a few, and mailed the ones to my siblings that had their names.  But let’s face it, many of the ornaments a family hangs each year just aren’t going to make the leap to the next generation.  Especially when the next generation has already accumulated its own box of ornaments that aren’t going anywhere but in the trash someday.
Still, looking down into that dumpster at the old family ornaments scattered about was maybe the hardest part of the entire experience for me.

Now that I’ve depressed all of us, let’s leap ahead 40 years so I can make sure we're all truly miserable.  

There.  See?  It’s my children cleaning out the condo my wife and I shared.  But wait. 

Where is everything?

Yes, there’s a paper-thin wide screen monitor on the wall that is so cheap they’ll just leave it for the next tenant.  And some furniture that they’ll take or give to Goodwill.  And hopefully someone will want my carpenters tools, which include hammers and saws owned by my father and grandfathers.

But all those books?  On the iPad.  In the Cloud.

Stereo?  10,000 songs?  iPad.  Cloud.

Camera.  Albums?  20,000 photographs?  Videos?  Home movies? iPad, iPhone, Cloud.

Cookbooks and recipes.  Nope.  iPad. Cloud.

No radios.  No alarm clocks.  No watches.  

Not much in the way of paper of any kind.

The game closet with Stratego and Parcheesi and Life?  Check the iPad.

Almost anything that constitutes an idea--literary, musical, informational--will be in the Cloud.  Clean up my iPad, clean up my life.  All you’ll need is a few passwords.  

Not quite yet, of course.  But a generation or two from now?

I’m thinking the only thing that may not make it to the Cloud is yours truly.  But hopefully, as Randy Newman points out in Harps and Angels, there’s still time.

Oh, about the Christmas ornaments.  Yes, somewhere on the iPad is a dumb Christmas tree app from the one year none of our kids and their families could get home and we decided it was too much trouble to go out and buy a tree for just the two of us.

I'm thinking, just to add the slightest bit of cheer to this post, I downloaded the tree app from a beach in Hawaii.

But still, kids, in a box in the garage, you’ll have to deal with the old family Christmas ornaments.

It won't be any easier for you than it was for me, I'm guessing.  Sorry.

Won't it be nice to know, though, that some of the stuff that really matters will never be reduced to the Cloud?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

5 Things I Learned About the US Constitution

I’m finally catching up with my personal reading and dove into a couple of old New Yorkers, only to stumble upon a great article and familiar name.  Jill Lepore was writing about King Philip’s War way back in the day, and has since gone on to bigger battles of all sorts.  She is now David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University where she also chairs the History and Literature Program.  Jill is a regular contributor to the New Yorker.
Her January article about the Constitution, "The Commandments: The Constitution and its Worshippers," was positively eye-opening. 
A few facts, a little history—next thing you don’t know what to believe.
I can admit to reading the Constitution exactly once when I was forced to in college.  That one reading apparently puts me in rarefied air among Americans, who seem as likely to misquote and misuse the Constitution as they are unlikely to read it.  At 4,400 words (before the Amendments), it’s one of the shortest constitutions in existence--but still too long, it seems, to read.
Here are some of the (often verbatim) lessons from Jill’s good article:.

  1. Anti-Federalists charged that the Constitution was so difficult to read that it amounted to a conspiracy against the understanding of a plain man--that it was willfully incomprehensible. Patrick Henry believed that what was drafted in Philadelphia was “of such an intricate and complicated nature, that no man on this earth can know its real operation.”  Benjamin Franklin was sure that the document had its faults, and just as sure that the framers were fallible.  He called the Constitution an “instrument”; he meant that it was a legal instrument, like a will. William Manning, a New England farmer and Revolutionary veteran, thought that it was another kind of instrument: “It was made like a Fiddle, with but few Strings, but so that the ruling Majority could play any tune upon it they please."
  2. Ratification was touch and go. Rhode Island, the only state to hold a popular referendum on the Constitution, rejected it. In state ratifying conventions elsewhere, the Constitution passed by the narrowest of margins: eighty-nine to seventy-nine in Virginia, thirty to twenty-seven in New York, a hundred and eighty-seven to a hundred and sixty-eight in Massachusetts.
  3. The original Constitution was simply filed away and, later, shuffled from one place to another. When New York’s City Hall underwent renovations, the Constitution was transferred to the Department of State. The following year, it moved with Congress to Philadelphia and, in 1800, to Washington, where it was stored at the Treasury Department until it was shifted to the War Office. In 1814 as Washington, D.C. burned, three clerks stuffed it into a linen sack and carried it to a gristmill in Virginia. In the eighteen-twenties, when someone asked James Madison where it was, he admitted to having no idea.  In 1875, the Constitution found a home in a tin box in the bottom of a closet in a new building that housed the Departments of State, War, and Navy. In 1894, it was sealed between glass plates and locked in a safe in the basement.  And then, in 1921, a miracle: Warren Harding called the Constitution divinely inspired, ordering the Librarian of Congress to take the parchment out of storage and put it into a shrine.  Presumably, that was the year it became holy and immutable.
  4. “Find It in the Constitution,” the Tea Party rally signs read. Forty-four hundred words and “God” is not one of them, as Benjamin Rush complained to John Adams, hoping for an emendation: “Perhaps an acknowledgement might be made of his goodness or of his providence in the proposed amendments.” It was not. “White” isn’t in the Constitution, but Senator Stephen Douglas, of Illinois, was still sure that the federal government was “made by white men, for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever.” What about black men? “They are not included, and were not intended to be included,” the Supreme Court ruled, in 1857.  Railroads, slavery, banks, women, free markets, privacy, health care, wiretapping: not there. “There is nothing in the United States Constitution that gives the Congress, the President, or the Supreme Court the right to declare that white and colored children must attend the same public schools,” Senator James Eastland, of Mississippi, said, after Brown v. Board of Education. “Have You Ever Seen the Words Forced Busing in the Constitution?” read a sign carried in Boston in 1975. “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” Christine O’Donnell asked Chris Coons during a debate in October. When Coons quoted the First Amendment, O’Donnell was flabbergasted: “That’s in the First Amendment?” Left-wing bloggers slapped their thighs; Coons won the election in a landslide.  But the phrase “separation of church and state” really isn’t in the Constitution or in any of the amendments.
  5. About a quarter of American voters are what political scientists call “know nothings,” meaning that they possess almost no general knowledge of the workings of their government.  For futures, none of these phrases are in the Constitution: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” (Karl Marx, 1875) “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  “All men are created equal.”  “Of the people, by the people, for the people.”  You have been warned.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Little More Inspiration

I was lucky enough to spend a day this week with a ninety-five year old CEO. Not an occasional one, either, but a full-time, fully energized, meet-with-customers and visit-operations-in-five-states, entrepreneurial CEO who has held his title for over 55 years.
He doesn't take the elevator. He doesn't wear glasses. He works out at least five days a week, including 30 minutes stretching and 30 minutes on the elliptical machine. He looks 70, maybe.
He built a company gym in his beautiful, four-year-old facility so that others might exercise with the same consistency as he does. He built the facility because he wants to be well positioned in an area he thinks will grow over the next decade.
He won the Legion of Merit in WW II. His reaction: "I'm the luckiest guy in the world."  
I could not tell if, over his long career, he made money faster than he gave it away, or vice versa. Suffice to say he is successful and generous in equal measure.
He grew up in the Great Depression, in the Great Dustbowl, without indoor plumbing or electricity. Today he has a Blackberry and wanted a tour of my iPad, wondering how much better the iPad2 would be.
There is a sign hanging in his office, from his employees, with their goal of reaching $1billion in revenue in 2017.  This CEO will be 100 then.  There's a good chance they'll do it.  There's an even better chance that not only will he live to see it, but he'll be around to enjoy it even if they are delayed by a year or two.
He has 95 years behind him and spends all of his time thinking about what’s in front of him.
I sure was.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Modern Rip Van Winkle

I'm always fascinated by how people--business and otherwise--perceive the passage of time.
We are convinced, and tell ourselves often, that life is moving faster now than ever before.  
I’ve written several times about this issue, in Shift Happensand again in Are We All Just Being Cry Babies?
Me,  I’ve settled at a kind of mixed conclusion: On an absolute basis it isn't hard to argue that life is faster than ever. (See here for a recent & quick digression on the subject.)  But we also reside in a huge, robust ecosystem of information and analytics and forecasting that, on a relative basis, leads to a kind of cultural anticipation that may make our world, if anything, appear slower than that of our grandparents.
You might recall we’ve examined this question of pace with Rip Van Winkle, Lafayette, Daniel Webster, Henry Adams, Alvin Toffler and even an essay from Time magazine in 1973 on the perceptions of returning Vietnam War veterans.  It’s good remembering that Rip Van Winkle is, itself, adapted from a much older German fairytale.  Historian Joyce Appleby’s conclusion, after closely studying the American generation born around 1780, is worth restating: