Saturday, September 24, 2011

Summertime 3

I don’t want you to get me wrong by believing that my entire summertime was all play and no work. Work was a BIG part of my early growing up years.

My first job was at 6-7 years old when I had to walk through the fields after a corn picker to pick up the ears of corn that were left by the machine. We had to put them into bushel baskets and didn’t get paid for it. Another year older and I could start “steering” a tractor. I wouldn’t call it “driving” yet since all I could to was stop and go (with the hand clutch) and steer a wheel bigger than my arms stretched. I would steer the tractor with a wagon behind it through the field while my dad and older brothers would throw bales of hay on the wagon. At this same age I would have to work in the garden with my mom planting seeds, weeding, hoeing and finally harvesting the vegetables and fruit.

When I was young my father built a chicken house that would house 6000 laying hens and it was my job to pick up the eggs twice a day. Sometime later I would get the job of feeding them and shooting the rats with our .22 rifle.

After the age of 10 I would get more and better jobs. One of them was actually DRIVING the tractor disking stocks of corn down to get the field ready for the next planting or dragging a field. Driving activities that wouldn’t destroy a crop if I drove into a ditch or something. Milking the cow in the morning before school, picking up eggs and feeding the chickens became a regular chore.

After the age of 13 I would be driving the tractors and pickups into the fields, even trying my hand at the big grain trucks. I would be asked to cultivate (the hardest driving job) but my dad and oldest brother didn’t have me do that too often. Now I was of the age where many of my oldest brothers were at college or had their own jobs and dad NEEDED me on the farm. Now I would spend 3-5 days home from school to work in the busy planting or harvesting season. There was nothing better than staying home from school to work.

By the age of 16 when I could get a regular license I was doing everything on the farm but I was also looking for my own job. A job that PAID, because, you see, working on the farm your pay was a little different. I can still hear my father saying: “You eat and sleep in my house: THAT is your pay!”

I miss the summertime of my childhood, but not just for me. I miss that summertime because you will RARELY find a child working hard at the age of 7. Today’s people have this crazy idea that giving a child work or chores at a young age is abuse and that they should be allowed to play all the time. I miss that age of building responsibility in youth at a YOUNG age. I knew at a young age that if I didn’t work … I didn’t eat. Can you imagine the outcry of parenting “experts” today if they heard my father say that to me? I miss the summertime of my youth and I mourn the loss of that summertime for today’s youth.

Summertime 2

One of my favorite activities as a summertime child on the farm involved the use of sticks. We never really knew we were poor (much to my parent’s credit) but my favorite toy was a stick. I have to believe that my mom looking out through the kitchen window at my activities had to be thinking: “What is that boy doing now?”

The trees on the farm were a constant source of entertainment for me. I remember the first time I fell out of a tree on my back knocking the breath out of me. I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t inhale, couldn’t yell for mom, or anything. Just when I thought I was heading for the pearly gates I would slowly figure out how to breathe again and go on playing. The perfect stick was my best toy. I would take the smaller one and use as a sword; swashbuckling my way through the yard, defeating countless enemies. Sometimes I would have one in each hand as I battled. (Again, I can’t help but wonder what my mom was thinking when she looked out the window). I bigger stick would be a perfect rifle and I would spend my time defeating the Germans of WW2 with dramatic leaps and sprints to protected areas for the next expert marksman shot. Sometimes a sniper in a tree where I would be hit and fall out, dramatically hitting the ground but rolling to a shooting position to kill my pursuer. An even bigger stick would be a pole vault pole for me. I would practice poling from one place to another; from one dirt pile to another and when I got daring I would actually use it to pole vault over a barb wire fence.

My toys were not expensive, free in fact. A good stick was a great rifle and a clod of dirt made a great grenade. Kids today have too much money spent on them. I saw a 10ish boy yell at his mom because the gun she bought for his Wii wasn’t the right one for the game he was playing. The gun cost $50, the Wii another $100 and then you have the game and the TV on top of that. Probably over $500 to play the same game I was playing… only I had fun … outside.

I miss the summertime of my childhood but not just for me. I miss that summertime because the parents today think that joy in being a child comes from THINGS and not from imagination and freedom. Money cannot buy a child joy in his/her youth. Freedom to experience new things, letting their imagination run wild not their strong will. Sure, I wanted new toys and would cry when my mom and dad didn’t get me the perfect thing but soon after I realized all the crying in the world was not going to change their minds I picked up my stick and rode it into my imagination.

Summertime 1

The summertime of my memories is filled with adventure. There is no better place in summertime to be than on a farm. The majority of the “chores” are done with the planting of the crops so a young boy is free to adventure through the growing fields.

There were no video games, in fact TV was black and white, only had 3 channels and you had to change those channels by going up to the box and rotating a dial. Sometimes you were forced to stand in a certain place holding a wire coat hanger to get the best reception. Staying in your room was not only “NOT DONE” but it wasn’t even conceived of. Your room was for sleeping and changing and nothing more. The place to be was NOT in front of a computer screen or TV screen but outside, you know the place that shows up on your screen saver.

I would be up early and munch down my Wheaties or Corn Flakes with fresh milk from the cow I had to milk. I would be outside as soon as I could pull on my raggedy Keds. If the rains had come I would spend the day playing in the farm ditches. I would build canals that ran water towards my mud town. I would spend hours building a mud community complete with homes, schools, and churches. I would build bridges with small sticks and well-placed mud as mortar. Sometimes I would take out my Matchbox cars and even build garages for them. Noon would pass and I would forget about lunch. Mom wouldn’t call out, dad wouldn’t send out a search party. They know when the sun started setting I would mosey home. After hours of architectural work I would survey my realm; it was time. The creek would be a calm flow until I decided to open the flood gates. Then the floods came. I watches in adolescent glee as the water washed away hours of work; taking my houses, churches, schools and Matchbox with it. When all was gone I would jump into the ditch to find my cars and maybe a few tadpoles I could take home in a jar to watch turn into frogs. Happy with a complete summer day I would make my way back home as the sun was setting and ask mom to help me get the dozen leaches off my legs and arms.

Hours of building only to destroy. Stripping to my tighty-whities to play in a ditch. Taking new toys and burying them in mud and water. Spending 12 hours on my own as a 7-8 year old without adult supervision. Gleefully plucking leaches off my body. All these things would put a modern day psychologist into shock. They would have taken me away from my parents and into a “good” home. They would have sent me to a child psychologist trying to discover the roots of my “destructive tendencies.” They would have put me on some kind of drug to calm me down and make me want to set in front of a screen of some kind “like a good child should.”

I miss the summertime of my childhood, but not just for me. I miss the summertime of my childhood because my grandchildren will never experience it in today’s society of protection, prevention and drug induced calmness. I miss THAT summertime.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Surprising Life of Radio

To end this trilogy of blogs/columns (Death of Postal Service, Death of Email and this one) I would like to surprise you with what is actually ALIVE and GROWING.


Radio is alive and growing.

You and I would have thought that with the advent of digital music, iPods, MP3’s, internet streaming, Pandora, and automobile jacks for digital media that Radio would be dying a quick death. Not so much.

TV is actually evolving and extending its “Long Tail” to the point where it is not becoming recognizable. Try to imagine yourself an advertiser on TV. 20 years ago you pick the few popular shows or the many not-so-popular and you advertised with them because the price was set on their popularity. Now you have what is called the “Long Tail” based on the bell curve becoming more and more shallow and the “tails” of it extending out. You now have THOUSANDS of channels and options to advertise on with prices so variable it will make your head spin. TV isn’t dying it is just evolving.

Radio on the other hand is basically the same as it was when you listened 40 years ago. The sound may be better, the songs may be different, but it is essentially the same. Even the attack of ad-less radio like XM and Sirius have been repelled and are dying a slow death. But Radio, according to the latest statistics (2011) are adding 12 million listeners a MONTH! Digital and social media seem to ENHANCE radio and not detract from it. MP3 players have replaced CDs, which replaced Cassettes, which replaced 8-tracks, which replaced vinyl but they DID NOT replace radio.

Talk radio is growing at 12% a year.

Country music stations are growing at 8% a year.

Pop/Contemporary stations are growing at 4% a year

Urban/Rap stations are growing at 3% a year.

Even oldies stations are growing at 3% a year while all the “oldies” are getting older.

So with all the chatting and twittering I have been doing about the death of the Postal Service and Email and many other things in our lives it is also good to know that some things DON’T change. Some things stay the same, stay reliable, stay comfortable and even nostalgic. Radio brings me back to my younger years while driving a tractor on the farm, getting a tan, while listening to WLS in Chicago. Radio brings me the traffic reports I need, brings me the weather I need, and brings me the news that I want WHILE I am doing something else.

It will be a long time before our vehicles eliminate radio. It may look prettier and more digitally enhanced but it will still be radio. Long live the oldies!

The Death of Email

In the last column I wrote about the death of the US Postal Service. The problem is, the USPS doesn’t realize it yet. Everything the USPS does could be done better and cheaper in a different way but our leaders haven’t quite grasped what that means yet. They are still trying to sell us 8-tracks in an iPod world.

Well, now I am here to announce the death of email.

You thought email was to be the replacement for the USPS and faxes and it is, or rather it WAS. There are now over 3 billion email accounts worldwide and over 107 TRILLION, with a T, emails sent in the same year (2010). You correspondence can be sent in a fraction of a second to anywhere in the world. The average businessperson sends 33 emails a day. Sounds like a thriving business, a thriving new enterprise to get into. But just like the USPS is a dying media or brand; so is email.

Consider this: in 1985 90% of all emails sent were personal correspondence or business related. Today that number is less than 8%. 89% of all emails sent to you are SPAM (unwanted advertising and viruses) the majority of which are pharmaceutical promotions. While seniors are using email more (up 28%) teens are using email less (down 59%). America is getting less and less ONLINE, in fact, AOL reached its peak in 2004 with 23 million subscribers and in 2010 in is down to a mere 4 million.

So we no longer send “snail mail” through the USPS and we are leaving email by the millions; so what is next? Next seems to be the new social media of Phone texting, Facebook and Twitter. From 2004 to 2010 Facebook has grown from 1 million to 800 million users. There are over 36 billion photos shared on Facebook and over one TRILLION comments, likes, or status updates. Twitter, unheard of in 2004, now has over 25 billion “tweets” or comments posted in 2010 and is growing exponentially. Texting has become an epidemic among teens with phones being used for texting 1200 times MORE than as a phone.

So now you just got this email thing figured out and it is already obsolete. I can see a new genre of Americans moving back to Amish country to get away from the electronic tsunami. Everything is changing but, again, the question is: is it for the better? Hard to judge at this point. I know I “communicate” with more people in the new media than I EVER would by snail mail. But I also know it is easier for me to hide from REAL FACE TO FACE interaction because of the “social” media. I know my nieces and nephews better through Facebook but do I REALLY know them?

So I have Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Linked-In, and texting on my phone along with my 5 email addresses. You cannot hide from me … nor I from you. I think I got a handle on it … wait … what is this angry bird thing?

The Death of the Postal Service

In the 1950’s the mailman was one of the most popular people in the world. You can almost picture the lovelorn waiting in anticipation, staring out the window at the lonely mailbox until that American Icon opened it and inserts the letter you had been waiting for. The mail included exciting cards from exotic places, letters from far-away loved ones, and even the rare advertising was read from cover to cover.

In the 1980’s a company called America Online sent out free software to EVERYONE. You would find a disc in magazines, in your mail, and for free at stores. America got online. By the end of the 80’s there were almost 2 million people getting and receiving email. By 1996 that number grew to 100 million and now it is close to 3 BILLION worldwide. My 90 year old father checks his email every day.

What happened to “snail mail”? Something that takes more than a few seconds to send moves at a snail’s pace. We are no longer impressed that a piece of paper can be sent from Maine to California in just a few days when you can send something a thousand times bigger electronically in seconds.

The US Postal Service sent over 170 billion pieces of mail last year. But with all that mail are you waiting, looking out your front window in anticipation of the mail coming by. Most of us don’t even pick up the mail daily. When I look at my mail the most exciting thing for me is the latest magazines I get. You can probably tell a lot about me by my list: Archeology, Biblical Archeology, KMT (Mag of ancient Egypt) Ancient Egypt Magazine, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Wired, Fast Company, Inc, National Geographic Travel, Scuba and probably a few others I don’t remember subscribing to. Today just about ALL of those magazines are online and in a better format. Of the 170 billion pieces of mail we get from the USPS only one half of a percent of that is personal mail; more than 85% of that is advertising; with the rest made up of periodicals and bills. No wonder we don’t rush out to get our mail and why we now avoid or at least wish “rain or sleet or” SOMETHING would keep them from their appointed rounds.

What do you get from the USPS that you could not get BETTER from some other place, media or method? Turns out the only good thing about the mail IS the time it takes for them to get to where the mail is supposed to be. I know a guy who will pay his bills on the VERY LAST day and then send his check through the mail without signing it so it comes back, through the mail, so he can wait a few days, sign it, and then send it back: so delaying and floating his check for almost two weeks. I know another guy who writes who he is sending it TO in the FROM section of the envelope and puts his address in the TO section and then drops it in a mail box without a stamp. That way it will be returned to sender and the sender is the person he wanted to send it to the first place; now free.

I am sorry all you Post People out there who make a living sorting, carrying and delivering mail but there is just a better way. There is a choice we as a nation have to make, do we keep supporting a dying industry because so many depend on it for their jobs or do we step into the new “flat” world? I know what I would choose.