Today, the last roll of Kodachrome film was developed into slides in Parsons, Kansas, at Dwayne’s Photo, the last store in the world to process the film. This story brings to mind the Season One Finale of Mad Men, the famous Carousel scene, when Don Draper speaks about how “technology is a glittering lure, but there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product… a deeper bond: nostalgia; it’s delicate, but potent… In Greek nostalgia means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.” He then goes on to show images of his family taken with Kodachrome film.
In the months leading up to today, people flocked from all over the world to Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas to get their film developed. This is the reverse of a story like the release of the iPad, or a new iPhone, because Kodachrome is nostalgia personified. Unlike the new smartphones, which will be outdated in a few years, Kodachrome managed to stick around for 75 years. Paul Simon wrote an unforgettable song about it. The nostalgia which Don Draper talks about is indeed potent. In fact, nostalgia is under-appreciated when it comes to marketing sustainability. While technology increases in leaps and bounds, it can overwhelm us; the simplicity which will be necessary to shift towards sustainability is channeled through nostalgia. Nostalgia is the long letters we used to write, the joy we used to find in our communities, and the pleasure of making things for ourselves. Nostalgia is the emotional key to our collective hearts. The folks who flocked to Parsons, Kansas certainly felt it.
How do you sell a newspaper in the 21st Century? Well, The Washington Post is on to something with this new iPad app and campaign. This video blends the past successes at the Post, personified by Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee, with the contemporary moment. Here you have Bob Woodward, typing away on a Watergate era typewriter, interrupted by some young reporter with an iPad. He doesn’t know what to do with it, and in that moment Bob Woodward is like a lot of us, how exactly could you use this fancy new product? Bob walks by some folks using the app, and I have to say, it does look intuitive and appealing. Woodward asks Bradlee, the old lion of journalism, how does the iPad fit in to the Washington Post? Bradlee, sagely says to Woodward: “These kids think tweets twit themselves.” Brilliant. This is very effective marketing for the iPad. However, my enthusiasm is tempered this morning by the latest from Annie Leonard.
The Story of Electronics examines what happens to electronics before and after their useful life. In the context of the iPad, I wonder, what is its useful life? If I could count on daily use for at least 10 years, that would be a start. However, given the shelf life of cell phones these days, I am not so certain that it will still be useful in 10 years. The MacBook Pro I am typing on is 4 years old, and I hope to get at least two more years out of it. What if the iPad was designed so that critical components could be upgraded in the future, easily? That way, I could take the costs of the iPad production, in water, resources, and waste, and spread them well into the future.
What toxic chemicals are used in the production of the iPad? What will happen to those chemicals when the device breaks? Apple does take back old products, which is good. All electronics manufacturers should follow suit. The recycling should be incentivized at purchase, so that consumers have it in their best interest to return the device to the manufacturer for safe, effective recycling, instead of throwing it out in the trash.
Do you like your gadget? Everyone likes gadgets these days, whether you own an iPhone, a Blackberry, a Kindle, an iPad, or any number of laptops cellphones, and slim cameras, you name it, they are all devices that are tiny, capable, and cool. Well, did you know that critical components may come from a country known as “the rape capital of the world?”
Nicholas Kristoff described what he has seen in the Congo in a column this weekend:
“In Congo, I’ve seen women who have been mutilated, children who have been forced to eat their parents’ flesh, girls who have been subjected to rapes that destroyed their insides. Warlords finance their predations in part through the sale of mineral ore containing tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. For example, tantalum from Congo is used to make electrical capacitors that go into phones, computers and gaming devices.”
In the Congo, 5.4 million people have died since 1998, in what is considered the deadliest cnflict across the world since World War II. In 2006, the Congo held its first democratic election since independance in 1960, and approved a new constitution, but despite the creation of a stable government, violence persists. Time magazine described the situation after that election:
“The suffering of Congo’s people continues. Fighting persists in the east, where rebel holdouts loot, rape and murder. The Congolese army, which was meant to be both symbol and protector in the reunited country, has cut its own murderous swath, carrying out executions and razing villages. Even deadlier are the side effects of war, the scars left by years of brutality that disfigure Congo’s society and infrastructure. The country is plagued by bad sanitation, disease, malnutrition and dislocation. Routine and treatable illnesses have become weapons of mass destruction. According to the IRC, which has conducted a series of detailed mortality surveys over the past six years, 1,250 Congolese still die every day because of war-related causes–the vast majority succumbing to diseases and malnutrition that wouldn’t exist in peaceful times. In many respects, the country remains as broken, volatile and dangerous as ever, which is to say, among the very worst places on earth.”
Activists are raising awareness on the issue, as you can see in the above video. In fact, an amendment was included in the financial reform bill that will require companies like Research in Motion, Intel, and Apple to report their use of conflict minerals. However, it is up to consumers to demand that companies like Apple include minerals from Australia instead of the Congo. An iPhone with tantalum from the Congo is just not cool anymore. You can sign a petition here that will be delivered to the 21 biggest electronics companies, and you can demand that companies prove how they sourced their minerals before you buy a new gadget. It is the very least that we can do.
Yesterday, David beat Goliath. Well, not quite; Apple passed Microsoft to become the world’s most valuable technology company. As of yesterday’s market close, Apple was valued at $222.12B versus $219.18B for Microsoft. This is a monumental achievement for a company that in the mid-1990s was believed to be in its last days. Back then, Microsoft was ascendant, and Apple maintained only niche markets for their products, like education.
In fact, I was a typical customer. In 1994, when I was heading off to college at USC, I purchased a Macintosh Performa for my dorm room. Compared to the Gateway that my parents had at home, the computer was simple, elegant, and user-friendly. Still, in retrospect I can see why these bad boys never took off in the business world.
In 1996, Apple brought back Steve Jobs as CEO, and the company began innovating again. However, not everyone was sold; for my graduation gift, I received a clunky Dell desktop. This machine was awful; I faced the blue screen of death at least once a week, and required a replacement of the motherboard within two years of purchase. By the time I returned to school in 2003 at Penn State, I returned to my computing roots. Apple, with Jobs back at the helm, was producing incredible notebooks, as well as new music players, the iPods. I am not an early-adopter by any means; by 2003 iPods were already ubiquitous. However, I still remember the first time I went jogging with my iPod, and the sheer joy I found in the shuffle function.
Steve Jobs changed the landscape of technology, twice. First of all, in 1984, Apple released the Macintosh with this famous Super bowl ad. He made the personal computer personal, unlike the grey MS-DOS machines produced by IBM. Then, when the company he founded was on the ropes, he transformed technology from a business setting to a personal setting. The outstanding Mac Books were certainly part of that. However, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad brought technology out of the office, and into the streets, onto the subway, into the car. First, our music collection was untethered from walls of plastic. Then, TV was portable; while living in Japan I loved watching Jon Stewart on my Subway commute. Finally, with the iPad, maybe we will eventually become untethered from our physical books, magazines, and newspapers. Instead of just business, technology now largely revolves around consumer desires.
However, there is a lesson of caution for Apple. Microsoft, in the late 1990s, faced off with the Justice Department over its dominance of the browser market. While Microsoft remains profitable, it has not been the same company since. Now, Apple is in the sights of regulators. The Justice Department is investigating whether Apple’s dominance of the online music market, with its iTunes store, is above board:
“People briefed on the inquiries also said investigators had asked in particular about recent allegations that Apple used its dominant market position to persuade music labels to refuse to give the online retailer Amazon.com exclusive access to music about to be released.”
Now, who today remembers the browser that had Microsoft all hot and bothered, the Netscape Navigator? However, Internet Explorer is no longer the dominant browser; Firefox, Chrome, and Safari, along with Explorer, share the market. In the same way, I doubt that Amazon.com will be a dominant music retailer ten years from now; however, Apple will certainly not be the only large provider of the coming cloud-based music market.
However, don’t be too alarmed for Apple. Some people fear that the company will falter when Steve Jobs is no longer in charge. In their book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras identify visionary companies as those that do not rely on one great leader, but rather develop a culture of innovation and success that emanate throughout the company and beyond the founder. If Steve Jobs is really smart, and I think he is, Apple is poised to continue its history of innovation long after he leaves the company.
UPDATE: Speaking of Built to Last, a company that was celebrated by Collins and Porras was Johnson & Johnson. In 1982, J&J ordered a nationwide recall of Tylenol after seven people died from poisoned Tylenol in the Chicago area. That recall, which some at the time felt was unnecessary and expensive, earned J&J many plaudits. However, now J&J is suffering from criticism that in 2008 the compant concealed a recall of Motrin, a popular pain releiver. Apparently, the tablets weren’t dissolving, and J&J sent a contractor to surreptitiously buy up the product from stores, but not to mention the word ‘recall.’ There are hearings on Capitol Hill, and the FDA referred the matter to its criminal investigation unit for review. The troubles that J&J is facing today are striking, compared to the way it earned people’s trust in 1982.