Old tech, new tech


Here’s a news item: American adults consume an average of 10 hours and 39 minutes of electronic media per day. This insight comes via Adweek.com, which is reporting data from Nielson, a company that is a long-standing tracker of certain American media habits.

I don’t know how Saipan’s figures jibe with the overall American figures. It’s safe to say that there are probably some common elements at work. Worldwide, or at least in any place in the world I’ve been, the allure of the electronic screen is, in particular, a force that human eyeballs and the psyches behind them can’t resist.

This is why I can’t resist the current flood of stories about robot development, especially those of the human (or nearly human) form. The big riddle seems to be when robots will develop to the point where they’re human enough to attract the engagement of humans. What largely goes unsaid is that the craving for electronic devices already exists despite the lack of humanoid form. We can see this from the media consumption figures I just mentioned. We can also see it merely by looking around us in daily life.

A smartphone doesn’t look like a person. Neither does a TV. This hasn’t curtailed their appeal to the masses.

With that in mind, it’s possible that what stands between now and the great robot revolution, at least at the consumer level, isn’t technology but is, rather, creativity. I’m waiting for somebody to outflank the heavy technological climb and opt for a lateral game of creative design. The market will be swept up by something that’s essentially a robotic pet. I have no idea what such a thing will look like. For all I know, it will be mimic evolution’s most robust designs, and we’ll have something that’s structurally more cockroach than cocker spaniel.

The exasperating thing, to me at least, is that while this path seems inevitable, I still can’t envision the design that will succeed. Somebody will, though. It’s just a matter of time. Once the design is on the market, everyone will stay how obvious it was.


All this high-tech stuff got me thinking about the days of lower tech, particularly when radio enjoyed a long run of creativity.

With that in mind, I listened to a New York radio show, a mystery drama, from 1974. Fortunately, the archives kept the commercials. I tallied seven advertisers.

Of the seven, two were apparently local (New York) businesses: a bank and a grocery store. The ads were interminable. It struck me that a mediocre print ad can still get the point across, since a reader’s eyes can dart around at will, but a mediocre radio ad holds listeners hostage to the clock.

The remaining five advertisers were of national stature. Their commercials were better crafted than the local ones. This wasn’t a function of fancy studio production. It was, instead, a function of superior copywriting, where the pros had silver tongues and not tin ears.

Of the five sponsors, three are probably known to Saipan residents. These were Budweiser beer, Special K cereal, and Diet 7-Up soda.

Another advertiser is still alive and well, an automobile transmission repair chain that’s well known in the mainland.

Alas, of the five national advertisers, one is no longer around. That’s Trans World Airlines (TWA). TWA went bankrupt and was acquired by American Airlines in 2001. I used to fly an old TWA Boeing 727 that had been converted into a freighter. The glory had faded, but those 727s kept their dignity.

Oh well, so much for the past. I’ll relish fond memories about it while a giant electronic cockroach brings me a beer. Here’s to “progress,” if you look forward to it. Here’s to your memories, if you don’t. Either way: cheers!

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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