I had a meeting this morning in Troy. Normal travel time to this particular venue is 25 minutes. I gave myself 30, and arrived 31 minutes late. Ah, well. I only need two words to tell you why — crash, construction — and it was worth the trip anyway, because someone told me a good story, and now I offer it to you:
It was about the very first website design the storyteller ever did. It was 1993, before the Web. The client, a large automotive supplier, wanted an online resource for the company’s many locations, and came to an ad agency to get one. The agency’s biggest issue was with billing; no one could agree on what, exactly, they were doing, and how the client should be charged — was it media, service or something else? They finally settled on a quote of $700,000, based on billable staff hours. The client paid without dickering.
Today’s clients were shown a website design that would make the automotive supplier’s site look like a cave painting (which is was, comparatively). They will pay considerably less than $700,000. Don’t emerging technologies have interesting economics?
I like this account for the same reason Diane Keaton’s character in “Manhattan” did novelizations: It’s easy, and it pays well. And I like it for lots of non-specific ones that stem from it being my sole non-journalism writing gig, and as such, offers me entree into the exciting world of American business. My boss on this project can sling meeting jargon with the best of them, and I like to jot it down, if only to look busy in the meetings — “build out” is a big phrase now, and today I heard “loop” used as a verb in a non-knitting sense. We’re going to build out our timeline, and loop Bob and Bill along the way.
Unless Bob and Bill get caught in traffic, that is. Interesting tidbit from the jam: When I knew I was going to be late, I called to tell them so. I didn’t have the number in my phone, but I did have it in my laptop. Since I was stopped, I opened it up and searched my inbox. This was near an underpass. You Mac users know that when a wifi-enabled laptop can’t find its home network, it scans for open ones in the area and gives you a dialogue box: “None of your trusted wireless networks can be found. Would you like to join (the one with the strongest signal)?” Today that one was called “bridge 1,” presumably the overpass just ahead. It had a wifi network, presumably for the traffic signals. I can’t think what else a bridge would need wireless for, unless it’s surfing bridge porn during lulls in traffic.
I wonder if the network cost $700,000 to set up. Likely far, far more. And what do we really need? A new bridge.
Because of my late start and busy morning, no bloggage. But feel free to bat the ball around in the comments anyway, while I go look for some, or maybe clean my family room. What to do, what to do?
Sue said on May 20, 2008 at 2:12 pm
The engineering techs where I work look busy in their meetings by jotting slash marks for every time the head engineer says either “as such” or “ok?”. Then, being engineering guys, they keep a running tab on how many of each per minute. If any of them had laptops in there, I’m pretty sure there would be some kind of chart involved too.
Danny said on May 20, 2008 at 2:38 pm
Corporate-speak is one of the deepest Orwellian wells of humor in modern times. Hence, Dilbert.
A few years ago, I was sitting through a time-wasting, all-hands corporate pep rally. About 30 feet in front of me, one of our VP’s was presenting. First he showed a two or three minute marketing video where scenes of our products, groups of our people (all pleasantly mixed in a multi-ethnic sense) and large, positive words like GROWTH, PEOPLE, FOCUS, COMMUNITY and VISION. all zoomed alternately into and out of the foreground. All told, it was a benign (due mostly of it’s brevity), empty and meaningless pile of crappola.
Then the VP gets up, sincerely smiles and shakes his head and says: “I have to tell you every time I see that, I get more and more excited and fired-up about our future. And all I have to say is if THAT does not excite you, well then your wood is wet.”
And at the very moment that I heard that oddly humorous phrase “your wood is wet,” the most evil and awful vision (from a job security perspective) came to my mind: That of our VP transformed into Chris Farley’s character of Matt Foley, motivational speaker. Man I was about to lose it in a very large but quiet room. I tried biting my lips in between my teeth to the point of pain and covering my mouth with my thumb and forefinger to feign that I was pondering the wisdom of the statement he had just uttered. But I could still feel the uproarious, career-ending laughter that wanted to escape. I ultimately had to resort to thinking sad thoughts of getting fired and living on the street and such.
It was rough, but I maintained my silence and averted disaster. Whew that was close!
We all had a LOT of fun with that phrase the next morning in our coffee click. Our wood was very dry and hard as we were excited, of course… about our company’s future…
Danny said on May 20, 2008 at 2:40 pm
Sue, we used to played Bingo with corporate buzz-words. We had sheets and charts and everything. We are very bad engineers. Very, very naughty boys and girls.
Dexter said on May 20, 2008 at 2:45 pm
We sort have been promised $200 a bbl. oil by Labor Day, 2008. I figure that is about $5.60 per gallon of gasoline. We should crest ten dollars per gallon when oil goes to $370 a bbl.
How did our local GM dealership react to the news? Yesterday they placed large, colorful signs on the Silverados and Tahoes and Uplanders, the used ones. Typical sign: “REDUCED !!!! WAS $12,900——-NOW! $12,300 !!!!!! ”
To which I say, B.F.D., and flash the one-legged peace sign their way.
Sue said on May 20, 2008 at 2:46 pm
My brother-in-law used to work for Lucent. Remember their logo, “the innovation ring”? The engineers referred to it as “the flaming sphincter”. Love those engineers.
nancy said on May 20, 2008 at 3:04 pm
“Your wood is wet” — that’s a keeper.
Don’t misunderstand me. I do like this job. The jargon is just the native tongue, and I’m always interested in jargon. I’m fascinated that no one seems to say, “today we use ‘loop’ as a verb, as a substitute for ‘inform,'” but one day, everyone does it. I should have majored in semiotics, like Ira Glass.
Dexter said on May 20, 2008 at 3:16 pm
I’ve been out the workforce for five years, so I visited this site to catch up. Lots of new ones here since I sat through my long meetings where the Japanese-way was imposed upon us in the late 1980’s-1990’s.
Connie said on May 20, 2008 at 3:45 pm
Oh Danny, good thing you didn’t let that laugh out, or you would have been living in VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER!!!!
Jolene said on May 20, 2008 at 4:47 pm
Following the news re Sen. Kennedy? i just looked up the prognosis for glioblastoma. Median survuval time is .7 years. Ugh.
Danny said on May 20, 2008 at 5:03 pm
Yeah, Jolene, I have been. Not good. I hope they determine that it is operable and are able to get him back on his feet.
LAMary said on May 20, 2008 at 5:11 pm
One of the people in this very room uses loop as a verb many many times a day. Everyone else in the room is tired of it. Danny, I used to have those bingo sheets too. Great way to stay awake during deadly meetings.
nancy said on May 20, 2008 at 5:15 pm
I once read that there are two kinds of brain tumors. The good kind is like a marble in a bowl of Jell-o, easy to excise and contain. The bad kind is like an ounce of liquid, poured into a bowl of Jell-o, difficult to excise, nearly impossible to contain. Sounds like Kennedy’s got the second kind.
The man is 76, but you don’t wish this on anyone.
Jolene said on May 20, 2008 at 5:25 pm
Thats right, Nancy. Rapidly proliferating cells that cannot readily be carved out. He’ll likely have radiaion and chemotherapy.
I’m reminded once again of how the definition of old keeps moving. Seventy-six doesn’t sound young to me, but it doesn’t sound as old as it used to either.
Gena said on May 20, 2008 at 7:07 pm
Nancy, I came to copywriting late in life and had no idea creative is a noun or how much leveraging and positioning was involved. Not to mention strategic branding and driving the target audience to the web. And speaking of the web, it seems like yesterday that the Lincoln Financial Group site was on the cutting edge of age-based navigation and permission marketing. And now, if you’re in a meeting and don’t know what to say, just mumble something about metrics and you’ll be fine.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 20, 2008 at 7:14 pm
. . . and another state chooses not to vote “fer that colored fella.”
The long-promised “national conversation about race” is gonna happen, in the 200th year since the birth of Abraham Lincoln in the state of . . . Kentucky!
I think there’s been more race in the voting around Obama, who is winning nationally, than there’s been sexism around Clinton. Not to say there’s been none, just that Bill gives plenty of reasons to vote “no” on a Clinton ticket, just as his presence helped to get her there.
As homework for that conversation, check out the NYT Book Review, and the facing reviews of books on the Colfax LA riots/massacre and Ida Wells. Makes the case (my words following, not the authors or reviewers) that the sacrifice of the Civil War may well have been the needed reparation for slavery, but that the debt owed today is for 1877 to 1964 (add in, especially for Midwesterners, James Loewen’s “Sundown Towns,” which helps present the northern case for the unique new birth of segregationism in post 1880-90 America).
Danny said on May 20, 2008 at 7:17 pm
Gena, and all of you vexed copy editors out; be of good cheer. Some of these stupid terms do pass out of usage. I can’t remember the last time I heard “Information Superhighway.”
kayak woman said on May 20, 2008 at 7:24 pm
I am all too familiar with “build out” and “loop”. They make sense in certain communities. And my MacBook picks up the most interesting waaaarrrless networks. Just try to get to YouTube on an A2 Public Schools wifi. I am also married to the Bill of “Bob and Bill”. They are identical twins, dontcha know?:-)
joodyb said on May 20, 2008 at 8:10 pm
Danny, that’s because it took too long to say!
Jeff, i just circled back to the review. thanks for suggesting Loewen’s groundbreaking work. i came up in such territory. it didn’t take me long to figure out what the writer meant when he said you can’t go home again.
whitebeard said on May 20, 2008 at 8:34 pm
From Jeff “I think there’s been more race in the voting around Obama, who is winning nationally, than there’s been sexism around Clinton.” To mix politics and foodstuffs in the same thought, does anyone think that Hillary is past her sell-by-date in this campaign what with Obama still gaining on delegates, racism notwithstanding.
Dorothy said on May 20, 2008 at 9:19 pm
My Aunt Ruthie had that same kind of cancer and she was gone in less than 4 months after diagnosis.
Charlie said on May 21, 2008 at 2:07 am
If you want to take a trip down online memory lane, a little while ago AOL put the original Mosaic Communications webpage (circa 1994) back up. Have a look:
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 21, 2008 at 8:25 am
OK, i finally got around to reading the second page of the “purity ball” story and looking at the slide show. For the record, “ewwwww.”
Having typed that, i gotta type this — have y’all been to any Midwestern ceremonial of any of the following: Job’s Daughters, Rainbow Girls, DeMolay, Key Club, Eastern Star, Knights of Pythias, Civil Air Patrol (yes, especially their youth dept.), Grange youth auxiliary, or DAR? I’ve ended up sitting through all these and more doing the opening prayer or singing a solo at the request of the new officer installation or something. They’re all off-kilter rehearsals for weddings and even, in a dim sort of way, funerals, and they share elements of the kitschy and creepy all wound up in Enlightenment symbolism and patriotic fervor and a vague kind of practical mysticism that may use the name “Jesus” with some emphasis but isn’t worried about being Christian at all.
What i find most fascinating (as opposed to appalling) about this is how it’s another expression of the “Bowling Alone” phenomenon in American society — these are events that replace what used to be spread through a whole nine-month, Sept./May programmatic year of youth organizations that you joined and worked through the offices for . . . 12 officers for a group that had maybe 20 members at most meetings.
Those ongoing organizations are fading fast, and “events” are getting cobbled together to replace them, like . . . the Purity Ball. Concentrated kitsch and intense focus on a relationship that needs to play out over time, not find an artificial focus on one evening.
I still laugh at the horror-stricken look on my wife’s face when i pointed out to her, decades after, the Freudian aspect of the major service clubs in her high school for boys and girls — I kid you not, Key Club and Lockets. No points for guessing which was which!
MichaelG said on May 21, 2008 at 8:51 am
Out here in California we have the Quinceañera, a sort of elaborate Mexican sweet 15.
I’ve had friends spend fortunes on them.
john c said on May 21, 2008 at 8:57 am
Wait a sec. I was in the Key Club … at an all boys high school. Hmmm.
Like Nancy, I’m sort of fascinated by jargon as well. I see a lot of it as the spouse of a business honcho. The wife often has to approve press releases, announcements and such. And she’ll frequently ask me to run it through my typewriter. What gets me is that some of it is ridiculously bad, while some of it is extremely good.
To me the most heinous offenses are in mission statements. The whole idea of them is to concisely express the purpose of the organization. Yet they are mostly filled with the crap that every committee charged with writing something comes up with.
Years a go a company I know well came up with a long and winding mission statement that reflected the changing marketing environment and the variety of skill sets that need to be activated, blah, blah, blah. The mission statement it replaced, written back when the company was run by one man: “To make the best advertising in the world, bar none.”
brian stouder said on May 21, 2008 at 9:08 am
Well, a corollary to Woody Allen’s ‘90% of life is just showing up’ might be ‘90% of parenting is being present’, or ‘90% of parental influence exists at the dinner table’.
I cannot claim to be father-of-the-year material, but I think I’ve learned that major ‘parenting inputs’ (other than, say, dental care) cannot be accomplished in scheduled 90 minute events. What these bizarre events really look like is a make-good for parents who realize (along with the rest of us) they’re not ‘parents-of-the-year’ material, but who wanna be!
It seems as if the real ‘purity’ that is being sought, is the cleanliness of the parents’ hands
Jen said on May 21, 2008 at 9:13 am
I just read up on some of the clubs that Jeff mentioned. Very…interesting. There are a number of those clubs around here, but I’ve never been privy to any of their ceremonies.
At our county fair, the local chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star makes the BEST doughnuts in the entire universe. I am not exaggerating – people don’t blink an eye at lining up three or four blocks to buy them. My out-of-town friends (who have never heard of the Eastern Star) agreed that they are incredible, but they now refer to them as “cult doughnuts.”
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 21, 2008 at 9:57 am
OES teaches fearlessness in the face of butter, lard, and refined sugar, along with some symbolic gestures towards the Divine.
Hence, they cook like angels. Angels who are not approved by the American Heart Association . . .
Brian — i plan to steal that line about the purity of parents’ hands at my earliest opportunity. Don’t tell Nancy.
Danny said on May 21, 2008 at 10:01 am
Jeff, if you write it without attribution … well, let’s just say that Nancy has been known to find these sort of things out.
Jolene said on May 21, 2008 at 10:31 am
I grew up in a family that probably didn’t talk about sexuality as much as it should have, but, still, it seems like a “purity ball” would necessarily involve a more explicit and intense focus on sex than any conversation I’d have wanted to have with my dad. And I had a pretty cool if not terrifically communicative dad.
brian stouder said on May 21, 2008 at 10:43 am
i plan to steal that line
It’s all yers! I’ve stolen…errr…internalized any number of nn.c’isms over the years (talking points about newspapers and movies and Detroit and ‘sensible shoes’; and New Orleans and breasts and hurricanes; and juveniles and threat assessments and administrators*, and universities and medical bureaucracy, and….)
Jolene said on May 21, 2008 at 10:44 am
Jargon crops up in politics even faster than in business, I think, perhaps because the mass media play a bigger role in disseminating it. Am listening to pundits on NPR talk about yesterday’s elections as I write and, at the same time groaning about hearing again all the phrases I’ve been hearing the past few months.
Guess that, if I want to stay sane, I need to follow Nancy’s advice to focus on the middle distance and let the small stuff pass.
Kirk said on May 21, 2008 at 11:13 am
That’s what drives me nuts about so many of my media colleagues. The job is to gather the news and then to report it in English; far too many gather it and then just regurgitate the jargon, which most people don’t understand and so subsequently ignore.
LAMary said on May 21, 2008 at 11:22 am
Rainbow Girls, wow. I was one of those.