We Are One (and Boy, Are We Cold)

If you missed this afternoon’s Inaugural Celebration–We Are One concert, HBO will be presenting it again this evening. And if you don’t subscribe to HBO, get this–they have opened up access to the channel to all of us for this one event. More details at HBO.

Putting aside jaded musical taste, remnants of cynicism, and the football game, this was a wonderful LIVE show: sincere, entertaining and moving at times. Personal fave moments: Soulful Bettye Lavette and just as soulful Jon Bon Jovi; Pete Seeger doing what he’s been doing for eons–talking the lyrics a beat ahead so that we can all sing along; Renee Fleming looking ab fab singing the crap out of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”; Garth Brooks rousing the audience with–guess… Okay, you can’t guess–“Shout.”

Because of both the place and the date, parallels to the March on Washington were obvious and yet inspiring. Lots of star power speakers made sure we didn’t miss that or any other historical significance. And they did a darn fine job.

The presidential family and guests seemed to be having a grand time, although I can’t imagine they weren’t cold–the girls didn’t even have mittens on. My hands got cold just watching.

Like Grant Park, the audience was thrillingly diverse. Where else will you see a balding boomer standing next to young tween black girls and punksters with what looked to be painful piercings, and Gen-X parents with kids on their shoulders and they’re ALL singing “This Land is Your Land?” and not even ironically.


The Oldest Living Human on Facebook

I wrote this in the Dark Ages…in internet years. Facebook sure ain’t what it used to be. Now even my 92-year old uncle is on. This was a post on AgingHipsters, the Baby Boomer Homepage, of which I was co-founder.

Recently my college-bound son invited me to be his friend on Facebook. Whether this was a temporary lapse into cuteness, sentimentality, or mischief, even he isn’t sure. But, like the intrepid internet pioneer I am, I said “golly, sure thing” and registered. Originally intended as the private domain of college kids with .edu addresses, Facebook now allows pretty much anyone to register.

Little did I know what I would face as the Oldest Living Human on Facebook. But first the good stuff. A parent with less-than-pure intentions could, for example, post embarrassing comments on a child’s ‘wall.’ While their friends are posting quick comments in kid-code, you could, maybe, write “hugs and kisses from mommy.” Not that you would, but you could. Then you could upload that cute picture of little Bobby buck-naked in the wading pool when he was 2. Not that you would.

If you have a pretty good rapport with your kid’s friends, some of them may even invite you to be a friend, which spares you the humiliation of having only one or two friends on your profile. Is this beginning to remind anyone of choosing up teams for grade-school kickball? I anxiously check each day (OK, each hour) to see if anyone has picked me.

Another good thing is that you can occasionally (Ok every hour) look at your kid’s profile–see who his new friends are, what groups he’s joined, what new pictures are up. You might even learn where the hell he was till 4:00 am last Friday. Do this at your own risk–there’s such a thing as too much information.
And if you use Facebook as it was probably intended, it’s a pretty good place to set up a group if you’re trying to hook up with old camp friends or everyone in your bowling league, for example.

But, there are downsides to being the O.L.H. on Facebook. Take this group I came across: “EWW–Why Do Old People Have Facebook?”
To paraphrase Sally Field, ‘they hate us, they really hate us.” Actually, this group is pretty tame compared to some of the others that really do seem to hate us. But hey, we’re 75 million boomers, we’re used to it.

Then there are the warm-but-snarky messages from kid’s friends or friends’ kids. The “what-the-hell-are-YOU-doing-here-but-since-you-are-this-is-so-cute” notes. Mostly they beg me not to tell their parents how to do it. I duly promise to live by a don’t ask/don’t tell policy and to misdirect any other adults trying to sign on.

What none of these kids seem to know is that we were the original social networkers. Does anyone remember The Well? Started by the folks who brought us the Whole Earth Catalog, it’s been online since 1985. These kids weren’t born yet. If you were really geeky, you could open a Terminal connection to someone else’s computer and do a caveman-style version of chat. Then we had Prodigy and AOL. In fact, AgingHipsters got its start in the Baby Boomer Conference Room on AOL. I believe my son was five at the time. After AOL, some of the more adventurous boomers moved on to IRC. It was a little klutzy, but when has pioneering life ever been easy?

So there I am, looking a little foolish, on Facebook. My friends’ list has grown by vast numbers to…6. But, we boomers have a long history of both adaptation and innovation. I will find ways to make their Facebook my Facebook. I’ve started an alumni group for my summer camp, Camp Vega–so far we only have 3 members, but I’m confident other O.L.H.s will find their way there. All they’ll need is a decoder ring, some age-blindness, and a little chutzpah.

Do Boomers Still Dig Rock & Roll Music? What’s on Your Playlists?

When, in preparation for his New York Times article about Boomers and music, Jeff Leeds interviewed me, I started thinking about the way I listen to music today as opposed to back in the day. For the most part I still listen to a lot of what I listened to then–Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Steely Dan, Springsteen, the Allman Brothers, a bit of blues, a lot of Billie Holiday and Ella, a lot of jazz. I haven’t bought a current CD by anybody, even old favorites, in the last few years. My last new discoveries were Delbert McClinton who’s been around for at least 30 years and Eva Cassidy, who’s dead.

For a while I was all about staying current. I liked Counting Crows for a minute and a half when they came out. I like Alannis Morrisette for a day or two. I was quoted in the article saying that if I want to know what’s cool, I ask my 22-year old. That’s true but it doesn’t mean I like much of what I hear. I like some Ween, some Sublime. I’ve been trying Matis Yahu lately and Gnarls Barkley. But I couldn’t tell you what any of them look like, who the personnel is, who’s the cool session guy sitting in, or even what their albums are called. These days listening is more like dim sum—a little this, a little that. It’s not the same as knowing which Bonnie Raitt albums Freebo played on or that Wayne Shorter played on Steely Dan’s Aja.

I’ll keep listening for new discoveries and nod towards what’s absolutely this minute, but I think my days of laying on the floor between the speakers are over. Billie Holiday will always make me cry when she sings Travelin’ Light, Tom Waits will always blow me away with Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis, and I’ll always rock out with the Allman Brothers. But I’m pretty sure I haven’t been cool for quite a while. And I figure at my age, it’s time to get over it.

Just for fun, let’s lay it out there. What were the last 10 songs you added to a playlist? Don’t go searching your play list for the coolest stuff, just the last 10 you added. Who knows, maybe we can turn each other on to new music or remind ourselves of old favorites. I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours:
1. Delbert McClinton & Danny Gatton–Sun Medley
2. Chris Smither–Frankie & Albert
3. Jet–Are You Gonna Be My Girl?
4. Keb Mo–Shave Yo Legs
5. Matis Yahu– Chop em Down
6. Dean Friedman–Ariel
7. Drive By Truckers (thank you, Jeff Leeds)–Goddam Lonely Love
8. Johnny Mathis–Chances Are
9. Dirtie Blonde–Walk All Over Me
10. Gnarls Barkley–Gone Daddy Gone

Boomer Radio?

We are so special that we require our very own radio show. Called  Encore Living, the call-in radio show apparently caters to boomers, with such topics as travel, entertainment, legal affairs, health, financial news, and a little Las Vegas comedy from Buddy Hackett’s son, Sandy.

The show, which has launched in about a dozen cities, is meant to be the next best thing for our generation since we are either ignored or dissed by younger generations (read ‘market share’). However, during a brief listen to their sales clip, I heard the word ‘senior’ a dozen times as well as some decidedly un-hip radio chitchat.

For those of us who have turned into our parents, Encore Living may be right on target. However, if I need to feel old, I just listen to my kids’ music.

When I’m 64: Boomer Maintenance

Lately whenever I look in the mirror or get dressed I think about 3 thing– looks, money and old age. Remember when you’d run a comb through your hair, dash some lipstick on and you were done? It seems like every year adds another series of maintenance tasks. Now it takes me half an hour just to get to the baseline.

Do you suppose Medicare will include a provision for hair and body maintenance or will those of us unlucky enough to be poor have to look like an Aesop witch with one long hair growing precisely out of the middle of our chins?

Who will do for us when we can’t do for ourselves? Without getting into the realm of Too Much Information, think about daily, weekly and monthly maintenance tasks: –shaving, plucking, filing, coloring, bleaching, moisturizing, masking, pumicing, blow-drying — various body parts. What happens when we can’t reach our toenails? Do they grow into curving yellow claws? Can you think of someone who’ll take care of them…for free? Maybe some of you lucky enough to have willing & able daughters or…who?

Do we really want to be at the mercy of overly-busy nursing home attendants or a kindly student intern at the senior center? Or maybe we need to make sacred pacts with our closest friends: I’ll do that (too-personal-to-mention) task for you if you’ll do it for me. Instead of saving for a dream vacation home or a spiffy car, we should be putting money away for a personal assistant, and not a digital one.

But then I read John Mortimer’s obituary in the NY TImes and it quoted his bookThe Summer of a Dormouse: A Year of Growing Old Disgracefully and this really struck me:
“The aging process is not gradual or gentle. It rushes up, pushes you over and runs off laughing. No one should grow old who isn’t ready to appear ridiculous.”

Which leads me to another way of thinking about this—-maybe we just won’t give a crap: “Hey, I have a moustache–live with it.”

What do you think?

Mind the Gap

I was commissioned to write this article for people interested in global marketing and e-commerce. Since internet practices change exponentially over time, a lot of this is outdated, so please don’t take my advice.

Mind the Gap
How to Do Business the Trans-Atlantic Way

Although we may appear to speak the same language, the United States and the United Kingdom are about as different as apple pie and plum pudding. And when it comes to doing business in both countries, your best bet is to be as thoroughly prepared as possible, lest you bite into something that turns out to be a nasty surprise.

Commerce across cultures is never easy, but you can boost your chances for success by understanding the differences (and similarities) of the consumers you’re trying to reach.

Security Blanket

The US leads the world in e-commerce, with $488 billion in sales in 2000, according to a report by Forrester Research. The UK, although ahead of most of Europe, did only $17.2 billion in sales in 2000.

One of the reasons for this is a lingering discomfort with the use of credit cards. According to Lara van Druten, co-founder of the European Network University in Amsterdam and Sr. Consultant in Innovation Strategies for origin IT Global, European consumers are mistrustful of credit cards and lack the American tradition of borrowing against what one doesn’t have and running up huge credit card debt. Also, US consumers, having a long familiarity with catalogue and mail-order buying, find it easier to make the leap to online buying.

Once the British do finally buy online, security is an even bigger issue than it is in the US. A study done by the UK’s National Consumer Council found that British e-commerce is hampered by fears about Internet security. Only 3% of Internet users shop online because they view it as riskier than brick-and-mortar. In spite of all the moaning and groaning about security in the US, half of Internet users have shopped online.

If you plan to win the hearts and minds, not to mention wallets, of online shoppers abroad, you might consider basing all security software and technology in the United States, where both the technology and policing is in place to enforce credit card security. Although the British typically are not likely to buy foreign, the Consumer Council study found that if they purchase online abroad, the US is their first choice. And this is in some part due to the sophisticated online security available in the US. You must create a secure online shopping experience that consumers can trust and that you can enforce.

Are You Being Served?

One area where the two countries are on the same pace is customer service, which pretty much stinks globally. In ZdnetUK, Tony Westbrook writes that 40% of UK e-commerce users are disappointed with their shopping experience. In the US, about that same percent of online purchase attempts failed altogether. In both countries, the technology press is filled with dire warnings to etailers—get your customer service act together or watch holiday spending go down the tubes. If you can provide top-notch customer service you’re ahead of the curve in any language.

Both US and UK online shoppers have made it clear they want to be able to pick up the phone or knock on an actual door and have a real human address customer service concerns. As a company doing business internationally, your best bet is to establish local in-country customer service teams that provide a real, not virtual presence, and that speak the same language as your customers—literally.

Hello, This is Your Web Site Calling

Interestingly, the UK and Europe as a whole have surged ahead on one area. In what van Druten calls the “WAP revolution” she notes that Europeans are “wireless-mad,” and addicted to their mobile phones. Think about following the model of that Ur-site of all global sites, Amazon. In a recent press release Amazon makes a point of stressing their wireless capabilities: Amazon Anywhere is the leader in mobile e-commerce, providing access from anywhere in the world to Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.de on personal digital assistants (PDAs) and through handheld wireless Internet devices that use HDML or the Wireless Application Protocol.

Any US business hoping to take on the UK market will have to consider the wireless market—which is becoming the single most popular online commerce technology.

Blue Light Special on Wellies

Perhaps the most elusive challenge a trans-Atlantic business will face is actually offering something foreign consumers are interested in buying from you. Why, for example, should a fashionista in New York City buy her cashmere from a site based in London? And does anyone in Wales actually want a World Series poster? Do you offer the same product to both markets? Do you step in and compete in an already existing market? Tough questions.

So far, UK e-tailers have not tried to compete aggressively in the US market. According to Charles Levin, president of Pathfinder Consulting Group, a web development company doing business in both the US and UK, the British see themselves as slow to mature behind the US in the e-commerce. They tend not to try to compete with US sites as much as watching what the US is doing and then ‘borrowing.’

One example of an English icon that has tried to make inroads in the US is Harrods, a brick-and-mortar institution and tourist destination. In the hope, perhaps of bringing a little plum pudding to the New World, they opened a US site, oohed-and-aahed over in the glossy magazines. Except for one thing—the site is currently down and in redevelopment. Just in time for the holiday shopping season.

What the Heck Are Wellies?

Amazon, however, is an ideal example of a US company moving successfully overseas and they’ve used several methods to accomplish this. When they moved into the UK and Germany, they acquired existing online booksellers to be their base of operations, creating an instant local presence. They coupled this with a strong brand identity known for exemplary customer service and ease of use. It’s a strong one-two punch: “Hey, you know how good we are at selling books AND we’ve got a whole team to serve you just down the street.” In this way, they’ve effectively dealt with both the security and customer service issues as well as that pesky product-line issue.

In speaking with Peter Kooiker, a marketing expert who has worked with several local retail chains across the US, we’ve come up with what may be the most sensible model for determining what will sell where: in the same way that brick and mortar operations do their research to find out what local consumers will buy, an online business must develop a product line that fits the area. Think of your site as another store and sell what the locals want to buy. Whether you do this the amazon way—by acquiring or partnering with a local presence or you do it by extensive research and marketing in the local (and in this case we mean national) market—you simply cannot afford to ignore the importance of offering an appropriate and enticing product line.

So, Now What?

If you’re going to succeed in becoming a global, or even a transatlantic online presence, you have a few real issues to consider and decisions to make. Are you going to try to be a one-site-fits-all or are you going to open your “stores” in several locations? The single best bet is to do a bit of both.

According to a recent Forrester Research report, companies planning to do business internationally should build a global, centralized infrastructure that includes the capability of customizing applications to meet local needs. “A core set of software will provide a global, corporatewide foundation for all sites in any language… In-country teams will customize applications to meet local needs…and to support multiple tax and payment frameworks and are anchored by a worldwide publishing system.”

This may sound ambitious, but by providing a consistent, reliable framework of purchasing and service, and content specifically appealing to the local market, you’re positioning yourself to be the next Amazon. Or at least the next worldwide purveyor of plum pudding.

Sidebar: A Honey-Do List for Trans-Atlantic E-tailers

• Create secure online purchasing and enforce it.
• Lousy customer service is global. Stand out with superior service.
• Think wireless.
• Know your market—branding and product lines.
• Plan globally, act locally.