Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Uncategorized
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As a card-carrying baby boomer (I guess officially, with my AARP membership!), I was 10 when most of 1968 happened. It was a pivotal year, no doubt -- though in my consciousness, '69 left a deeper impact. AARP magazine does a fine job of using the Web as a story-telling device to revisit the year. This online special section kicks...

UPDATE April 13, 2009: I went to drop off some shoes with Claude the King of Shoes in advance of an out-of-town trip, and was disappointed to see he wasn't at his usual spot at Welton St. and the 16th Street Mall in Downtown Denver. As I turned to go back to my office, I saw him -- about 75 feet away from the intersection, looking lonely. He told me the Downtown Denver Partnership organization was forcing him to back away from the intersection at least 50 feet, or pay for a vendor's license of over $500 a month. I wondered if he makes that much more than that. Here's a story from the Denver Post. He's also being criticized for making remarks at people (and their shoes) as they walk on by. Today as I waited he commented to a man walking with a woman, "You must the key to heaven... because you have such an angel with you." He got a smile from both the man and woman. He called out to another woman, "I can't imagine the world without your beauty in it." She smiled too. Some people (maybe even me, if I didn't know Claude) might take these comments to be sexist and inappropriate. But in the context of his "act," they seem awful cute to me. It's how he gets peoples' attention to sell his top-quality shoeshines. He's been shining shoes downtown for 14 years, he said, and 11 of those years now, at one intersection: 16th and Welton. He's trying to raise money for a lawyer to help him fight the "eviction" on grounds that it's limiting his ability to make a living, and on freedom of speech ground (it's true -- like me, many people seem to not see him when he's away from the corner, and he can't keep up his nonstop upbeat patter at passersby). I wish him luck. I'm glad he was able to shine my shoes, and also handle the three pairs I dropped off. (The following post was written April 29, 2007; I made the video above about a year later.) OK, I'm feeling sheepish about admitting this. But I signed up this week for a lifetime membership ... to get my shoes shined by Claude, the King of Shoes. I've seen Claude for years. In fact, he's plied his trade on the corners of Denver's downtown 16th Street Mall for nine years. A few weeks ago, as I was hurrying back from lunch to my office a block off the 16th Street Mall, Claude looked up from a customer's wingtips and glanced my way. "Are those "Bjorns?" he asked. Yes, they were, and yes, they look ratty, but I was in a hurry to get back to the office, without acknowledging the question. A few days ago I was out to lunch again and saw Claude on the corner, shining up another customer's shoes, using his fingers to work in some liquid leather conditioner. He looked up again -- I wasn't wearing my Bjorns this time -- and so I asked him if he really recognized my shoes. He remembered me from the Bjorns, for one thing (OK, maybe my beret and Asian face had something to do with that part), but he explained with some patience, like I shouldn't have to ask, that he's seen every brand of shoe that god's put on Earth and he knows what to do to take care of every one of them.

Newspapers come and the news is gone the next day. TV reports are even briefer. Magazines tell their stories week by week, or month by month, and then they're forgotten. But content on the Internet has a more persistent life cycle. Now, content can live forever -- or at least, a lot longer than it used to. And, in our current information age, content of all types can prosper even if it lies in the eddies and swirls along the edges instead of the mainstream of pop culture. Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired magazine, wrote an entire book (and blog) about this phenomenon, called The Long Tail. Here's his theory, in a nutshell:
The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-target goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.
This idea of the Long Tail perfectly describes my experience with an online tribute page I created for my friend Alan Dumas, who died suddenly of a heart attack in April 1999.

One of my ongoing passions is pondering the passing of pop culture references. Baby boomers have lived through decades of new hip phrases -- for instance, the hip word for "good" has evolved every few years, from "cool" to "groovy" to "far out" (thanks to John Denver for killing that one off by using it too much) to "excellent" to "bad" to "tight" to other words and phrases.Young people are constantly introducing new words and bringing new meanings to old words. That's a part of the evolution of culture and language.

Oswald being shot, photo by Bob JacksonI'm watching "JFK: Breaking the News," a documentary on WNET, one of the New York area's PBS stations, about the media coverage of the November, 1963 assassination of president John F. Kennedy. It's fascinating because in analyzing the way both print and broadcast journalists scrambled in Dallas after the shooting, the program shows how it was a bellwether event in the history of media. It marked the passing of the "breaking news" mantle from newspapers to television.

200px-Bill_Clinton.jpgI'm proud to be a Baby Boomer, because of all the historical implications my generation has had. Not the usual stuff about living through the Vietnam war and rock and roll and Kennedy and civil rights and the space race (all of which is true), but more the fact that simply having such a large cohort of people growing up at the same time forced society and industry and business and culture to change to accommodate us all. Bill Clinton, who's the quintessential boomer -- the first avowed rock and roller (OK, so maybe playing Fleetwood Mac for campaign music isn't hardcore, and he didn't "inhale," but he's still more like us, than, say, the first George Bush or Ronald Reagan) who moved into the White House -- turns 60 this week, and the BBC had this interview with the guy.

When I wrote last week about the death of AOL, I may have been premature. Maybe it's just the start of a new chapter in AOL's lifespan. Take this Washington Post story today, for proof. AOL last week screwed up and released private information about its users and how they use the company's search engine. Significantly, the top search term entered by AOL users is "Google."

Truly, it's the end of an era. My first online job, way back in 1996, was as Content Editor of AOL's Digital City Denver. It was a great time to be working on the Internet -- there was a palpable sense of excitement. Everything was new, and everything was possible. Never mind that AOL wasn't exactly the "Internet" (many 'Net folks pooh-poohed AOL even then), we were all missonaries preaching the online faith. Like the other handful of online companies at the time, we spent more than half of our long days meeting with potential partners, advertisers and content providers, as well as anyone who would spend the time to listen, to tell them about the Internet and how it would change their lives.