Every other phrase in blogs written by my fellow PR and marketing people these days has something to do with “new media.” It’s the new thing, right? Facebook, Twitter, text messaging — it’s never been seen before, it’s revolutionary!
Or is it?
A twentysomething friend who works at a Chicago PR agency recently told me he runs into the occasional older person (in other words, someone my age!) who seems wary of venturing out into the new media landscape, unable to get his arms around the new ways today’s younger generation communicates.
But, seriously, how did they talk to their friends back when THEY were teenagers? The answer is found in the “Telephone Hour” song from the 1963 movie version of the musical “Bye Bye Birdie.”
This song and its brilliant staging bring to life the telephone-obsessed, affluent teenagers of the early ’60s. Visual emphasis on the telephone wires and the shot of the switchboard operator towards the end amplify (pun intended, sorry) the technology component of a song about how teenagers communicate.
For those of you who weren’t around in 1963, note that most of the locations where telephones are shown would have been highly unusual for the time. The only carphones were in James Bond movies. Teenagers on phones in a soda shop (what ever happened to soda shops?) was a laughable exaggeration.
An observant 10-year-old when the movie debuted, I saw moms and dads freaking out over the amount of time teens spent on the phone every night. But peruse the Morton Grove or Skokie (Ill.) phone books of that era (what ever happened to the phone book?) and you’d see that a few of these same parents were adding “child’s telephone” listings. These were second phone numbers in an age where virtually every household had only one.
Also around that time (actually 1959, according to Wikipedia), AT&T (what ever happened to AT&T? Oh wait, they’re back, aren’t they?) came out with the Princess telephone, a revolution compared to the standard black desk phone, and completely targeted to teenage girls. In 1963, they came out with a touch-tone version, and it must have been this version that seems to be in the opening shot of the “Telephone Hour” song.
“Bye Bye Birdie” not only captured the inseparable attachment of teens and technology, but it also predicted a future 40 years later, when every human being would be on the phone all the time everywhere and 2,000 anytime minutes wouldn’t seem like enough.
Why is this important?
The social media phenomenon isn’t new. It’s old. It’s not so much about the technology, but of yet another generation’s failure to understand their kids.
People just want to connect. They used Princess phones in 1963. Now they text and Tweet.
Now let’s travel even further back.
After 18 years doing PR for AAA, and 10 recent years working on Internet projects, “information highway” is a meaningful phrase. The Internet (or more accurately, the Internet of 10-15 years ago, when it was in the early stages of the World Wide Web) serves exactly the same function as the newly conceived Interstate highway system of the 1950s.
In this context, I was telling my twentysomething friend about AAA’s trip logs of the early 1900s. At that time, the motor club was mostly a social organization for rich guys who could afford horseless carriages. They would drive across the country on roads that might have been paved, or might not, and write about their experiences in the club’s magazines. My friend quickly observed that it was another form of social media.
He was right.
When we communications people think about new media strategies that make sense for our clients, let’s focus less on today’s technology fad (actually, today, it’s the Google phone, which looks pretty cool) and think about the bigger picture. People just want to talk to each other. Let’s figure out how to make that work for our clients.
Invite us over to your office for a customized workshop we call “New Media for Old People,” a guided tour across the new media landscape. When we’re done, you’ll want to pull out the old Smith-Corona and start banging out your own trip log about your trip down the information highway.