The Wonder Years

(Overheard by no one. Ever.)

“I wonder what happened at the Olympics.”

“I guess you’ll have to wait until you get home to find out.”


“What do you think she’s like? I wonder what kind of music she’s into, books she’s read, where she’s from…”

“Assuming asking her is off the table, see what you can find out from one of her friends.”


“I’ll bet you Michael Phelps is straight as an arrow. He’s probably in bed at eight every night so he can get up and train at five-AM or some ungodly hour. I kind of feel bad for him. He can’t kick back and just do the things dudes do.”

“Yeah. He’s probably never even been to a party. Sucks for him.”


“Did you know Anthony Weiner originally wanted to be a weatherman? What a tool. He’s such a mensch it’s pathetic. He’s like the central casting ‘shirt off his back’ Boy Scout.”

“I know. The guy’s gotta loosen up a little. He’s making the rest of us look bad.”


“I’m worried about her. I think she’s working herself to death. I think she wants to prove to us that she can handle the freedom of college. We trust her. I just want her to enjoy herself– when she’s done studying of course.”

“The key is make friends and not look back and say ‘I wish I lifted my head up a little and enjoyed myself some.”

If Only We Could Unknow Things

Technology has made the world incredibly small and very translucent in so many ways. The whole concept of not being able to know something or to access information about it instantly from anywhere is almost unthinkable.  This is not a diatribe on “Big Brother” and our loss of privacy. The government (or its shadowy puppet-masters if the blogosphere is to be believed) can watch me all they like. I’m not that interesting. Rather, I’m speaking about our loss of those things that were so common and so foundational for so many. The curiosity, opinion rather than ‘fact’, and the dialog that surrounded us are in short supply these days. The ubiquitous “I wonder…” most of us grew up with has gone the way of the hula-hoop. Many of life’s mysteries, writ large and small, have been ‘solved.’

In many ways this is a good thing. Finding what you’re looking for quickly and verifying it against multiple sources is nearly always a good thing.  “Why belabor through debate what you can know,” has its place. But I can’t help but wonder if this seeming God’s-eye, three-hundred-sixty-degree view of everything actually acts as blinders more often than not. I worry we take so much in we retain very little.

“Did you hear about the shooting in Aurora?”

“OMG. Will Ferrell just called Kristen Stewart a ‘trampire’!!!”

Nothing sticks for long. There’s always more right behind it. Size gets distorted as everything gets force-fed into 140 characters or a million Facebook comments.

The Ephemeral Empire.

But mostly I worry we’re greatly diminished by our growing inability to understand and go beyond what we cannot see, what isn’t captured and made data.

To market a product (or create one) people used to engage in copious amounts of people-watching. Cognitive Anthropologist Dr. Bob Deutsch once told me that successful marketers are always astute observers of “people in life”, like Diane Fossey observed and came to understand gorillas in the mist.

Now we have behavior monitoring. Someone hit your website. Drop a cookie and work backwards as to how they got there. Look for ‘likes’ and funnel them at the point of decision.

Fine. For salmon.


The Deeper Part of the River


But if that’s all you’ve got, you’re in trouble. Our obsession with action has left us with decreasing understanding of why (or why not) the things happen. We only know that they happen or are statistically probable to happen.  I’m not advocating going back to the bad old days of “birds of a feather” bucketing where nine of ten products were aimed toward “soccer moms.” We’re way past that. But I don’t want to lose sight of the things that happen that can’t be measured, captured, or categorized. What makes folks tick, not just what makes them click. Trusting your eyes and ears as much as your data. Or more.

Like the “Ghost on the Canvas” from one of my favorite Paul Westerberg songs, too often, “people don’t know when they’re looking at soul.”


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