Thursday, January 19, 2012

5 Signs of Change

1. Kodak, one of the best-known brands of the last century, is in bankruptcy. Fuji, with a more stable manufacturing process, is eating its lunch in its core film business, while its moves into digital photography have been too timid to make a difference. How bad are things at Kodak? Yesterday it sued half a dozen competitors claiming a patent on sending photographs by email. If that’s a sign of the way things are going, Kodak may not emerge from bankruptcy as planned. The next on my list of 20th-century brands to falter: McDonald’s.

2. You think I’m kidding about McDonald’s, right? I’m not. Look at the vociferous reaction to the revelation that Paula Deen, the high-fat celebrity chef, has secretly been suffering from diabetes for three years, and is now endorsing a controversial and expensive diabetes medication. When I looked at the comments on Twitter, there was no sympathy for a woman who was suffering from one of the dread diseases of our time, and that is because of the way she was so transparently trying to use her condition to make millions of dollars from the suffering of others. Joan Rivers quipped, “Paula Deen has admitted that she’s taking a drug for diabetes. It's a once-daily injectable stick of butter.” Bette Midler suggested, “She should run for office!!” Even Time asked the obvious question, “Did Paula Deen’s Own Cooking Give Her Diabetes?”. It’s quite an abrupt turnaround from the eat-get-sick-take-drugs pattern that Americans have accepted as the norm for a lifetime. If the thought of eating the worst food you can find until you come down with the predictable degenerative diseases, then continuing to eat and promote the same food that made you sick suddenly makes America recoil, then maybe Americans’ attitudes about food in general are at a turning point.

3. The scale and energy of yesterday’s Internet blackout caught the political supporters of Internet censorship bills by surprise. As Michael Moore put it, “I’ve never seen a demonstration have an impact this quickly.” Some of the Senate’s Internet servers were offline last night because of the volume of messages opposing the bills. In response, in less than two days, nearly half of the bills’ supporters in Congress have switched sides. The opposition to Internet censorship was, in its own way, as big as the opposition to the Wall Street Bailout, but while Congress held their noses and voted for the Bailout anyway, the Internet blackout appears to have actually changed Congress’s direction.

4. Apple released what appears to be the world’s first fully functional ebook authoring program, and it’s free. Since Apple first introduced the iPad, the ebook industry has had two years to fix the obvious flaws in the technology that kept readers and publishers from adopting the ebook format, and instead, it has barely taken a step forward in that time. With today’s announcements, Apple’s new software becomes the de facto standard in ebooks, and with a working standard, I believe the technology will finally take off.

5. In the first large wave of settlements in the phone-hacking scandal, News International paid probably more than £1 million to settle 37 cases, and virtually admitted that senior management must have known about specific phone break-ins. Significantly, lawyers at the hearing said that some cases would not be possible to settle, and would have to go to trial. The inquiry surrounding any such trial could easily be the undoing of the entire news organization.