It was during the last visit to my parents’, that I remembered I’d been wanting to look for my favorite movie from when I was a kid: The Amazing Spiderman. With the possible exception of the Thundercats, there was nothing else we could watch until our eyes bled. It’s one of those things that you remember for no apparent reason. In fact, to this day I couldn’t actually tell you what happen in either of those movies, just that they were pure awesome and full of win!
Just as we were about to leave, I ran downstairs and located the stack of my folks’ old VideoDiscs. I rifled through them and found what I was looking for. Flipping it over, I had correctly remembered the exact freeze-frames on the back of the disc. I always loved VideoDiscs. Probably because I had no idea how they worked, they just seemed like giant magic pieces of plastic that made Spiderman fly through the sky much to my delight. And probably because they made better weapons than wimpy VHS tapes FOOL!
So, we dug out the old player, burried under 20 years of collected miscellany in the basement, dusted it off, threw it in the car and it’s been sitting on my kitchen counter for almost a month. Sitting there mainly because the thing weighs about 40 pounds and the half-dozen or so discs weighs another 10 pounds. You can start to see why this thing didn’t exactly catch on.
At this point, most of you are asking yourself, “what’s a VideoDisc”? That would mean you’re not one the of 20 people that actually bought these things. More specifically, these are Capacitance Electronic Discs or CEDs. CEDs were developed by RCA back in the mid 60’s. However, It wasn’t until the early 80’s that the system actually came to fruition. Unfortunately, they were overshadowed by LaserDisc, VHS and Betamax and within 5 years of hitting the shelves the system was discontinued. The company lost millions. When I say unfortunate, I mean it. These things are freakin’ awesome. It’s basically a record player that plays video AND sound. I still think it’s pretty cool today! If you’ve never seen one, the discs are held inside a protective case, so they look like a thin, yet giant hunk of plastic. Which BTW, should have been a designer’s dream palette. Forget you CD cases!
Well, tonight I finally got around to hooking the beasty up.
It didn’t work.
It DID make a lot of loud noises. A good sign!
So what does a geek with no specialty with electronics or aptitude for repair of things not based in Photoshop or Notepad do when an old outdated piece of equipment doesn’t work?
TEAR IT APART BABY!
One hour and one almost-perfectly-sized-hair-tie later (thank you my dear!) we have a semi-working VideoDisc player! I was able to manually spin the larger gears to get the disc loaded and locked in position. Luckily the turntable still worked on its own. It sprang into action and we had picture. I tested it out with Commando. No reason to destroy my precious Spiderman if something went wrong. Luckily all ran smooth. So I threw in my prized video and voila!
So what does a 30+ year old video player and a childhood memory have to do with either marketing or TechGuys? Maybe nothing at all. But I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere.
RCA spent over 20 years developing a technology that failed spectacularly. These days it’s exactly the opposite. It’s all about quickly-evolving technologies and failing early! It’s the companies that are nimble and able to change to the whim of the marketplace that are successful. The rapid development and deployment of systems is what makes the times we currently live in so dynamic and exciting.
And potentially deadly.
All of this fast-paced, shoot-from-the-hip, first-through-the-gate mentality has shown us that there’s no substitute for taking a deep breath and sleeping on it. We see enough technology, grandiose plans and excitement come to a grinding halt because the idea was “move fast”, not “move smart”. Too often we overlook the lessons we’ve learned and start running at shiny objects. How many times have we seen those on the “bleeding edge” of technology get truly hurt?
On the flipside, had RCA been able to produce and systematize the VideoDisc player earlier, let’s say by the mid 70’s, it’s entirely possible that the trajectory of entertainment media delivery could have been completely different. It’s hard to tell. The point is, there’s a natural flow to everything we do. We can all tell when we’re truly rushing. We can tell when what we’re towards isn’t going too solid, due to the speed, lack of planning, etc. It’s also our natural inclination to simply push forward. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” And we know how that usually works out!
So here’s my hope for 2012: Don’t let the latest shiny object, whizbang service, or our natural inclination to shoot first and ask questions later, be your stumbling block.
Don’t do stupid things! Do smart things! Then you’ll hopefully have happy memories of Spiderman cartoons, sunshine and lollipops rather than nightmares of long freakout phone calls with support, angry customers and mind-boggling maps of “what went wrong” that will haunt you for years on end!