‘Days of Future Passed’
Flipping around my 500 cable stations (480 or so unwatchable and unwanted) the other evening, I stumbled on a recent Woody Allen movie, “Midnight in Paris.” The plot is sweet and simple, somehow managing to retain its realism while treading far into the realm of fantasy.
The main character is a screenwriter vacationing in Paris. One night, while walking alone in the city in search of inspiration, he is spirited away by a group of party-goers who take him back in time to the 1920s. The premise of the movie, according to several reviewers, is that we are always longing for some sort of “golden age” that we perceive to be far different and far better—often, far safer and less complicated, too—than the present, e.g., the “Happy Days” 1950s or the bell-bottomed “Peace, Love, and Understanding” psychedelic ‘60s.
In “Midnight in Paris,” the golden age sought by the central male character, who yearns to be a “serious novelist,” is the era of the “Lost Generation,” populated by the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Stein and Dos Passos. The sought-after time of the central female character is the “Bel Epoque” Paris of the 1890s, stomping ground of artists Gauguin, Matisse, Rousseau, and Toulouse-Lautrec. As part of the fantasy, each is transported at midnight to the golden age of his or her desire.
The idea would likely strike a resonant note for many in the graphic communications industry, where rampant change and electronic challenges often make them yearn for a less stressful and confusing time. After squinting at a computer screen all day, one graphic designer friend of mine is fond of saying sadly, “the waxer, the waxer,” wishing herself in the hands-on era of Bainbridge board and X-acto blades.
My colleague Leo Raymond has written a wonderful column for the August issue of our Bottom Line magazine,* noting that some in the mailing industry would gladly turn back the clock to the good old days of a robust and solvent U.S. Postal Service, but pointing out that we must live in the present. Here’s an excerpt:
“A postal service that existed in a perfect world would have post offices in every neighborhood and hamlet, deliver mail to every house’s front door, and provide site collection boxes at every street corner….Mail would always be delivered within a day of two of posting. Of course, in that perfect world, people would still write and mail letters, send greeting cards and postcards by mail, get and pay their bills by mail, and happily look forward to catalogs, advertisements, magazines, newspapers, and packages sent through the mail.
“What those who bemoan contemporary postal downsizing don’t want to face are the distasteful truths that not only is the popularity and use of paper-based, hard-copy communication fading, but the need for a postal system built around moving such items of communication is fading along with it.”
For many printers, working in the industry seemed far more appealing before the Internet and the brave new world of electronic communications began to nibble at the edge of the printed word, then gulp and finally gobble up whole sectors of the industry—forms, manuals, directories, maps, etc., etc. But there is no “Midnight in Paris” for mailing or printing—we can’t be transported back to a world that has long vanished.
In the movie, the protagonist ultimately stays in the 21st century and finds someone with whom he can live in the world as it is, yet still follow his dreams. Of course, we can’t count on a Hollywood ending, but we can heed the movie’s message. Our industry and society are not moving back to the “good old days.” It’s our job to recognize and accept that fact and then do what we must to make these days our good days.
In the Epicomm State of the Industry Report that will debut at GRAPH EXPO next month, Chief Economist Andy Paparozzi gives us a hint about how to make this happen, focusing on what he terms our “adaptability advantage,” our ability as an industry to transform our value proposition into one relevant for the world as it is now. Here’s a sneak peak from his “Economic Edge” column in the August issue of Bottom Line:*
“Many factors determine who makes it in our industry and who doesn’t. But no factor is more important than the ability to adapt to the rapid, disruptive change that redefines our customers, competition, services, and everything else that matters. It is Darwinism in the extreme.”
Longing to return to the past, clinging to the wish for a static, known, and, therefore, predictable environment is a sure recipe for going the way of every creature and business whose inability to adapt led to its extinction. The printing industry is, and always had been, a dynamic, forward-thinking entity and it is that approach that will enable it to adapt and succeed in the future. After all, if that were not the case, Gutenberg would not have changed the world and we’d still be reading words hand-penned in ink on parchment.
* The August issue of Bottom Line has been mailed to Epicomm member companies and is available online now by clicking this link and logging in: http://tinyurl.com/August2015-Bottom-Line . Need help logging in to access this or other member benefits? Call Donna Komlo at (201) 523-6345 or email email@example.com and she will connect you.