Posts Tagged ‘Great Recession’

Letter From New York 9/11/09

September 11, 2009

Or: as it seems to me…

Labor Day is the emotional if not literal end of summer. The season lingers until later in September but Labor Day… Labor Day is the acknowledged end. Labor Day, in recollection, was a languorous Holiday celebrated by adults while I did my best to mask the knot in my stomach at returning the next day to school. (Particularly painful was the holiday prior to my entering third grade; I was going to be subject to the infamous Sister Neva – a fate to be avoided. Alas, I could not and she proved as daunting as the legend.)

Labor Day weekend in my childhood was a time of barbeques, gatherings of family friends, adults sitting in lawn chairs with highballs and cigarettes while the scent of burgers wafted through the back yard air. It was a moment of indolence. If the phone rang it was generally a guest asking if there was some last minute barbeque component needed.

Flash forward to today. Indolence is on the backburner. Today all Labor Day means is that the velocity and volume of demands diminish. My phone rang with more business demands than social overtures. Business didn’t stop; it slowed. I think the last really languorous Labor Day happened sometime just as email was entrenching itself as part of the business motif. Now I am old enough to remember a time before email – yes, I know that makes me suspect in some circles but it’s true. Before email the world breathed a little easier. Now, with email, cell phones and PDA’s, we are trapped in the immediacy of NOW which does not recognize the boundaries of Holidays and personal time.

Labor Day rest is gone as are vacations. My friends no longer tell anyone they are on vacation. Emails are simply answered from PDA’s poolside. God forbid we tell anyone we have signed off for a moment – they might discover what we fear: they can survive without us. And we can survive without them.

It is anticipated – and we allow the anticipation – that we are always available, that everyone has the right to reach out to us and we will be there. At the ready. With the answer.

It is the world we have created and accepted and it is not going to go away. Yet there are hints people are attempting to deal with it better. Pre-Labor Day weekend I was on the phone with friends and found myself flattened against my desk chair in despair as I witnessed twenty new emails come in demanding my attention as the screen refreshed. My friend Meryl suggested some good coping mechanisms I am doing my best to adopt. I am working to not obsess on the computer and set it aside to do some real work as opposed to responding in Pavlovian fashion to every email popping up on the screen.

Added to the weight of electronic tethers, this year’s Labor Day Weekend came a scant four days before the anniversary of 9/11, the eighth such anniversary and for some reason, at least to me, it was arriving with a sense of discomfort. Mentions of it seem to bring me to the edge of tears for reasons I am not sure I can explain. Is it, I wonder, that I thought eight years ago, that eight years out there would have been some kind of rock solid resolution? I understand intellectually that is not a reasonable expectation. Emotionally, I want one. For God’s sake, World War II was over in about half this amount of time. Instead, we are still in Iraq and digging in in Afghanistan. In emotionally distancing ourselves from 9/11 we threw a self-indulgent economic party. Between the wars and self-indulgence we have nearly bankrupted ourselves.

At a dinner with friends we talked about the world that is emerging. Something new is arising from all of this and we are afraid of what is coming – everything has changed. Technology has altered our world as much as 9/11 and the Great Recession. Put them all together and you have a brand new world – not necessarily brave.

Unintended Consequences LFNY May 4, 2009

May 4, 2009

Letter From New York
May 2, 2009

Unintended Consequences…

Letter From New York
May 2, 2009

Unintended Consequences…

For the last several years, I have consulted several of the companies in the LEI Group. For the last year I have been working on the distribution side, starting out with launching Internet TV channels. After that, I became the Utility Player doing everything from negotiating agreements to…whatever needed to be done. On Friday, the Great Recession claimed that part of the Enterprises Group – all the others are just fine but Distribution found itself caught up in a “perfect storm” of events and went under. Other companies in the Group are fine; distribution only has gone.

After the announcement, I spent the day phoning people who were in business with the company letting them know what was happening, listening to both dismay and concern and some anger. Gratifyingly, everyone was concerned for my well being, which was okay as I have had another company take me on as a consultant to develop a New Media Strategy. However, as I said good-bye to the people from that group with whom I have worked, I found myself feeling sad and depressed. It was a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, which meant the company was being liquidated. Between the phone calls and the good-byes, it was one of the most draining days of my life.

What surprised me was the depth of the “survivor’s guilt” I felt. All of a sudden people were on the street and I was not – and I felt guilty. I felt something profound and unexpected. Grateful and, yes, a bit ashamed – how did I get to be the lucky one?

This was an unintended consequence of the bankruptcy – my sense of dislocation in the universe and the pain of having to make those phone calls, all of them difficult. At best people were inconvenienced and at worst, lost money – a couple were very significant amounts. In one company there is a young man who thinks he may have ruined his career by doing a deal with LPD, which has cost his employers a small fortune.

What I realize is that this is being repeated daily across the United States and the world. It is just not the people who lose their jobs who are affected; it is also those who remain. It is the people at other companies who work with the companies that disappear.

May 1st was a Red Letter Day in American history; Chrysler declared bankruptcy. As carefully orchestrated as it is, it is a moment in American history that will not be forgotten and which will, in years to come, be considered a marking point in our nation. The old industrial base of the United States has eroded and is falling in on itself. There have been a thousand steps to this moment and the history of American industry is written in those steps. The industrial base of the country, the manufacturing base, has become lost in another era. It has worn down and been overtaken by others in other countries. Interestingly, the same cycle seems to be happening with them – Toyota, Honda, Nissan are all reeling. The system that made them successful is now threatening them also.

Out of this will come a new world economic order and it will not be based on industrial prowess but intellectual power.

One of the reasons India could be the winner in the race with China is that they know how to manipulate the digital world well. China, recognizing that is racing to catch up. The U.S.? As a result of 9/11 we’re keeping the best and the brightest out of the U.S. and pushing them toward other countries. Ahhh…

It is all complicated and it is all about the future. It is being created right now, in the midst of this economic crisis. The future will be about the new technologies, about green technologies, about nanotechnology. It is all about that — a new world is coming upon us and we had better get used to it. The past, as Pinter said, is a foreign country – they do things differently there.