What does being out of step look like? Qualcomm and Parental Guidance

qualcommby zaneology

Qualcomm’s Insane CES 2013 Keynote
[Via Daring Fireball]

What is wrong with these companies?

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Knowing what is relevant and what is not. That is what makes a leader, instead of a madman.

The pictures and tweets are hysterical. Looks very much like what a bunch of old men only think they know what the younger generation looks and talks like. I hope the actors got paid lots. 

But it shows a disconnect between where people used to be and where they are, with the powers that be residing on the ‘used to be’ side. They do not have a clue what the relevant changes are and the irrelevant ones.

I saw Parental Guidance yesterday. Liked Bette Midler and Marisa Tomei. Billy Crystal was just out of control often in that way of over the top, insane humor that you simply cannot connect with. It was like he was in the Hangover while everyone else was in Parenthood (more  Zach Galifianakis than Steve Martin).

He ruined the movie for me while Midler and Tomei saved it. I have not been this divided about a movie in a very long time.

He has a scene where, as an old time baseball announcer, he needs to modernize his work for an interview on ESPN’s X-Games. It is horribly unfunny in its attempt to be hip, portraying the old guy as some sort of nut (whose schtick is so bad ghat it even makes the evening news) and the half-pipe skaters as just weird (Tony Hawk comes off poorly.) 

It is supposed to be some commentary on life today but simply shows that Crystal does not get why anyone is really interested in X-games or why it is a popular event. It does not inform us at all.

To be funny or to demonstrate biting satire, one has to have some sort of context. Here we just have stereotypes. I thought it was simply unbelievable, especially given that, while sometimes a little over the top, both Midler and Tomei imbued their characters is real humanity.

But after watching the Qualcomm Keynote, I really see it as a huge generational divide, the consequence of a paradigm shift. One of the hallmarks of a true paradigm shift is that the worldviews of those on either side simply cannot overlap well at all.

Good art often can bridge those differing worldviews, finding a way to connect what is otherwise separate, in a way that both sides can examine.

Otherwise, the portrayal of one side of the divide by the other usually fails.  Crystal and Qualcomm discuss modern things but they have not made the shift internally to the new paradigm. They cannot really feel it. So they cannot provide context or commentary that is actualy useful.

They look foolish, not wise.

If they could feel it, they would have known just how old and tired, how out of touch their work was.

As an example of how it could be done right, Tomei plays a hard driving mother who, while somewhat detached from her kids, really wants to be a good mother and a great wife. She lives in a house that is totally automated based on technology her husband is winning awards for. She works on web design for a multitude of clients, including ESPN. The plot is basically Mr.Mom with technology.

Could the very technology that maintains her life also be hurting her family? Good question and one that applies to people on both sides of the technology divide.

And it gets resolved in a very nice way, again one that is independent of the technology. Tomei has a high strung teenage daughter – not unlike herself – who is fretting about a violin audition that could make her whole life. After ‘ruining’ herself and her life over this to the point where she tearfully told her mother off, she is warming up before the audition.

Her mother finally has some time to actually watch her daughter, instead of only reacting or getting technology in the way. She notices something and stops her daughter. She explains that when the girl was very young they had recognized how much joy she got from playing the violin and wanted her to spend her whole life embracing that joy.

But her mother noticed right then that there was no joy anymore. The young girl no longer showed any emotion but disappointment and anger when she played. Her mom explained that if she no longer got any joy from the violin, the girl no longer had to play. And the daughter was instantaneously changed into a very happy girl.

The technology will not solve these sorts of problems, not will it cause them. People still need to listen and connect with others.

Now, this moment had nothing strictly to do with technology or comedy. But it connected across that divide, showing that there are still important things no matter what technology does to us. 

It was the sweetest and most unexpected thing in the movie. That is what the movie should have highlighted more and what Qualcomm should have done a better job with.

Things like technology change us in very fundamental ways, but they also do not change us in very fundamental ways. You can connect with people on both sides of the divide by knowing which is which.

Both Qualcomm and Crystal could not tell. The ones that are the relevant ones can and show us that.

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