November 3, 2009

The Geeks and Tech of Mad Men

This device isn't a spaceship, its a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards... It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. Its not called "the wheel", its called "The Carousel". It lets us travel the way a child travels - around and around, and then back home again to a place where we know we are loved."

~ Don Draper doing the presentation for the Kodak Carousel slide projector

I love this scene from AMC's show Mad Men Season 2 not only because it shows Don's genius with advertising and presentation, but it really shows the impact that technology can have on our lives and families. In the scene, Don sells the concept of the name and logo of "The Carousel" to the Kodak execs. Old family slides scroll past of his kids and Don's early family life in chronological order as he gives his presentation. As the slides go by, the power of the small piece of equipment had the power to give every man in the room watery eyes by the end. Needless to say the presentation was a success.

The show introduces many aspects of the conception and birth of the information age in the early '60s as well as the change of many social and moral though patterns in the US. Since I'm a geek, I'm going to concentrate on more of the tech aspect of Mad Men.

Manual vs. Automated

Some of the scenes that impact me the most on the show are the large amount of manual work that they do in the office. These days we have become so used to instant email, Blackberries that push information to us and instant access to statistics, a world full of Wikipedias, self updating news sources and never ending information on the Internet, that we (especially younger people) have forgotten about the days of rotary phones, carbon copies and manual typewriters. It blows my mind to think that businesses worked with any kind of efficiency this way.

One thing to remember is that Sterling Cooper is being portraid as one of the top tier ad agencies on Madison Ave. during that time and they had cutting edge technology as soon as it came out. For example, Sterling Cooper has cutting edge electric typewriters (as shown in the pilot) whereas most businesses were still working with manual typewriters at that time. The one big geek moment in the show was when they got the brand new Xerox copier machine that they had to store out in the hallway it was so big. Apparently tech was a big deal to Sterling Cooper as they thought it gave them the advantage over all the other ad agencies as it continues to be to this day. Businesses are always looking for the latest and fastest computers, most efficient machinery and latest social media marketing strategies to get that slight edge over the next guy.

Phones and Communication

Man Men also shows me just how completely reliant we are on phones and instant communication these days. We, don't even think about what we would do without our precious cell phone and internet tethered to our bodies everywhere we went. I love how in one of the episodes, Pete thought he was so high tech talking on the wired rotary phone brought out to him by a swimming pool. What should we do? How about TURN IT OFF every once in a while and go outside and take a walk. I'm talking to myself as much as anyone else.

New laws are being implemented state by state to start fining people for talking on cell phones while driving. Even more recently, an article on Mobile Crunch talked about $150 fines in New York and even one woman serving 21 months in prison for killing someone while texting and driving.

I guess Mad Men just makes me wish I could live back in those days again sometimes where things were simpler. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my technology, but I like to keep things in perspective too. I think we all need to take a look back at history and maybe start taking a few simple steps to uncomplicate your life and be ready for the day that may come in the future where our precious tech gadgets will be useless. Anyhoo... just a thought.

Advertising and media in our lives

Books could be written about the psychology, research and effectiveness of advertising and media and how it has, or should be used in marketing. Mad Men touches the tip of the iceburg, teaching us how graphic design, layout and media has been used over the years in advertising. One of the main concepts that the business of advertising and marketing has learned over the years (and that seems to be the philosophy of Don Draper as well) is that it all boils down to making the viewer/reader feel something. If an advertisement, piece of technology or software makes your feel: loved, nostalgic, hate, horny, or jealous then you will want/desire/ache for that product.

Peggy Olson: Sex sells.

Don Draper: Says who? Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this. They take all this monkey crap and stick it in a briefcase, completely unaware that their success depends on something more than shoeshine.

Don Draper: You are the product. (Its) you, feeling something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do and they hate us for it.

Photo copyright AMC (American Movie Classics) 2007