Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Grand Canyon Moment

When looking for pictures of a selfie stick yesterday, it seemed to me that a preponderance of photos showed Asians. That in turn reminded me of a Grand Canyon Moment in the 1960s. Of that in a moment. But first, let me say a little more about the selfie stick and all those Asian faces.

It turns out that the device I featured in yesterday’s post was invented in the United States, perhaps in Buffalo, NY. Buffalo is the address of Fromm Works Inc., the corporate entity that produces the QuickPod. That product appears to be the original selfie stick, invented by the company’s president, Wayne Fromm. It dates from 2004. Fromm Works is also the originator of many other very clever products, mostly aimed at children. So why is that product, and its look-alikes, so popular with Asians? One possible answer is that Alibaba, the Chinese Google-Amazon, promoted them heavily.

My own thought associations, linking the selfie stick to a Grand Canyon memory, seem to be reflecting some genuine process. Back many decades ago, when I first got into studying technology, I came across a saw to the effect that the French come up with the ideas, in the abstract, the Americans commercialize them, and the Japanese flood the market with them. Things have changed since then, but some such process is still going on.

Now my Grand Canyon Moment is told in a few words. I was travelling with an Austrian Engineer, a client of a company I worked for, J.F. Pritchard Co. We were doing a big job for an Austrian conglomerate, cleaning natural gas. The engineer and I travelled from Kansas City to the West Coast. On the way we stopped at the Grand Canyon for part of an afternoon. One of the places we visited was the gift shop. It was filled with Japanese tourists. They were rushing about picking up souvenirs, turning them over and looking at them, laughing madly, and then talking up a storm with further laughter. I got curious. Carefully I picked up one of the souvenirs too, turned it over as they had—and saw the cause of the Japanese amusement. Virtually every object commemorating the Grand Canyon carried the following message: Made in Japan.

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