January 08, 2013
HAPILABS Introduces HAPIfork, World’s First Smart Fork, at CES
CES kicked off this week with CES Unveiled, the official media event on January 6 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
HAPILABS, a company focused on well-being in every aspect, whether that is achieved through fitness, diet, your sleep or how you eat, showed off their new HAPIfork at the event. Their goal is to make it easy for people to take control of their HAPIness, health and fitness through applications and mobile connected devices.
The world’s first connected fork that helps you lose weight by eating at the right time and at the right pace is also showing this new smart device at the Showstoppers media event on January 8 at the Las Vegas WYNN Hotel and all week at Digital Health at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The smart connected device, which has a crisp, elegant and clean design, was created by French engineer Jacques Lepine. The HAPIfork will be available in five colors when it hits the market this year: blue, green, white, black and pink.
This smart fork knows how fast you’re eating and helps you slow things down using a patent-pending technology. By eating slower, you can improve the way you feel after every meal, enhance your digestion and reduce your weight.
When you are eating too fast, HAPIfork sends you gentle vibrations and indicator lights so you are aware of when you’re not eating at a pace that is optimal for your health, allowing you to slow down without a disruption to your meal or conversation.
All of your HAPIfork eating data is transmitted to your online account when you connect your HAPIfork to your computer via USB or your smart phone via Bluetooth. This flexibility means you can monitor your health improvement at home or on the road from a mobile device.
You can choose to keep this information private or share some or all of this data with friends who are supporting you, your health and lifestyle.
The complete suite, which will be priced at $99, will include the HAPIfork Device, an Online Dashboard, which stores and reviews your eating-related data and helps you track your progress meal after meal, a Mobile App which allows you to follow your stats from your mobile device, a Online Coaching Program for tips and tricks on eating smarter and healthier, and an Online Social Game, designed to motivate you to implement your new habits with your loved ones.
Below, HAPILABS CEO Fabrice Boutain shows a HAPIfork and HAPItrack prototypes in Paris this past December.
Disclosure: I am a consultant for the company.
January 8, 2013 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Conference Highlights, Events, On Health, On Innovation, On Mobile & Wireless, On Technology, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
January 01, 2013
The Pain of Upgrades: Migrating from a Lenovo to a MacBook Pro
It's a Lenovo, my second over an eight year period. We all knew the day was coming.
“We” is anyone and everyone who has stopped by my office or seen me using it at an event. They'd hover over me and remark: I can’t believe how slow your machine is, yowsa – how do you get anything done?
The thing is…I've only had it for four years and it's been on its way out for half of those four.
It seems as if I grew up in a world with different standards. The thought of a piece of machinery you paid $2,500 for with all the bells and whistles dying within a few years wouldn’t be acceptable…it’s absurd and yet we've all been brainwashed into thinking it’s not.
Manufacturers and reviewers alike are both to blame for creating such a consumable world where we're constantly shelling out more money for more reliable hardware, which it should have been reliable in the first place.
My refrigerator didn't cost that much nor did the stove in my kitchen and yet both have been purring along for more than a decade. I paid $300 for a car once that lasted longer than my laptops do today and it’s likely that some old guy somewhere in Maine probably is still using it for trips to the grocery store.
When someone sees my two year old iPhone, they look at me as if I'm as outdated as the guy who’s driving that old Oldsmobile. A few friends are trying to get me to upgrade my four year old 24 inch Samsung flat screen monitor when it works perfectly fine.
Call it old fashioned wisdom of sorts, or just common sense, but who said, "if it works, don't mess with it?" Oh yeah, that was my grandfather, not Winston Churchill or Steve Jobs.
When I ask "why upgrade?" I'm told there's better pixels, faster speeds or I’m bound to have compatibility issues.
While Windows 8 is now available, consumers are forced to pay an extra $100 for Windows 7, now outdated. It's the exponential growth thing haunting my every day, the pressure of keeping up with the speed at which technology is accelerating not to mention the pressure we all have financially of trying to keep up with it all too.
Silicon Valley tells me to ‘get over it,’ and just upgrade, but Silicon Valley doesn’t live in the real world where salaries are one fifth of what they are elsewhere in the country and that’s if you aren’t one of the 20 something year olds who made an exit from a not so innovative of an app that got sold to someone with more money than brains.
eMarketer made a 2012 tablet sales prediction of 81.3 million tablets, up from 15.7 million in 2011, and Gartner estimates that sales will multiply to 54.8 million in 2011 and more than 208 million by 2014.
Forrester Research numbers have laptop sales continuing to grow from 26.4 million in 2010 to 38.9 million in 2015, however, while desktop PC sales will decline from 20.5 million in 2010 to 18.2 million in 2015. Mobile is hot and we’re all moving to smaller form factors – the trends make sense.
Take a look at research firm Canalys figures: they have vendor shipments of smartphones close to 489 million smartphones in 2011, compared to 415 million PCs. Smartphone shipments increased by 63% over the previous year, compared to 15% growth in PC shipments.
While mobile will win at the end of the day, the need for laptops and in some cases desktops isn’t going away tomorrow, although some will argue they can do nearly everything they need to on their iPad. While I use one, particularly when I travel, my efficiency on the thing is less than half what it is on a power laptop, even my poor dying Lenovo.
While many of my laptops over a decade have died a slow horrible death, some of them still turn on…..they’re just not usable. As I took a hardware account, I was shocked by the list, although I suppose I shouldn’t have been! Two HPs, a mini HP, a baby MSI wind notebook I bought for a trip to Africa, a Toshiba, an Acer, two IBM/Lenovos and a partridge in a pear tree.
The power chords are out of control because none of them are compatible with each other, even the ones made by the same manufacturer. The result? A digital me and a digital life that doesn’t make things more efficient and yet productivity is the #1 thing I need these devices to deliver me and my business.
The advancements in the last decade are remarkable. For those who argue that the Singularity isn’t on its way, they might want to pause and reflect on just how fast things are moving and that it’s more difficult than ever to keep up with the advancements being thrown our way.
Clearly I'm not a luddite and I love shiny new cool gadgets and toys as much as much as my fellow geeks; remember that next week I'm off to CES for the umpteenth year in a row.
Yet, we need to remind ourselves that technology is an enabler; it needs to enhance our lives not be a hindrance to a more fulfilling life. Dealing with technology glitches, whether that be hardware or software, is something I deal with daily and these issues increase in less than a year after purchasing a brand new laptop. Shouldn’t we demand more from the hardware manufacturers?
I’m about to switch to Mac and while the artist in me is thrilled, I worry about compatibility issues and the learning curve to get me to what people say, will be a ‘simpler life.’
That said, the decision is final. I finally made the plunge and as I write, there’s a Mac Book Pro on its way to me directly from Apple.
While there’s no question, I’m a power user, I decided not to order the ‘very top of the line’ since it offers more than I’ll need. Did I mention that the price is nearly double what I’d pay to get the ‘same specs’ in a Lenovo or an equivalent? Additionally, these beautifully designed machines are heavy, roughly 30% heavier than had I gone for the latest Lenovo or Toshiba.
While I’m eager to start my 'simpler technology life,' I have my doubts. For the Apple fan boys who claim Macs are perfect and problem-free, I’d love to know why I own five iPods and only two of them actually work. My iPhone hasn’t given me any issues so far nor has my iPad, but I haven’t put it through the ringer by loading hundreds of apps like I need to do on my laptop.
While many of you may be okay with upgrading every piece of hardware we own every two years, should you be? How thin do we need our phones to be? How many apps do we really need? How many pixels do we need? How much memory do we really need? If I hear one more person insisting that I spend an additional $500 for a solid state drive, I’m going to scream. These are the same people who will insist I upgrade to an even faster solid state drive in a year and spend $500 again.
It's no wonder we keep spending to keep this senseless pattern alive. We get dished language that goes something like this:
For the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, it's the screen -- all 2880 x 1800 pixels of it -- that will leave others scrambling to play catch-up. Of course, to push that many pixels you need serious horsepower. And the next-gen MacBook Pro (starting at $2,199) delivers just that with a quad-core Core i7 processor, Nvidia Kepler graphics and super-fast flash memory. Did we mention the MacBook Pro is only 4.5 pounds and is nearly as thin as the Air?
Manufacturers stick together, use glossy language to woo us in and build in the same obsolescence. When the industry and consumers comply, no one can complain since they all seem to die a slow horrible death much faster than they should given how much we spend. (see blog post entitled the iPad Mini: Why Apple Thinks You're an Idiot).
But alas, a dozen blog posts from now, I’ll be on a new machine, a Mac Book Pro, and hopefully in some magical way, my technology life will be transformed for the additional $800 I'm spending.
While I’m looking forward to what the Mac Book Pro will deliver, sometimes I want to just toss all of it into the ocean, or give a little pain back to the hardware that has cost me so much value time over the years, not that I’ll ever have the courage of course. That said, it appears not everyone shares my constraint.
Also refer to two posts I wrote a year or so ago on digital personas and digital 'silence.' Here's a blog post on social media turning you into a low confidence anxiety-rich freak.
Photo credits in order of appearance: A mashup created with Webdoc, Scott Kline, CoolGizmotoys.
January 1, 2013 in America The Free, Magic Sauce Media, On Innovation, On Mobile & Wireless, On People & Life, On Technology, On the Future, TravelingGeeks, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 27, 2012
Paul Gillin's Attack of the Customers: Don't Be A Victim
I now have a copy of Paul Gillin's book Attack of the Customers, available on Amazon, which I'll dive into just after CES. The jist of it is how customers are rising up to have their voices heard: Why critics assault brands online and how to avoid becoming a victim.
He raises the point that an attack from a customer or a flurry of customers can go global and viral ina matter of hours, not days or weeks. The impact to a big brand once something negative goes viral can be traumatic.
Attack of the Customers explains how social media can be used to destroy as well as to build. It offers actionable strategies to prevent and prepare for disasters before they strike a company, demonstrating ways that creative engagement can turn critics into raving fans.
Read an excerpt from the book Gillin published many months ago before the book was published using the example of when Procter & Gamble announced the most significant technical advance in disposable diapers in a quarter century. The new Dry Max line featured an absorbent gel that improved diaper efficiency while cutting materials and costs by 20%.
He uses real examples from some of the biggest brands today. He asserts that customers complain because they care and when they care, you can turn a disaster or potential one into a positive outcome using social media and other effective ways to communicate online.
Additionally, Paul's blog post on the book's unveiling offers a discount code for 30% off.
December 25, 2012
Happy Holidays from Magic Sauce Media!!
Happy Holidays from Magic Sauce Media!!
December 21, 2012
The Roku Box: The Perfect & Easy Way to Stream Content
Streaming. So many of us are doing it now to get our content, yet folks like my sister or friends from other parts of the world I keep in touch with through old fashioned email and yes, even sometimes social networks, don't stream. It's not their normal way of viewing or listening to content.
Roku has come up with a way to make it easy for anyone to use. Their mantra or at least one of them is: streaming made simple. With over 150,000 movies and shows instantly available, Roku delivers various titles to match your mood. Using Netflix, you can see up to 1080p HD video or TV shows through Hulu Plus. There are also hundreds of free movies from Crackle or the latest Hollywood releases on Amazon Instant Video. There’s also access to premium services like HBO GO and EPIX, available via participating providers.Roku delivers more than movies and TV shows as well. In the Roku Channel Store, you get instant access to the best selection of streaming entertainment available – over 600 channels, which includes live sports, music, photo and video sharing, games, international programming, radio, tech news, non-tech news, podcasts, cartoons and more.
They also have a great one-stop search feature, where you can find your favorite movies and TV shows all from one place – no matter if they're on Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video or Crackle. For example, you can search for a title, keyword or actor. Once you find what you’re interested in, all you have to do is select a channel it's on, and you're ready to start watching.
December 16, 2012
Mobile Loco Brings the Best of Advertising, Geo-Location & Branding to the Mobile World
Held last week in San Francisco, the MobileLoco event merged the best of geo-location, advertising, branding and the mobile world.
Run by serial marketer Mark Evans, the event aspires to dive into the brand, advertiser and mobile convergence in the context of the Social, Local and Mobile (SoLoMo) marketplace.
The discussions revolved around what this convergence means for big brands, consumers, SMBs and the mobile and location industry.
On-stage, we heard from the likes of Andrew Mason of Groupon, Benchmark Capital's Bill Gurley, Banjo's Danien Patton and the Mobile Engineering Lead of Airbnb Andrew Vilcsak. Other voices included Bloomberg TV's Cory Johnson, Google's Don Dodge, Nextdoor's Nirav Tolia, Postmates Bastian Lehmann, Foursquare's Holger Luedorf, Micello's Ankit Agarwal and others.
Above: Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon
Client inTooch partnered with MobileLoco so users could easily and seamlessly exchange contact and social network information on the fly. A free mobile app for iPhone and Android, attendees could network that much faster and more efficiently using the app rather than have to exchange business cards or manually add Twitter and Facebook 'handles.'
Above: Steve Brehaut, Renee Blodgett, Julien Salanon
Since geo-tagging is built in, the inTooch app tracks where connection requests are made and will link all connection requests to the location, in this case the Mobile-Loco event in San Francisco, CA. When users browse through their connections, they can see all the connections they made at Mobile-Loco.
There were other cool products there too. A group out of Japan from Daq was on-site showing off their creative iPhone and iPad IRUAL cases. I find that most cases are pretty bland, come in plain colors or are frankly too tacky. Then there are those specifically targeted to the 13-18 year old market, but what happens if you don't fall into any of those categories? I loved their designs specifically aimed at women - from soft and feminine to daring and electric.
Then, I had a demo of DigitalGlobe, who apparently did a deal with MapBox on the same day. Mapbox, which is a provider of open source solutions for designing and publishing maps via the cloud, chose DigitalGlobe as their commercial and earth imagery provider.
Users can now incorporate DigitalGlobe's high-resolution satellite imagery as their maps' base layer for added quality and rich detail. The result can be quite beautiful, especially compared to the bland offerings today.
Then I went back in time to my speech recognition and natural language processing days. I saw a nifty demo from a group who call themselves SpeakToIt. What they do? Develop talking personal assistants.
The SpeaktoIt Assistant is a virtual buddy for your smartphone that answers questions in natural language, performs tasks and notifies you of important events. The Assistant is meant to save you time and make communication with gadgets and web services easier and less stressful.
All photos by Renee Blodgett.
December 16, 2012 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Client Media Kudos, Conference Highlights, Events, Magic Sauce Media, On Geo-Location, On Mobile & Wireless, On Technology, Social Media, TravelingGeeks, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 15, 2012
inTooch Teamed Up With MobileLoco: Users Can Exchange Data On The Fly
inTooch, a mobile application that supports both Android and iPhone, easily and seamlessly allows you to instantly exchange contact and social network information on the fly.
inTooch teamed up with San Francisco-based Mobile-Loco this past week, an event that explores the convergence of brands, advertising and mobile.
Attendees were encouraged to download the free mobile app, so they could quickly exchange all their contact information or a portion of it with new people they met at the event, including their social media network data.
Whenever you meet someone you want to stay in touch with, you simply call the person, the app detects that you have called them for the first time and prompts you automatically to exchange your contact information, giving you the option to exchange your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn details as well.
Since geo-tagging is built in, the inTooch app tracks where connection requests are made and will link all connection requests to the location, in this case the Mobile-Loco event in San Francisco, CA. When users browse through their connections, they can see all the connections they made at Mobile-Loco. After the event, inTooch will also send an email to each user who sent a connection request during Mobile-Loco with the list of all the contacts they met at the event, resulting in a more efficient way to follow up and turn contacts into relationships that matter.
A useful augmented reality feature, which is popular for personal encounters, is a report that informs you of all the things you have in common with that person (friends, places you visited, music, movies you like, social network info, check-ins, interests you share).
Unlike most apps, inTooch works regardless of whether the person you just met has it on his or her cell phone, making it the most natural, straight forward and easy way to share your personal or business details. inTooch is available for download at http://www.intooch.com and is free for users. Currently, inTooch works with both the Android and the iPhone, with support for other platforms and mobile devices coming later this year.
Photo above is of inTooch's CEO Julien Salanon on the MobileLoco stage.
Disclosure: I provide some consulting to inTooch.
December 15, 2012 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Client Media Kudos, Conference Highlights, Events, On Geo-Location, On Mobile & Wireless, On Technology, Social Media, TravelingGeeks, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 03, 2012
Mobile Loco on Dec 11 Explores Brand, Advertiser & Mobile Convergence
For all things mobile, mark your calendar for December 11, 2012 in San Francisco. The upcoming Mobile-Loco conference will be held at Mission Bay Conference and we have been offered a special Magic Sauce Media discount for Down the Avenue and We Blog the World readers.
Mobile-Loco will dive into the brand, advertiser and mobile convergence in the context of the Social, Local and Mobile (SoLoMo) marketplace — exploring what this convergence means for big brands, consumers, SMBs and the mobile and location industry.
Executives from Foursquare, Google, Airbnb, Groupon and other leading brands and investors will address these topics and discuss where the market is heading. Learn from brands how they are taking advantage of today’s new technologies and solutions to build durable brand engagement, relationships and presence in a chaotic and noisy marketplace.
It's not news that if you're not on mobile or have an integrated mobile strategy, you'll be left behind quickly. Apps in this space are enabling hyper-local and real-time personalization, rich content and engagement, and ultimately more bricks-and-mortar transactions. At Mobile Loco, you'll learn from the leading developers and enablers in this space.
Click here to register and receive a 25% discount off current registration rates.
November 27, 2012
VentureBeat's Annual CloudBeat Event Kicks Off This Week
VentureBeat's CloudBeat 2012 kicks off tomorrow in San Francisco for two days.
While some cloud computing events focus on legacy technologies and incremental change, CloudBeat's focus is on real customer issues, highlighting stories about the most disruptive technologies out there.
They'll be covering ten "never-seen" customer case studies. Enterprise IT leaders from Harvard University, PepsiCo, Dignity Health, Kaplan, and the Church of Latter Day Saints and others will discuss their cloud adoption strategies and the successes, failures, and takeaways surrounding them.
Through their discussions with vendors and other experts, you'll discover what really works, who's buying what, and where the industry is going. The following themes will guide these talks: integration, big data, open vs. closed, security, and visibility.
Additionally, 65 industry leaders will share their own insights, including executives like Stephen Herrod, CTO of VMware, Amit Singh, Vice President at Google Enterprise, Sujay Jaswa, VP of Business Development at Dropbox, James Cuff, Chief Tech Architect from Harvard University, Peter Coffee, VP of Platform Research at Salesforce, Lew Tucker, VP & CTO, Cloud Computing at Cisco, Sanjay Poonen, President at SAP, Sam Schillace, VP of Engineering at Box, Rafal Los, Senior Security Strategist at HP, Alastair Mitchell, Founder & CEO of Huddle, Dr. Amr Awadallah, CTO of Cloudera, Oren Teich, COO, at Heroku, and others.
The Innovation Showdown is a lively track at CloudBeat where seven new companies (chosen from over 200 applicants) battle it out in front of the audience and an expert panel of judges to see whose product/service is leveraging the cloud in the revolutionary way.
They expect over 500 industry executives to attend, which includes a mix of business and IT decision makers, analysts, investors, marketers, big brands/retailers, press, and others.
If you're in the San Francisco/Bay Area, you can still register here and save 50%.
November 25, 2012
The American Thanksgiving Tradition: Where Did It Go?
Thanksgiving has always been one of those holidays I never took lightly, mainly because it was the one holiday above all other holidays, where we sat down at a table together as a family...one massive large table. While this was also the plan at Christmas and attempts were made and often fulfilled, it wasn't quite the same as the tradition that we forced upon ourselves on Thanksgiving.
My family wasn't exactly "sitters." They didn't like to sit or really know how to sit, at least not for long, so it was remarkable that people showed up, did as they were told and handled hours of conversation on end.
I was born in the sixties, so after dinner, women did the dishes and men drank gin martinis and manhattans in a separate room far away from the kitchen.
Alternatively, the men headed to "the gazable" to smoke as it was famously called at my Uncle Edgar's house which was perched on a slope along a country road, one that had its fair share of pitfalls getting in and out of the driveway after a heavy snowfall.
While we weren't a family that piled on the dinner "grace" at the table, nor did we go around the table and share what we were grateful for, we were expected to talk about what we were "doing." I wasn't aware of how uncommon it was at the time, but my grandfather, father, and nearly all of my uncles and cousins ran their own businesses as did a couple aunts, so everyone was born with an instinctive entrepreneurial spirit.
In the 60s and 70s, that meant something a little different than it does today and all the men regardless of how many hours they put in during the day, also mowed, cleaned, scraped, painted, hammered and plastered during any other spare window they had.
With military men at the table who had toughened and roughened from far too many wars, the gatherings were full of far more alpha testosterone influenced flannel shirts than dresses with flowers and pearls. The men were men, the kind who wouldn't settle for anything but strong women who could conquer the world in case they couldn't one day.
One thing that bonded us during these holiday functions was games and we played plenty of them late into the night -- from cards to board games to charades. And, rest assured, no one believed that children would be messed up for life if they weren't tucked in by 8 pm every night.
Like all families, there was always a Great Aunt Hilda or Great Uncle Alton snoring in some remote room while another had a TV on that no one was watching.
Great Grandma Bert lived through at least four husbands (we lost count) and would always insist on an extra shot in her eggnog and that was after she yelled at any son who would listen to something in the world she wasn't happy about, which grew with age.
While every woman in the family baked something to contribute to the massive pile of food, there always seemed to be at least one white box of Russell Stover Chocolates on the table, the kind that cost about $3 from a nearby drug store and was brought be some lame man in the family who couldn't be bothered to spring for anything else. He figured because he could buy the box with a bow on it (they all included one around holiday time), he was safe from being completely embarrassed. Great Grandma Bert used to take a bite out of one of these highly sugared milk chocolate concoctions and if she didn't like it, she simply put it back in the box, not bothering to hide the indentation her false teeth made in the process.
As kids, our mouths would drop as she proceeded to do this to several pieces of chocolate. As a woman who was born in the 1800s, had thrown one husband out of the house and ran for some political office over the years, she didn't hold back any punches. Catching the glares from her great grandchildren, she'd pipe up and say to us laughing, "if you end up living close to a century old, you can do whatever the hell you want too."
She was always a source of amusement for her grandchildren and great grandchildren although her sons seemed to endure more than laugh, yet they all seemed to respect her strength and persistence despite how difficult she was to manage at times.
Thanksgiving memories included her boldness and directness, a symbolic force in all of our lives proving that even a woman born in the 1800s who was barely 5 feet tall could hold court and utilize her power.
I never got to ask her what the source of her strength was through it all because I was never old enough to understand that a woman had such a thing as a "source" until years later.
I sometimes wonder if she's not flitting around my garden disguised as a bird or perhaps the snarly cat in my neighbor's garden who while gets into night fights from time-to-time, seems to protect the houses in the neighborhood.
From her place of strength came confidence and the gift of the gab, not quiet Gandhi-like solitude. No one in the family seemed to be short on words and not unlike an old fashioned Italian family even though our heritage came from elsewhere, everyone talked and if there was a shy member of the family, I never met them.
If someone became aggravated, annoyed or bored, they'd simply get up from the table and go bark at someone else.
In between all of this chaos was a serious meal: turkey, mashed potatoes with gobs of butter (Aunt Jo made the best of the lot), stuffing, squash, homemade cranberry sauce, pearled onions, glazed carrots, and some thick casserole dish that was loaded with ingredients bound to destroy your arteries, but between the eggnog, chocolate, whiskey and cheese at the onslaught, no one was counting.
And somewhere, somehow between the bickering and the games, we sang. Music was always part of anything we did, whether that meant a family member playing the piano or an old fashioned record we played on a turntable that someone thought was grand enough to warrant repeating every year. Dancing often followed. All of it became a tradition even if it is a blurry mess of one that is hard to piece together it was so long ago.
This concept of tradition was something I took with me as I made my way out into the world even after nearly every family member died, decreasing the pool of gatherings over the years to the fragmented unrecognizable particles they are today.
For those who are still living, they don't unite as one, but as an independent separate families in their own homes. Small and isolated but familiar and safe, forever clinging to something fuzzy off in the distance that may bring them one smile from such a far away time that it now seems like its someone else's dream.
It's one of the experiences in my life that made me appreciate other people's cultures as I made my way around the world. When the Swedes would gather around a Christmas Tree at midnight the day before, and held hands as they circled the large fur, it was merely a Nordic replica of my own family's strangeness of playing particular songs as the tree went up, while men took on one role and woman another.
Children and children's children are often the catalysts that keep traditions alive and when fewer families have them or the great aunts who insisted on keeping traditional gatherings alive have passed, the tradition becomes a mere memory, one that shares little snippets and pieces to someone else in a weird, but sweet kind of way.
Since my family has become a smattering of black and white prints on a refrigerator door, rather than guests at a dinner table, I didn't want the concept of Thanksgiving as I once experienced it to become so blurry that I would forget the taste of that insanely thick casserole dish I can never remember the name of, or the smells of my Aunt Betty's kitchen before we polished off loaves of sweet breads freshly pulled from her 1930's stove.
OR, the wet smell of the orange and red leaves that were days away from being covered by snow. Then there was the taste of the icicle that hung from my Uncle Dick's house, the smell of our car as we drove home with leftovers after a long succulent day and the smell of my aunt's basement as we crawled our way through the dusty and dark nooks and crannies waiting for appetizers to be served.
Later, other marvelous things were added like the pumpkin and blueberry pies I baked, one of which won top prize in the New York State Fair, and my grandmother's unforgettable rice pudding with cloves and cinnamon. Food mattered. Conversation mattered. Games mattered. Bickering mattered. Being real mattered. And, most importantly, showing up mattered.
I'm astounded how many people don't bother with Thanksgiving at all. In the growing melting pot that we live in, it's not surprising. This year, I ended up having a late dinner with six non-Americans kind of by accident.
Family gatherings start early for most traditional American families and dinner is often served between 2 and 6 depending on the culture and part of the country, but rarely later. It was clear that it wasn't a yank who organized the dinner since the dinner reservation was at 7 at an Italian restaurant, one which oddly had a Turkey dinner special in honor of Thanksgiving.
The dressing of course was made with Italian sausage, the cranberry sauce wasn't homemade and there was no squash. My heart stopped a beat when I realized there wouldn't be squash at the table, but it wasn't quite as bad as the stuffed cream puffs that showed up for dessert. I looked around the room and sited families having dinner, and many tables had several looking down at their cell phones rather than talking to the people in front of them. I looked behind me and the cell phones were there too. To my left? Yup. To my right. Heads buried in cell phones everywhere all in lieu of a physical conversation.
The flow of that human connection is suddenly lost and the magic moments that you used to have thousands of are now diminished to perhaps one if you're lucky in an hour sitting.
Later on the train, I checked the news and was sadly reminded of another new American Thanksgiving "tradition": Black Friday, where Americans stand in long lines bundled in warm jackets waiting for a store to open.
This isn't to say that there were not plenty of American families eating dessert at the dinner table together at the same time, but it does mean that millions (not hundreds) forego that experience because "getting a deal before anyone else" has become a higher priority.
With Target and Walmart offering Black Friday deals earlier than ever this year, things got ugly: one man threatened fellow shoppers by pulling a gun while in line, another threatened to stab others waiting in a Kmart line and there was a scuffle that broke out over a cell phone deal at a Walmart.
Let's put this into perspective. Sometime in the 1960s, some brilliant marketing genuis (aka idiot), decided that Black Friday should fall on the day after Thanksgiving, a holiday dedicated to thanks, family and gratitude. Somehow along the way, we traded family reunion for retail, and togetherness and gratitude for spending money.
The term “Black Friday” was originally coined to mark the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season and somehow it has migrated into a kind of madness that derails people away from the core things that Thanksgiving represents, a far cry from how our ancestors celebrated this ancient November feast.
Local boosters in Virginia, Florida, and Texas like others who came off the boat in the 1600's, gave thanks for setting foot again on dry land. Others tout it as the annual celebration to give thanks at the close of the harvest season. How and why did retail take over a holiday focused on family, gratitude and giving?
Traditions are often there to serve as a reminder of what's real and sacred in a culture...in a nation. How did this country become SO far disconnected to what's real and sacred?
While I declined the cream puff whatever they were at the end of my Thanksgiving meal and quietly reflected how foreign the whole evening felt, I realized that 'of course' it would and should feel foreign when I was the only born and bred yank there.
I then smiled at how natural such an occurrence would be in my life having been a global traveler for so many years. It made sense that while the non-Americans at my table now lived in this country, they didn't grow up with a tradition I hold so dear. To them, they didn't know that squash should be on the table, that 7 pm is an odd time for a Thanksgiving meal, and that even if technology could be part of a conversation, that sharing was a very important part of the dinner.
They didn't grow up with this inherent tradition that houses so many beautiful and tragic memories for so many yanks across so many generations. How could they know I thought quietly.
Then I thought about so many Thanksgivings gone right and all the ones that went wrong over the years. What was constant was a bond that brought us closer together year after year.
There's a reason the words "thanks" and "giving" are in the word Thanksgiving. In fact, it's the only holiday we have as Americans that has such precious words, two words that depict the most sacred things we have: humanity.
And yet, the dismissal of this tradition was prevalent in so many ways this year, from the activities the night before, to the barrage of media coverage of Black Friday on the day of, to the next two days with a friend who spent more time on his laptop and cell phone than in a physical conversation, even during a visit from other friends while in the same room. Did we even make eye contact five times in two days?
My point here is not to beat up on my friend's connection to technology - I have my moments...we all do, especially for those of us who live in Silicon Valley. My point is how increasingly common this is becoming among friends and family and more importantly, how little we recognize the fact that this choice values a machine connection over a human connection. It has become so common that we no longer see it as "odd" or "sad" or "disrespectful" or "rude" or "distracted". What this pattern is not is present.
What followed was a failed attempt to share an old fashioned story with my friend. The story is from a record I have from the 1960s, a moment in time so lost that it is hard to find on eBay or other collectable sites today. The tale is told by a little fir tree who is looking for his true purpose in life, a story I carry with me into board rooms and other areas of my life to this day. It is a story that gives me strength.
The gift was lost: not separating from "a machine" for just a few moments in time is in fact a decision to separate from "a human" during those same few moments.
I lived in Amsterdam many years ago, a place I still hold dear to my heart. When I was about to leave the country, my closest friend who was a local, announced that he wanted to throw me a small farewell party at his house. The time of year was between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Before the evening was over, he said it was time for my gift. What followed is one of the most precious gifts I have received to this day.
Hans was a doctor and while he was not a religious man in the 'traditional' sense, he did attend a Russian Orthodox Church where he sang in a choir. He had asked his group to join him in writing lyrics and music dedicated to me and my departure from Holland.
The song was written, the group had rehearsed and then, the voices sang out in four languages while a harp played, and then...the girl cried. She cried from a place of gratitude and "thanks." She cried because it was one of the most "giving" moments she had received in her life. It was a true Thanksgiving moment, one this girl will never forget.
I had wanted to give my friend "a gift of sorts" on that sunny Thanksgiving weekend day. It saddens me to think that technology can control our life so much that we can forego tradition, a childhood memory or the true essence of what a holiday means because of addictive distractions that remove us far away from our center.
I failed to communicate why this Thanksgiving tradition should mean something to all of us and why we should take the time to embrace humanity in honor of it. And so here I am attempting to do so in a blog window while the sound of cat fights echo outside my bedroom window.
As random people were starring down at their cell phones for most of their Thanksgiving dinner the day before, rather into their friend's and family's eyes, I couldn't help but think of all the gifts....all the magical moments they were losing because of it.
What we lose by glazing over tradition and its true meaning is thousands of potential magic moments that bond humans together and form friendships that last a lifetime. By not being present with each other whether its because of Black Friday, laptops and cell phones, the inability to share what is meaningful to us and what we appreciate about each other most, or simply not showing up, we stand to lose the very core of what makes us human.
Photo Credits: Hands: Human Connection Institute, Family shots: Renee Blodgett, Human Circle shot - Theadhikaris and Turkey photo: Stockbyte.