To The Death

We spent yesterday in the painfully beautiful and painfully touristed town of St. Paul de Vence.

Nearby is the far more interesting (and far less touristed) town of La Colle-sur-Loup.

It is smaller, has missed the tourist crush for some reason, and a lot more pleasant.

At the center of town is one of those World War I memorials that France is full of, and generally no one spends any time looking at. It lists the dates 1914-1918 on the top, and then has a long list of engraved names.

Les mortes sur guerre

Normally one tends to give these things a pass, but if you take a moment to look, they tell a terrifying story.

There are more than 60 names on the list of those killed between 1914-1918. There are no reliable census number that I can find for this small town from 1914, but the nearby village of Les Beaux lists 450, so I would guess that La Colle sur Loup must have been of about similar size.

60 dead from a village of 450, all within 4 years.

In essence, an entire generation of young, marriagable men must have been wiped out almost at once.

At the Battle of Verdun (1916), there were more than 250,000 dead and more than 1 million wounded. And this was one battle of a four year war. The French suffered 161,000 dead at Verdun. By the time the war was over, France would count nearly 1.7 million dead.

11% of France’s entire population were killed or wounded in the First World War. That would the equivalent of the US taking 33 million casualties in Iraq.

This is an astonishing number. The carnage must have been incomprehensible. And the impact – the loss of an entire generation for all practical purposes – massive. Even in small villages like this.

How did it happen? How did it happen that so many died?

A great deal of it has to do with the ramifications of technology outpacing thinking. The First World War saw the introduction of the machine gun. A killing machine. Just push the button. Military planning in those days was a remnant of a far earlier era. Two lines of soldiers marching towards each other with sabre and horses. Success on the battle field had more to do with elan and courage. Bravery in the face of death!

All pointless.

Line after line of brave French soldiers marched into the meatgrinder of machineguns only to be mowed down before they had advanced more than a few inches.

Line after line.

Yet it went on and on and on.

General Petain became famous at Verdun for the line “they shall not pass”. And so the killing machine continued for four bloody years, largely because technology arrived ahead of thinking.

This is not at all unusual.

The expression ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ is completely wrong.

Invention arrives first, unbidden and generally badly understood. Knowledge of how to use the invention and what it means comes much later.

The Internet is sort of the same.

Its impact of old ways of thinking is just now being felt. Old ways of working, of gathering and distributing information and content no longer work. Old ways of monetizing transactions increasingly no longer make sense. But just as the generals in France kept throwing young men into battle in lines because they could not think really of anything else to do; so too do those who lead major companies facing a similar technology that they just cannot really comprehend.

Those memorials all over France to the 1.7 million dead in the First World War are more than just a memorial to the men who were killed. They are also reminders of our human instinct to resist change to stick with what we know.. even to the death.

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19 responses to “To The Death

  1. So are you saying because you VJ model hasn’t worked so far its time you gave up on it?
    Good idea!

  2. No….
    maybe you wanna try reading it again ;)

  3. i know a woman who was born in “small town, USA.” almost all of the young men of her generation were drafted for vietnam about the time they graduated highschool. the town died because only four survived, two of those were so mentally fried that they could not function on their own. with no men to marry, most of the women of that generation left. we finally figured out how to fight world war I style battles, and the field changed yet again.
    i would argue that you’re off to a certain degree in your internet point. humanity seems to be more of a creature constantly charging about. i don’t think the old ways of thinking are just now catching up to us. instead i’d argue that we’re still in the old ways, being dragged along, and unless we either slow our invention process or drop our way of thinking, we’ll keep feeling every rough bump of thinking too far in the past.

  4. I’m simplifying this to the extreme but before the WW1 in New Zealand the Maori tribes had developed and perfected their own form of trench warfare. Despite the fact that the New Zealanders had a background of real life experience and practical knowledge of what worked and what didn’t their advice was ignored, they were treated as upstart colonials.
    You don’t listen to our advice. You are in love with a theory that doesn’t work in the real world.
    You send your army of VJ over the top to get cut down by reality, then skip off to find another bunch of cannon fodder. Each time you hope this will be different… but it hasn’t worked yet.

  5. Dear Stephen
    Think of the British and the Americans as the networks. Think of NZ at the VJs. Easy, no?
    Small yet aggressive, smart and independent.
    I am in England this week speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival. The topic? You guessed it. Seems to be working quite well in much of the world. When we bring it to NZ, what say you are our rep? :)

  6. Depends what you tried to bring. We already have one station here failing away under their own VJ model. What’s interesting is the public reaction, they are not watching in droves.
    The local papers experimented with their own video last year but ditched it and now just link to the best TV video of an event.
    I’m sure you talk in Edinburgh will be fun and interesting full of lots of hyperbole… just as long as everyone remembers, none of it is real. :)

  7. What happens when the paper wants to transcend the limited material that the local tv station offers. What about when the paper wants to use video to express an editorial position or do in depth investigations that local tv news just does not do? Why should papers, of all people, be bound by the very scant and limited diet of local tv for their video? After all, most local tv news ops get their stories from the papers to begin with. At Edinburgh I will be showing video by Gary Younge at The Guardian, a pretty good paper. You might want to take a look at it.

  8. I found this one http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2008/jan/25/obamania
    but he obviously didn’t shoot it… whoever did needs a lot of training.
    It’s a nice idea but it’s just executed so badly it makes my eyes bleed… sorry slipped into hyperbole mode…

  9. Could someone enlighten me to the NZ station following the VJ model…

  10. I think you might find that Gary’s intellectual content is far more interesting (particularly to the reader’s of the Guardian) than some snippets from local TV news (which has a long long way to go to catch up to the Guarding in terms of content).
    I think it will be far easier to polish up the Guardian’s video than to educate and enlighten all of Local TV news. Don’t you?

  11. Rosenblum: “Newspapers are no different than television stations when it comes to deciding what to cover.

    You keep inferring your VJ model will somehow change the mindset of newspapers and what they deem newsworthy.
    What happens when the paper wants to transcend the limited material that the local tv station offers. What about when the paper wants to use video to express an editorial position or do in depth investigations that local tv news just does not do? Why should papers, of all people, be bound by the very scant and limited diet of local tv for their video? ”

    I think newspapers do a fine job at present making that decision.

    But that is not what is going to make or break the newspaper business of the future.

    It’s about ability.

    Not just story selection.

    Intellectual content is nice as long as the method of communication is coherent and easily understood and appreciated by the masses.

    Otherwise, your VJs can only rely on their mom and dads to pony up money for them to stay in business because what they produce at present isn’t fit for anything but free, largely ignored viewing on youtube.

    No career there.

    No business model that pays bills for VJs either.

    Knowing where to punch a record button or use a computer to edit video does not make someone a money making video journalist.

    You have a long list of former, unemployed students to prove that point already.

    Rosenblum wants people to believe taking up his small camera and edit gear automatically makes someone a journalist that will keep a business afloat.

    That kind of misguided thinking is not different than thinking buying pencils and passing them out to everyone will automatically make them all award winning book authors.

    Foolish and misleading.

  12. http://www.primetv.co.nz/Default.aspx?alias=www.primetv.co.nz/news

    they have a VJ/normal crew mix… rate below the margin of error.

  13. The first step in creating award winning book authors it to make everyone in the population literate. That is why we teach every one to read and write. Then, from amongst the literate population, the truly talented arise, and we all appreciate that.
    This is where great books come from.

    What we don’t do is have an elite few who know how to read and write and then ask them to write all the books because they have the best handwriting.

    Should everyone know how to shoot and edit video? I think so. I think so because for better or for worse, video is the lingua franca of our culture. Does it mean that everyone is going to make a living as a videographer? I don’t think so, and I don’t think that’s the intent; no more than when you learned to read and write you did so with the idea that you would become a great author, and if you did not sell a million books, your education was a waste of time.

    I don’t think you think that, and I don’t think there is a problem in making millions of people video literate so that they can participate in the creation of new content.

    The bottom line here is that technology has obviated the need for ‘cameramen’ just as technology once obviated the need for scribes.

    Sorry for the scribes. I am sure they were all nice hard working guys with families.

    Sorry for the cameramen. Likewise.

    But the video literate world will be far richer and far more interesting.

  14. I read, and find myself agreeing with you.

    I’m as surprised as you are at this moment.

    The public should be literate.

    Yes, those who just shoot will find life more difficult, but not completely impossible.

    The literacy thing does make me wonder about one thing though.

    How much would one charge for a four day class in reading and writing and still find students happy with the outcome of their short learning experience?

    Would they really know how to read and write after four days?

    Or would they feel just a little bit cheated to find out that really knowing how to read and write well enough to communicate well takes a lot more time, effort and ability than they might have been lead to believe?

  15. The four day course is only a beginning, not an ending. Everyone who takes this understands that.

    What is it worth?

    What would a literacy course be worth the day after the printing press was invented?

    We are in the early days of video literacy. Early adapters are willing to pay a premium to get in first. I can only charge what the market will bear. I have no doubt that over time, as this skill set becomes more deeply embedded into the conscious of the general public, it will be something less unique. But that is not the case right now.

    When the web first came into being, a small company named RazorFish had a valuation of many billions of dollars. All it was was a group of 20 year olds who knew HTML. But that was a time when no one else did. Over time Razorfish’s value dropped appreciably, but the value of knowing HTML never did.

  16. I would find that rating Prime Tv in NZ a VJ model a long draw of the bow, in light of larger and rather more prestigous organisations adopting this model worldwide.
    I believe and am aware that they would not call what they do a VJ model, more expediency in using resources wisely, as is the right of any broadcast organisation, especially one that acknowledges its role in newsgathering in NZ is limited

  17. I said they had “their own VJ model” which in Wellington is a 50/50 mix. I agree they use what little resources they have very wisely but they are working twice as hard just to keep up and despite all the hard work the stupid little camera means that they never look as good no matter how hard they work. It must be heartbreaking.

  18. I agree, but new technology as in cameras is not at fault in most cases, latest small format cameras can put 2 year old large format to shame. A Craftsman doesnt blame his tools. He /She works at this through applying their skills. At fault in a lot of cases is the frequency those skills are applied more so in this stations place in light of the weight they place on news.

  19. Ok so tell two men they each have to race dig a road.
    One gets a 10 year but still working fine old bulldozer and the other a brand new state of the art ergonomic shovel… the guy with the shovel is not going to win no matter how good a craftsman he is and if you tell him a poor craftsman blames his tools you are likely to end up wearing that shovel.
    The right tools for the job

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