Every now and again, one hears laments about the redundancy of innovations. The demise of the telex machine, the passing away of the humble calculator, the end of the compact cassette.
But is this ballyhoo valid?
After all, it took less than two years for Orkut to drop from being the MTV icon of the year (2007) to relative obscurity in 2009. And if you look at the MTV icons and top nominees since 2003, not a single name appears more than once! Just five years ago, Rahul Dravid and Anil Ambani were MTV icons… how soon time flies, and turns our heroes into has-beens!
Today, Orkut has been overtaken by Facebook. Which in turn is in danger of being overshadowed by Twitter.
But it is not about a quick rise and equally rapid fall...it is about the very nature of ‘prematurely-ejaculatory applause’. Kambakht Ishq, unanimously trashed by critics, nonetheless collected Rs. 24 crore in 3 days. (Second only to Ghajini in the all-time list.) Even though the Kambakht viewer started deserting it from Monday.
Imran Khan, the pretty boy in ‘Jaane tu ya jaane na’, was called the new superstar, only to next deliver the turkey called Kidnap.
The ‘accelerated rise and fall’ phenomenon also holds for TV commercials. With hundreds of exposures over a cricket series, or over a couple of weeks, they run risk gangrene caused by exposure to the icy stares of a disgusted audience.
In recent times, we’ve seen this in the epidemic-level SMS-ing by ‘voters’ in the Idea TVCs, a Close-Up-powered girl relentlessly blowing soap bubbles and of course, the mother of them all - the attack of the ZooZoos.
Perhaps the very act of creating impact in a hurry causes the subsequent quick decay. The flaming comet doesn’t last as much as a timid lamp.
And yet, this may not be such a tragedy. Perhaps we need to reassess the notion of ideas.
The truth is that with rapid changes in technology, social behaviour, fashion, etc, we must take shorter life-spans of ideas as a reality, and acknowledge that ideas don’t lose their importance merely because they don’t last over decades.
Microsoft fueled the spread of PCs with the idea of a universal standard operating system and revolutionised life. Does that contribution become null and void because of Linux and other challengers to the Windows OS? Rasna created a new market for ‘soft drink concentrates’ and had India saying, “I love you Rasna”. Is its success story tarnished because advertising worth thousands of crore by colas, irrevocably changed the soft drinks market? Garden textiles draped Persis Khambatta, introducing fashion photography to Indians. Does that mean nothing, even though today readymade dresses and jeans are the trendsetters in fashion?
The point is, ideas DO come with ‘Best By’ dates. Even great ideas.
The death of memory
There is one more aspect to this phenomenon: The fact that the rapidity of change shortens our ‘relevant memory span’. Our sense of history itself is compressed by rapid change, and events just a few years old, seem part of a remote past.
The IBM PC was introduced in 1981 - just 28 years ago. The mobile phone was launched in India in 1995. If it were a person, it wouldn’t even be able to get a driving license!
Casio watches and calculators introduced us to a digitised world, though Casio is no longer as ubiquitous as it was. Videocon introduced affordable washing machines and colour TVs and made them truly ‘household products’ in India, though the brand may no longer be the leader it used to be. Zee TV introduced us to satellite TV and DID change TV viewing, even though a pre-pubescent bride may be garnering TRPs today.
The subsequent drop of a brand from marketing heights, does not reduce the importance of the idea it fostered. In examining ideas, perhaps it is more important to look at how much the idea changed things, rather than fosussing on how long it lasted
Unless you are a Redwood tree or a Galapagos turtle, being 300 years old may not be a virtue in itself.
Anand Halve is co-founder, Chlorophyll. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org