Michael Bourdouklis was born at a time when the world had started to shrink. He was not aware of the shrinkage, nor were his family or friends, but it was shrinking. It started after World War II and has continued on through to the present at a logarithmic rate.
This was not the kind of shrinkage that occurs when a wool sweater takes an unfortunate trip in a clothes dryer, or the kind of shrinkage when an old high school band uniform can no longer be buttoned. This is a shrinkage of proximity, of closeness and distance. Not measurable distance, but one of awareness, acknowledgment, recognition – things, places, people that just a moment ago were very far away are now so close you can count nose freckles.
For Michael, his awareness of a shrinking world started the first time his mother took him and his four-year-old brother to a baseball game at Griffith Stadium to watch the now dissolved Washington Senators play the New York Yankees in the summer of 1953. Michael was six.
The trip to the stadium started with a car ride from their small apartment in suburban Maryland to the home of Michael’s grandparents in Washington, D.C. From there they took a trolley car down Georgia Avenue to the ballpark. Like some lovesick golden retriever, Michael’s paws draped out the open car window and his head hung in the wind for almost the entire trip. That is, except for the hundred or so times his mother told him to be careful and sit back in his seat. They parked the car at Grandmother’s and took the streetcar.
Again, shrinkage. This time not outside, but inside. Michael had never seen such people, each with a different skin color, their eyes different shapes. The materials and textures of their clothes were all new to him. Even their words were different. While he understood some, others sounded like singing and talking at the same time. Some people even spoke to him. He didn’t understand a word they said, but somehow he understood their meaning. This was so exciting. He stood the rest of the way to the stadium and never looked outside the trolley.
When they got to the ballpark, the shrinkage accelerated. As he stepped from the trolley to the street, holding the railing in one hand, his mother’s hand in the other, all he could see were the bottoms and backs of people all around him. Everyone was moving in the same direction, making the same kinds of sounds you might hear from the other side of a wall, noise but no words.
They walked into a large building with very tall wire fencing where walls should have been, and the further they walked the more people there were and the less light there was.
As they started up a large open stairway it felt like he was walking up to go outside. Then there it was – the field. Green, like a green he had never seen before, buttered with sunlight, salted with running men in white uniforms, more like something to eat than to look at.
Michael looked around at those to his right, left, in front and in back. People and more people. He did not know it at the time, but because the Senators were playing the Yankees, the game was sold out with standing room only.
At the bottom of the first inning, a player on the Senators got a hit and everyone stood and cheered. That’s when it happened. Michael realized that the red, yellow, blue, white and green patches he’d seen on the other side of the field, directly above him, and to his far right and left were people. People with faces, hands, eyes, ideas, minds, wants, needs – people, hundreds, thousands. Over 29,000 people.
Before this, he had no idea that there were so many people in the world. He had no idea that a world like this with this many people existed at all, much less in the District, Maryland, the United States, North and South America or the world.
All of a sudden, surrounded by loud, cheering, happy fans, Michael had a sense of how big the world was and how small his own world would be in the future.
As we get older, most of us tend to forget that markets, crowds, audiences and consumers are words that represent groups, yet are all composed of individuals. People, one at a time, who act and react individually – people who have choices and make decisions based on individual wants and needs, not a collective personality. We can create an ad that is placed in the Wall Street Journal that will be seen by almost half a million people, but it will fail if we forget the fact that it is read by only one person at a time.
While the world is smaller today from a communication point of view, it is also much more personal. There are more magazines, for example, than there have ever been, and satisfying individual interests is their focus. From personal computers to the Internet, to the next generation of direct access to information and services through what is basically a glorified television device, systems are bigger and communication is more intimate.
Products and services need to be presented in ways that are just as personal and individual as a kiss, just as direct as a handshake and just as unique as a fingerprint. Technology in terms of access and usability is being transformed from a laser scalpel that only a few can use to a pair of round-nose scissors.
To be successful in a multi-disciplinary marketplace, our ability to communicate must also transform itself from a public address system to word of mouth. If a business is to not only succeed but to prosper, it must prepare its communication and marketing materials in ways that appeal to the individual within the groups.