Social networking and the dead

Frost_from_tim_manners Every so often, someone comes to my blog because they used "Geoffrey Frost" as their search term. 

I didn’t ever meet Geoffrey Frost.  But when he died in 2005 I began to read about the innovations he created at Motorola, and I came to think of him as an exemplar.  He seemed to me the kind of person that marketers, designers, anthropologists, and innovators want to be now.  He could summon big ideas out of the heavens and then shepherd them through the corporation until, viola!, they issued from the factory door and ended up blooming with value in the life of the consumer.  Frost was in short exactly the person the corporation now cares about, that b-schools want to graduate, that all of us want to be. 

I didn’t know Geoffrey Frost but I am now to be proud to be a small flicker in the flame that keeps his memory alive.  Motorola has been surprisingly unforthcoming.  Not worse than any other corporations, but just little…I don’t know… uncomprehending.  I’m not saying that they should have started a cult of personality, but surely their corporate culture wanted to remember an innovator of this order a little more vividly…especially now that the innovation well at Motorola appears to have run dry. 

The great thing about serving a memorial function in a new internet era is how easy and effective it can be.  You know the old drill.  Someone is sitting on her balcony drinking a beer, and combing the heavens, and she thinks, "Hey, I wonder what ever happened to that Geoffrey Frost guy, the one at [Connecticut, Choate, Yale, J. Walter Thompson, Grey Worldwide, Scale, McCabe, and Sloves, Foote, Cone & Belding, Nike, or Motorola].  In the old days, this idea would prompt the question: "who would know?" and the ponderer would make a mental note: "ask Jimmy whatever happened to Frost."

These days we go to Google and I am proud to say, my post "Remembering Geoffrey Frost" is top of the return. Proud and a little anxious.  The story I banged together in 90 minutes is now going to tell the story?  Did I check my facts?  Could I have been clearer?  Did I honor the guy sufficiently?  The good thing about an electronic memorial is that gathers comments, clarifications, amendations, and there are now about 12 of these in place, complete with a dissenting opinion that says he was not an exemplar of any kind.  The dissent represented an interesting problem.  As a keeper of the flame, should I let it stand?  Should I delete it?  I left it in the interests of full disclosure, but also to show what Frost was up against at Motorola. 

In the old days, I could have written an obituary for an quarterly industry newsletter.  It would have disappeared from the shelf in 90 days, and from memory in 180 days.  I could have told the Frost story at the bar when creatives gathered, an oral tradition that would died with me.  I could have written an article or a book that would have achieved greater permanence, and outside the academic community, total obscurity. 

But no.  These days, it’s possible not just to create a memorial.  I can now network for the dead.  My post sits there bobbing, a message in a bottle, in the great green sea called the internet, waiting for a passing stranger to fish it out and have a look.  The memory is a little brighter.  It is more active in the world, more likely to recruit others.  In fact, this memorial is less memorial in the usual sense, less passive, that is to say, and little more like a meme poised to find its way into the world.  This memory is less a memory and more an idea waiting to happen again, to make the difference Geoffrey Frost would have made if he were still alive.  I hope.   

References

Manners, Tim.  2005.  Motorola’s Edge: an interview with Geoffrey Frost.  The Hub: Thinking Marketing for Business Visionaires. September/October 2005.  here

McCracken, Grant.  2005.  Remembering Geoffrey Frost.  This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  December 19, 2005. here

McCracken, Grant. 2007.  Feoffrey Frost and the perils of the fast lane.  This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  May 16, 2007.  here

4 thoughts on “Social networking and the dead”

  1. Interesting post. Another dimension to what you are talking about can be seen at deceased user’s profile page on social media sites like Facebook. When users die their profiles often turn into an impromptu memorial with friends posting memories and photos of the dead.

  2. Nice post, Grant. The web not only extends our mental capacities through space (in the form of knowledge), but also through time (in the form of memory).

    I have had similar experiences with two people whom I also did not know, whose achievements I commemorated with web obits, and am delighted by the unexpected contacts which these pages regularly bring me.

    Charles Hamblin (1922-1985), an Australian philosopher and early computer pioneer:

    http://www.csc.liv.ac.uk/~peter/this-month/this-month-3-030303.html

    and

    Nicolas Fatio de Duillier (1664-1753), a Swiss mathematician who first proposed the “push” theory of gravity:

    http://www.csc.liv.ac.uk/~peter/this-month/fatio-bio.html

    Each of these people has been somewhat written out of the history of their respective disciplines since their deaths, which was the main reason I wrote these obits.

  3. I met Geoffrey once. I was in discussions with Motorola about a potential consulting engagement. It seems he was not to happy with Ogilvy & Mather NY. We met for about an hour and I shared some stories of my experience as a planner, exploring the relationships in people’s lives and where they find meaning.

    Geoffrey had a great energy about him and clear vision about what he wanted to build at Motorola. And had been given the permission to do it. He knew what he would do wouldn’t be popular in the corporate culture that pervaded the company and he saw this as somewhat inevitable. It was an enjoyable meeting.

    The opportunity fizzled out. It turns out Ogilvy was bringing in someone considered – and I remember the explanation to this day – “second only to God in planning”. It was Jon Steele.

    Well, that I suppose that makes Mr Frost only second to God in marketing.

Comments are closed.