Lessons from the Fonz: Nix the Water Skis

Technology and the Web have a lot to offer, but you can easily drown in it if you don’t know what it is that you need.

Anna WellsBy ANNA WELLS, Executive Editor, Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation (IMPO)

I wasn’t familiar with the term “jump the shark” until just a few years ago.

For those of you not “in the know,” jumping the shark is when something hits a point past its prime culturally, and anyone with a hipster bone in their body becomes collectively “over it.” The phrase itself is actually pretty cleverly derived. In 1977, the television show Happy Days featured an episode where Henry Winkler’s character Fonzie showcases his bravery by dramatically water ski jumping (in swim trunks and trademark leather jacket) over a shark. While the show went on for another seven seasons, this pivotal point was universally noted as the moment the show lost plot credibility and spurred its slow decline in popularity. When The Fonz jumped the shark, so did Happy Days.

Now fast-forward 30+ years, add the Web and a vastly expanded host of multimedia, and shake well. Suddenly the “best if used by” date is always today, and everything seems susceptible to jumping the shark. Remember America Online anyone? Chat rooms? Yeah … me, too. Barely …

Working in media, we hear it non-stop: Wikipedia? Dead. Twitter? Over. Facebook? Rotting, according to Wired.com. The recent Wired article, titled “By The Numbers: Do We Have Facebook Fatigue?” assesses the rates of new accounts in June compared to May, and the numbers appear to plummet.

I’ll be honest: When my mom and dad joined Facebook, I cringed internally and then solemnly vowed to them that I would never be their “friends.” But when my 11-year-old cousin joined, I saw blood in the water. The sharks would be here soon …

Yet the other, more rational side of me — the one that doesn’t try so hard to be cool anymore — tunes out this whole debate as much as possible. If you read enough technology blogs, you’ll know that nothing is universally accepted. And maybe I don’t want to be one of those obsessive number munchers, binoculars in-hand, staring out to sea, looking for the circling fins.

My ultimate conclusion here is that keeping up with the tech-savvy Jones’ can be an endless diversion. Instead of trying to understand how popular a particular device, network or service is, we should be thinking about how valuable it is for us. Just because something is the latest and greatest doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for our personal lives or our businesses.

When I got my first BlackBerry, it took me almost a year of paying inflated rates for an enterprise plan before I realized that I actually HATED getting my work e-mails direct to my mobile on the weekends. Good or bad, it was a personal conflict that I wish I’d had the foresight to identify in advance. But everybody else had a BlackBerry, so I just assumed it was what I needed, not really thinking about whether it was something that fit the variables of my lifestyle or performed a service that I actually wanted.

This is not to say that keeping a close eye on technology is not recommended. If all of your competitors have ERP or MRP systems, by all means — look into it. There is a lot of really valuable stuff out there that can be instrumental in keeping operational and quality control issues at bay. But there are also lots of questions you need to ask yourself about what you need from a service provider. It’s also critical for you to ensure that your goals, timeline, and support structure are in place.

And whether the Twitters and the Facebooks of the Web all stick around for the long-term remains to be seen. But the question we should be asking ourselves is why we use them. For us, Twitter actually seems to be a great way to post news items throughout the day to a very targeted group of manufacturing readers who may not be frequent visitors to our website. But not all social media has been a good fit for us.

Technology and the Web have a lot to offer, but you can easily drown in it if you don’t know what it is that you need. Just be sure to know the waters before you try to navigate them … and I’d suggest a life jacket over a leather one. Some things only work on The Fonz.

Do you agree that everything in our Internet-fueled world is susceptible to “jumping the shark?” What else can we do as consumers to separate the good from the bad? Let me know your thoughts at anna.wells@advantagemedia.com.