The next miracle (v11.1): Owen Youngman

Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy, Medill / Northwestern

Owen YoungmanOwen YoungmanOwen Youngman

Hitting the books again

wills2Martin Marty, Owen Youngman

This weekend I’ll be back at the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Lit Fest for a conversation with two of my favorite interviews from past years, Garry Wills (above left in 2008) and Martin Marty (above right in 2011; both photos from C-SPAN). The topic at 1 p.m. at Grace Place (tickets required) is “The Future of Pope Francis,” the jumping-off point and focus provided by Wills’ recent book of similar title: The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis (Viking, 2015).

In a retrospective mood after my last essay on finding a time capsule in my closet, I went back through my files to review my past interviews, panels, and discussions; turns out this will be my 24th appearance since 2003. A few categories predominate: faith and religion (8), nature and birds (7), and technology (4) lead the way, with a few individual author interviews and panels mixed in along the way. Authors like Leon Kass, Richard Rhodes, and Umberto Eco also were memorable interviews, and it was always especially fun to just close my Tribune office door and read their books in the weeks beforehand.

Owen Youngman, Umberto Eco, Printers Row Book Fair

Interviewing Umberto Eco, 2005

(It’s a front-loaded list: in 2003, the first year after I oversaw the book fair’s acquisition from the Near South Planning Board, I had six sessions on my dance card.  We soon saw that we had just plain scheduled too many authors and too many events, so things settled down in subsequent years, and I’ve been down to no more than 1 or 2 events since I came to Northwestern in 2009.)

The crowds for individual discussions have varied in size but never in enthusiasm, at least from my perspective up front. The most boisterous and focused one? As a matter of fact, it was my first chat with Martin Marty. He and the late Andrew Greeley wowed the crowd at Grace Place in 2004, and they could have kept answering questions from the sitting-on-the-floor-and-standing-room crowd  all afternoon and evening if we hadn’t needed to clean up the place for the resident congregation to use the next day (see below).

So, back to Grace Place on Saturday. Perhaps I’ll see you there.

Owen Youngman, Martin Marty, Andrew Greeley

WIth Martin Marty and Andrew Greeley, 2004

Opening a Chicago time capsule

Chicago Magazine, July 1987

A window to the Chicago of 1987

Examining time capsules long has fascinated the people who find them. In January of this year, for example, there was quite a foofaraw in Boston over the second opening of a capsule that was placed in the Massachusetts State House dome by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere in 1795. Earlier this week, the CBS Television Networks launched a new channel, Decades, that Robert Feder’s headline called “a daily time capsule,” built around a cultural retrospective hosted by Bill Kurtis.

Today, I really get it — because this week my wife and I found one buried in our own home. It’s the July, 1987, issue of Chicago magazine, and it too mentions Bill Kurtis.

You see it above. We had placed it on a closet shelf shortly after moving to the suburbs from Chicago, and it came to light when the shelf came loose this week and I needed to remount and brace it.

The issue takes a reader back to a long-departed world. Continue reading

Google Glass and Apple Watch, compared

For the second time since 2013, I’m having the opportunity for a series of conversations with random strangers around a piece of consumer technology.

Owen Youngman at Google New York to pick up Google Glass, June 2013. Photo by Mark Skala.Back then, it was Google Glass, and the conversations usually went like this:

“Are those the Google glasses? . . . No way. Are you recording me? . . . Oh, okay. How do you like them?”

These days, it’s the Apple Watch, and the conversations are going like this:First look at the Apple Watch, April 2015. Photo by Linda Youngman.

“Is that the iWatch? . . . No way. It’s not that big! How do you like it?”

Regardless of the year and the device, the conversations with people I actually know generally are a little different, because they center on a declarative statement and not a question:

“Of course you have that. I’ll look for your review.”

In that spirit, takeaway number 1 about “wearable computing” from the above anecdotes:

No one feels threatened by a watch.

And takeaway 1A:

I don’t feel conspicuous wearing a watch.

But what else might I have to bring to the table among the welter of recent watch reviews? Continue reading

Paving the road to the Web (or just spreading gravel)

On Jan. 19, 1995, I called to order the first meeting of a 10-person Chicago Tribune committee charged by our bosses with figuring out the Internet.

By March 29 … yes, just twenty years ago … we were done.

(Must have been the head start: Since 1992, the company had been running Chicago Online, a service on America Online that was about to become profitable … thanks to the number of hours its users were spending not so much reading the news, but chatting with each other.)

Of course, our merry little cross-functional band knew full well we weren’t done. But we were done enough to pitch a vision and a business plan, and to argue for the organizational bandwidth needed to hire about 18 new staffers. And then to turn them loose.

We also knew that even if we persuaded the bosses to go for our ideas, we could still screw it up. “An uncompetitive or uncompelling product invites ridicule, or worse, complete uninterest,” I wrote. “Reputations are made and lost on the Internet as quickly as technology changes; what once was ‘innovative reuse of content’ is now ‘shovelware.’ A substandard or merely mediocre product not only puts at risk our reputation for technological innovation; it also provides an opening for competitors.”

But enough quoting from source material, whether the prose be deathless or deadly. Continue reading

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