As a young “nerd”, one of my favorite places to visit was the local Radio Shack. A reliable source of parts and components for projects and fixes for both things I thought up (which a sometimes worked as intended) as well as nifty components to repair common electronic issues. Need to go from a Phono plug to RCA jacks to make that Mike Mixer work with a Stereo Receiver? Need an IC chip to form the basis of a controller for that Model Rocket? Radio Shack was the place. Generations of American Inventors, and to be Rocket Scientists and Engineers fed their inner geek, and not coincidentally built their skills with parts supplied by “The Shack”…
It would seem that the dream of inventing and creating has died in America, and the once reliable institutions which supported that dream, whether Hobby Shops, Electronic Supply Houses – or Radio Shack…
Have gone down the toilet with it.
We now live in a country where stupidity is seen as an asset (the Sno’ Ho’ AKA Sarah Palin, George “Dumbya” Bush) and technology is increasingly invented elsewhere. Investment in technology has become increasingly scarce, as Venture firms stampede towards the newest re-utilization of antique technology in search of the newest Facebook or some software which is smarter than the humans and can replace them. A goal made simpler not by better systems, but the lowering of the bar of human intellect. By removing the responsibility to make decisions, and suffer their consequences – morals have been removed from the equation.
We are users of technology we barely understand, in a world of plug and play. Making it simple enough so that even the stupid can use it has resulted in dumbing it down to the point we’re stupid. If you think I’m wrong – look at the unemployment numbers.
An no – more college degrees isn’t going to fix that. GIGO (look it up if you’re not a Old Skool techie!)
The Shack has fallen, and opted for prostitution – selling cell phones. A business which would be the most ethically challenged in America…
If it wasn’t for the underhanded practices of the big banks, and Wall Street. Stupidity in this case not being the classic lack of intelligence, because the Wall Street boys and the Bank boys with their shiny MBA’s from all the right places are undeniably high in intellect…
But massively lacking in morality and ethics.
“Ethically challenged”? You bet! Cell Phone companies are the used car salesmen of America. “We got a 2003 Mustang GT here, for $3,000. Drive it off the lot today for just $100.00 down, and $100.00 a month! Sold! Sign Here…”
“Oh it won’t start? Of course not – it doesn’t have a motor. That’s another $10,000. And since you signed the contract, if you can’t afford it – you have to pay us $500.00 to take it back as an “early termination fee!”
“And that $100.00 a month? Well it’s actually $323.00 a month when we add in handling fees, state and local taxes, and anything else we can invent!”
Used to be places which did business like that… Had Red Lights by the door or strings of plastic banners.
Recently, RadioShack has been forcefully rebranding itself, trying to shed its image as a temple of transistors, parts, and cables. Polished executives have parachuted in from the boardrooms of Safeway, Kmart, and Coca-Cola to turn the iconic American retailer around after years of under-performance and uncertainty. (In 2007, The Onion summed up the brand’s decline with the satiric headline “Even CEO Can’t Figure Out How Radioshack Still in Business.”)
The plan? The new bosses want to turn RadioShack into a hipper, more mainstream place for “mobility” — which is what they insist on calling the cell phone market. (In an interview, RadioShack’s marketing chief used the word mobility an average of once every 105 seconds.) Selling phones is central to the new RadioShack. And so far, it seems to be working. Per-store sales are up, and corporate profits jumped 26 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009.
Wall Street seems to like the strategy. After Apple finally deigned to let the chain sell iPhones late last year, the same Morgan Stanley analyst who in 2008 had described RadioShack as “a decaying business model” lauded its “growing relevancy as a wireless destination.” And in early March, the company’s stock price was pumped up by unsubstantiated rumors that it might be taken over by an investment firm. If nothing else, the gossip could suggest that RadioShack has whipped itself back into respectable-enough shape to be a plausible investment target.
But a small subculture of RadioShack nostalgics, including many former employees, have watched all this unfold with sorrow — if not a feeling of betrayal, then at least loss. The last nails are being hammered into the coffin of the little electronics hobby shop they once loved. And the cell phone seems to be an apt symbol for the superficiality and ordinariness they feel are taking its place.
“You walk into a regular RadioShack and it’s become like a neurosis,” Cohen says. “‘Sir, can I sell you a cell phone today? How old is your cell phone? What about your family, do they have cell phones?’”
The story of RadioShack’s evolution over the past half century turns out to be the story of America’s changing relationship with technology. The RadioShacks of old catered to customers who could diagnose a busted TV on their basement workbench. They might be messing around with some project on a Saturday afternoon, find that they were missing a part, and hustle out to the nearest RadioShack for some of the very gear Cohen still stocks.
But his shop is a lone outpost; in a single generation, the American who built, repaired, and tinkered with technology has evolved into an entirely new species: the American who prefers to slip that technology out of his pocket and show off its killer apps. Once, we were makers. Now most of us are users.