I... B... Wha?

I... B... Wha?

Summary: The following is a true story, and happened to me today.I'm on a business trip visiting Richmond, Virginia --  which for those of you kids reading this piece, is the state capital, has a population of over 200,000, and is home to a number of large corporations.

TOPICS: IBM, CXO, Hardware


The following is a true story, and happened to me today.

I'm on a business trip visiting Richmond, Virginia --  which for those of you kids reading this piece, is the state capital, has a population of over 200,000, and is home to a number of large corporations. Hardly a backwater town in the middle of nowhere, right?

I decided to do some shopping this evening at the supermarket for some groceries to take back to my hotel suite so I can make myself some breakfast in the morning. After paying at the checkout counter I attempted to cart my groceries away to the car, only to be intercepted by a teenage employee dressed in a green apron who informs me he was happy to do this for me and yanks my cart away, directing me to lead him to my vehicle parked in the lot. This in itself was not odd, because I am aware that in some Southern states such Florida which have a large elderly population, this practice by grocery chains such as Publix is fairly common.

Still, I consider myself to be able bodied (Sunday was my 39th birthday, hardly qualifying for Social Security yet) and it was a whole container of egg beaters, a loaf of whole grain bread, a bag of pre-washed spinach, a few bags of soy chips and some pre-cooked herbed chicken sausage which was hardly worth the effort carrying out, but whatever. Analyze that shopping list and you'll fully appreciate how lame my life has become.

The kid asked me where I was visiting from, because clearly, I was not a local, and my New Yawk accent gave it away.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Me: New York... can't you tell?

Kid: Cool. What's that badge you're wearing? I... B... R? What do they do?

Me: "NOT I.B.R. It's my IBM badge, you know, I.B.M.. I work for I...   B...   M...".

Kid: "Oh, so like, what do you do?"

Me: I work with computers. I'm a systems integration expert.

Kid: "What does IBM do?"

Me: You're messing with me, right? You've never heard of IBM?

Kid: "No sir."

Me: We're the largest technology company in the world. We make computers, do technology consulting and we have over 350,000 employees worldwide.

Kid: Really?

Me: Yes, really.

Kid: I've never seen an.. uh.. IBM computer before. I thought Apple or Dell was the biggest computer company.

Me: Not even close. Hewlett-Packard is getting there though.

Kid: Hewlett who?

Me: How old are you, kid?

Kid: Fourteen.

I was so dumbfounded by my experience that I shared the story with one of my other industry colleagues, who writes for another publication.

Andy: I'm not surprised man.

Me:  How many freaking commercials do we have?

Andy: Yeah, fine, the green commercials are cute, but a kid his age knows products. He probably owns an iPod and an Xbox, so he knows who Apple and Microsoft is.

Me: We're the second most recognizable brand behind Coca-Cola. Don't they teach these kids anything?

Andy: Because people drink Cokes. When IBM sold it's PC division to Lenovo, things changed. IBM has no consumer products anymore.

Now, of course, it got me thinking, are kids really that stupid today? Are they so self-absorbed into video games and consumer technology that they have no idea who IBM is?  I mean sure, I could understand not knowing who AIG, Wachovia, Merrill Lynch or Lehman Brothers is. Maybe the Social Studies teacher would have to spend an entire lesson on that one. But IBM? Come on!

Growing up in the 1970's, even before IBM created the PC, I knew who IBM was. When I was eight or nine years old and my interest was piqued in computers, probably after watching a Star Trek episode or an old Sci-Fi movie ....  perhaps even 2001: A Space Odyssey ... I must have asked somebody... my grandfather, my parents, somebody, "Who makes computers?".  And the answer, of course, naturally was IBM.

Heck, back in 1975 or 1977 or so, I knew you couldn't own a computer, big companies used them, but IBM made them. And as far as I knew, nobody else made computers until someone told me that Sperry Rand also made them, and that's because there was a big Sperry office near my house and my father pointed it out to me. I didn't even know HP or Sun made computers until I was in high school (1980s) and had summer jobs with medium sized businesses who had them, along with DECs and Altos machines.

So do you have to make something consumable to even be part of the zeitgeist of today's generation? For Generation X and earlier, you obviously didn't have to. But the question begs, does IBM need to reach out to kids in order to maintain its brand going into future decades? Does it need a highly visible consumer product?  Talk Back and let me know.

Disclaimer: The postings and opinions on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Topics: IBM, CXO, Hardware


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • I. B. Amazed

    You have to think though, after the 90's the markets are flooded with consumer products based on technology. People associate with what they are exposed to. However in the 70's and better part of the 80's if you wanted a PC, it had to be "IBM compatible". IBM was on everything back then. Things have changed and now some people aren't aware IBM started it... but they know that Dell has alot of commercials, and even aware that Dell makes ECU's for cars. IBM might still be big, but its no longer alone. With a focus on servers and the like though, IBM might consider increasing its brand recognition in the IT world. I have met some future programmers that were not aware that an i5 series (A/S 400) was an IBM machine. I have noticed newer generations tend to not be as curious about what makes it tick as I was. I beleive its largely due to the market being flooded with technology. It's all just so mainstream now.

    Knowledge is Power.
    Anymore questions?
    • Not just that its mainstream or flooded...

      Its also just "easy" now. I remember when I was about 10 my bro-in-law bought an "old" PC that had no GUI at all & my mom told me stories of programming a computer with punch cards in college. Before the GUI boom of Apple & Win you HAD to know how it worked to, well, make it work. Now with compilers & programs that do much of the programming for you. Theres no need to know the backbone of tech. Its like cars: many people who first owned them 90 years ago knew a lot about the internal workings of the engines & how to tinker with them. Most people now just want them to work. It is kinda sad, but the route every complex thing takes.
  • Don't be surprised...

    Mindshare is fleeting, what's near and dear to you doesn't
    translate to others. Why would a kid know anything about
    IBM, a company with no consumer products. I mean he was
    born after OS/2 had any snowball's chance in hell of
    succeeding (imho). Mainframes? AIX? Huh? Get real. Most
    non-techies probably think Google serves up search
    results from a desktop... if they can even imagine that far.

    I'm not surprised.

  • RE: I... B... Wha?

    I don't understand why you don't listen to Andy:

    Andy: Because people drink Cokes. When IBM sold it???s
    PC division to Lenovo, things changed. IBM has no
    consumer products anymore

    Where do you see IBM in everyday life? If I ask my
    wife who IBM is I bet you she also doesn't know and
    she's 26. I ask her who Microsoft is and she knows, I
    ask her what Linux is and she knows, Mac and Apple are
    tricky, but she's getting one so that will change.
  • RE: I... B... Wha?

    Anyone ever accuse you of being ego centric Jason? A "computer" isnt the big deal it once was. Its left the realm of light speed and extra-terrestrial beings. I cant think of one reason why a 14 year old should be interested in IBM. Believe me, its not because there that stupid or self absorbed. Unfortunately for you and your ego IBM has gone the way of AIG, Wachovia, Merrill Lynch or Lehman Brothers.
    • Read the blog description from the ZDNet "blog roll" page

      I include the words "unapologetically arrogant"
    • You know, if you're going to insult someone ...

      ... you really should make sure your grammar and spelling are correct.

      "its not because there that stupid or self absorbed", should be, "it's not because they're that stupid or self absorbed".

      Oh, and maybe not, but apparently you are.

      • In defense

        I may have been a little harsh in my defense but I wasn't trying to insult anyone. Being ego-centric is not the worst thing in the world and occurs more often than one might think. Mostly I guess I was just trying to point out that people spend to much time looking at the world from their eyes and not enough from others (which is also a good thing to do). So apologies to anyone who thought I was just being insulting.

        P.S. If you think my grammar and spelling looks bad now, you should see me without a spellchecker.
        • In Defense

          Humans are naturally ego-centric. It's not easy to see things from others point of view unless you can read minds. Some people are pretty good at reading into what others think, but its not a basic instinct. This article is an example of how sometimes we take things for granted and assume everyone thinks the same way as we do. It's an opinion from their point of view... not everyone's point of view. People might would get along better if we all saw eye to eye, but without varying opinions R&D wouldn't get vary far. If William Stanley and John Westinghouse had not had a different opinion then everyone else, we'd been running on DC power instead of AC power in our homes. A little research will tell you why that is a important. Everyone has something to bring to the table, so lets stop complaining that someone sees things differently. Instead, why not just share your point of view, and maybe something good will come of it.
  • So i was lunching with

    a much older guy.. and you were exchanging stories and at some point i mentioned "back in the days when computer ran on steam"

    He laughed in disbelief at the concept of a computer running on steam. (while he was twice my age)
    • It used to be...

      that big mainframe installations had a collection of what were called "motor-generator units," consisting of a motor run on grid power that was directly coupled to a generator that provided power for the computers. (This was a way to isolate the computers from grid spikes and fluctuations, plus, with the spin-down latency of the machines, provide the system time to switch to alternate primary sources if the grid failed.)

      Nothing says, though, you couldn't just as easily have a steam-engine-generator unit...

      (Hmmm... big mainframes produced a lot of heat, which could be used to boil the water to run the steam units to produce the power to run the computers to produce the heat... I think I'm onto something here... Maybe I should patent it...)
      Henrik Moller
  • IBMer

    As a fellow IBMer who has opinions separate from but equal to my corporation, I understand his surprise at finding someone that doesn't know what IBM is. It seems like half the people I meet on airplane flights or in hotels are techies, and a good percentage of them are IBM. Jason, maybe if we all wear uniforms with the logo it would help the brand image. IBM also has a remarkable level of respect in the technical field and an immense depth of talent. People assume you know significantly more than you do when you walk though the door and say "I'm from IBM". Now if that 14 year old ends up going into technology or a C-level job he'll know IBM. By the way look at the POS in the grocery store. Odds are it is either IBM or NEC.
  • RE: I... B... Wha?

    Come on. As noted, IBM has no consumer products. The fact that a kid that never used an IBM product of any kind doesn't seem surprising to me at all. The fact that the company's name was synonymous with computers before the kid was born is hardly a reason to expect the kid to recognize it today.
  • IBM? Oh yeah, they used to make cash registers back when I was kid.

    But seriously, you're griping that a 14 year old kid doesn't know about IBM? You might as well gripe that the kid doesn't know about Roy Rodgers or John Wayne.
    • They still do...

      ...take a look at the scanner/keyboard/receipt-printer at a lot of stores. A lot are made by IBM.
      Henrik Moller
      • I'm sure they do.

        My point was that the kid wouldn't necessarily associate IBM with computers or anything to do with technology that he had not seen himself. My first exposure to IBM technology involved some rather nifty punch card machines in high school. Those were replaced the next semester with TRS-80 model III's with the built-in floppy drive. If I had never seen another IBM product, I might have thought that all IBM did was make punch card machines.
  • The real message of this article

    is the puffed up self-importance of the author.

    IBM is one of those background companies that, while big, no
    one really knows about outside of those who have to deal
    directly with it.

    Deal with it.

    BTW, before the scandal with Dubai Ports a couple of years
    back, I'll bet you money you would have had the same reaction
    as this kid if an employee of Dubai had told you what he had
    done, even though Dubai is the largest port management
    company in the world and runs most of the ports in the United
    • No, I think the real message ...

      ... is how times have changed. When I was in high school (27 years ago), everyone knew who IBM was, they invented the IBM PC from which all wintel based machine were cloned from. More people knew who IBM was than Microsoft.

      Few people may realize it, but without IBM, the PC may not even exist today (not likely, but possible...)

      How important (or unimportant) Jason feels himself to be, has nothing at all to do with this article, he was not talking about people not recognizing him, but about people not recognizing what at one point was an household name. Imagine twenty years from now, someone not knowing what McDonalds was.

      One last point. If you've read through the posts, it will appear that I am defending Jason, I am not. I am merely attempting to point out to those that apparently had not finished their first cup of coffee, how rude their judgmental comments appear to others.

      Please think before you type, it may keep you from embarrassing yourself.

      • If Jason

        had worked for Dell, he would have thought it cool how much
        kid new about his company.

        It really is all about his ego.

        As for thinking before typing, I did. Critically.

        To wit: times have not changed at all. People are aware of
        that impact their daily lives, and are ignorant of things that
        just like they always have been. It is neither praiseworthy nor
        deplorable; it simply is.
        • IBM, MS, and Apple should be taught in history classes

          We live in the "information age," IBM, MS, and Apple were the founders of that age. Before them only hard core hobbyists had computers at home.

          Its like not knowing who shot Lincoln.

          American education sucks.