November 8, 2016 Online Advertising Agency

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The organizers asked the speakers to spend a little time introducing themselves, making sure that people knew they weren’t “superstars, but just ordinary people”.
I’m not sure that’s necessary, but now it’s done.
As for my background, I have been working in small and large advertising agencies, off- and online, on staff, as freelance and as volunteer, and in Copenhagen, Paris and Afghanistan of all places. I have been with Skype since forever, since Skype didn’t even exist and we had to have actual old-fashioned phone conferences with between people in Tallinn,
Stockholm, London, Paris…
I am responsible for the Skype brand, which can basically be boiled down to any exposure anyone on the consumer side gets to the brand. That would mean web site, user interface, tone of voice, packaging, industrial design, etc.

But enough blah blah about me…

He Didn’t See It Coming
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James Othmer, author of The Futurist, came in to the Morning Stories studio at WGBH Radio to speak with Tony Kahn about his book, and to read an article he wrote for the New York Times. His reading is featured in a Morning Stories podcast entitled We Didn’t See it Coming.

Here’s the full text of his story:

The New York Times, September 10, 2006

By James P. Othmer
Mahopac, N.Y.

FIVE years ago my brother and I spoke regularly. Five years ago we drank together, teased each other without mercy and, occasionally, even expressed feelings of affection. After 9/11 we did not.

My brother is a 20-plus-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department, a former marine with a degree in history whose politics are conservative. He is four years older and quite a bit larger than me. I am a 20-plus-year veteran of big-agency advertising, a creative director turned fiction writer whose politics, not surprisingly, do not lean conservatively. Until five years ago, this was not such a big problem. There were plenty of other things to talk about, and we knew that despite our differences, there was still much to appreciate about each other.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was in Boca Raton, Fla., on business accompanied by my wife, my 3-year-old daughter and my mother-in-law (yes, my mother-in-law came on business trips with us back then) at, of all things, a sales convention for a yogurt company. At 9 a.m., we were granted a 10-minute respite from the executive Vince Lombardi-isms and the Roman Colosseum-inspired motivational décor. The first thing I did was check the messages on my personal communications device du jour, because in 2001, I was convinced that the more I checked the quotidian drivel it contained the more it seemed that my ad agency, yogurt convention, frequent-flier-miles-financed-family-business-trip life mattered. But this time what the messages told me were hardly drivel.

I immediately called New York to check on my brother who was not supposed to be working, but with firefighters you never know. He wasn’t working. He’d soon go to the site, but luckily he wouldn’t be one of the 343 firefighters killed. For the next hour, I’m fairly sure that he watched what I watched, that he looked away when I looked away, and I am fairly sure that at 9:59 a.m., when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, he felt exactly what I felt. What we all felt. I am also sure that those were the last pure, nonpoliticized thoughts any of us would have about that day, and the last time that my brother and I would feel the same way about anything for some time.

Renting a car and driving home was our only option. At first I wanted to push through, to rush the family home. “To what?” my wife asked. “To have our daughter watch her parents sit paralyzed in front of a television set?” So we took our time, taking a scenic, non-traditional route back to New York.

I got my information from fellow travelers and National Public Radio. I found comfort in the measured voices of “All Things Considered,” solace in “I love New York” signs in Georgia, inspiration in the words on Jefferson’s tombstone at Monticello, near Charlottesville, Va., which noted that he was also one of the fathers of religious tolerance in this country.

Meanwhile, my brother was getting his information from rescue workers and fellow firefighters. Because of his military background, his job in the years before the attack had included training recruits at the Fire Academy at Randalls Island. His job in the months ahead would be to coordinate funerals. Dozens of funerals. For friends and friends of friends, each with a story more tragic than the last.

Late at night on Sept. 14, my family slept as I drove through Pennsylvania. With no NPR to be had for the time being, I listened to sports guys weighing in on the Northern Alliance, D.J.’s explaining the tenuous Pakistani-Afghani relationship. With each passing mile, more and more proselytizing and hate seeped into the views of the syndicated giants. Driving near Port Jervis, N.Y., a state trooper pulled alongside our car and shined a spotlight inside while the rest of my family was sleeping. Four strangers in a red rental car with Florida plates. Suspects.

To think that 9/11 drove a stake between my brother and me is as naïve as thinking that it drove one through the country. Red and blue staters had been at each other’s throats for a while, and my brother and I had clashed on and off over lots of things for years. But this took it farther. He had been affected by it in ways I could not imagine. Of the 343 firefighters killed, he knew dozens. No one that I knew had died.

Within a week, I would go back to work. For more than a year, he would go to funerals and I imagine that in addition to grief, a man with my brother’s courage and sense of duty must also have been dealing with a serious case of survivor’s guilt. But did that make his opinions — which had become increasingly angry and pronounced — right?

Over the last five years we’ve disagreed about everything from the 2000 and 2004 elections to the war in Iraq, radical Islam and of course, the liberal news media. For a while we tiptoed around politics but when we were together everything seemed political. For a while we didn’t speak at all. But lately we’ve been talking. I care too strongly for him to let politics destroy our relationship and I think he feels the same.

The other day I called him. He had just gotten home from the hospital where a fellow firefighter, Lt. Howard Carpluk Jr. lay in critical condition from injuries suffered when the floor had given way in a burning Bronx building. Another firefighter, 25-year-old Michael Reilly, who had served in the Marines in Iraq, had already died. My brother told me he was there near Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the doctors gave them an update. (Lieutenant Carpluk died the following day.)

My brother sounded tired. After some time, while discussing Labor Day plans, I told him that I’d been invited to discuss my book on a conservative talk show in Boston and joked that I feared an ambush. He told me to tell them that my brother was a New York City firefighter, and maybe they’d go easy on me.

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Part of a gigantic advertising hoarding for an online dating agency.

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