The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Thursday, April 26, 2001

You Are Obsolete

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: If you believe certain media, the whole world is running furiously in a race to be first with the next soon-to-be obsolete piece of technology. Back in the Dark Ages, like 1992 or '93, one media outlet — Wired magazine — was the cheerleader for all that was new in technology. Those who read it, including myself, felt we were part of some club. If you were in the club, you mostly believed that technology was neutral, and that it was up to smart people with integrity to use it right. You believed that technology would make the world a better place. You believed that technology, and, as time passed, the Internet, were creating a revolution of monstrous proportions. Everything, you believed, was changing. If you were not on the bus, soaking up every new development, speeding along through time and space at warp speed, you would be left behind. None of that has turned out to be exactly wrong, but time has shown that it's not exactly right either. Many things have, of course, changed, yet the world seems as fucked up as ever. While a relatively small group of people pick up the new tools as they're unleashed on the world, and do something meaningful with them, the rest just wallow in mediocrity, doing the same old mundane things they've always done, only now they do them on the Internet sometimes. Instead of calling up a friend, they Instant Message their friend. Instead of mailing a stupid picture they took on their vacation, they send it along as an attached file. So much technology and brainpower and creativity, and the end result is my brother-in-law emailing a picture of George W. Bush with horns? Or that I get spammed with a come-on for a porn site? I was reminded of this on Sunday, April 22, when I read James Gleick's cover story in The New York Times Magazine, titled "Inescapably, Obsessively, Totally Connected: Life in the Wireless Age." Gleick hit the road with a two-way pager, Internet-accessible cell phone, MP3 player, digital camera, laptop and a few other gadgets. I don't really know the point of his article, which went on for many thousands of words. At one point, he quoted Jeff Hawkins, who co-founded Palm Computing, and then after he and his partner sold it, co-founded Handspring, which makes Palm Pilot-like Visors. Here's Hawkins on bandwidth: "What's really interesting, and I don't think most people have understood, is that it will be free." Free? Really! I wonder how that's gonna work? In the latest issue of Wired, a lot of which is about bandwidth and the future, they have another idea. Some of the experts they consulted think that in the future there will be a great divide. There will be those with the money to afford fat bandwidth, and those without the money, and, therefore, the bandwidth. Just as there are those who can afford to spend hundreds of dollars on the latest gizmo (which will be outdated in six months), and those who are still using the Mac they bought six or seven years ago. In his piece, Gleick spins out a future with homes filled with smart appliances that can communicate with each other. He then throws in a pinch of doubting Thomas. "We work hard to avoid being alone in our heads," he writes. "Yet things happen when we are alone in our heads, and they are things we can't live without: contemplation, reflection, focus. As consumers of wireless gadgets, we will need to insist on a Disconnect button..." For most of the six years that I've used a cell phone, I haven't given out the number. I bought it so when I need to reach someone and I'm not near a regular phone I can call them — not so everyone I know can interrupt me at any time, day or night, no matter where I am. Only a handful of people have ever had my interactive pager number — what is so important that it can't wait until I feel like checking the messages on my office phone? I guess what bugs me about Gleick's piece is that he mostly comes across like a cheerleader rallying the crowd at half-time. All these people who, history has shown, have no real idea what the future will be like, helping Gleick pretend that he has some inkling. They don't. He doesn't. unwound have it right when they sing, in a song called "Off This Century" that appears on Leaves Turn Inside You, their new album: "The future was invented back when you thought you were human/ Now it's only getting better every day that we forget/ Everything is a commercial... You are not Old, You are Obsolete. (and you thought the last ten years was bad)."

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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