Technology abused

Because technology has provided tools for everybody, we have had a generation believe that, with no creative skills, everyone can become a desktop publisher.
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My eight-year-old daughter is a living example of how technology is absorbed by humans; she will deftly select audio sources in the home entertainment system and switch between component, S-video and composite modes without thinking about it. She can also — without being taught — file documents she has created in Word, and open a browser on the home PC and surf. It reminds me of the staggering growth that has occurred since we first had to find the backstroke key in the early 1980s.

Because technology has provided tools for everybody, we have had a generation believe that, with no creative skills, everyone can become a desktop publisher; then we slipped into the time period when everyone could make a video; and, of course, we now have the millions who can compile their own CDs to show what brilliant recording producers they would have made.

But the easily acquired technology that really raises my angst is PowerPoint. I normally have to endure at least one presentation a week in telephone briefings, and that can easily increase to five a day when I am traveling. Everyone can make a PowerPoint presentation — we all know it, and they are almost universally bad.

In a meeting a couple of months ago, with someone I knew very well (and no PR flacks around), I felt able to just lean over and turn off the projector and ask, “Without the slides, tell me what's next?” There was quiet terror in his eyes. Then he caught up with himself and started to explain the product with real enthusiasm and passion. He knew his subject and it showed. After answering my questions he asked why I had done that to him, and I explained the difference between the potted slides with mechanical reading of his lines and the real sales mode he got into without them. I doubt he will waste time on PowerPoint in the future.

Everyone thinks they can be a broadcaster too. Fortunately (unlike the Sony Umatics that took over the airwaves in Italy two decades ago, and ultimately spawned a transmitter industry), the pirates out there are still mostly confined to radio — but they are a royal pain. I have one who has parked himself one FM channel away from one of my translators, but his output power is so variable and on-air times so inconsistent that I haven't found him yet — hopefully he's not mobile!

Hollywood seems to take misuse of technology for granted from all of its customers, and all the people it thinks should have been customers. But the half-baked attempts of both the movie and sound recording industries to protect themselves from technology, by using technology, are absolutely doomed. They need to become part of the solution, not the problem. The latest attempts to force future generations of PCs into being controlled by the industry, rather than the user, should be laughable, but unfortunately they're instead scary. Termed “trusted computing,” the industry group of 170 companies intends to put security into the silicon of the PC, making it impossible to copy a CD or DVD. Intel calls the silicon part “LaGrande” and Microsoft calls the software side “Palladium.” In this way, Hollywood hopes to be able to offer movies and music as paid downloads that go to one place only — and stay there.

Another misuse of technology is billed to be on display here at NAB 2003. The system being offered to carry multiple T-1 rates uses the unlicensed 5GHz ISM band: a low-cost solution for quality, over reasonable distances. But unlicensed also means unprotected, and any system using an ISM band, including 900MHz and 2.4GHz, must be prepared to accept any and all interference by any other user. Why would you set yourself up for interference of your commercial traffic by anybody, without any kind of recourse whatsoever, even if it is done absolutely deliberately? There are a lot of misusers of the lower bands already — even corporate networks — and they will migrate to the higher band as equipment becomes more readily available.

One of the presents my daughter got for Christmas was a small video production system with a $10 color camera, microphone and amplifier, and some movie sets. It was a short-term wonder, and it strikes me that she probably won't become a misuser of technology. At least she doesn't know how to set the clock on the VCR. Or I don't think she does.

Paul McGoldrick is an industry consultant based on the West Coast.

Send questions and comments to:paul_mcgoldrick@primediabusiness.com

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