Reverse Rip Van Winkleism


Backward time-travel Item #2: When it comes to tech news and punditry, my news in-box (primarily, the RSS newsreader, NetNewsWire), often contains “news” items that make me think I’ve gone to sleep for 20 years. But unlike Rip Van Winkle, I’ve awakened to discover nothing has changed.

For example, there was a weekend item from the former Forbes reporter, former fake Steve Jobs and former blog-basher Dan Lyons, who kicks off his new career as a fake Newsweek writer by lobbing this link-baiting bomb at Apple fan-boys. In essence, the piece suggests that Apple has started appropriating technology and approaches that are first developed and proven successful by little guys. According to Lyons, such a practice is turning Apple into the new Microsoft.

But anyone who has even casually followed Apple since its inception knows the company has always viewed as “fair game” to compete with (translation: rip off) anything in its ecosystem. The examples of what Apple has appropriated over the years is legendary: for example, the notion of “scripting.” Or look at the former Apple channel retailers who have been crushed by Apple Stores — and who developed a class action lawsuit against the company, dispelling Lyons notion that, “In the old days, stuff like this didn’t matter. Apple was such a fringe player that nobody really cared how the company behaved.” Bottomline: Apple has always been a company that develops very cool products, but there have always been controversies swirling around the ideas that did not come to them in some a priori fashion. Even the iPod was inspired by a real guy who didn’t work for Apple.

Almost all of Apple’s features have come from their observation (and occasionally, their acquisition or licensing of) what innovative individuals have hacked together to make their Mac run better or cooler. After that, Microsoft takes Apple’s best and includes them on some future update of their products. Finally, Google takes the best of what Microsoft does (unless it’s search) and turns it into a web-application. It’s what makes the world go around.

What you end up with is a Google web-application adaptation of a Microsoft adaptation of an Apple feature that Apple adapted from an innovative individual.

I don’t like it. But that hasn’t kept me from using Google docs.

Backward time-travel Item #2:

e-Newspapers: The New York Times is a sucker for any story about devices that replicate the way people over 40 think a newspaper should look and that keep alive the notion of an obsolete news distribution channel. I still love the notion that one day we’ll all have flying cars. But I at least understand it’s not the flying car I want but the ability to be transported from anywhere I want to be to another place I want to be. The e-Paper people are so obsessed with trying to create something that “looks like” print, they’ve lost sight that it’s knowledge and information and connectivity and entertainment that people want — not something that “looks like” a newspaper. And unfortunately, the closer we get to the future, the less impressive e-Paper appears. Twenty years ago, e-paper concepts could be folded up and put in our pockets. Where are those devices? I’m waking up 20 years later and the concept technology is less cool than what was predicted back then.

  • I don’t believe the print medium will ever fade. That said, there’s a fundamental difference in reflective surfaces vs. illuminated surfaces, and this is never looked at when people invoke the ‘well my pda can do that’– which is fully not the point of why reflective is being pursued– ESPECIALLY in this green-crazy/save energy era.

    Print is just one of four mighty mediums.

  • Thanks for jumping in Eric. I agree (and have preached it here) that the life span of print will extend far past the time any of us here will be around to debate it. My business embraces both digital and print media with equal enthusiasm.

    However, “print” and “newspaper” are not synonymous terms. The conglomerate form of newspaper that has rolled-up local newspapers in the U.S. is what is killing it, IMHO. Also, the 24/7 nature of breaking news doesn’t play to print newspapers’ strength

    On another front, while I can understand why the e-Paper people may argue their technology is more green than paper, the efficiency of “reflective” media vs. “illuminated” media is a rather “latter-day” debate point addition. Before we add “reflective” media to hybrid cars for lessening our carbon footprints, can someone explain to me what will be powering the lightbulbs necessary for us to read such reflective media? Nuclear, perhaps? Wind? So won’t those same things be powering our illuminated media?

  • Can we have the instantly and wirelessly updated, full-color, lightweight newspaper of the future from the movie “Minority Report” without the scary, eyeball-scanning, targeted advertisement technology?

    But, seriously, I would have hoped that the newspaper industry learned from its early web mistakes that a new transmission medium needs new thinking to succeed. Why, oh, why should we try to stick the five articles with jumps inside and a couple of photos format on new devices that are nothing like holding a bunch of pieces of paper in your hand?

    And instead of reinventing the wheel for each and every new device, shouldn’t the industry try to come up with some formatting and display standards that would work with any new device?

  • Rex, any light source, a cloudy day or a sunny day. Even illuminated devices sense the ambient light and controls the brightness (looking at a bright screen in a dark room strains the eyes, hence, reducing the sharp contrast when brightness is lower).

    I didn’t explain the specifics before, but to talk briefly about the color issue: The color ‘red’ you see on a computer screen will print out differently, because in tangible meat space, the color red on paper is bouncing the light (reflecting is the word I used). Screens illuminate the color. There’s a little icon in photoshop (!) that attempts to alert you and correct the color choice because of the science of light. If you’ve ever been in a submarine or underwater, the color of a red shirt/wetsuit/etc will change the deeper you go because the natural light is becoming filtered and causing some of the whiteness to vanish (and makes the red of your clothing turn blue).

    All that science just shows the difference between a surface that needs power to be seen vs. something that just takes the light around it. At what point do you need to turn on the light in the evening to read words on a sheet of paper?

    One final thought: I have two phones, and one is way better than the other when I’m looking at their screens outside in the sun. Too much reflective light, not enough illuminated light. 🙂