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A Few Words

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Technological Plea


An Open Letter To Gadget Pushers

Dear Microsoft, HP, Dell, Palm, LG, Sony, Canon, and whomever else:

I am writing to express my concerns about a few small things. One is, generally, the products that you are putting on the market. Another is what you say about these products at trade shows. And a third is how you advertise these products to your constituency.

First let me tell you that I'm not a crazy person. In fact, I'm a software and web site developer, so I'm intimately involved with digital technologies on a daily basis. I appreciate all of the amazing things that we can do with the tools that many of you have built. But I really think that you're starting to go a bit far.

Though I was not able to attend, I read with great interest about the Consumer Electronic Show. In past years, I read about new operating systems and digital desktop environments and how the computer was going to change everything. Given how little is said about the personal computer these days, I'm guessing that you all feel that everything you wanted to change has changed? Is this right? I ask because I'm a bit puzzled about the focus of this year's show: gadgets. Bill, this is almost all you talked about (between Blue Screens, which you must admit is rather an apt irony).

And Carly Fiorina (of HP), you told us that "the goal for 2005 [is] to make people the center of technology." Where have we been all along? Haven't you always been developing products for people? All of you, especially those of you in the Personal Computer market — what did "personal" mean to you other than "people are the center".

James Bernard, from Microsoft, you told us that "the fact that [one] can put photos on here too and share them is super-cool to the consumer." It doesn't matter what kind of device you were talking about — are you suggesting that I have not, in the past, been able to share photos? Isn't that what photos are for? How can something that I've been doing all along be repackaged and sold as "super-cool"?

I don't mean to ramble off too far from the topic at hand. All I mean to wonder about is what, really, you're trying to sell us. It seems to me that you're trying desperately to get a grip on the precious few moments that we have left in our digitized days. For example, I read a piece on the BBC that suggested you all are trying to deliver digital news (or advertising really) to business commuters. Hasn't the newspaper been doing this for years. Or what ever happened to just reading a book on the train? Or writing in a journal? Or conversing with the other passengers?

Back to you Carly: you told us that "the digital revolution is focused on letting people tell and share their own stories." Excuse me but telling stories is pretty far from a revolution — way back in the day, families did this sort of thing, and so did tribes and nations and planets. What's new here? Furthermore, what stories are people going to tell when every nanosecond of their time is chewed up with using your technologies. Are we supposed to tell each other about how much fun it is to use your products. Why would anyone care?

Anyway, that's sort of my first two points in a nutshell. You all are telling us how amazing your new products are but, really, they fall pretty short of amazing. In fact, it would be a stretch to call most of them "nifty" — because you're not doing anything new — really.

Ok, granted, if you're specific enough in your articulation of what you're up to, then nope, I've never been able to send pictures of my toaster to my friends on a cell phone call list with ten button clicks. But you are saying that your personal media gadgets are aimed at non-specific things like "sharing". I've been sharing stories and pictures all my life, just not quite as instantly as you would lead me to believe is essential. So what have you really done for me?

I think that what you're doing is making a joke out of consumers. It's written all over the subtext of your television commercials. You're making fun of us, and at the same time asking us to buy the things that you make fun of us for "needing". That's twisted.

Seriously: are you done with desktop productivity? Are you done with faster and faster chips and more and more RAM? You seemed to take all of that stuff so seriously, and moreover, you told me to take it seriously. So I did. We all did. And now you've abandoned us, in a way, in favor of personal media gadgets. Why shouldn't we believe that you'll do the same thing again in a few years? It's enough to get a guy worried.

Well, I don't want to take up too much of your time. And I don't expect that you'll answer me in public. But c'mon: between us — just tell me what you're really up to. I'm not going to buy your gadgets anyway so you won't be spoiling any surprise. It just bugs me a bit.


Brian Sorrell

© 2005 Sorrell