t byfield on Wed, 24 Jun 1998 21:22:27 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> an allegory

[Tsk, tsk, *shame*...another mass-media forward. That
 stuff doesn't have any place on nettime, we all live
 in an Alternative Universe. That's true to a certain
 extent, sure, but all this oppositional, avant-garde
 flag-waving gets to be a bit reflexive, wouldn't you
 say? Do it too much and pretty soon you--oops, "we"--
 end up playing the ancien regime parlor game tableau
 vivant, or maybe something a bit more heroic like re-
 enacting that thrilling moment when the U.S. marines 
 planted some flag on some peak. Anyway, so it's look-
 ing like all the Executives are confused as well, un-
 sure of just where it's headed: they want us staring
 at something, but they're not sure *what* exactly or
 whether it needs BNC, RJ45, RJ14, USB, IR ports. Ugh,
 what a headache...oh, and then there's the *Content*!
 All these questions, they're like a little Zeitgeist
 riding across the battelfield of the OS/browser/plat-
 form/access wars, a Java applet Zeitgeist playing in
 his secured sandbox, our cursors are useless, no way
 to drag him out of it or make him quit. So much inde-
 cision, so much doubt, everyone's all dressed up but
 no one knows where the party is, whether we'll toast
 a birth, a wedding, or the Recently Departed. Here's
 my question: Where *is* it going? What's the Network
 Neighborhood going to look like? "Gated communities,"
 maybe, or chaotic cosmopolitanism? Will the world be
 our desktop? And will we get icons like "Explore the
 Third World" and "The Fourth Estate"? If the world's
 financial structures go to shit, will there be a pur-
 itanical minimalist ASCII backlash? There used to be
 jokes about the ultimate weapon: every single person
 in China jumps off a four-foot platform simultaneous-
 ly, and California gets washed away by the resulting
 tidal wave. So what happens when East Asia gets with
 The Program and decides that getting wired is better
 than a fancy car? Will we drown in Chinese spam? All
 these questions and more... Anyway, back to a bit of
 mass media--an allegory, or a spiritual exercise for
 nettimers everywhere. Reprinted with permission! --T]


  Set-top Nonsense

  June 24, 1998
  By Tish Williams

  Do you actually believe the cable companies
  will give you a set-top box that will knock
  your panties off?

  Give you a half-hour wait, maybe. Give you a bill to
  pay for channels you used to get for free. Give you a
  Carmen Miranda-esque song and dance, complete with
  fruit headress, about the way cable legislation in
  1992 killed their profits.

  But give you a state-of-the-art digital set-top box
  with WebTV-like capabilities, interactive services
  and even a cable modem hook up?

  Ted Turner's giving away a $1 billion in charity, but
  it's not coming to you in the form of a set-top box.

  Tuesday at the Digital Living Room conference in
  Laguna Niguel set-top box optimism was catchy. We had
  the WebTV guy (Bill Keating, senior VP of worldwide
  field operations) telling us about the 25 percent of
  his audience over 50. He pushed the TV, "This is not
  a PC audience, this is a TV audience."

  We had the NCI guy (David Roux, CEO) explaining that
  market for NetTVs was too small, and that a couple
  hundred-thousand devices was cute, but he was looking
  for a knockout multimillion unit-sales number. So he
  pushed the TV too, as the most important medium:
  "It's the TV, stupid. Not a computer. Not the
  network. Not the Internet."

  That hurts. That really hurts.

  We had the HP touchy-feely "humanist" (Don Norman,
  senior technical advisor, Appliance Design Center)
  who tried to get us to think of the TV and PC "as
  activities, not technologies." He reminded us that
  among the listless, flat-butted evening
  underachievers, the clear leader for attention is the
  TV: "The TV is about storytelling, watching a good
  storyteller develop a story. I don't want to think, I
  want to be entertained. I don't want to choose the
  ending of a story."

  Fine, be that way.

  Great. This is just wonderful. TV rules the drool
  squad. The PC is still out of the living room for
  now. But the set-top box, oh Internet lovers, will
  bring the two together in a slimmer, sleek black
  encasing and some big, fat user interfaces
  reminiscent of the red plastic buttons of your
  childhood Speak N' Spell.

  Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin.

  Set-top boxes are a joke. Everyone who's anyone has a
  5 million unit order with John Malone. And do they
  really think the master of other's disaster is really
  going to buy 15 million boxes now. Sure, and he's
  gonna get them in homes ahead of the broadband
  rollout schedule. And he's gonna upgrade networks.
  And he's going to do it for free, because he'll make
  all his money back a dollar at a time on the new
  services you'll pay for.

  Sniffing too many charcoal lighter fumes this summer?

  Ted Turner, John Malone ... these people are evil.
  These people make the devil want to move out of the
  neighborhood because it's getting "seedy." These
  people have minds that work in ways only fan club
  members of "The X Files" can understand.

  These people are not going to deliver beautiful,
  shiny, services-packed set-top boxes to our shabby
  residential areas any time soon. They would just as
  soon see us on the front grill of their Range Rovers,
  as see Roscoe show up on our doorstep installing a
  next-generation digital cable box.

  These are cash-poor, debt-rich entrepreneurs who
  aren't too concerned about waiting a year or five for
  price points to come down. They get entertained by
  watching set-top vendors beg. Heck, John Malone gets
  to watch Scott McNealy and Bill Gates snap each
  other's bra straps in a cat-fight for set-top OS
  supremacy. He's in no hurry. The man's having fun
  doing what he does best.

  So I see WebTV-like services. I see video-rentals,
  home-area network potential and all the neat services
  cable operators can bring me to my house over coax.

  And I stifling my weeping.

  It's not coming our way. I'm telling you. Never the
  twain shall meet ... for free.

Copyright 1997 and 1998 Upside Media Inc. All rights reserved.
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