Jewish World Review July 17, 2001 / 26 Tamuz, 5761

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Consumer Reports

Homogenized hegemony -- BESIDES the usual pleasures of megacorporation-baiting, writing about Microsoft and Bill Gates affords pundits the rare opportunity to use the word "hegemony."

In my opinion, though, the hegemonizing effect that Microsoft has on the marketplace is temporary. The marketplace is much more volatile than it used to be. A broker can sneeze in Hong Kong and five minutes later Wall Street is down with the flu. A few weeks back, Gatesí net worth went from, I believe, ninety gazillion dollars to seventy gazillion in the space of a heartbeat. At that rate, heíll be broke by the year 3000.

I wonít pretend to understand the ins and outs of this CyberDarwinism, but I would venture to suggest that Microsoft will prevail in its legal struggle, but will face a bigger challenge in the marketplace. Computers themselves may soon reach saturation among ordinary consumers

Why? Well, I have many reasons.

  • Computers just arenít "user-friendly." In fact, many computer owners actually relish the difficulty of getting their machines to work. They can happily spend hours-- even days!-- reinstalling unnecessary upgrades. The average consumer prefers cable.

  • The computer industry attaches the prefix "micro--" to way too many things.

  • As anybody with an e-mail account knows, web surfers are far too fond of funny top ten lists.

  • When computer people get together, they call their conventions names like "Comdex 97." Itís a word not found in nature.

  • The central problem, of course, is that computer folks have perhaps too much attachment to the concept of "the future."

Take William Gatesí fabled house. Iíve read that he has an entire wall on which he can program to display any image he chooses-- from a Hallmark card sunrise to Flemish peasants being devoured by demons. (And Gates is well on his way to legal ownership of all images.) I also understand that the house is capable of recognizing visitors, and remembering what they had to drink last time they visited.

In the unlikely event that Iíd be invited, twice, to William Gatesí house, Iíd find it more alarming than charming to see a malt liquor appear magically at my elbow, and have the couch call me "Ian." And I prefer walls than remain walls, thank you.

Not long ago on the local news, the anchorman signed off with a light story about a "smart" refrigerator. In the future, it seems, your icebox will be able to "read" your milkís expiration date. Then, the next time you go to the grocery store, your wallet will beep gently when you walk by the dairy section, alerting you that itís time to replace your soon-to-be-curdled two per cent milkfat products.

As the credits rolled, the anchorman, sports announcer, and weatherman sat staring at each other, and shaking their heads. Clearly, these arbiters of information were both disapproving of and baffled by this bland promise of the future.

Even Bill Gates himself must, in his heart of hearts, wonder about the value of a smart fridge. After all, Iíll bet he has people to shop for him. And Iíll bet he even has people who employ the analog method of checking for freshness-- sniffing all half-empty cartons.

And the rest of us? I predict an alarming drop in our milk consumption. Weíd rather go without than have our debit cards screaming at us every time we go to the grocery store. And thus will end the hideous hegemony of the dairy industry. You heard it here first.

JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.


07/13/01: Applying Newton's First Law of Physics to textbooks
07/10/01: The dumb and the dead

© 2001, Ian Shoales