Questions were put to Vince Giuliano in Spanish by the Editor of Bitniks Magazine, a publication in Spain similar in "look and feel" to Wired magazine in the United States. Vince responded in English. The interview results were also published in Spanish in Bitniks.
I am convinced that not too long from now -- in perhaps 7 to 15 years -- printed newspapers will go the same way. An online newspaper can do all kind of things that a printed newspaper can't do. But it is the economics that will make the difference. It takes tremendous capital investment and human labor to manufacture and distribute a newspaper. Production and distribution may represent 75 percent of the total cost and requires printing presses costing $50 million and up, enormous manufacturing and paper storage facilities, fleets of trucks and daily destruction of a small forest to produce a big-city paper. It is these costs that have been killing large daily papers in the US and most of Europe, not lack of a core of loyal readers. Readership and percentage of the total spent on advertising for newspapers has been going down in the US and almost all countries in Europe for many years now. Spain is an exception, at least so far.
As advertising drains away from newspapers to the electronic medium -- 1 to 3 percent per year, but steadily -- it becomes simply too expensive to publish the printed paper. And the paper dies. That is what happened toNew York Newsday last year, for example, which had hundreds of thousands of readers.
I think it important to distinguish the book-as-content (a long essay, divided into chapters) from the codex form of the book (printed paper pages bound in a book). The book-as-content can be a compelling way to expose information, specifically on a complex topic, and the novel is also a wonderful means of entertainment. What is important aboutBeing Digital is its content, not the fact that it is printed on paper. At some point the book-as-content will mainly be delivered in other media besides ink on paper. Of course, that is already happening online and on CD-ROM. Some forms of content that were traditionally published in print, like reference compilations and directories of all kind, have already mostly migrated to the electronic media.
Looking a little deeper, we find that online newspapers, magazines, and encyclopedias are becoming more like each other in some ways as they move to take advantage of the online medium. Advanced online newspapers cover stories in depth and provide references to past events and basic information like biographies. Thus they are beginning to provide the reference background that previously was only covered by encyclopedias. Online magazines start to update their editions daily and provide daily news, and thus become more like online newspapers. Regardless of whether an online service starts out with roots as being the counterpart of a newspaper, magazine, TV station or encyclopedia, succeeding in the market will require them to take advantage of the online medium rather than staying as an "online newspaper" or "online magazine." That will make them more alike in some ways and will lead them to differentiate in new ways, ways that have nothing to do with the traditional media.
Finally, on the Web we find tens of thousands of new publishers that do not have their roots in the traditional printed media: Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, C/Net, Miller Brewing, Levi-Strauss, IBM -- the list could fill the rest of this article. What about, LoveSearch.com, which contains "a daily column featuring Resnick's well known advice on cyberlove and relationships, weekly polls and quizzes, site reviews, chat rooms, message boards, shopping, and what promises to be the largest personals database on the Web." There could be no print counterpart.
Who is working on these simulated reality applications? The whole computer-game-making community.
There is no real conflict between visual simplicity and obviousness on the one hand, and profundity of analysis on the other. The challenge of design of online interfaces is to provide a simple and appealing interface that facilitates research, retrieval and profound analysis. As time goes on, we are learning more and more how to do this effectively.
The graphic and communications capabilities will provide ever-more sophisticated tools for rapid analysis and understanding of situations. A user will be able to "walk around" a scene of an explosion or earthquake and see it from multiple viewpoints. Someone interested in a country's economy will be able to call up all kinds of graphical representations of data.
To see what I mean, imagine that this interview was held in the year 1590, when printing presses were beginning to be used, and the question put to me was, "What will be the role of the scribe (the monks who copy manuscripts in monasteries) in the future?" I would have to answer, "There will be other roles, like writers and copy editors, but "scribes" as we know them will have little importance." There were scribes for perhaps 1200 years and journalists for a few hundred. Now there will be new roles which are not named yet.
Journalism used to be something practiced by the media -- in organizations like newspapers and TV networks. Today, the media includes every organization which has a web with news on it. All kinds of commercial businesses, universities, government agencies and other institutions have or are starting websites that offer news -- in some cases, a lot of news. So, who are journalists now? Lawyers, stockbrokers or engineers who update a Web page? Only people who are official graduates of journalism schools? Do General Motors, Intel, Sony, beer companies and dog food companies have journalists? Are journalists those people who still work for the traditional media like newspapers? What about high school kids who decide to start their own online magazines? The fact is, the line between journalists and people who write for the media simply does not exist anymore. Cyberspace has wiped the line away.
Even more change is in store for the editor. The editor in a newspaper was traditionally a part of an assembly line process of publishing. Reporters wrote stories, an editor would edit or rewrite it, the feature or section editors would edit or rewrite it again, chief editors would review it and possibly change it again and typographers would finally cut the story down to make it fit on available space on a newspaper page. That has all been changing with desktop publishing and is changing even more online where the journalist and the editor are often the same person. Information technology is making the traditional assembly line obsolete, whether it is in an automobile factory or in a publication's newsroom.
My good friends in journalism schools are likely to respond, "Journalists are people who digest, analyze and edit news and then publish it in concise and useful form. Online services need them just as much as newspapers do." Taking this narrower definition, I see these changes coming:
As to the survivability of small publishing companies in the face of larger ones, the answer is, of course, yes. One thing computers and Internet do is reduce the production and distribution cost to almost zero for the classical forms of publication -- print and graphics. So little firms, even individuals, can compete effectively with the very large producers. But, when it comes to video, it still takes a lot of money to produce materials with the production values we have grown used to. That is why BIG still counts in the worlds of TV and movies. Perhaps that will change with the recent advent of desktop video, and with a growing acceptance of unprofessional video that offers spontaneity and a sense of actual presence.
I am only generally familiar with the battles between the Scientology people and their critics who have put their "secret" documents on the Web. The actual battle is between the Scientologists who charge tens of thousands of dollars for access to their training which includes access to the "secret documents," and the critics who want to establish that the contents of the documents is "rubbish." My impression is that this is a holy war. Copyright protection is only an incidental issue in this fight, a weapon that was used by the Church of Scientology to close down the Web sites of their opponents.
The final court decisions on this Scientology battle are not yet made. There will probably be a continuing chain of such copyright battles during the years to come. Remember, in the dark ages, the manuscripts in the monasteries were only for the eyes of the sophisticated religious elite, not the general public. The printing press put an end to that exclusivity, and today the Internet may put an end to the exclusivity and secrecy of many religious and other documents.
The differences that still exist are the old ones of culture and language and the fact that Internet access is more tightly government-controlled in Europe than in North America, and more expensive. But these control and cost barriers are rapidly melting away. And, as they melt, what is discovered is that time and distance no longer stand in the way for electronic publishers.
Finland and New Zealand are way ahead of the U.S. in per capita use of Internet. And most all the materials and communications are within the those individual countries. This is not a technology where the United States culture will dominate.
And, yes. More and more Spanish is spoken in the U.S. Whenever I go to Miami, I make it a point to speak to people in the streets and in the stores using only my bad Spanish. I rarely have a problem or need to use English. It is almost the same on the streets of New York. I expect it will be that way in the virtual reality alleys of Internet in the future.
There are several sources of software today that will allow a Web user to translate materials between Spanish and English as well as between other language pairs. We have recently researched this topic for a client. The translations are awkward but usually good enough for the users to get a general understanding of what is being said. This kind of software is being improved and soon will allow people to exchange e-mail with others in the world, no matter what languages they speak.
From a money viewpoint, the story is different when it comes to investment in infrastructure. For example, the cable companies need capital to invest in new interactive services, and the phone companies have a lot of cash. Thus, it makes sense for US West to buy Continental Cable. The merger mania among richer companies goes beyond the world of media. In 1995, there were almost 9,000 mergers and acquisitions in the U.S. worth about $460 billion.
The film and video related industries are big money ones, compared to the "small is beautiful" sites of the Internet. This is because of the high cost of video production. It is mostly in those big money, video related industries, the mass media, where the buyers for content companies are. Mergers have been happening because large amounts of cash were available to make them, not necessarily because the merged companies make sense together.
The media megadeals of the past two years involved immense payments and the assumption of mountains of debt. Time Warner offered $7.5 billion for Turner, Disney paid $19 billion for ABC, and Viacom bought Paramount Communications Inc. for $9.9 billion. Seagram paid $5.7 billion for 80 percent of MCA Inc. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. purchased New World Communications (producer of TV shows and owner of TV stations) for $2.5 billion. After the mergers, the stock prices of each of the acquiring companies went down significantly. And, most of these stocks have stayed down. The big entertainment media companies have been unable to integrate their huge acquisitions in any meaningful way so as to generate fatter margins. This has left many investors disillusioned. They do not buy the synergy argument and question the wisdom of the mergers.
So the mergers result in large holding companies that can only exercise financial management because the people at the top cannot understand the requirements of all the individual businesses. Such conglomerate holding companies have been with us for a long time. General Electric, for example, makes nuclear reactors, refrigerators and washing machines, is in the defense business and is involved in banking and insurance. Its media holdings -- RCA and NBC -- have been a small part of the whole. In some cases, being part of a large conglomerate can work against a media company in a fast moving market. Holding company management tends to look mostly at numbers and to have an industrial era orientation that is deadly to companies striving to conquer cyberspace. RCA was once the world's leader in television set and consumer electronics technology and manufacturing, and now all of this is abandoned to Japanese and Asian countries. Why?
As for grand schemes of powerful companies, I do not worry too much. Look at the grand empires of the recent past. Fifteen years ago, we worried about IBM controlling all aspects of the computer industry. Only a few years ago, we worried that the powerful monopoly of AT & T was going to control everything having to do with communications in the U.S. Recently, both of these highly diversified corporations have been spinning off their key pieces into independent companies. IBM is still reeling from the blows of Microsoft, and AT & T seems to be falling into pieces right before our eyes. I expect the mega-media empires to fall to pieces in a similar fashion.
Europe's growing cable and satellite TV systems have many channels to fill with content, and it would simply cost too much to produce the required material in Danish in Denmark, in Swedish in Sweden, in Italian in Italy, etc. Getting that content mainly means getting U.S. materials, perhaps dubbing in the local language on the sound track. Right after English, though, comes Spanish, where the world market is big enough to justify an international market for video materials, such as soap operas made in Venezuela.
Internet is different. It is very cheap to create content for the Web and very easy for people to emphasize their own cultures and create materials for their own markets, no matter how small. We have to stop looking at Internet as if it is another mass-media. It is something else.
There are risks, but so far major dangers have been staved off. For a period in 1994-1995, it seemed that Microsoft was trying to make Microsoft Network the standard online approach instead of Internet. That was only 14 months ago, and Microsoft has now switched its strategy to a more modest goal of being one of the major Internet information providers. At the same time, Microsoft has adapted a new strategy to be the dominant supplier of Internet server and browser software. It could well succeed at that new strategy, using its partnership with Intel to drive the Sun and Java people into relative obscurity. Microsoft represents a similar monopoly threat to Internet today that IBM was to the entire computer industry in 1980.
Infovia in Spain represents another attempt to create a closed private network (run by Telefonica) and to get businesses and consumers in Spain to use it instead of Internet. CompuServe and America Online would have liked to do the same in the U.S. but finally gave up to be compliant with Internet. I believe Infovia will have to move in the same direction.
The reason why I see this as a killer application is that it has strong appeals for both the business world and for ordinary people. It can save a lot of business travel. Business people can have cybermeetings, no matter where the individuals are in the world. You will laugh, fight, have serious discussions, negotiate and do business in cyberspace. Encryption can be used to assure privacy. Separated friends and lovers can meet together under intimate conditions. You can meet new people -- travel to exotic places with them. You may fall in love, even have virtual sex. If you can do all of this with a cost structure something like that of Internet today, it is bound to be a killer application.
The telepresence application will increasingly replace the telephone. In the process of doing so, telecommunications companies will have to go through very profound internal change. They will have to move from where most of their revenue is for voice services to where their revenue comes from digital packet communications services. This will not be easy for them.
Yes, it is always possible that a few bright people will come up with something that upsets everything we know and creates entirely new possibilities. Cybernetic extensions of the human body offer one set of possibilities. Direct neural transfer of information would involve computers that connect directly to the brain bypassing our senses. Suppose we knew how to pick up brain signals so a person could control a computer simply by thinking certain thoughts or by vocalizing words to himself privately. Suppose we learned how to transmit patterns and images from a computer directly into our brains so we could overcome the linear restrictions of language? Suppose we could carry around a number of small plug-in modules when we travel in Europe. One would allow us to speak and understand Polish perfectly, another Danish, another Finish, another Romanian, etc.
It is the reality today that Internet is the best single resource for general research. Of course, not all information is there, but no place begins to have as much. Sometimes one has to use two or three different search engines, but searching seems almost always to pay off -- on any topic.
The CIA spends billions of dollars a year to build databases of intelligence on every country in the world. But where do many CIA analysts start out when they are given a special research project? Internet. Newspapers spend millions maintaining their archives of news stories. But where is the first place to look for background information for a newspaper story? Internet. We have a good local library, but where is the best place for my 16-year-old son to do research for his homework? Internet. About 15 minutes before writing this, I decided to research the subject of EDTA chelation therapy for neural toxic metal disorders. A friend had told me to look into this. It took me two minutes to get into rich information sources starting with Yahoo. And, in 12 minutes, I knew everything I wanted to know. Sure beats a three hour trip downtown to the nearest medical library.
Over the years, I have seen several technology booms (periods of initial rapid growth), some short, some long. The overall boom in computers has been around 45 years now and is still rolling forward. The boom in mainframes lasted about 15 years, the boom in mini-computers only about 10 years. The boom in personal computers has been going on 16 years now and still has some strength. There have been many other smaller booms within the larger one, such as network computing and the use of notebook computers. The first online bloom, for business and professional applications, was between 1970 and 1985, but this area is still growing. Now, the boom in consumer online communications, starting with CompuServe and America Online and now moving to Internet, is only about six years old. I am sure it has at least another five years in its present form, where the World Wide Web and e-mail are the main vehicles.
But just like there were booms within booms in the computer industry, the same will hold for online interactive communications; the World Wide Web as we know it will give way to something bigger and better. Whatever the successors to Internet and the Web are called, they will be cheap, offer broadband communications with full multimedia, and host applications we can only dream of now, such as virtual reality telepresence. Looking at online interactive communications in this broader context, we have got at least another 25 years to go.
Only a small percentage of young people actively participate in online life now, perhaps 20 to 25 percent, though this number is growing. And their participation is variable, from those who spend hours a day to those who might go online once a week to exchange mail with friends in Europe. I think the effect is on the whole quite positive for the majority who use e-mail, for it teaches writing skills. People who would never have the patience to write letters by regular mail now participate. Working on the Net is very different than watching TV or playing Nintendo or Sega video games. It is an intellectual exercise, one of communication with others and discovery about the world.
I don't think the Net makes children shy or creates nerds, but it is an excellent way for shy children and nerds to begin communicating with others in writing. Shy people can experience this as "safer" than being with somebody else in the flesh. Many friendships have been started or maintained online, often leading to meetings and direct social interactions. I know a number of people who might be called "nerds", and they tend to be in a lot of communication with others. They are people intensely into technology and with little patience for small talk, but they have their own networks of associates and are far from isolated. There are nerds and jocks (sports-involved kids) in our local high school, among others. Guess which ones will end up making a lot of money?
Some governments, unfortunately including our own, would like to control cyberspace, censor what is said and censor what is received. Some governments would like to make sure everybody gets the same message. Singapore and China want both to use Internet as a commercial vehicle and tightly censor content. Some governments want to squash what they consider to be pornography. Such control can be exercised over mass media like newspapers and broadcasting, but not with cyberspace without drastically changing the kind of communication vehicle Internet is today.
How successful such attempts at control will be is yet to be seen. But we have historical experience that gives us a clue. Consider what happened between World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Soviets took the "Big Brother" approach to computers and regarded them as tools of the military and the state. They built databases about the lives of citizens. They wanted to use computers to extend communist domination over every aspect of people's lives. Massive government projects were initiated to gather and store information about every detail of the lives of every citizen. They failed. The Soviets developed no computer industry of any significance. They built no PCs at all. The few mainframe computers they built lagged 10 years behind those in the West. They did not have the expertise or machines necessary to carry out their plan of control by computers. I think any attempt of any government in the future to control their populations by controlling the online medium will come to the same result.
The idea of everybody having to work together in a common physical space goes back to the early days of the industrial revolution. The individual machines in early factories used to be driven by a series of belts that connected to a water wheel or steam engine in the basement. When the steam engine or water wheel was started, all machinery started to move at once. It was essential that all workers keep the same hours. This ethic still exists in some newsrooms, despite the fact that technology now allows great flexibility of place of work and time of work.
I do not know what percentage of newspaper editorial people work at home. My impression is that many, if not most, work from home part of the time. For some, home is the main location of work.
We live in a large house -- 11 rooms in all. We are is in the midst of a forest, thousands of acres of trees and farmland. Houses are far apart along the edge of the woods. We have to go everywhere by car. Boston is about 40 minutes away by expressway. I spend time raking leaves and chopping wood from the trees that fall down by our house.
Every day is different, so there is no steady routine, except for perhaps walking the dog Ollie in the woods, which Melody often gets me to do around 4:00 p.m. I do non-work things sometimes in the day, like shopping, driving my sons around and getting the car fixed. And I sometimes work at night. So does Melody. When I am in Europe or Latin America, I carry a powerful laptop that has all of my essential work software in it, and I access the Web and my e-mail as usual from wherever I am.
Advantages of working at home are many for me: no need to fight Boston traffic and spend 2 hours a day in the car, no need to pay the overhead of a separate office (which means we can keep our consulting rates a lot lower than those of the big consulting firms) and flexible integration of home and work life which can vary day to day by need. My commute is up a flight of stairs. And whether at home or in the office, I can look out at trees and the country. A walk in nature is never more than 30 seconds away.
I have written a number of other works which touch on themes in this paper from various viewpoints, both serious treatises and fiction stories. I encourage you to look over the items I have online by going to my Writings Index Web Page.
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