I have worked the graveyard shift for several months. Twice now I have resisted going right to bed after work so that I could instead watch on television the unveiling of new technology.
In December 2001 I watched the unveiling of “It”, otherwise known by the code name Ginger, on ABC’s Good Morning America. In January 2002 I watched Steve Jobs’ MacWorld address on TechTV and his announcement of a new flat-panel iMac.
I wish I had just gone to sleep. My dreams would have been more exciting.
Let me say before I continue that I think both devices are interesting. I am actually considering buying both if I ever have the money. What has angered me about the experience is the hype that lead up to both unveilings.
The Segway Personal Transport to Media Madness
In the first example, the company and inventor, Dean Kamen, were not to blame for the hype that preceded the introduction of the Segway Personal Transport. A leak to Insider.com (now defunct) resulted in January 2001 in the number one question on the nation’s mind – “What is ‘It’?”
There were speculations and rumors of flying cars, hovercrafts, Sterling Engines, and perpetual motion machines. Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com and Steve Jobs of Apple apparently were blown away in secret presentations. The invention, whatever it was, would change the way cities were built. The world was about to change.
It is fair to see that many were disappointed when the Segway Personal Transport was shown on Good Morning America. Diane Sawyer asked immediately after the sheet was pulled from the device “That’s it?”
No, Diane, that is not it, but we all understand what you meant. Even as I hurried to my computer to bring up http://www.segway.com, as I raptly read each small detail regarding the true breakthroughs (human-like balancing in a small device and a user interface that should put all website designers to shame), I could not help hearing the echo of “That’s it?” in my head. The thing is a scooter. A scooter is neither a flying car nor a hovercraft, it does not use a Sterling Engine, and there is nothing perpetual about it.
Take this, Jobs, and shove it
Steve Jobs both fascinates and annoys me. I was never more aware of this duplicity than during his keynote address during Macworld 2002.
The guy is genuinely excited about what he does. He seems to be involved in every aspect of the Apple business. The devices and software his company develops are some of the most beautiful and user friendly in existence, and he has a flare for presentation.
But the guy is also annoying as hell. His flare does not make up for the fact that new devices and software unveiled are incrementally better in nature rather than revolutionary.
If you had visited the Apple.com site just prior to the show, you would have been welcome with a new message every day for a week hyping some major announcement at the show.
“Where no PC has gone before.”
“Beyond the rumor sites. Way beyond”
The rumor sites picked up on the vibe and reached for new levels of speculation, including an elaborate hoax (including video!) of a new Apple PDA called the iWalk. Whatever the announcement was for, it was certainly not going to be for a new flat-panel version of the iMac…the rumor sites had been talking about that for months.
A new flat-panel version of the iMac was of course the major announcement.
Perhaps we have lost the early thrill and romance for technology. The Segway Personal Transport and flat-panel iMac truly are interesting, have a lot of potential, and make use of some fascinating technology. However, we want to be tempted by someone new who will change our lives forever, a pretty new face we have only fantasized about. This want underlies the hype leading up to the above devices. It underlies my own lack of sleep on those two respective mornings.
I will continue to choose not to sleep because I hope someday the technology announcement will far exceed the preceding hype. I that day I will cry out in awe, laugh my crazy head off in delight, run to the bank for a quick loan, and call up all my relatives and friends to let them know that the world has just changed.
Until then, I guess I will just sit here yawning and repeating to myself “That’s it?”