WHO IS THIS GUY?

For three decades, a fellow has been actively pursuing the idea of publishing his insights about the phenomenon of technology, and how human beings influence and are influenced by it.  He believed that the way to comprehend technology was not to memorize the manual (although he wrote several), but to perceive it as a common, shared product of humanity as a whole - to study it from a sociological perspective.

He began his career using the pen name D. F. Scott , partly because it was slightly shorter and sounded unique, partly because someone had told him "Fulton" sounded like some Oklahoma farmer.  While he should have been insulted, since he was both Oklahoman and a descendant of farmers, he took that advice, and from that point began collecting other people's declarations about What Cannot Be Done. 

In the early 1980s, hobbyists began using 300 baud telephone modems to post strings of messages that were stored by microcomputers with 64 KB of memory and 256 KB of floppy disk storage.  It was here where Scott had an outrageous idea:  If folks subscribed to a magazine, and the magazine contained a dial-up telephone number, they could call this computer and read live updates.  Then they could comment on the live updates and share new information with reporters.  This led to a treasure trove of reasons why This Cannot Be Done, among them:  1) People's eyesight is not that good.  They'll find it hard to read things from the TV screen.  2) Nobody is all that excited about "live" updates.  If people were really that interested in 24/7/365 information, someone would have already made a TV channel for it.  3) People are too predisposed to use profanity in their comments.  Someone else would read this profanity and would inevitably sue for damages.

Undaunted, Scott pursued the idea later in the decade, this time with one of the world's largest publishers, with dozens of magazine titles published in multiple languages.  Speeds for modems had catapulted to a physics-defying 2400 baud, and Scott reasoned, for perhaps the first time, that if the graphics protocol used to plot air traffic control data was used to plot magazine layouts over such a fast system, it could conceivably include advertisements , embedded right there in the copy.  What's more, people could "click on" these advertisements (a process which Scott would frequently demonstrate, though he admits, it was hard to maintain folks' attention amid the complexity), receive incentives to purchase, and then actually order products through a central processing system. 

This Cannot Be Done for hundreds of reasons, among them:  1) People's manual dexterity would render it difficult for them to correlate certain advertisements with certain purchasing incentives.  2) The accounting system for processing orders would be mind-bogglingly complex, requiring megabytes of memory and potentially gigabytes of storage, requiring years of intricate programming.  3) Advertisers will naturally reject the idea of coupling the publication of a real, physical, glossy ad that people can hold in their hands, with a fleeting, animated, temporary block that soon disappears from people's screens.  There are printed advertisements and there are commercials, and it is the latter that people expect to be temporary and fleeting.  It would be dangerous to confuse the two.  4) "You're assuming," Scott was told once, "that you can just take a product that people have always associated with coffee tables in dentists' offices, and just take a picture of it on a screen and people will see it as the same thing.  They won't." 

Scott's collection had become a treasure trove by the turn of the century, a prize package of cynicism and doubt.  By this time, he believed that a small team of diverse and geographically dispersed reporters could, with the aid of time management principles, produce an online publication that refreshed its contents as much as three times daily, for a fraction of the cost that newspapers and newsmagazines were expecting to pay.  Well, naturally This Cannot Be Done.  First of all, 1) you'll drive your reporters mad.  People think of deadlines in terms of days, not minutes.  2) Nobody cares about timeliness all that much.  "Live" and "breaking news" have all become illusions, and people will naturally assume that anything carrying those banners on-screen will be reasonably new enough.  3) Advertisers only care about whether your content mentions their names and their respective markets often enough to drive sales leads, not whether your content is particularly interesting or newsworthy or, frankly, valuable.  4) Ethics died with the rest of old media.  People are just as drawn to fake facts as they are to real ones, otherwise "The Daily Show" wouldn't be so popular.

Well, that was fun, but it's time for the next phase of naysaying to begin.  We're entering a period of history where the value of literally everything is being questioned, where the beliefs and interests of groups of people are being challenged in a social arena, where politics is becoming an exercise in agitation and angst, and one's worth with respect to her career and ability to earn an income, to her value in society, to her worthiness as a life partner, to her productivity as a prospective family member, to her contribution to a political cause, and to her right to sit next to other people of like quantitative value in a public place, may all be subjected to the collective judgment of an online mass.  We are far from ready to face the beast that we have created. 

And Scott believes, well, if we start examining technology in the context of a sociological phenomenon, we can understand its role in our lives and we can take charge of it before it takes charge of us.   He's already been told Reason #1 why This Cannot Be Done.  You'll love this one:  You don't care.

Let's all watch now as, once again, history repeats itself and everything they say is proven wrong.