Saturday, July 25, 2009


I'm a bit late at this, but there's been a lot of bemoaning lately (or is it just moaning?) about the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. From Wired to Tom Wolfe, there has been a lot of furious agreement with astronauts and rocket scientists, that we really dropped the ball these last...four... decades. We should all be living on Mars by now, like Ben Bova wants us to! Like any proper nerd, I occasionally consider what it might be like to bring someone from the past - say, Benjamin Franklin - and introduce them to modern society. It gives one the ability to be amazing without actually doing anything, by piggybacking on two hundred and fifty years of technical and social progress. One gets to be the salesman that reveals your... new... future!

However, if instead of a founding father it's, oh, Arthur C. Clarke, circa 1968, things get a little bit iffy. Then one has to explain how a colossal, colossal increase in computing and communications ability has made only subtle changes to our social fabric. How is it that telegrams and rockets can be so destabilizing to the status quo, produce a few World Wars and a subsequent world order on the other side, while similar technologies that are unbelievable improvements on connecting and computing lead to people working harder and a few stock market bubbles? Oh, and twitter.

Hulu is a great example. Why is Hulu so amazing? It roughly replicates cable TV, with slightly more interactivity, on a device that could land the population of Canada on the moon in LEMs, simultaneously. This is not an amazing use of your computer. It's like getting Pavarotti to sing the Oscar Meyer Weiner song. What is amazing about Hulu is the business side - getting networks to agree to put their content online, the social side - selling it to the public, and the design side - the interface and video algorithms. And none of that is colossal.

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