By Michael Rau
January 20, 2008
With apologies, this is normally the annual column in which I'd tell you about all the cool new gadgets coming out of January's MacWorld and Consumer Electronics Show.
Sorry ... Not this year, and in a way, I'm glad.
Most Americans are demonstrating common sense in terms of dealing with the economic downturn by being thrifty, and these popular product showcases reflected that. Technologists this year will focus more on efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
But that's not to say this wasn't a week with major news developments in the technology front.
The big bombshell was the announcement that Apple master Steve Jobs will take a six-month leave of absence from the company to address ongoing health issues.
The markets went nuts, with wild and irrational speculations on the future of a Jobs-less Apple.
I think Jobs is a visionary of almost unique stature, albeit it, an occasionally obnoxious one. But let's also give some credit to the team at Apple, OK?
First off, I find it highly unlikely that Apple has no strategy in place to move on once Mr. Jobs is gone. And frankly, I think it's because Jobs' ego is so large that he would never tolerate a repeat of what happened the first time he left. He's also demonstrated a strong propensity for learning from his mistakes.
But beyond that, I wish everyone would get in touch with their compassion.
Regardless of whether you like the guy, he's a fellow human being dealing with a catastrophic illness.
How many of us would be inclined to discuss such things with a predatory public famished for salacious gossip?
Let's give Jobs a break and respect his privacy while he confronts his own mortality. He's earned that, and regardless, everyone deserves such deference under the circumstances.
Next was the announcement that Yahoo, after a year in which the future and very existence of the company was up in the air, had chosen a new CEO, former Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz, to lead the company to the promised land, which for them most likely means selling off the company's various operations piece-by-piece.
Exactly what form this dissolution will take is unclear. Most speculation points to Microsoft again trying to acquire Yahoo's search operation, its biggest division, after a similar deal, as well as a potential purchase by Google, fell through in 2008.
The bottom line is that the Yahoo you've always known will cease to exist in 2009. Whatever emerges under the Yahoo brand will be a shell of its former self.
In the world of politics, Obama pitched his $800 billion plus economic stimulus package, and as I'd hoped, it includes funding to begin a nationwide expansion of broadband Internet service, beginning with people in geographic areas that private industry has ignored, and hopefully, expanding everywhere with the goal of ending the financial ravaging of consumers by commercial providers.
I know I harp on this subject, but I truly believe the obscene costs of broadband service in the U.S. are negatively affecting our economy, as well as placing our national security at risk.
In other wired countries, broadband service is expanding much more deeply into all strata of their societies, rather than being restricted by excessive cost.
Think of the kids in impoverished African villages who are now getting online through the "One Laptop per Child" program. That could never happen in America right now because the profiteers would spend millions on blocking any such effort.
In my opinion, the initial investment from the government is insufficient, but it's a start.
Speaking of the government, FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin announced that he will step down on Inauguration Day.
While not disagreeing with everything he's done, I believe Martin, as well as his predecessor, Michael Powell, are the individuals most responsible for the consolidation of media, the greatest contributor to the demise of professional journalism in America.
In essence, freedom of the press is under its greatest threat in our history not directly from the government, but because of its suppression and destruction by corporate ownership.
This and other policies which benefited the telecommunications industry at the gross expense of American consumers are his legacy, and every one of us should wish him a fond "good riddance!" I trust the incoming Obama administration won't be so negligent in looking out for "Joe Sixpack."
Believe it or not, all of these news items will impact everyone affected by technology in ways both subtle and profound.
Change is coming.
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
Copyright © 2009, Daily Press