Silicon Insider: Looking Back a Year, and Beyond

As we near the end of 2005 and I look back over this column for the last year or so, I'm struck by just how often the topics have evoked what might be described as exhilarated pessimism.

By that I mean that so many Silicon Insider columns have led with R.I.P. this or the death of that as one venerable institution after another gets dealt a mortal blow by the advance of technology. It is also worth noting how much anger and backlash these columns have created in the media, not just in traditional newspapers and magazines but also in the new media of the Web and blogosphere.

When I was the first member of the so-called mainstream media to call for Dan Rather to be fired in light of the National Guard forgery revelations in the blogosphere, ABCNEWS.com felt obligated to append the disclaimer that still appears at the end of this column. When I suggested that Microsoft had peaked, it provoked hundreds of angry blogs and comments that I was at least an idiot and likely in the pay of Apple Computer (ironic, given that I'm usually accused of being a Steve Jobs hater).

My next question was why the music industry was making a fool of itself hunting down music downloaders instead of embracing the new technology. After that I argued that Wikipedias, by being more timely, and ultimately more accurate, would soon replace traditional encyclopedias.

But perhaps nothing I've ever written has created as much of a stir as my claim that traditional newspapers were dead men walking and that within a few years most of the major U.S. dailies would be gone, with many magazines and television networks to follow. That Rupert Murdoch made a similar claim a week later didn't seem to dampen the calumny that poured down on me in the months after.

Yet looking back, I would argue that events have proved me far more accurate in my predictions than my critics have been. Rather is gone. Microsoft is now so defanged that there is a growing (and misplaced) nostalgia for the good old days when Gates ruled instead of Google. Wikipedia recently suffered the inevitable scandal that comes with success but just this week was rated better in science coverage than old-line encyclopedias. And iPod, the consumer product of the decade, finally forced the music industry (and now Hollywood) to wake up.

Newspapers Are Going to Die

As for newspapers … well, you know the story. Knight-Ridder may soon be torn asunder. And the San Francisco Chronicle, in a harbinger of things to come, is the first major paper to find itself in a circulation freefall under the twin assaults of the Web and CraigsList.

It might be fun to gloat over all this, but the simple fact is that accurately predicting the near future of commercial and social institutions in this country really only requires that one ruthlessly apply the underlying forces of the digital revolution (notably Moore's Law) and not let any emotion or nostalgia color the result. If the pace and direction of technology argue that some beloved profession or enduring market is about to be blown apart and rebuilt, or simply annihilated, you simply have to go with that result, no matter how much it hurts.

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