Vital Signs

New Media Savants Check the Pulse of Silicon Alley

Robotics [let] you control the room. We can light the scope by just saying "light up," we can move the scope by saying "scope to the right," or we can change whatever we want just by talking to the system, which makes it easier and quicker and safer because you don't have to play that old game telephone. Repetitive procedures such as suturing or tying will very shortly be controlled by the robot. If we put the suture in and we say to "tie that knot," it will. Right now we're operating off a TV set, but screens are coming that float above the operating table, or that appear in a set of goggles. We also see robotics coming where we actually control the instruments from a console: I can move my fingers from my desk and move instruments in the operating room.

BOB GREENE, managing partner of Flatiron Partners

We still look for a few basic things: a great leader and visionary for the company. But the volume of ideas coming to us just keeps growing. Early on you saw a wave of things like ISPs, because you had to build the foundation of the business first. Then you saw a lot of interesting content plays. We're still seeing content, but now you are also seeing convergence plays.

One of our hottest areas is pervasivecomputing—Internet everywhere you want it all the time, e-mail on your cell phone, Kozmo to your door. Sometimes they are hardware-based and more often they are software- and content-based. We're still very interested in online media. In the future you are going to see a melding: You used to know what was offline, what was online; they'll integrate. You won't differentiate online and offline brands anymore. Therefore you don't want to be tethered to your desktop to do anything. I want it anywhere I want it: e-mail or Web surfing in the Gap, in my living room, not just a box in your office.

We're not necessarily investing in companies that are trying to cover everything in one fell swoop, which AOL Time Warner might be able to do someday. We'll just invest in companies that will bring one part of it to you everywhere.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF, author of Coercion: Why We Listen to What "They" Say

The best [sociological effect of the IT revolution] has been the impact that the idea of interactive technology has had on humanity. We can now imagine what a complex, networked human society, functioning as a coordinated organism, might look and feel like. The worst effect, so far, has been computer-aided unconsciousness. We are using interactive technologies as marketing tools, applying our most powerful hypnosis and influence techniques to the World Wide Web. We are using the Internet to pace and lead ourselves into passive consumption. This is, most likely, because the only "value" we are programming into technology right now is monetary.

For now, both the utopian and the nightmare scenarios we're all familiar with can serve us: Our communications technologies give us ways to envision a future where cooperation and community rule—and may motivate us to work towards that reality. Meanwhile, the fear of dehumanized, computer-driven consumer fascism might just give us enough pause to reconsider what it is we're building here.

KEVIN WERBACH, managing editor of Release 1.0

We always think we're living in the time of greatest technological change. So the pundits may change, but punditry generally doesn't. Effective technology analysis focuses on the underlying, hidden trends, rather than being sucked into the surface waves of hype. Techno-punditry should use the technology itself; so far we're largely stuck in print and other traditional models.A good pundit should be like your first pair of glasses—you don't realize how much your eyes are missing until you put them on.


JAMES LEDBETTER, New York bureau chief of The Industry Standard

The best changes [in the media landscape] are essentially distribution-related. That is, an enormous volume of news and information that in a previous age would be almost impossible for any individual to gather personally is now available with ease. The worst changes involve concentrated ownership. The Internet, a theoretically democratic medium, is rapidly showing signs of being dominated by the same handful of conglomerates as the rest of the American media. Assuming the AOL Time Warner merger goes through, six of the 15 most trafficked news and information sites will be owned by the same company.

I think the next two big shifts will involve high-speed modem access and portability. If broadband becomes a reality, then we will see all sorts of possibilities that are today unimaginable for most consumers: video on demand, downloadable video, downloadable books. The Net will move away from a computer-based medium and become pervasive.

STEVEN JOHNSON, editor in chief of FEED and author of Interface Culture

The most transformative interface innovation is not a graphical element, not a window or icon or menu. It's a simple piece of code written into the HTML spec, and recognized by every Web browser on the planet: . Without that elemental form of connectivity, the link, the last five years of dotcom insanity wouldn't have happened.

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