by August 7, 2000 0 comments

Goebbels–Hitler’s
propaganda chief–is often cited as the ultimate example of how a relentless
communications effort can change public opinion and perception. But he could
surely have learnt a lesson or two from those who run the propaganda machinery
of present-day technology companies. The way they push every little thing as the
next big revolution has long since stopped being funny.

Serious question–in the last five years, how many
technologies or products have really made the big difference to large numbers of
people, and have endured in their impact? Let me count. The Internet, Windows
95, the PalmPilot, the cellphone, and MP3. Just five items and my list comes to
an end. You may perhaps have one or two more to add. Now, how many revolutionary
or next-generation technologies do you get to hear about every other day? Every
day’s list would surely exceed five in number. What happened to all of them?

Push technology to sub notebooks and DVD RAM, business
process reengineering to M-commerce–we were told that without them computing
and businesses would be dead. We were told to get ready to adopt them or to
perish. But where are they? What happened to all of them?

Did so many of them die a premature death? Surely, our
scientists and technologists aren’t that bad. And unlike what various
conspiracy theorists would like to believe, it isn’t possible that there’s
an evil corporation out there, buying out and killing every one of those great
ideas. That leaves us with just two choices. The first is that they all got
amalgamated into other, hopefully better ideas. In that case, we’d surely have
heard about it. The obvious conclusion then is that they were never as great or
as revolutionary as they were touted to be in the first place.

Unfortunately today, only the crying baby gets any attention.
And everyone is crying themselves hoarse. The standard spiel goes some thing
like this–”So-and-so company is introducing such-and-such next generation
product or service that’s being endorsed by all these other companies.”
Then follows a flurry of press conferences and seminars and you see ads and
articles and TV shows. And then everything is forgotten till it starts for the
next one, and runs out the same way.

In this game of louder than thou, we’ve reached a stage
where we can safely bet that the shriller the noise, the lesser the chance of
that particular product or technology actually making the difference. But still,
we read the ads and articles and attend the seminars. Why? Because, like them,
we’re also waiting for the next big one, all the while desperately hoping that
we aren’t the ones to miss it.

Actually, one shouldn’t worry too much. Chances are that an
event of such magnitude won’t happen overnight. The Internet took over 40
years to reach where it has today. Windows went through many modifications
before 95 came out. PDAs were around for many years before the Palm finally took
off. Cellphones were bulky encumbrances used by only a few, for many years, and
even MP3s took a couple of years to become the industry-threatening rage they
are today.

The trick is not so much in guessing which the next big
turning point will be. It’s in being able to understand when you’re in one,
and benefit from it.

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