Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting



It Wouldn't Converge...November 2000

In my junior year of college, I took a class from a mathematics professor who was most likely a brilliant theoretician. Unfortunately, that brilliance did not translate into his abilities as a teacher. To this day, I remember him as the worst teacher in all my years of formal education. As it quickly became apparent, not only had he selected a text that was beyond the capabilities of everyone in the class, but with each passing day he convincingly demonstrated his own lack of ability to explain the material.

The culmination of this miserable year was the last few weeks that we spent trying to learn how to prove that certain mathematical series, in their limit, either converged or diverged. Now, these were not the more familiar series that I later found useful in my graduate engineering education. These were the kind that only a dedicated mathematician could love. No matter what theorems I tried to apply, I couldn't seem to come up with conclusive answers. On the final written examination, I covered the pages mostly with good intentions and was fortunate to escape the class with a mediocre but passing grade.

The memory of this experience is so strong that whenever I hear someone talk about convergence or divergence, I am immediately transported back to this intensely frustrating and frankly miserable time. Given this, I'm sure you won't be surprised if I tell you that I have a strong reaction whenever I hear or read about the "convergence" of computers and television, or the Internet and television. And never having succeeded at proving which of those mathematical series converged or diverged, I continue in my quest to arrive at an answer. Perhaps, if I can't do those weird math series, at least I can propose an answer to the convergence or divergence of electronic media.

For this analysis, I believe that I have "nature" on my side. And it seems that nature likes diversity (i.e. divergence) rather than combinations of dissimilar things (i.e. convergence). Therefore, by inference we can perhaps show that we too are more likely to appreciate divergence than convergence. The examples are numerous. In nature, we proliferate species rather than have two different ones come together. Of course, some go extinct, but then others evolve to take their place. We don't have too many cats and dogs getting together to make cat-dogs. Bluebirds and robins pretty well keep to their own kind. Botanists and breeders sometimes work for years to create combinations that will make plants more disease resistant or animals that have superior capabilities. Even then the result is usually a new subspecies rather than a convergence of two distinctly different plant or animal types.

Are we too far afield in using biological processes as examples for a discussion of technological convergence or divergence? After all, it does not require a procreation process to create a new Web TV or Internet appliance. But a look at some popular attempts to combine technological functions seems to lead us to the same conclusion already arrived at by "mother nature." For example, the many attempts to combine cars and airplanes or cars and boats have only resulted in vehicles that performed both functions poorly. Their value was more in their novelty than in their functionality. Similar results have been demonstrated time and again in trying to combine appliances such washers and dryers, furniture items such as beds and sofas, and houses with vehicles. Even the simplest of combinations -- such as a television with a VCR -- has had only limited success.

Now, before you get all excited and call to tell me about the sofa-bed industry, the recreational vehicle industry, the mobile home industry, and the great houseboat and clock radio that you own, let me state that I am not suggesting that these do not exist as viable products. What I am suggesting is that they have in no way replaced the products that provide these functions in their pure forms. In the same way that the proverbial Swiss army knife can be a useful device in special circumstances, while not replacing the tools that perform each of these functions, a sofa-bed is useful in a one room apartment or a guest room, a recreational vehicle is great for those who wish to spend their retirement years traveling around the country, and the houseboat is great if you want to be intimate with a body of water. However, for most of us, these are not the preferred ways of performing the functions for which we buy sofas, beds, houses, and cars. The mainstream products thrive while the specialty products serve a much smaller -- although still important -- segment of the market.

So, when I am told of the plans by some companies to bring about the convergence of television and the Internet, and how we will all be glued to our TV sets doing e-mail, interactive shopping, and searching for information, I tend to be a skeptic. While I can see a few people doing it, for most of us I don't think it will be that interesting.

First there is a practical viewability problem. Sitting in front of a computer to watch television doesn't seem all that comfortable. On the other hand, reading e-mails from two or three meters distance -- the typical television watching position -- seems even more difficult. At best, I can read a dozen lines of text on my television from this distance. If I must move closer, then I can just as easily go sit in front of my computer. Furthermore, given that watching television is an activity that often involves more than one person, will this social pattern carry over to reading e-mails or searching Internet sites? Not very likely.

Finally, when I am watching television, I am usually looking for a way to forget about work-related tasks. The last thing I want is for the latest e-mail to show up on my television set. Even the possibility that I could do this makes me want to run away to some deserted island.

The personal computer has already become much like the Swiss army knife. It does many things -- but perhaps not as well as a specialized device could do them. If I want to take care of my e-mails, I want to have instant access, to be able to do it from anywhere and anytime, and I want a device that is light-weight and easy to take on my travels. If I am in my car, I want a navigation device that will tell me how to get to a particular location. If I wish to put my presentation material on a computer, it should not take me five minutes to bring up my presentation while my audience examines the contents of my files.

Desktop and laptop computers have been great products and will continue to serve us with their broad-ranging capabilities. However, I believe there is great opportunity for products that do specialized functions exceedingly well. Many of these products will be highly portable and will need displays that are efficient and bright. Others will be used in multiple locations in homes and offices and will need low-cost displays that still provide color and excellent resolution. Yet others will be used in conference settings and will need to display clear images on large screens with readability in normal roomlight.

Divergence is going to be great for those of us in the display industry. It will allow us to be creative in bringing many new display technologies to market. It will demand that we work closely with product designers and that we understand the specialized needs of our customers. The only temporary detractors from this inevitable trend will be the few dominant companies that would prefer to retain control over the Information Society with their limited offerings of Swiss-Army-knife-like products.

Since I have always liked lots of choices, I am an enthusiastic proponent of these opportunities and am looking forward to helping bring about some of this diversity.

Should you wish to provide some of your own -- perhaps divergent -- thoughts you may reach me by e-mail at Email or at, by telephone at 425-557-8850, by FAX at 425-557-8983 or by the pre-divergent method known at the US mail at 22513 SE 47th Place, Sammamish, WA 98075.