Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


Search and Acquire...September 1999

When kids play in the dirt, we call it "kids playing in the dirt." When adults play in the dirt, we call it "gardening." And when adults play in the dirt using heavy machinery, we call it "a major construction project." Thus, it seems that our frame of reference for a given situation has a strong influence on our interpretation of its significance. Maybe the cost of the toys also has something to do with it.

Some years ago, two of our at-that-time young children had built an elaborate sand castle on the beach. As sunset approached so did the tide. As the first gentle waves surrounded their creation, the moat that had been constructed that afternoon gently filled with water and served its intended purpose. The sand castle stood in all its glory with the moat retaining the water even after each wave receded. But the ocean was not to be denied and soon large chunks began to crumble from the corners of our creation. The oldest child, who was about eight, at first tried to do some repairs but when that turned into a clearly hopeless task, he became quite distraught. He could see that his hard work was not going to survive what, in his view, had by now become an onslaught by the ocean. No parental explanation (that it was time for us to head home anyway) could provide adequate consolation. From his viewpoint, this was a major disaster and parental logic was not going to improve the situation. It took most of the trip home to re-establish the mood of what had otherwise been a terrific day.

Of course, for most of us it is much easier to see these "childish" behaviors in children than it is to see them when they are demonstrated by adults. Hardest of all is to see them in ourselves.

When kids play on the family's computer, we call it "kids playing games on the computer -- while occasionally searching out naughty internet sites." When adults play solitaire or other games on their computers while on a plane flight or in the office, we call it "taking a well-deserved break from important and exhausting business activities." When kids throw a temper tantrum, we call it "kids acting like two-year olds" -- which is often the age that they happen to be. When adults throw a temper tantrum, the currently popular descriptive term is "road rage."

Yes indeed, how we interpret a situation can be ever so important on how we respond to it and the effect it has on us. As many of you have I'm sure discovered, in most cases, an optimistic and perhaps even playful attitude is more likely to lead to a good outcome.

Therefore, in this spirit of not taking life too seriously, let's take a look at some of the recent events that are creating such great excitement in both the technical and financial sectors. As we all by now know, any new start-up company that puts the "@" symbol or a ".com" in its name is deemed immediately ready for an IPO (Initial Public Offering). Whether or not it is ever likely to become a profitable business hardly seems to matter. Right now, the entire financial community seems to be tangled up in the WEB.

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The Internet, the World Wide Web, or just the WEB if you prefer, is certainly going to be increasingly important to us in the display community because the more that is done "on-line" the more new displays are going to be needed. If we are able to understand the nature and the location of these on-line activities, we should be better positioned to respond with the right kind of display technologies -- current or yet to be invented. For us, that old marketing adage for business success, "find a need and meet it" is more applicable than ever before because of the exploding growth in the breadth and variety of display applications.

Therefore, if we can capture the understanding of the essence of the Internet, we should be able to predict what will happen in the future, what the impact will be, and what this will mean to us in the display community.

With this perspective, are you ready to do a little playful puzzle solving?

Here is your assignment. Take a small sheet of paper and, in as few words as possible, write down what unique function you think the Internet (or if you prefer, the World Wide Web) performs. In other words, what's so special about the Internet.

Next, again in as few words as possible, write down what unique functions are provided by each of the following: the post office, telephone, radio, movies, television, FAX, and the PC. After all, all these technologies co-exist and have become an integral part of our lives. Why is that?

Are you finding this easy or challenging? I found it quite challenging. Here are my answers for the technologies listed in the above paragraph. (I will leave it to you to match them with the corresponding technology I have tried to describe?)

Instant access to remote programmed audio information and entertainment. Instant bi-directional site-to-site transmission of text and printed images, mostly in monochrome. Remote instant location-to-location voice and data communications. Site-to-site movement of written and printed communications, and the movement of some material goods. Instant access to remote programmed visual and audio information and entertainment. Remote repeatable pre-selected visual and audio information and entertainment. Compute power, data storage, and data communications for each individual and location.

Do we agree? Quite well? Not at all? As always, I would enjoy hearing your thoughts. If you would like to help me refine these definitions, as well as the one that follows for the Internet, please send me your ideas using any of the information transmission media listed at the end of this column.

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As we can see, each of the technologies listed can be described in a way that makes it uniquely different from the others. Therefore, if the Internet is so darn important, we should be able to give it a description that endows it with its own unique capabilities. Here is my try at it.

I believe that the Internet fundamentally provides a near-instant and world-wide "search and acquire" capability. What we search for may be information or a product. And what we acquire as a result of our searching may also be information or a material item. In very simple language, the Internet is an instant and giant world-wide swap-meet for information and goods.

Given this, is it any wonder that so many business-types have jumped into the fray. The Internet is a new channel for commerce. It's as important as creating new shipping channels were in the days of Christopher Columbus. It's as important as railroads were in the second half of the 19th century. And it's as important as electronic communications and computers have been in the last five decades of this century

On the other hand, there are many functions and activities that the Internet will NOT replace. All the technologies listed above will continue to exist: the telephone, radio, television, movies, FAX machines, and PCs -- as well as newspapers, books, and magazines. The Internet is an added capability, not a replacement of what we have today. Most stores will not go out of business. And the ones that do will fail because of lousy customer service, (while conveniently laying the blame on competition from WEB-based businesses.) Newspapers will continue to exist. Bookstores will continue to be filled with "best sellers" and rows upon rows of computer-help books. Mail-order houses will stay in business and simply add the WEB as a convenient alternative to the printed catalog. But catalogs will continue to be sent and printed advertising will be just as prevalent ten years from now as it is today. However, every merchant will need to add a WEB-site as a parallel information channel. Would you like to guess who is eventually going to be paying for all this extra convenience?

The Internet will not grow into some kind of giant super-intelligent artificial brain with all the remote computers being interconnected in neuron-like fashion. In fact, it will take many years for us just to be able to expect reasonably reliable information retrieval and mail-order services over the Internet. The problems we are having today with various viruses, computer hackers, and the basic fragility of software will get worse before they get better.

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We are currently in a transitional period from the Internet having been mostly a scientific data communications tool to now becoming predominantly a tool for commerce. As a scientific and data communications tool, it was managed and used by knowledgeable people who had mostly good intentions. High average integrity levels and a low greed-coefficient made for a generally friendly and supportive environment. But now, there are fortunes to be made and market shares to be won. So much for good intentions and a supportive environment! What happened in the past with the railroad barons, and with the developers of the telegraph, telephone, television, and film industries will now happen with the Internet. Money and greed really do cause problems don't they?

The good news is that eventually this will all pass. We adults are a little slow at this, but consider a group of children anywhere in the world. Put a group of kids together and within minutes they have figured out how to "play fair." But since adults are sometimes a little more "sophisticated" in their ways, I predict that it will take us the entire first decade of the next century to figure out how to do this with the Internet. And furthermore, I will make the easy prediction that Microsoft WILL NOT lead the way. The other kids will have to show them how it should be done. Sometimes the "rich kids" are the last to pick up on such obvious concepts as "playing fair."

In the meantime, we display engineers will be blessed with many new opportunities. As a medium of commerce, the Internet will demand displays that provide instant and sometimes location-independent access. That means displays of every size and shape including ones that can be portable and wearable. Information transmission bandwidth will grow faster than compute power in the first decade of the next century, which will allow for the transmission of more images, and more complex data. This high information complexity will require correspondingly higher-quality displays, especially for portable use. In many ways we can look at the Internet as the modern version of a gold-rush. And as with the gold-rushes of old, while only a few miners made it rich, most of the provisioners did exceedingly well. We in the display business are like the provisioners. While the miners seek their riches, we will create successes that are perhaps not a spectacular but will have more lasting value, both from a technology and from a business standpoint. The time is right.

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Should you wish to offer your thoughts on this topic or others you may reach me directly from this site or by phone at 425-898-9117.