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2014 Is So Last Year
Amos Gelb • January 29, 2015
Goodbye 2014 – Hello 2015
Rather than look back, I thought perhaps a way to start 2015 was to look forward and see some of the fun that might be to come. So here are 10 big media things to keep an eye on:
1. Local Television
2014 ended with a big shuffle. Sinclair Broadcast Group took the reins of WJLA and longtime news director/station guru Bill Lord headed out that door and straight up Wisconsin to the ailing WUSA. Can he repeat his magic farther up the dial? How will WJLA fare under new ownership with a news operation that takes its marching orders from a centralized news hierarchy?
2. The Washington Post
There’s a lot of new energy now that the Age of Bezos has dawned. New culture, new publisher (Fred Ryan, the former general from WJLA and Politico) and new building will generate plenty of armchair analysis.
3. Social Media Bloopers
What will be the next great faux pas to enliven our humdrum lives? It’s been a while since a Weiner popped up, and everyone has now learned that you don’t dis the Obama gals. But it is the gift that keeps on giving. More to come, guaranteed.
4. Radical Fundamentalists
What will they come up with next in their unfortunately very effective media strategy, and will legitimate governments finally figure out a way to counteract them?
5. Net Neutrality
This is the single most important issue facing anybody who uses the internet for anything. The outcome, to be decided this year, will define all our worlds.
6. Hometown Machiavellis
Will Frank Underwood and Olivia Pope, the lead characters of the shows “House of Cards” and “Scandal,” continue to give us Washingtonian the guilty pleasure of thinking that we are indeed smarter than everyone else (oh, come on, don’t deny it)?
7. The New Republic
TNR is dead, long live TNR. Can the Facebook-billionaire owner really reinvent the icon of American liberalism after its very public self-immolation at the close of 2014?
President Obama joked last year that CNN was in search of its dignity. The big question for 2015 is whether it can find its identity. The Network of Record has been best known more recently for its endless coverage of events long after there is nothing to say (along with the uninformed wanderings of a misanthropic cook).
9. Voice of America
Less on the radar but still important: What is the future of VOA? Elements in Congress seem intent on making it a propaganda agency, while the journalists who work there are committed to journalism. The venerable agency’s survival is by no means assured.
Finally, the biggest and most pressing unknown in all of American media for 2015: Colbert. What will he look like now that he has shed his Comedy Central persona and moved into his new CBS chair? And just as important, can he challenge the Grand Wizard of Late Night, Jimmy Fallon?
ATM is all a-Twitter to see (or at least something social).
With Record Crowdfunding, Jibo the Robot Ready to Join the Family
Natalie Koltun • October 28, 2014
Meet Jibo, the “world’s first family robot,” an innovative gadget designed by robotics experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A futuristic device created by Professor Cynthia Breazeal and her team of media tech specialists, Jibo is unlike any other household gadget. Move over, Siri, Jibo is now part of the family.
Standing at just 11 inches tall, Jibo is an interactive storyteller, messenger, photographer and personal assistant. It even has the ability to learn and recognize the different voices and faces of family members under the same roof, to create a more helpful and personal experience than other gadgets.
It’s sleekly designed and packed with artificial intelligence algorithms that allow it to learn and adapt to people’s preferences and habits. It can take photos and videos, deliver hands-free messages and even read and tell stories.
Using recognition software to learn and track faces of family members, Jibo provides an advanced version of video calling, almost as if you were really there. It uses natural cues, such as body movement and speech, to know where to look during a video call and moves as if it is part of the action in a room. Its hands-free message delivery system uses the same face recognition software to ensure each message is delivered to the right person.
Designed to provide companionship while assisting its owner in coordinating and managing daily activities, this six-pound gadget wirelessly connects to the internet and will “support the unique needs to a human being as we interact with it – to empower us to succeed, thrive and grow with technology like never before,” according to Breazeal’s recent blog post about Jibo.
After just a week into its crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.com, Jibo, Inc. has raised well over $1 million from nearly 2,500 backers. The campaign, with the initial goal of $100,000, was fully funded within just four hours. Because of its astonishing crowdfunding results, this little gadget now holds a record for achieving “top rank” status among the website’s 15 most funded tech projects of all time, and in just four days, according to the Jibo team. Currently, it is the most funded product that is active on the website.
Since it reached its $1-million stretch goal, the company plans to release a free bonus collection with each purchase, complete with special animation and extra movements that Jibo can execute in the home. If it reaches the $2-million mark before the last day of the campaign on Aug. 15, the company said they will release another exciting bonus collection for their customers at no additional charge.
The home robot will cost $499 in the consumer version and $599 for the developer version, which will allow engineers and developers to optimize Jibo’s capabilities on its open platform.
The initial release is scheduled for early 2016.
All Things Media: an Open Letter to the Media — Give Me (Him) a Break
Amos Gelb • September 25, 2014
Really? I mean, come on.
I get it. President Obama is an easy mark. He is not exactly riding a wave of adulation at the moment. There are legitimate questions about how his team is handling an array of the tumultuous issues that have made this summer anything but lazy.
These issues have not been easy: from the domestic maelstrom of Ferguson and the coming water wars of the West to the monstrous Islamic State that has now defined itself in its barbaric murder of Jim Foley, the unrepentant would-be Soviet-reconstituter Vladimir Putin, the embarrassment and neutering of the Secretary of State over Gaza and an Afghanistan that seems poised to fall even further apart if that were possible.
So, I say again: really?
I understand that news organizations pay a lot of money to camp their staff out on Martha’s Vineyard to cover the President. They have to. A news executive once described covering the President around the clock: “It is a death watch. We have to be there just in case he dies.” They also have to justify that expense by actually covering the President when his staff decides he should break from his much needed vacation to make news.
But . . . really?
There are, indeed, those who have problems with everything this President does — from policy to his simply being President. Whatever your political stripe, there are legitimate issues that deserve to be raised.
But this has now gotten silly.
After the President delivered his clearly heartfelt remarks about Foley (Could anyone actually feign anything in response to that barbarism?), major news organizations reported that Obama was back on the golf course barely 20 minutes later. Then, Twitter took over. Implied: could this man be so heartless to talk about this death and then go share a few chuckles on the links? What a monster!
CNN even had five minutes of silent footage from a distance of the President playing with three others. And look: he was chuckling and taking a few swings.
Wherever you stand, this is ridiculous. And it is unfair.
Look at Obama’s hair. It has gone white. ATM would suggest that nobody other than another former President can comprehend the stress of that job. I am actually glad my President (any President) is trying to get away for at least a few days. If that means pretending there is nothing but an infuriating white ball for a few hours, ATM wishes him well.
While the President has forfeited just about all rights to privacy outside an enclosed space, the core of all journalism is responsibility. The framing of this golf outing as juxtaposed with a statement on an unspeakable tragedy by responsible journalists does a disservice to the audience and the industry.
Leave that to the ranters who prowl the internet. They do that kind of stuff far better than you.
So, I ask again. Really? Give me (him) a break.
Yours in dismay,
Privacy: A Quaint Notion
Amos Gelb • September 10, 2014
Poor Jennifer Lawrence. Her nude photos posted, blasted, shared, across numerous websites. A naughty snap secured on that mysterious thing called the cloud. And the digital thugs who ripped it from the nether regions of some server somewhere. Foul, foul, foul!
But hang on, Edward Snowden is hailed as a hero for making public classified information from the NSA showing that the top secret agency was spying on Americans. Is there a difference between the two cases? Are both Snowden and the faceless server-Peeping Toms villains?
By now, half of readers are screaming that the two were completely different – one was a private invasion and the other a public good. The other half are cheering. But that is the point – our media is not just changing what we can share and how we share – but our very concepts of what privacy means. And if you are not thinking about that every time you use the Internet, or take a pic and post anywhere, caveat emptor!
“There is no such thing as privacy anymore!” exclaimed one of the country’s leading privacy experts, who asked not to be named, when asked about how she would define privacy today. “Only a fool would still think that you could put anything anywhere connected to the web and truly believe it won’t be gotten by others.”
Privacy. Such a quaint notion. In the old days JLaw would have either taken photos with a Polaroid, had the film developed (yes they could have been stolen then but then she knew she was giving the naughties to them and crossing her fingers they wouldn’t look) or used a digital camera with a chip that you then put on your computer and printed. To get the pics you would either have to steal them from the photolab or break into her house. Privacy was an easier concept – and invading that privacy was so much more clear cut.
Now beware. Snapchat, the photo messaging application, was supposed to guarantee privacy. You could share a picture privately with a friend and not worry about it being more than that because it disappeared in a few seconds. Gone forever. Well at least that was how it was meant to work. Then it was revealed that those revealing Snapchats lived on far, far longer. And if they lived on longer, then they could be JLaw’ed.
Nothing is sacred. For those of you inclined, Google tracks your porn searches. Moreover, check the cookies on your computer and realize what you gave up by just turning on that desktop/laptop. You will be amazed how many companies you have never heard of and to whom you did you did not give consent to access your computer, have planted their tracking code on your device. ATM suggests periodically cleaning out all website data, at a minimum.
If you have allowed a phone app to use your location info – you are now essentially carrying the same thing as an ankle bracelet used to track felons. You are not the only one who can launch the “find my iPhone.”
But perhaps there is hope. A recent Pew study says that people are far less likely to share their political views on social media when they think a majority of others might disagree. So at least we seem to be keeping our political thoughts to ourselves a bit.
So maybe that’s the secret. If you want to keep it private – pass that note in class. Or just don’t take those photos in the first place.
But in the meantime, we are all Jennifer Lawrence, just without the fame and the hacked photos, at least as far as we know.
Amos Gelb is the founder and director of the Washington Media Institute.
All Things Media:
I never took Sara Just for a masochist. The incredibly smart, able, talented and – by the way – thoroughly nice ABC News senior executive was just named the head of the venerable PBS NewsHour.
In today’s media, venerable is not a good thing.
Venerable is revered. Venerable means gravitas. Venerable means nobody is watching anymore, which, regrettably, is increasingly the case for the NewsHour. There was barely any notice paid to the pronouncement that the revered Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff would assume the co-anchor chairs.
And Sara Just is going to save it –- although she coyly is not saying how.
But what is she trying to save?
It is a completely new news ecosystem that seemed to have changed enough already the last few months and then decided it was only just getting started (a cap doffing to Al Pacino’s immortal diatribe in “Scent of a Woman”).
Just announced: Gannett is breaking the newspapers off from everything else. Why? The first Silver Line train to Gannett’s headquarters in Reston must have been carrying a magic vision of the future.
Recently announced: Tribune papers doing something similar. That mess many know about.
Previously announced: Digital First – the force that was going to drive local papers truly into the new age decided to simply shut its doors. Literally out of the blue.
Mashable/Buzzfeed – two distinctly non-general news organizations – deciding that the future is in good old-fashioned journalism and are hiring staffs.
The most venerable New York Times slitting its own wrists in a leaked internal memo saying that its digital strategy simply did not cut it.
The oddball Vice Television is beefing up to become one of the major forces in international reporting.
And yet, venerable refuses to give up. About a year ago, the venerable Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism issued a much-promoted report called “Post Industrial Journalism.” Its authors, C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky wrote in their opening paragraph: “much of [journalism’s] future is already here and… there is no such thing as the news industry anymore.”
Could they have been more wrong? Once more an incident of venerable over-thinking its own importance.
So, what does Sara have up her sleeve? Nothing short of rejuvenating the term “venerable.” If she succeeds, she will offer a road map for all media trapped by its own history. If she doesn’t, well, don’t let anyone call you “venerable.”
Making It All Click
Nico Dodd • December 10, 2012
With dizzying energy, Jack’s Boathouse owner Paul Simkin teaches students to move with the latest technology as the director of Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts, located in Georgetown. In his own way, he instructs them to stay current and focused on the big picture.
Because of the many media outlets in the nation’s capital and the digital media explosion, the center was established to meet the needs of 21st-century creatives. The center offers professional studies certificates in 3D animation, audio production, digital filmmaking, graphic and web design, digital photography and web development. The approximately 300 students enrolled in the programs are registered as full-time students or take classes at night as part-time students. The other programs include locations in Atlanta, Ga. and Waltham, Mass., west of Boston University’s main campus.
In addition to his work as a photography professional and educator, Simkin also manages and owns Jack’s Boathouse next to Key Bridge. Simkin, who bought the boathouse in 2006, rents out approximately 70,000 boats per year, he says. An avid kayaker, the Chicago native says the idea to buy the boathouse came to him while taking a conference call in the middle of the Potomac River.
As with anything in Georgetown, there is a historical context. Boston University’s CDIA D.C. campus is located in the Foundry building on Thomas Jefferson Street, in the space formerly occupied by the Foundry Cinema, which closed in 2002. The original Foundry building dates back to 1856.
The center’s spaces consist of administrative offices, computer labs and photo studios. Simkin’s office is on the ground level next to the C&O Canal, but the first thing you might notice is the skeleton that he uses as a coat rack. Equipment is everywhere. He has not yet fully moved in. One characteristic about Simkin is that he seems like he’s ready for anything.
“I can go anywhere in the world and shoot anything with that,” says Simkin, as he points to a pile of photography equipment.
Even though students pick one major on which to focus, multidisciplinary study is the name of the game.
“If you can show that you can put a site together, that you can put the illustration for your intention, whatever it is, you’re worth a million dollars to [people],” said Simkin. “It puts you light-years above all the other people of a similar ilk. That’s what we’re dedicated to.”
For Simkin, it is important to balance the practical and creative aspects.
“That creates a problem,” says Simkin, “because we aren’t teaching people to fix air conditioners and transmis- sions. We’re teaching art. So, on the one hand, we’re train- ing people to make money, but on the other hand we have to nurture a vision in someone.”
Instruction — and Structure
While at the center on Friday, Paul was approached by one of his students, Nouf Mallouh. She was working what the center calls her “Practicum.” Practicum is a student’s final project that requires them to provide work for non- profit, socially responsible organizations, which otherwise would not be able to afford such highly skilled digital work.
Mallouh is from Saudi Arabia. She’s studied both graphic design and photography at the center. For her practicum, she is working with the Literacy Lab, a non-profit organization that teaches reading to low-income students in Washington, D.C. She has a series of about 50 photos from a recent shoot
and wanted Simkin’s opinion.
As Mallouh goes through the photos, Simkin gives both positive and constructive criticism.
“Nice shot,” he says. “That’s a beautiful shot. Thank you. You’re very good at capturing faces. Take a compli- ment when you get it. She’s mugging for the camera. Next, please.”
Simkin gives Mallouh a lot of tips about where to crop photos but compliments her ability to capture faces and hands. After about 20 minutes, we leave the computer lab. Moments like those are what make the job for Simkin, who became director of the center in September. “One condition I made when I accepted the job was that I get to do stuff like that,” Simkin says.
As the center’s director, Simkin might not be expected to be as available to his students as he is and that he would leave that sort of work to professors.
“When they kick my ass like that, it makes me a better photographer,” Simkin says. “She had a very good sense of feeling, of kids. I freeze up around kids. I can’t just get in and be tight and be part of a scene. She has a natural incli- nation for that. So, I get to see a point of view that I would otherwise miss.”
“I really couldn’t imagine a better mentor,” says Erin Schaff, assistant director at CDIA’s D.C. campus, and who views Simkin as a great resource for photography students.
Schaff, who is from Red Hook in upstate N.Y., graduated from Kenyon College in May 2011 with a
B.A. in political science and came to Washington to pursue a career on Capitol Hill. After working in the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and other jobs, Schaff began working part-time at Jack’s Boat- house in June and fell in love with the river.
“I had a full-time job, and I quit to work for him full-time,” says Schaff of Simkin. “It was kind of a big leap for me, because everything was kind of stable. Everything was going very well in the direction I thought I wanted to be going. So, it was a big leap, but it has totally been worth it.”
As someone who runs two large operations, it is no surprise Simkin needs someone to help keep him organized. Schaff provides that structure.
Never Getting Old
Boston University began opening its three CDIA campuses as film photography was being replaced by digital as the de facto medium for professional photographers.
“When we started five to six years ago, it was the end of film,” Simkin says. “It was the end of the dark room. These folks had the vision to make great photographs but at the same time to realize the end was there — and that it was not a defeat. It was a great opportunity to make great art.”
The school was founded on the principle that technology is constantly changing. This means that the center’s curriculum is continually changing. The center’s classes resume in January.
“Two years in digital stuff is huge,” Simkin says. “So, if we just stuck to the same one [process], we’d be in big trouble.”
This dedication to technology has been a constant for Simkin. When he was 24 years old, he was work- ing as a photo editor at the Associated Press. Then, he made a decision about photography.
“I’m editing photos, when I see these dark room guys. These are guys in white jackets who would print photos,” Simkin says. “I ask one of these guys, who were about as old as I am now, ‘How much back- ground is there to being a dark room guy?’ It turns out that the guys were photographers earlier, and they had shot on 4 by 5, the kind of stuff you’d shoot Marilyn Monroe with in the ’50s and the ’60s. Those pictures were great. The quality was great. So, when the 35 millimeter [film] came out, they didn’t want to shoot 35 millimeter, because it was so small and the pictures were grainy. They held on to their 4-by-5 view of things, and then the world passed them by. And they were printing my pictures.”
“I made the decision I was never going to get old as it related to the image.”
Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts will be partnering with the Georgetowner for its
fourth annual photography contest. Email submissions to email@example.com by Jan. 8. Winners will be honored at a Jan. 17 reception. For more information, visit www.Georgetowner.com.
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Michael Saylor on the Next Great Age of America
Jeanne Jennings • October 25, 2012
We are so thankful to Michael Saylor for sitting down with us last month. We got such a positive response to the first article that we’re back with more insights from Georgetown resident and the Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of MicroStrategy, author of “The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence will Change Everything.”
It was at the beginning of the era of the personal computer, when the world, according to Saylor, “took a hard left.”
“The Latin-Roman alphabet is superior to symbol-based languages, like Japanese and Chinese, for writing software code. Look at a keyboard. How do you create a keyboard for a language like Chinese that has 25,000 characters?”
The PC era gave us Microsoft, Oracle and Intel, then Dell, HP and IBM. When the World Wide Web came about, it was EBay, Amazon, Yahoo! and then Google at the forefront. All American companies, all using English as their primary language, for programming and for business. Today, if you want to become a software programmer, no matter what country you live in, you have to learn English.
“If you speak English you can purchase everything cheaper. If you sell in English, you will sell everything, your product or service, more expensively…The center of gravity of Western civilization is English.”
Saylor sees other factors, beyond software programming, contributing to America’s Newest Great Age. One of them is the formation of the European Union – hear his take on that.
Another is that the mobile wave provides people around the world, both adults and children, with easy access to American culture and ideals.
“We aren’t just exporting American technology. We’re exporting American technology, American values, American products and services, American currency, the American legal system. It’s all becoming a standard in this creeping way.”
Saylor sees the United States as the biggest beneficiary of the formation of the European Union. Click to hear his take (4 minutes)
“Technology doesn’t work at all; technology fails…until it succeeds.”
Much of Saylor’s perspective on the mobile wave is driven by his studies at MIT. In addition to aeronautical engineering, his coursework covered the impact of science and technological advances on society.
All new technologies begin with an idea. There are often fits and starts at the beginning, while the innovator is working to overcome obstacles so that the idea can become reality.
Click here to listen to Saylor’s Take on Technological Innovations in Aviation (4 minutes)
Saylor gave us a quick lesson in this, illustrating the history of aviation from the Wright Brothers to the space shuttle. It’s a fascinating study (hear it here), one which he sees the software industry mirroring.
Not too long after we put a man on the moon, aviation technology advancement slowed considerably. At the same time, computer and software technologies progressed to the point where the general public could begin to use them. As consumer adoption increased, advances have come rapidly – all the way from the desktop computer in the 1970s to Internet access on your smart phone today in 2012.
Regarding Privacy Concerns: “At the end of the day I’m not concerned about the plight of consumer; the consumer is the big beneficiary of the mobile wave.”
Click here to get Saylor’s insight into consumer privacy concerns and how they will be resolved (3 minutes)
If you’ve ever used Google maps on your smart phone, you were probably happy that it knew your current location and could use it as a starting point to give you directions to your destination. There’s a good chance that targeted content or advertising, based on what Facebook or other entities know about your online habits, has led you to products, services or information that you enjoyed.
But there are two sides to this technology. While it can be comforting to track the websites your teenager is visiting and his or her location throughout the course of a Friday night, would you be comfortable with your employer, marketers, the government or other entities knowing what you’re doing online and where you are at each moment of the day?
Many are concerned about the erosion of civil liberties. Some people readily admit that they find this aspect of the mobile wave “scary.”
Saylor acknowledges the concerns, but he sees the benefits of the mobile wave outweighing the potential downsides. He’s a big advocate of transparency, meaning that consumers are told upfront what information is being collected on them and how it will be used. He sees current privacy laws evolving to keep up with the new challenges brought by the mobile wave.
The sub-title of Saylor’s book is “How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything.” So, will it? It’s an engaging read. [We encourage you to pick it up (or download “The Mobile Wave”) and decide for yourself](http://www.microstrategy.com/the-mobile-wave/).
There Is Hope After All
Amos Gelb • October 24, 2012
The noise has been deafening. The sport of the post presidential and vice-presidential debate punditry has grown from a torrent to a deluge, moving from on-air to online and virtually everywhere else. After the now-famed Romney Resurrection,
Saturday Night Live dared to hilariously get inside the heads of the candidates. Obama, it posited, was distracted thinking about how he had forgotten to buy the first lady an anniversary present. It would have been even funnier had it not been what we in the media all seem to have been trying to do since Obama-Romney I got us all nattering.
The coverage seems to be only reinforcing this weird epoch of journalism today which wobbles between punditry and a “just the facts” dirge.
Even as journalists work harder than ever, nobody seems very happy. Especially not the audience if a Gallup poll – brought to our attention, of course, on Facebook – is to be believed. It says an all-time high, 60 percent of us, now “have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.” Perhaps worse than that, in recent conversations with graduate and undergraduate journalism students, even these driven youth who represent the future of this industry feel that, at best, today’s media is so-so. These are people want to do this for a living. One more tasty treat of negativity – the University of Colorado closed its famed journalism school last year partly citing loss of relevance and recently Emory University in Atlanta announced a similar move with its growing journalism department. Others are sure to follow.
ATM comes not to bury Caesar, but to give a call to action to save him.
With the permission of our valiant publisher, I am taking a column away from observing or commenting or critiquing to urge. To misquote a frequent television ad, “It’s my journalism, and I want it now!”
I urge anybody interested in being a part of creating that future of journalism to support the Kickstarter campaign for DecodeDC – the new podcast devoted to reporting on Congress in a way nobody else is.
Yes, we have venerable publications like the Hill, Roll Call, the entire Congressional
Quarterly family, and even the future-is-now Politico devoted to the daily throes of our legislative and executive bodies – but few have proven able to cover Congress like former NPR Congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook. For anybody wondering why her voice has disappeared from NPR airwaves, Seabrook decided this summer that she couldn’t continue to cover Congress as a daily mud fight any longer. “It just didn’t seem to be doing anybody any good any more. What was the point? I was becoming as much part of the problem.” So instead Seabrook decided she, and we, deserved something different.
Seabrook left to start an independent podcast called DecodeDC at DecodeDC.com. In her first two episodes, she truly humanizes Congress and simultaneously eviscerates all that should be eviscerated. They are worth listening to. They are good. Very good.
And worth supporting.
Seabrook is turning to people who want great journalism to support her and provide the seed money needed to fully fund a year of DecodeDC, and she has turned to the online money-raiser – Kickstarter.
Kickstarter is a wonderful way for ordinary people can play venture capitalist, venturing to put their money where their mouths are. If you are one of those who loves, is interested in learning something more than the latest mud slinging, and wishes journalism reached for something better than it seems so often to be today, take a listen and then support. Seabrook has until 6 p.m. Oct. 19 to raise the money to fund 28 more episodes.
Michael Saylor: Riding the Mobile Wave
Jeanne Jennings • October 15, 2012
“The mobile wave is going to sweep through and obliterate billions of jobs and millions of small businesses and that’s going to be viewed with trepidation by politicians, unions and businessmen, all three, because they’re going to see their world disrupted. But at the same time, it opens up the possibility for three or four billion people in the underclass to get a Ph.D.”
So says Michael Saylor, Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of MicroStrategy and author of “The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence will Change Everything,” published earlier this year by Vanguard Press.
Saylor sees the agricultural revolution as a model for the changes the mobile wave will bring about. In 1850, 67 percent of Americans worked on farms. Thanks to vast improvements in farm technology which led to massive and rapid increases in productivity, today less than 2 percent of the US population is employed in agriculture. This allowed 65 percent of the population to shift away from farming, learn new skills and contribute to the economy in other ways.
“For the civilization to move forward we need to generate millions of new skills,” Saylor says. “The secret is education. Right now, we spend $2 trillion a year on education, and we spend it poorly. We teach people the same way we have for 100 years.”
But mobile can change all that. By moving education online, the best professors and teachers can expand the number of students able to learn from them. When textbooks move online and become software, they become “magical.” Students can inexpensively perform experiments online, simulating not only simple things, like boiling water, but things that are impossible now, like playing with a pendulum on Mars.
Even better, the incremental cost per student drops dramatically when learning goes mobile. Saylor predicts that a Ph.D., which can cost $100,000 to attain today, could be only $10,000 in the future. These newly minted minds will have the information and time they need to tackle civilization’s most pressing problems, things like super strains of viruses which have become immune to present day antibiotics. Saylor has launched the Saylor Foundation (www.Saylor.org) to make his vision a reality. Based in Georgetown, it currently offers 13 areas of online college-level study, including biology, economics and mechanical engineering, at no cost to students.
But education is just one area being impacted for the better by the mobile wave.
New technologies will make our identities mobile, and “100 times easier to prove and 100 times more secure,” Saylor says, than current employee badges, credit cards, personal signatures and other credentials, which can be forged. Our mobile identities will have unique identifiers which change every few minutes, but which anyone on a mobile device can use to confirm that you are who you say you are.
Mobile identity technology will make it easier to control access to sensitive areas like schools, where we only want students, parents, teachers and other authorized personnel to enter. It will also make it possible to verify quickly your identity to someone thousands of miles away. This is the direction that MicroStrategy is moving with Usher, its free app which allows users to manage events with Facebook but which will become a virtual wallet for credentials. Saylor predicts that mobile identity technology will be widely used within the next five years.
Speaking of Facebook, Saylor says, “If you don’t use Facebook, my advice to anybody would be to become a Facebook user. It’s time to get on the bandwagon. You can’t really live outside of that stream.”
What’s the next big thing? “The most powerful idea in the world in the year 2012 is the software application network,” said Saylor. YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia are examples of networks that allow people to share information and photos. “So what about a teaching network, a safety network, a payment network? All these things are living in the domain of plastic cards and pencils and pens now. They will become networks. I can’t say which one will commercialize first, but we’re already investing in intelligence networks (MicroStrategy’s Wisdom app) and identity networks (the future of MicroStrategy’s Usher app).”
In Saylor’s book, mobile Internet is the fifth wave of computing, following the mainframe, the mini-computer, the desktop computer and the Internet PC. So what’s the sixth wave? “The point that we cross the man-machine interface and we’re able to receive information and give an instruction without our hands or our voice – a direct neural link,” Saylor says. “At this point, the entire world becomes merged with cyberspace, like the holodeck on Star Trek.”
6 Quick Questions for Michael Saylor:
Current Mobile Phone? Apple iPhone 5
Social Network: Facebook or Google+? Facebook
Number of Friends on Facebook? 4,000
Favorite Low or No-Tech Hobbies? Travel, boating
Stock to Own: Facebook or Google? Both — and Apple and Amazon
Best App Most People Haven’t Yet Heard Of? WhatsApp, a cross-platform mobile messaging app
Michael Saylor: “It’s Kind of a Fluke That I’m Here at All…”
“I come out of a generation of men that grew up loving science fiction. We read Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov and our aspiration was to be an astronaut, go to Mars and build spaceships. And when I was in high school I wanted to be a fighter pilot, be an astronaut, go to Mars and build spaceships.”
After leaving high school, Saylor followed his dream, joining the Air Force and earning a degree in aeronautical engineering from MIT, where he studied spaceship design and learned how to fly. But his plan was derailed in the final semester of his senior year when he was misdiagnosed with a benign heart murmur, disqualifying him from combat air duty.
Shortly after that, Congress cut the defense budget. So, instead of going on active duty in the military as an engineer, he served in the Air Force reserve weekends and summers and went into the civilian world.
Saylor told us this story as he proudly showed us a plaque in his office. It had recently been given to him by Astronaut Greg Johnson, a high school friend who was a pilot, not just once but twice, on the space shuttle Endeavour.
The plaque featured MicroStrategy’s IPO prospectus and pictures of Johnson in space holding it. He had taken it with him on Endeavour’s last flight. So, it had been to the space station and circled the Earth for two weeks.
“He’s what I wanted to be – he flew F-15s, fought in the Gulf War, became a test pilot, became an astronaut, went up on the space shuttle and he’s still with NASA right now. So, that was a different path, and really I would have done it if I could have done it. I’m not saying I would have gotten as far as he did, but that’s what my aspiration was.”
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Amos Gelb • May 3, 2012
In the not-for-the-faint world of D.C., you do not exist politically if you are not loathed by at least one group. But David Frum is in an elite category – he is hated by both sides of the fence. A stalwart speechwriter of the W regime, no friends on the left. Then excommunicated by the right when he dared to suggest that Republicans were blowing it in their blind opposition to the healthcare bill, a posture he has maintained vociferously regarding the current Republican posture on the debt ceiling, “you don’t play chicken with default.”
“Yes, my views put me in a minority these days,” he admits bedecked in a blindingly white jacket befitting the tropics that have descended on D.C.
But what ATM was curious about is how Frum, lawyer-schooled-journalist-resumed-formerly-White-House-employed, turned being suddenly on the outside into something of a personal media empire. His website, Frum Forum, has become the voice of the less uncompromising (but not necessarily moderate) right, he is omnipresent as a political analyst for CNN, he gives about 20 speeches a year and he is finishing up his 7th book – this latest one a novel about D.C.
In the age of the new media, Frum has done what so many are trying unsuccessfully to do. He has created an identity on the web, attracted readers and kept people’s attention.
And he doesn’t want to talk about it.
“Media is the plural of medium. Medium is just the conduit. It is like wanting to talk about electricity – you want to talk about where it comes from and how; not about the poles and pylons. We are pylons.”
Instead, what Frum wants to talk about is his fear; his fear that well-meaning people in power are about to drive this nation off a cliff.
“Frum Forum is not about making money, it is not about me. It is about responsibility. My goal is to be heard. We have the responsibility to be heard. To be part of the conversation. And I think we are.”
For an hour, despite repeated determined ATM attempts to steer the conversation to his journalism pedigree (he worked as a freelance writer in Canada, as an editorial editor for the Wall Street Journal and is the son of one of Canada’s most famous journalists), Frum deflects the attention from himself to why he is doing all this media.
Each thrust at discussing his empire is parried into a guided tour of some of today’s most intransigent political issues adding shades of grey and the occasional primary color to the issues being hashed out in public in black and white. Global distribution of wealth is indeed skewing to the ultra-rich. That is wrong but just taxing the ultra rich will not work because they will always find a way around it. Rather than take away from one side let’s find a way to help the other – for example in the last 20 years we have reduced crime plaguing the poorest citizens. Today’s financial issues stem not from war but from the voracious leveraging a relatively few bad loans (multiple bets being made on the same few chips). Unfair to blame Obama for the economic woes even if you don’t like how he is handling them. The country is not as partisan as it seems – the current angry tone is rather the product of Congressional rule changing and gerrymandering. Our system of government cannot work if the “opposition” just exists to oppose. Party affiliation should play no role in local community politics; candidates should stand on their personal integrity.
For the self-made outsider (“I am still firmly a Republican”) who put the words into the mouth of a president so loathed by many, here was the surprisingly considered discourse that we all claim we pine for. In Frum’s world, those who disagree are not depicted as lepers to be despised or worse and hence banished to a desolate wilderness; rather their ideas might be viewed as wrong but not mean-spirited.
“Are you at least having fun?”
There is a pause on this. The thought of fun seems to have not occurred to Frum. A journalist turned pol who is now the journalist-pol, why wouldn’t this be fun? He has a website, a following, a voice that is being heard, if not always welcomed. The pause lasts a bit longer as he seems to search for something hidden in a corner.
“Our current situation is too perilous to be having fun.”
Frum seems to have forgotten that today’s evolving new media has reached a stage of the cult of personality where individual Twitter feeds, blogs and even by-lines are increasingly about the self. And his self has a higher profile today than ever before, partly because he seems to relish sticking his finger in so many eyes. Yes, that should be fun.
And yet there is the distinct sense that Frum would be just as happy, perhaps happier, if he didn’t think his voice was needed quite as much right now.