"The time you waste surfing the Internet is not an [economic] output."
-- Harvard economist Zvi Grilliches, quoted in this past Sunday's NY Times on why we haven't seen measurable productivity gains from computers.
Sometimes we all need a fresh perspective on how complex things are getting in our industry. I recently received the following letter from Herb Dicker (email@example.com), a neighbor and friend here in Port Washington. Dicker works for a large bank and is just your "average" computer user. He has graciously allowed me to distribute his thoughts:
Like any red-blooded American male, I try hard to stay abreast at some level of goings on in the electronics world -- first stereo equipment, then photography, and for the past couple of years computers. However, I am under no delusions with my abilities: back when I was 14, I tried to build a portable transistor radio from a kit with no success. And now that I am over 50, I readily admit when I look under the hood of my car that I haven't got the vaguest idea of what I am looking at. At least for me, my ego has melted away with age. It is so much easier to admit my shortcomings. I guess this makes me more typical of a 1996 Joe Lunchbucket (or is it PC Modem?).
This leads me to the Internet: For all of its promise I find the Internet confusing, sluggish and disappointing. Yes, maybe it's because I don't have a state-of-the-art 33.6 Kbps modem or maybe it's another technical reason. The reality is that I find it more trouble than it is worth. In terms of faster modems, I was fascinated when Check-Free told me to slow my modem speed down to 9600 or less to get a clearer connection! What do I do with the 19 or so Kbps I'm NOT using?
The good news is that AOL has a flat rate of $19.95 per month, regardless of how many hours I use it. The bad news is this will probably encourage me to spend more time slogging through this morass. I have got to believe there is some VALUE to this whole Internet business, but I've yet to find it. It's like my golf game. Whenever I screw up a shot (which is often) I try to convince myself that there IS a golf game somewhere within me. All I need to do is reach it.
And so it is with the Internet. There's got to be a use for it for the everyday guy with a computer and modem. Maybe it's this WebTV thing or maybe it's these dumb terminals that do nothing but access the Net, but all THAT does is make access perhaps easier. Once you're there, what next? How do I get what I want if maybe I don't completely know what I want? I can flip a radio dial or surf my TV or even browse Blockbuster but the Net is daunting.
Anyway, as an example, take email addresses. It takes you a whole line to put a single address in your Web Informant messages. Is this ridiculous or what? When I was a teenager I had a ham radio license - WA2AAE. Short and simple. Anyone could call me or I could call anyone. I can easily remember WNBC or WQXR or WFAN, but forget it when it comes to remembering email addresses.
Another example: trying to buy something online. I tried really, I tried, to purchase a gift basket of wine over the Net. But I was directed to call an 800 number, which I could just as well have done without all of this circuitry.
Microsoft has already started down the road of user-based pricing in several ways. For example, they are promoting pricing for servers by saying, in essence, "if you want a Microsoft server that supports X number of users, you have to buy the higher priced platform that supports a server for that number of users." And their new Denali active server creates the notion of Web "sessions", which could result in charges for simultaneous "sessions", "sessions" per unit time, or worst of all, total number of "sessions", a postage meter concept. But the Web is not user-based, it's transaction-based, so it doesn't make sense to try to charge for services per user. If Microsoft actually does succeed in getting people to accept user-based pricing for Internet services, that could reduce innovation by a huge amount.
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entire contents copyright 1996 by David Strom, Inc.