Chris' Rant- by Chris Wenham

Sensationalism

If you've got nothing to make a big deal over then make a big deal over nothing. It's a known marketing fact that it's not how good the stuff is, but how well you push it. This is how pet rocks, mood rings and Sustacal make money. Slop it up cheap, blitz with the glitz.

Sensationalism is a tool used by the National Enquirer and desperate marketing executives, but unlike the mild skepticism that accompanies "Elvis captured by Aliens" style headlines in the supermarket aisles we still expect to see some kind of seriousness from the professional and businesslike computer industry. We're not yet desensitized (or weren't yet desensitized) to what is now being used more and more in our stiff nerd run world.

Twenty-four hour coverage on 57 channels is not a utopia of information, it's a wasteland of high noise, low signal garbage that gets worse every year when someone else wants to sell 30 second time slots and needs to push, pull or drag an audience in from somewhere. The real content gets diluted thinner in a bucket of blow-dried news anchors, talking heads and cheap artists' conceptions. As a result, the bangs have to be bigger, the flashes have to be brighter, the bored masses must be entertained by something no matter how superficial it is.

At 2:00 am this morning I turned on the television and found that every station was alive with under-informed news anchors speculating on the chunks of amateur and french videotape tumbling out of the Olympic blast zone. 250.. no 200.. no 150 injuries. It's a transformer explosion, or was that really a pipe-bomb? Was that 4 fatalities or only 2? Don't know yet, oh... and here's a clippit of someone two miles away talking about the big blast he heard.

Everyone was sucking up the limited news like a twenty ton sponge trying to soak up a thimbleful of lemonade. What an atrocity, they all agreed, a cheap and tasteless stunt for attention at the expense of an international peacetime event. This declared while bathed in the light of an Olympic Torch deliberately designed to look like a serving of McDonald's French Fries.

You tell me what's the greater atrocity.

This ga-ga of sparkle and sugar has invaded us now. We are made to feel that a program isn't worth anything unless some Rock musician endorses it. And just like with the two recent bombings we find that very little content is being spread-out and thickened up with useless filler.

It's not our job as consumers to take everything at face value. It's our job to keep the market in check with itself, to do otherwise is just inviting someone to exploit us. Operating Systems are not launched with a circus of hype. Applications may be, but certainly not software designed to offer services to the real programs. If Microsoft wants to spend a billion dollars marketing a list of instructions whose main purpose is to provide an environment for other programs then that's their prerogative. Anyone who wants to wear Merlin CDs on their T-shirt this coming fall is an idiot and no better than the clowns who leaped around last year.

It's this misfocus of where the marketing dollars should go that made Windows 95 only a mediocre burp. Believe me, Microsoft would have better spent its money on a big splash for Office 95 instead. Likewise, I don't see any real point in going bananas on Merlin's debut. Give SmartSuite/2 a push, show someone speech-dictating into a productive application at work on a powerful platform instead of whizzy drop-down menus and start buttons.

So when you're in the software store this fall consider what you're buying. Consider what you're paying for. How many dollars did I just pay to put a commercial on television, and how much did I just pay to feed the family of a hard working programmer living somewhere in Austin?


Chris Wenham is a Team OS/2er in Binghamton, NY with a catchy-titled company -- Wenham's Web Works. He has written comedy, sci-fi, HTML, Pascal, C++ and now writes software reviews.

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