Redeeming time

National | Author celebrates the "telecosm," high-tech moves into living rooms, and Microsoft goes back to court

Issue: "Linda Chavez," Jan. 20, 2001

Beating the tyranny of the clocks
The computer age is over, writes George Gilder, and the Internet revolution has just started. The neoconservative commentator turned futurist and stock picker proclaims that a world of connectivity is on the horizon in Telecosm (Free Press). This collection of essays points to a world of limitless bandwidth coming from innovators' ongoing battle with the speed of light, rushing to send more data through fiber optic lines, satellites, and wireless relays. Telecosm presents a cross between the industrial revolution and the space race, with geniuses racing to conquer nature and advance civilization. Mr. Gilder spins complex tales of scientists, inventors, and CEOs working to make high-tech dreams a reality, jumping around from subject to subject in a way that will either thrill or confound readers. He believes that more technology is moving from the "microcosm" based on powerful microchips to the "telecosm" of networks. High-speed communications will soon be as natural as the electricity coming through the walls. What does this mean for the average guy? At the end of the book, Mr. Gilder argues that the telecosm will deliver us from "the tyranny of the clocks." Our lifespans will essentially increase as our need to waste time decreases. We will be delivered from traffic jams, bureaucratic forms, and phone tag. Smart people will have an easy escape from the lowest-common-denominator worlds of television, modern education, and mass advertising. "For business and government, your time is an externality, and you get used to it," Mr. Gilder writes. "They line you up and bore you to tears." All these drains on a most valuable low-tech resource-time-will be met with increasing scorn over the next decade. This won't correct human nature, in his view, but it will create a whole new concept of affluence. High-tech living rooms
Gadgets rule. That's the word from this year's Consumer Electronic Show, the annual trade show that fills Las Vegas with the latest home high-tech wonders. The gala that once introduced the VCR and DVD player this year boasted MP3 players, digital video, and cool wireless gizmos. This will be the year of "personal, portable entertainment," predicted Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. "The PC is like the automobile," he said. "Sure, you can get around by bike, horse, train or scooter, but as the optimal travel tool, the car is hard to beat." His company has a pair of new inventions that it says move beyond the usual consumer windows: the Xbox video game system and the UltimateTV, a cross between satellite TV service and digital VCR. Meanwhile, Intel promoted its MP3 player, a PC camera, and other digital toys. Nokia showed off a set-top computer called the Media terminal. Last year was the best year ever for sales of consumer electronics-even with the economic jitters-and high-tech wants a bigger piece of the action. Unlike the Internet boom, which came from the grass roots and caught the industry by surprise, the high-tech megapowers are getting ready for a tidal wave. Many expect computerized gadgetry to become more popular than the typical PC or laptop. Zero tolerance
Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, the federal judge who ordered a Microsoft breakup, gave an unusual interview criticizing the company. He told The New Yorker that Bill Gates and other executives at the world's most powerful software company act like children. "I think he has a Napoleonic concept of himself and his company," opined the U.S. District Judge, "an arrogance that derives from power and unalloyed success, with no leavening hard experience, no reverses." Mr. Jackson said Microsoft's lead attorney, William Neukom, is "not very smart," but called federal chief litigator, David Boies, the best lawyer ever to appear in his courtroom. Federal judges don't usually give interviews like this. Previous Jackson statements have been used as ammunition against the June 7 decision, in which Mr. Jackson largely agreed with the federal case that the Redmond, Wash., company misused its monopoly power over PC operating systems. In a November appeal, Microsoft's attorneys claimed they had evidence that the decision was biased. Now Microsoft faces a new court challenge: Seven current and former employees filed a $5 billion racial discrimination suit against the software giant. Four of the plaintiffs told reporters that Microsoft passed them over for promotions, underpaid them, created a hostile work environment, and mistreated them for voicing concerns. Microsoft claims it has a "zero tolerance policy toward discrimination," pointing out that nearly a quarter of the company's domestic employees are minorities.

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