P Nathan on Fri, 18 Dec 1998 01:25:29 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> net.times, not swatch time

I enjoyed Geert's timely essay, and share even more with Joost's
perspective.  To add to this discussion, I question whether the concept of
Internet Time posits any real significance, now that timekeeping moves
into the realm of personal communicators. 

During 1989-92, I worked on a personal communicator project for Motorola's
corporate leaders in Schamberg, Illinois, here in the US. My assignment
was to refine a neural net application for handwriting recognition, to be
embedded in the PCS deployed/marketed along with the Iridium satellite
system.  I also assisted in product design, in terms of helping to
identify strategic applications for the new devices, and authoring
proprietary white papers to that end.  Looking back, we considered many of
the issues unrealistic in the context of current cost and marketability
(battery limitations, known cancer hazards from antennae, etc.) circa
early 1990's.  And frankly, I've ignored cell phones until now, on the
basis that they were far too trivial. 

Now, in the holiday gift/shopping season of 1998, consumer rates for
digital PCS here in my home region of Texas have fallen abruptly well
below that of residential phones (US$30/month for PCS vs. US$50/month for
residential phone, given typical usage).  These devices include email,
timekeeping, phone lists linked into caller ID, shared calendars, and the
eventuality of localized public broadcast, e.g. road conditions, map info,
weather, etc. -- in short they've finally deployed functionality that we'd
helped to specify nearly a decade earlier.  I'm pleasantly astonished by
the number of people who are abandoning their home phones in lieu of PCS,
myself included. This portends grave consequences for the regional phone
service monopolies, which count their subsidies based on the ubiquity of
the (land-based) service that they supply. 

What also strikes me is the rich utility and hence the displacement
inherent in PCS devices.  They hint at delivering on the promise of
wearable computers, and bring back to mind a survey of wearables that I
wrote years ago in Mondo 2000. 

In particular, PCS track time via broadcast packets.  They provide
timekeeping in a much more personal way than any would-be Internet portal
such as CNN or Swatch could ever deign to supply.  My home office
workstation with Netdate installed and its periodic NTP queries are
delightful adjuncts, but I love more the fact that I can carry a small PCS
and save US$20/month on my phone bill at the same time, while enjoying
just as good of a personal timepiece. 

In this context, the idea of accessing a remote web site for an "Internet
Time" update -- let alone news, weather, stocks, etc. -- seems absurd,
since that information is simply broadcast to my PCS. 

Moreover, no portal can claim to have received my hits, nor claim its
advertising revenue as a consequence.  Following the lure of this
asymptote, the more sophisticated PCS are currently hybrids of PalmTop
plus digital cell products, wherein the desktop browser (and for now, its
myriad graphics, javascripts, adverts, etc.) also gets displaced by an
integrated environment which includes my contact info, passwords,
encryption, real ability for conferencing and chat, etc. That obviates my
need for the current direction of portal development. 

If Swatch, eToy, et al., appear to make absurdist moves at grasping for
our well of collective attention reserves, in my opinion it may be because
timekeeping devices -- and for that matter Internet portals, free email
servers, and more -- are soon to be displaced from the market. 

The evil greed implicit in the mass consumer culture of PCS is that
bandwidth allocation is a heavy-handed, government-controlled bidding
process of arbitrage on a grand scale.  That which owns the marketable
spectrum, for now at least, also owns the features to be marketed, and the
keys to the devices that will be permitted to interconnect.  As a
corollary, the popular use of PCS must hail and perpetuate the pyramidal
powerstructure of Establishington, D.C., which will happen, but it also
provides perhaps a tenable alternative infrastructure to collecting
Internet taxes. 

Lest this appear as an absinthesis of disinfortablishment rhetoric, I
recognize well the privacy problems due to intercepted transmissions.
However, digital tranceivers promise as much or more privacy, by
definition, that the medium in which you receive this email. 

There you have it: MSIE, Hotmail, CNN, Swatch, Internet taxes, RBOCs,
etc., become moot points, while PCS culture basks in the morning of its
ascendent, and governments extract even more status quo from the shift. 
Qualcomm displaces Netscape, for a fleeting moment, as yet another
harbinger of the new villennium. 


> >"Internet Time represents a completely new global concept of time: No Time
> >Zones. No Geographical Borders. Swatch has divided the virtual and real
> >day into 1000 "beats". One Swatch beat is the equivalent of 1 minute 26.4
> >seconds. That means that 12 noon in the old time system is the equivalent
> >of @500 Swatch beats."
> I suppose this is their original text and it is funny that it is in fact
> dead wrong: @500 swatch beats may be noon in biel, but without timezones
> that means morning in Rotterdam or night in Hongkong. 
> It seems their idea is even a bit too radical for their own copywriters ?
> I think in the end the reason why global time without timezones did not
> work (and will not work in the near future) is because it makes sense to
> have a time which reflects human biorhythms. Time now is linked with light
> and dark and that is very important. I only have to look out of my window
> to feel that it is winter and gloomy and dark. One global time will only
> work if a lot of people have a truly global perception: if in every minds'
> eye there is an image of how the sunlight and shadow are distributed
> around the globe. Or if people start living in space. That sort of thing. 
>                Joost Rekveld
> -----------    http://www.xs4all.nl/~rekveld

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