By the time you read this, your humble correspondent will be hiding in the press room at Internet World, the big trade show for those in The Industry. I'm planning to have a very specific kind of miserable time—the kind you had when you were a kid at Christmas and, no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't whine enough to make a pony appear under the tree.
My needs are simple. I've never been the cutting-edge kind; my computers are generally a few megahertz behind the times, and I never met a software upgrade I couldn't ignore for at least a few months. I don't need videophones, 3-D gaming, a smart house, a virtual-reality mountain bike, an MP3 car player, or any of the other allegedly It toys.
All I want is for someone to reinvent the AM radio.
Oh, there're plenty of inventions here. It's just that no sane person gives a fuck about them. For instance, some fool in Switzerland has invented "Internet time." This is an actual increment of time, the ".beat," packaged exclusively (surprise!) by Swatch. Now, is that to make my life better, or to let Swatch cash in on a tired clich鿍
The short description of the Swatch Internet .beat watch is "lameass." The long description is "divides the day into 1,000 segments and claims Swatch headquarters in Switzerland as the international mean-time location." To publicize this, the marketing geniuses at Swatch have absconded with a ham-radio frequency and are planning to broadcast .beat-related messages on it for several weeks.
I know you've been craving an entirely new measurement of time—you who had to double-check that spring-forward/fall-back mnemonic two weeks ago—and the good citizens of the ham-radio community are at least as happy as you are. The Swatch people are taking the position that this is "a great opportunity for Amateur Radio to gain an even wider audience"—which, as one ham operator pointed out, is like getting your name in the paper as a mugging victim. Swatch is stealing non-commercial airspace in order to broadcast ads; in turn, those ads are being written for free by people hoping to cadge their 15 .beats of fame from the Swatch marketing department. If that's not a parable for the whorish state of the Web today, nothing is.
But I'm not here to talk about Swatch and its lameass .beats. I'm here to send an SOS to Rob Glaser and the other folks at RealNetworks, who are the only people who can save me from this trade-show hell. Rob, darlin', I've been a fan since back when you were Progressive (as in the political movement) Networks. I don't care what my tech-writer friends say about Microsoft getting set to whup y'all; I don't care about the cool kids and their MP3s.
All I want is a RealRadio—a box that'll play those crazy streaming sounds. I'm an old-fashioned girl, and I miss the old-fashioned thrill of picking up a signal from halfway across the planet, like we used to do back in the days of all-night AM broadcasting and, yes, ham radio. I don't give a rat's ass about "CD-quality sound." I just want to be able to switch on a box and hear, say, All India Internet Radio, or Antenna's Japan-o-Rama show. Do what you have to do. Mate a videophone and a Rio MP3 player if need be. I'm begging. It's you wacky, retroRealNetworks guys I adore, and it's you who can heal my jaded heart.
Or at least get me out of the press room.