The Measure of Technological Success

Over at Manifest Density, Tom has a couple interesting posts up arguing that the success of Blu-Ray in our marketplace should not be taken as proof that it’s a “better” technology than HD DVD, as many seem to have contended.

Megan’s right [as stated here] that I and a lot of my fellow nerds aren’t very happy about this outcome, but she’s wrong to say that “[e]very time there’s a format war, the losers complain that the inferior product won through nefarious methods.” I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization. In this case I can admit that Blu-Ray is the technically superior standard. Many technologists didn’t like it because it seemed a bit more DRM-laden, because it didn’t seem worth the price premium, and because Sony has behaved very badly with respect to proprietary media formats in the past […]

It’s just that it’s frustratingly obvious that the factors determining a technology’s success frequently have little to do with its capabilities, price, performance or other innate attributes. Rather, they’re the result of quirks of the business environment into which the technology is born.

I don’t think I have much to add to this debate, but I thought it was interesting enough to be worth sharing. I’m not convinced (as some of those in this debate have suggested) that all economists would argue that the “better” technology is the one that succeeds in the marketplace, and I disagree with the criticism that Tom’s idea of technological superiority is devoid of consideration of human and market concerns. I think (in agreement with Tom) that any technology has its pros and its cons in its design, but that these formal features may have little or nothing to do with what plays out in the marketplace in the long run thanks to the quirks of the business world.

It’s important to consider that “better” is subjective to group interests—better for whom? Arguably, Blu-Ray is better for movie studios in the short run view because it seems to offer better DRM. Maybe HD DVD was better for consumers because of less restriction in this way (which, some will certainly argue, would have been better for everyone in the long run, as the lack of rights management in audio cassettes was likely a boon to the music recording industry). We’ll never get to see how this plays out long-term in a real, idealized “market” scenario, though, because some major studios threw their support to one side early and made up consumers’ minds for them.

For my part, I wasn’t interested in committing to an expensive, high-def movie format right now. I must admit, though, that I appreciate the free bag I got from the Consumer Electronics Show much more now because of the HD DVD ad embroidered on the outside. In five to ten years, that will be about as hip as a Betamax t-shirt.

(This entry has been cross-posted at Shouting Loudly.)

What Does Bill Gates Have to Do with the Revenge of the Nerds?

I’m giving a talk on my dissertation research soon, which means figuring out how to distill a few years and a few hundred pages of work into a 40-minute presentation. Kicking around ideas with my advisor about how to do this, he suggested that I post a super-concise core argument for the talk here on the blog just to see what you all think of it. This is what we last discussed:

People have often told me in interviews that it’s “cool” to be geek ever since Bill Gates demonstrated that geeks can be rich—echoing, as it turns out, earlier research that has suggested the same. This may make sense coming from a computer programmer, but for whatever reason, I also hear it from comic book fans, gamers, and plenty of other geeks and nerds who make no claim to computer skill or a lucrative job. The prevailing assumptions of “geek chic” being rooted in economic power, then, may be an oversimplified reflection of a new value accorded to what “geek pride” is really rooted in: intellectual curiosity, on a continuum between the technical and the playful.

What do you think? Is “geeks aren’t rich (and therefore shouldn’t be considered cool because they are rich)” an aha! kind of statement to you? Should the above argument imply (as one person I discussed this with suggested) that geeks are just as powerless as ever if they’re not really making more money than before? Please let me know your thoughts, whether kind or brutally honest. (I do have other parts of the dissertation to draw from, after all.) Thanks!

A Couple Brief Notes

Posting has been sparse here as I take care of a series of important tasks and imminent deadlines. I hope to report some good news soon, at least, about some ongoing research efforts. (Plus, I have about a thousand links to share with you over here.) In the meantime, I wanted to just jot a couple brief notes on things I was afraid I might forget otherwise.

What I Learned from Kane & Lynch: I played Kane & Lynch: Dead Men for the Xbox 360 a few weeks back, and I realized I learned some things about my own tastes in gaming from it.

  1. I don’t mind repetitive gameplay if there is really interesting dialog over it; the shooting makes the dialog feel more intense.
  2. While I enjoy Halo 3, Half Life 2, and certain other games where you save the world/galaxy/universe, in general, I am tired of playing the messiah, and glad to play another sort of character.

  3. I find myself disappointed by games—like Kane & Lynch—that set up a grand plot and then only deliver on half of it. Movies are generally no more than two hours, and games are generally between twice and forty times as long as that. Why can games not tell a complete story in that time span?

Jedis in the Park: While wandering around Rittenhouse Square last night, pondering over how to phrase something I am writing, I came upon a group of people swinging around light sabers. I asked if they were part of some organized light saber group or if they were just, you know, random light saber enthusiasts. They immediately held out the handle of a light saber, inviting me to join, and gave me a colorful flyer, directing me to I was too busy to join, but they were so friendly (and strong with the Force) that I wanted to give them a link.

Links: Geek Shame, the Lulz, and Two Meanings for “Hardcore”

This weekend’s link drop is brought to you by Church, Jordan, Cabral, various Gawker blogs, and the letter Q.

Confessions of a Sci-Fi Addict:
Let’s start with this link-ful post from the Website at the End of the Universe, brought to us courtesy Church. The main link is to a newspaper column titled “Admitting addiction to fantasy, sci-fi books” (“after years secreted in the book closet”). I was just as interested in the links that accompanied this on the referring site, though (such as these great old Worldcon photos), and the claim that “While not exactly in leauge with the civil rights or suffragette movements, geek acceptance has come a long way from the early days of fandom.”

Continue reading “Links: Geek Shame, the Lulz, and Two Meanings for “Hardcore””

Geek Weekend

The problem with being a lone ethnographer working on a multi-site project is that you can only be in one place at a time. This weekend is an exciting and devastating example of that problem, as a number of geeky events are going down around the various places I frequent (and beyond).

Make:Philly: Philadelphia, PA. This Sunday, Make:Philly will be doing an intro to NES video graphics. The Maker Challenge will involve hacking a NES ROM to alter its graphics. It hurts my soul to know that I will miss this. Tune in to Geekadelphia to find out how it goes if you can’t make it, either.

Geek Week: Utica, NY. Church emails me to let me know that this is “Geek Week” at SUNYIT. Lots of gaming, science-fiction, and rocket-building will ensue.

“The idea is to bring people together to enjoy the things they’re passionate about,” Brenda Dow, alumni and advancement services officer, said in a news release.
“Everyone has a hobby or a pastime they engage in to the point of ‘geekiness,’ whether it’s technology, sci-fi movies, gaming or something else.”

Arisia 2008: Boston, MA. In Boston, this weekend hosts Arisia, which happens to be the first science-fiction convention I ever attended. The panel I most regret having to miss this year is titled, “What am I? A fan? A geek? A nerd?” Check it out Sunday at 7:00:

What is a geek? A nerd? A fan? A hardcore fan? Which one are you? What does it mean, and should you even care? Discuss how labels affect fandom and what can be done to benefit from or break down the structures that distinguish us.

MIT Mystery Hunt: Cambridge, MA. My time, however, will be spent at the MIT Mystery Hunt, which I have been meaning to (and unable to) attend in person for several years in a row. Depending on where I get a job after I graduate this year, I figure it may be my last chance to attend it for awhile (or at all), and my last chance to get in some time at MIT before I finish the dissertation.

I am also remiss in my blogging duties as of late, thanks to all my recent travels and other work duties. In the coming days/weeks, anyway, expect some updates and photos from the last Make:Philly, Nerd Nite Boston, the Consumer Electronics Show, and the Mystery Hunt.

Links: From Closet Geeks to Sexiest Geeks Alive

Christmas was typically geeky (for me) in the Tocci household this year, netting one Mario brothers t-shirt, two comics, four Xbox 360 games, one PS2 game, one DS game, and the new They Might Be Giants album. I also had the opportunity to introduce my girlfriend’s family to the Guitar Hero series, graciously lent by my brother Stephen. Now I am turning my attention back to papers, the dissertation, and taking stock of the links I’ve gathered to clutter up my browser lately.

Continue reading “Links: From Closet Geeks to Sexiest Geeks Alive”