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Digital lifestyle, Part II

Jan 23, 20064 mins
Enterprise Applications

My column the week before last on “The myth of the digital lifestyle” provided some interesting feedback (much of which you can read on Gibbsblog).

I asked, “Will missing Fox News cause me mental anguish and make me dangerously uninformed?” to which reader Jim Turner replied, “No, but watching Fox news will. At [least anyone] who can tell polemics from serious discussion.”

Media criticism aside, this lifestyle thing is now not only digital; it is mobile. A quick search reveals that Siemens, HP and any number of publications think a mobile lifestyle is a slam-dunk part of modern life.

Quite obviously, what the companies touting digital and mobile lifestyles are trying to do is create a marketing platform, a way for people to redefine their lives based on the products the vendors want to sell.

“Surely not, Mark,” you are probably saying. “Surely, they wouldn’t be that crass and manipulative!” Alas, gentle reader, that’s exactly what they are being.

The problem is the digital or mobile lifestyle isn’t actually better or easier or more satisfying than the analog lifestyle. Many of you wrote in to say computer technologies that are supposed to be making life easier just aren’t doing the trick.

Reader Robert Spooner, who bought a Sony DVD player at Christmas, said, “One of my daughter’s DVDs (admittedly with scratches) would crash the firmware in a completely repeatable way. I had to unplug the player, because I couldn’t even turn it off, let alone get it to respond to any other button or remote-control command.”

He found that a second DVD player of the same model crashed in exactly the same way, and the seller told him that, from his experience, the manufacturer’s response would be some variation of “Buy a new DVD” or “Don’t play that DVD.”

Spooner continued: “We’ve gone back to using our old DVD player in spite of its lesser capabilities. At least it doesn’t crash when given bad input data. The digital lifestyle is truly a myth.”

I feel your pain. Over the last few years I have purchased five DVD players, and all of them exhibit bugs, mostly of the freezing-picture kind. My son figured out that jumping back a few seconds and then hitting play usually fixes the problem. (Out of the mouths of babes.) While this works, it is a terrible solution. The problem is kids are growing up with these kinds of solutions.

Is that what the digital lifestyle is all about? Papering over the cracks?

Reader James Bandinelli wrote: “Meanwhile back in the real world, who’s taking care of our sewage and water systems, electrical grids, sky walkers, welders, builders, real life infrastructure stuff. It appears to me we have a generation that knows little to nothing about these things. . . . Is the digital world resulting in us losing the [interest, knowledge and know-how] of our forefathers?”

That’s a really interesting question. The cause is partly explained by the need for the next generation to deal with the technology of the world as they find it. Certainly, there was a time when some father somewhere lamented his son’s interest in cars and wondered who would know how to look after the horses in the future.

But the fact is we have to accept the digital lifestyle (the real evolving one rather than the evanescent marketing version) as inevitable. So the biggest question is, can it serve us better? Will it give us greater ease and comfort? Will it make our lives easier and more productive?

You know what? You, the people reading this column, are the ones who can make sure that a real digital lifestyle comes into being. The systems you build and the products you engineer, the way you educate people and the way you talk about IT, these are the things that will make the difference between the hype and the reality. Are you up for the challenge?

Tell us at or discuss on Gibbsblog.


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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