• United States
IDG Enterprise Consulting Director

A new high in readership!

Jul 10, 20036 mins
Data CenterFinancial Services Industry

The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations– “These Foolish Things,” lyrics by Holt Marvell

Silk stockings thrown aside, dance invitations

Oh, how the ghost of you clings

These foolish things

Remind me of you.

Dear Vorticians,

This is a red-letter week and I have you to thank for it. I’m told by the powers that be that Vortex Digest has surpassed the 5,000 subscriber mark – 5,181, specifically – and I’m thrilled to have so many people reading each week. More important, I’m ecstatic about the continuous stream of feedback I receive from you on the topics discussed in this newsletter. (Some more of that feedback is included at the end of this week’s missive.)

Vortex Digest readers include executives who’ve attended past Vortex conferences, as well as others who signed up after you forwarded them an e-mail or recommended this newsletter to your colleagues. We do very little active marketing of the Digest so my sincere thanks for your word-of-mouth support.

I was torn this week about what to cover – not because I lack for intellectual grist, but because so many things demand reportage. For example, I hope to share some of the insights gleaned from a recent debate I hosted among four leading security vendors about the future of security and the evolution of the threats. I also want to give you a scary look into the mind of one of the nation’s leading spammers, er…online marketers, who I interviewed during a recent Webcast. That discussion will leave you feeling pretty hopeless and helpless about the spam problem.

I’ll get to those in upcoming editions. But this week, I want to ask you a question that was posed to readers of the Sunday edition of the New York Times: Are we addicted to data?

The story, by reporter Matt Richtel, who attended Vortex 2003, cites the example of Vortician – and VC – Charles Lax who, while listening to the speakers on the Vortex podium, was also wirelessly surfing the Web and checking for e-mail on another device.

Vortician Lax, as the article relates, is illustrative of an Always On subculture of executives and others who are constantly connected and constantly juggling information from a variety of sources – something that leads to “a brewing tension between productivity and freneticism.” The productivity gains from our connectivity are offset by the loss of family and personal time – indeed, just quiet time for the brain to digest all the data.

As the executive producer of Vortex, I’m conflicted about offering wireless access at the event. Some show producers have banned it, some have allowed it but only for interaction between those on stage and in the audience.  I’ve got great speakers and content – I want people’s undivided attention. But most attendees want to be able to look up information about speakers’ and their companies during the presentations, and the ability to keep an eye on critical messages makes them more comfortable about being out of the office for an extended period.

Case in point: During a discussion with Jim Ramo, CEO of the Movielink service – movies delivered to PCs over broadband links – one Vortician went to the Movielink site, and didn’t like what he saw. He raised concerns about the quality of the video and what he perceived to be a kludgy experience.

But the Times’ story goes beyond whether our Always On lifestyle affects our conference experiences. Some experts worry that we are suffering now from O.C.D. – online compulsive disorder – and that we get something akin to a short-term dopamine hit from incoming messages and data.

“It’s an addiction,” says Dr. John Ratey, an associate professor at Harvard and an expert in attention deficit disorder. “Without it, we are in withdrawal.”

That’s scary stuff. Is our multitasking and our thirst for information actually hurting our productivity? Studies show that people trying to handle more than one project at once tend to do everything poorly. I’ll admit that e-mail has a powerful procrastinatory impact on me – I can’t resist toggling over from another task to read incoming messages, and keeping a tidy inbox consumes more attention than it probably ought to.

But, worse, are we ruining our lives with all this networking? Have we completely erased the boundaries between work and the rest of existence – arguably, the more important parts of our lives? Are we putting ourselves in a nightmare netherworld between the professional us and the personal us?

At the risk of being flip, send me an e-mail on this Always On phenomenon. How does being constantly connected affect you? What’s the good and evil here? Thoughts to (Needless to say, Vortician Lax, your thoughts are most welcome!)

One final note, here’s a message I received from Vortician Rich Janow on the digital rights mess.

“Dear John, Those of us who believe in the pricing legitimacy and power of markets should be amused (and irritated) by the posturing over intellectual property protection for music and the attempted legal harassment of music lovers that download free music. 

“The markets are saying that the media companies have privacy problems because they are overpricing their product – much the way you get a smuggling problem when you impose arbitrary tariffs or a bootlegging problem when a small band of zealots gets Prohibition on the books.

“The RIAA companies derived most of their value from control of the distribution channels and the technology for copying. Very little wealth flowed to the creators, who historically worked mainly for joy and glory. Thanks to digitization and the net, perfect copies can be sent anywhere at no economic cost, and can be recreated from scratch in low-cost places. This is happening to software and the notion holds for music and other content as well. The real economic value for songs is much lower than it used to be.

“It was fashionable during the ’90s to think that the Net would create powerfully profitable intellectual property markets. I think reality may show otherwise – IP is worth less now per unit, much less. The digital copyright legislation is not in the public interest. It tries to repeal the governing economics and technology by protecting the interests of the few. Having Senator Hatch support such measures is not a surprise.”

Thanks, Rich. That’s it for now. I look forward to your thoughts on the constantly connected life, digital rights management or whatever else tickles your brain. I’m at

Bye now.