Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The Web is Dead? Gimme a Break!

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Everything is dead these days, apparently. The Web, the phone call, the mouse, e-mail, journalism and even Silicon Valley itself — dead. All dead.

Of course, none of these things is actually dead. But the morbid, attention-getting device of proclaiming various things dead is alive and well.

The tech gossip blog Valleywag said this week that WIRED magazine editor Chris Anderson will proclaim in an upcoming issue that “the Web is Dead.” His point is that Internet access through closed apps are “supplanting the open Web” and therefore the “Web is dead.”

But a blogger for the magazine The Atlantic Monthlypointed out that the magazine’s Michael Hirschorn wrote a vaguely similar story two months earlier called, “Closing the Digital Frontier.” At least the Atlantic had the good sense to avoid the “Web is dead” gimmick.

No matter. The UK newspaper The Sunday Times wrote a story headlined, “The Web is Dead” in April of 2007. They were talking about the death of the Web 1.0 and the rise of the Web 2.0 which “may be destroying civilization.”

Exaggerate much?

Meanwhile, other technologies are dropping like flies. While it’s true that Microsoft’s short-lived Kin and popular Google Nexus One “really are dead, it’s not true, as BeatWeek Magazine proclaimed, that Apple’s “white iPhone 4 is dead” — just delayed a bit.

WIRED magazine’s Clive Thompson wrote recently on the “death of the phone call.” His observation is that since phone calls are becoming less frequent and lengthy, “we’re moving… toward… the death of the telephone call.”

Long popular among unsuccessful lab scientists, the phrase “the mouse is dead” graced the top of “a recent Cult of Mac story about Apple’s new Magic Trackpad pointing device. “TechCrunch said it, too.

(ZDnet’s Jason O’Grady had a different but equally morbid take: “The Magic Trackpad plus the iPad will kill the MacBook. Sigh.)

E-mail has been dead for years. A Google search for the phrase brings up “nearly 400,000 results. Of course, you wouldn’t know it from the amount of time you and I spend on e-mail every day. Wishful thinking, I guess.

The Motley Fool’s Jordan DiPietro even “pronounced Silicon Valley dead, which is terrible news because I live there. His reason is that — spoiler alert! — manufacturing has moved to China, whereas in the old days Silicon Valley companies “had to build factories.” Personally I don’t think assembly lines were ever what set the valley apart from other regions.

In any event, “Larry Ellison proclaimed Silicon Valley dead in 2003. His (always self-serving) point was that the Silicon Valley of the scrappy startup who used to scare giant companies like Oracle was largely a thing of the past. More wishful thinking.

Tech isn’t only dying; it’s also killing. Journalism, for starters. “Journalism is dead. “Print is dead. Even “photojournalism is dead. Of course, you always read about the death of journalism from journalists.

And there’s no end to articles proclaiming this tablet or that cell phone as the “iPad killer” or the “iPhone killer” or whatever. The body count on this gimmick is too high even to quantify.

Twitter even “killed off ‘80s TV dad and Jell-O spokesman Bill Cosby recently. The top-trending Twitter topic this weekend was Cosby’s untimely passing — until Cosby himself went on CNN to disagree. Cosby is only the most recent celebrity falsely rumored to be dead on Twitter.

False rumors of celebrity deaths are Twitter’s equivalent of e-mail chain letters. The people who create them do it for the attention.

I mention this because writers and editors “kill” technologies for the same reason trolls “kill” celebrities — as an uncreative, lazy way to get noticed. Link-baiting proclamations that dominant technologies are dead are little better than the Subject lines of chain letters or the tweets of Twitter trolls who lie about celebrities.

The downside is that it desensitizes readers, causing them to re-adjust their expectations. For example, when we want to write something like “Google Wave is dead” — which happens to be true (Google just announced that they would no longer develop Google Wave as a stand-alone product), casual browsers may assume that somebody is just exaggerating again. There’s a boy-who-cried-wolf effect.

It also creates a kind of “arms race” of outlandish headlines. Yesterday’s “Open Web Under Pressure” headline becomes today’s “The Web Is Dead” which becomes tomorrow’s “Web Massacred In Hail of Gunfire” — and nobody wants that.

So fellow writers, pundits, journalists, editors and columnists: Let’s all agree to stop using the so-and-so-is-dead headline gimmick.

In honor of Meinhardt Raabe, the actor who played the Munchkin Coroner in the 1939 classic, “The Wizard of Oz” (who himself died this year), I would like to now proclaim that proclaiming things dead that aren’t really dead is morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead.

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