Social Enterprise

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Am I uncool?

Reflections after 100 columns and 59 years...

silicon.com is pleased to present a new format for Peter Cochrane's Uncommon Sense columns. Formerly a fortnightly article, Peter's commentary will now appear as a blog, featuring timely missives from around the world.

Here we are at my 101st column for silicon.com, an appropriate point to reflect on the preceding columns and where they might lead in the future.

Indeed, in my 59th year of life I have been doing more reflecting than ever before, especially as my young son recently informed me that I am not cool, and worse, I probably never have been cool. Of course, I beg to differ. Mentally, I never feel any older than 20 and my work is always projecting me into new thinking and a world of young thinkers. But as I shall explore shortly, there are certain physical limitations restricting my natural coolness.

Let me expand on why I have a self-image of coolness. All my music is in MP3 format on computers and a player in my car. I use email, SMS texts, IM, VoIP and a digital camera. I have the latest mobile phone and laptop. The range of software applications I have mastered is extensive and I do all my own network and system support. Hey, I'm an engineer and engineers are supposed to be able to walk on water, aren't they? But cool they are not, it seems.

I write a column because I have always written columns. In fact, I have been doing so on a regular basis for well over a decade but, as my son pointed out, the cool brigade blog. I'm not at all sure if my son has been chatting with my editor, but a few weeks ago she tactfully suggested that I migrate to a blog format that was more spontaneous, more with it and yes, closer to the cool threshold.

I have in no way resisted this blog transition, but I think finishing the silicon.com series of columns at a round number (100) is satisfying, as I am leaving a world of order and symmetry for a world of chaos, spontaneity and goodness knows what else. Of course, this is also signified by the fact that 101 is a doubly prime number, in base 10 and 2, and so it seemed to naturally set the stage.

Given the significant support I have enjoyed from the readership of my Uncommon Sense column over the past two years, and recognising that they too may or may not be cool, I thought I would gently ease into 'blog mode' further down the page.

But before I begin, what is a blog, where did they come from, how many are there and what happens next?

Every generation does something new, changes the paradigm and generally progresses with technology to exploit opportunities and create new modes. Mine laid down the architecture for the PC, created the internet and had a hand in the realisation of email. Following generations came up with mobile phones, SMS, PDAs, MP3, IM, chat lines, VoIP, blogs and more.

Originally it seems blogs - short for 'web logs' - were the forté of the earliest internet geeks who keep journals of their thoughts, discoveries, links and opinions. All were compiled by hand, as there were no fancy tools like FrontPage or Dreamweaver at the time. In 1999 or thereabouts, blogs became cool with companies and customers as well as social groups, which used them for discussions among remote groups. Around this time, a rash of new technologies simplified the process of creating blogs and an increasing number of servers became available to host the works of the fast-growing blogging community.

From 1999 onwards, blogging has grown exponentially and now there are an estimated 400,000 new postings and over 12,000 new blogs every day, with around 11,000 updates every hour.

What do people write about? As far as I can see, anything and everything. Is there a standard format? Not as far as I can see. Are the blogs interesting and informative? Mostly not. I'm sure Mandy's cat is a very nice animal and Mandy a caring owner, but their adventures do not interest me. Nor am I interested in Dan's recent problems with his new laptop and the store that fitted the wrong hard drive. However, one or two blog accounts from Iraq have been very interesting, as are a few blogs covering national and local events.

Are some bloggers the new wave of journalists? Is there a business model and can they get paid? Will companies be able to initiate and support blogs to their advantage? Are blogs a threat to anyone or any group? Perhaps.

Blogging is nascent - no one knows where it is all going or what the end point might be. It may be Guttenberg and the printing press versus the monarchy, government and church all over again. Even the US courts are having difficulty figuring out bloggers' rights under the First Amendment.

Just like Guttenberg, we are looking at a new paradigm with little control and no standards, but with millions of participants. So I have a slight feeling of déj

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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