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Multimedia at the Event Horizon:
Money and People as Agents of Change

Presentation of Tay Vaughan to the Jointly held
World Conference on Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia
and World Conference on Educational Telecommunications.
June 23, 1998, Freiburg, Germany. Opera House.


Good afternoon. I am greatly honored to have been invited to speak here today, and I would thank the conference organizers, especially Gary Marks and Takis Metaxis, for providing me a most excellent reason to visit Freiburg during the warm days of summer. Thank you for coming to listen.

While I have written a successful textbook about multimedia, and update it with new information in a new edition every eighteen months or so, and I try to keep my fingers on the pulse of change, rarely do I feel like an expert. I am often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of white noise generated by the stormy worldwide computer and information revolution. More often, I am a humble observer tossed about in a wild sea of press releases, hyped new product announcements, and lightning flashes of abstract, newly-discovered technology and entreprenurial business ventures aimed to penetrate carefully predicted marketplaces. More often than not, I can't get to the stack of sixteen or so Windows, Macinctosh, networking, Internet, intranet, video, and graphics magazines that come free to my mailbox every few weeks -- so much information and noise simply churns unread into the wake of progress.
Many of you also sail on this sea of change, and, like me, are distracted by the incessant hiss and roar of many breaking waves. This seascape of the information revolution includes not just one breaking wave, but a myriad tumbling reaches of white froth; in the painted panoramic view, small stickpins secure arcane labels to the many breaking whitecaps: DVD, DSL, P7, NT5, MPEG, DHTML, PTT, IPO, NASDAQ...

Likely, some years ago you chose to sail out upon this sea and charted a course for yourself and your personal vessel of intellectual capital. Perhaps as a graduate student, you pitched forward a bit as the slope of the learning curve increased beneath you, and you steered yourself towards discovery. Your velocity has increased until, today, you may be screaming along at hull speed. With your senses tuned, the frothy edge of your specialty now has hold of your keel. Here, precisely at the crest of your interest, where the sea is most chaotic, you have focused your intelligent energies. As you rush along, you struggle to filter the noise and gain clarity, to discover meaning and purpose in the bubbly froth, to distill and understand the dynamics that rule your part of the sea, to predict where your wave is taking you.

I will be speaking today about the sea, the sea state, the seakeeping abilities of your vessel, vessel design, and general safety at the leading edge. And, carrying this metaphor a step further, I will speak about the crew and fuel for your vessel in the form of people, money, and investment of capital of all sorts.


First, I should like to put the information revolution into perspective by taking a long view backwards in time. Throughout the course of human history there have occured "paradigm shifts," significant events that profoundly shape the future by altering the fundamental patterns of society and behavior. Today's information revolution and the breaking wave currently beneath your keel are part of such a historic paradigm shift. Paradigm shifts are not new phenomena in human history, just rare.

In 1099, my 23rd great-grandfather, Hugh DuPuy from Langeudoc, France, followed a call from Pope Urban II, and went off on the First Crusade with Godfrey of Bouillon to defeat the Turks at Dorylaeum, Nicaea, and Antioch where he became an active part of a paradigm shift. Briefly as governor of Acre, a port city now a few kilometers north of Haifa in Israel, I am sure this grandfather lived fully in his present time frame, solving daily administrative and management problems, dealing with current events, and giving little thought to the effect of his actions a thousand years hence. About ninety years later, Saladin rose to power and routed the Christians, and Pope Clement III declared a Second Crusade. In 1189, my 21st great-grandfather went back to the Holy Lands with King Richard the Lion-Hearted. For generations, some of your own grandfathers may have fought side-by-side or across from mine, with knives, swords, mud, dust, and horse droppings all around.

The Crusades were a time when most of Europe was united in a common interest to indelibly stamp Christian beliefs onto the behavior patterns of the known western world. By setting up the infrastructure to accomplish this and then pulling it off, the crusaders implemented a communications revolution that changed the concept of the universe around them in a substantial way. And the impact of the Crusades, which occurred almost thousand years ago, is still with us.

My friend, Tamara Cohen, who was born and raised in Tel Aviv, tells me with a charming smile that today when an Israeli child is occasionally born with blue eyes, greatly surprising its brown-eyed family, grandmothers whisper "The Crusaders."

About 300 years after the Second Crusade, with the Church a strong power throughout all of Europe, Johann Gensfleisch zum Gutenberg, a trained goldsmith from Mainz, Germany, invented moveable type for printing presses, and he began producing multiple copies of religious literature, indulgence slips, and the Holy Bible. In the case of the Bible, he sold his copies to people who could read Latin and pay the equivalent of three years of a clerk's wage to own a personal copy of this Great Work. Other printers, including the Etienne family in France and Aldus Manutius in Italy, soon entered the publishing marketplace to compete, and they changed the fabric of society. The mass-production of identical copies of text enabled an information-based paradigm shift that changed the human universe in a substantial way. And lots of scribes and illuminators were put out of business as the employment scene changed.

By way of pointing out that some elements of the human equation seem constant throughout history, I would remark that Gutenberg, like many adventurers surfing the waves of today's revolution, took on a financial investor, Johann Fust. Gutenberg, who was a visionary craftsman perhaps better suited to lab and shop work, defaulted on a payment to Fust in 1455, was sued, and lost his press and all its profits. Fust continued making "Gutenberg" bibles. Toward the end of his life, it is said that Gutenberg was granted a place as courtier to the archbishop of Mainz, a position perhaps better rewarding than the diminishing social security plan and Medicare awaiting today's surfer who wipes out while hanging ten at the business edge of the information revolution.

But another phase shift had begun. Like my great-grandfather in the Crusades, I am sure the industrious printers of these times were unaware of the profound impact of their actions. Printing presses enabled an information-based paradigm shift, and changed the human universe in a substantial way. Within a few years, a lot of people had read these Holy Bibles, and there were many philosophical disagreements. Indeed, by the early 1500's, Martin Luther and many others revolted from some of the Pope's ideas and from Roman Catholicism, publishing and distributing their ideas across Europe. A lot of people were stretched, burned, and otherwise tortured for their ideas during this Reformation.

My 10th great-grandfather, Count Bartholomew DuPuy, worked for King Louis XIV in France. In 1685, King Louis declared that only Catholics could live in France, and any Protestants would have to give up their property, be tortured, or even be put to death. Grandfather Bartholomew was a Protestant. He and his young bride, Susanne Levillain, were given a 15-day pardon by the king, and secretly escaped from their family home in Gabrielles with Susanne dressed up like a page boy to get past the guards. They went to Germany where (I am pleased to say) they made children. Then they went to Holland, then to England, and finally, in 1699, they took a ship to Virginia in the New World. In this way, my Huguenot ancestors also suffered from the last great information paradigm shift in human history.

To digress, and because I have used some family history to personalize the notion of paradigm shifts, I would note that any genealogical study quickly reveals the binary nature of human ancestry. When you look back but ten generations, say to the early 1700's, you will find that you have 1024 grandfathers and grandmothers or 1K of blood relatives. As we all know, reproductive history goes two-by-two. Even further aside, you might also consider that quite literally since the dawn of life itself, whether in the Garden of Eden or in a chemically-rich soup, all of your own ancestors have been successful survivors, living at least long enough to produce a child, whether it was one-celled or complex. By Darwin's definitions, those of us in this room represent the very peak of the evolution of life on earth.

The data highway that our early ancestors used was mostly word-of-mouth with occasional letters written in Latin or Greek on animal skins or pressed bleached bark or sometimes in marks on clay tablets and stone. Data packets galloped at horseback speed along muddy low-bandwidth paths. When a horse-and-rider occasionally stumbled off the cliffs and fell into the sea, mail was lost forever - just like when the head of your hard drive accidently flys into the spinning memory coating just microns away. Mostly, the information content carried along this highway was about political power, war, and taxes, and it was controlled by a ruling elite: at one time, literacy was punishable by death, not rewarded by advanced degrees.

In today's information revolution, instead of printing presses, leather covers, paper, ink, and moveable type, we have the Internet, CD-ROMs, laserwriters, Pentium processors, 64-bit audio boards, video digitizers, high-resolution color monitors, and Windows with or without Internet Explorer. Instead of a few priceless books in our home library, each worth double a new Mercedes 500SL, or thousands of books in a central repository many kilometers away, our information library is richly limitless and accessible from almost anywhere by almost anyone in the developed world.

These are exciting times. We are creating new tools and reshaping the very nature of information and how it is accessed and presented. While we struggle to understand which tools work and how to use them, we are INVENTING the future. Indeed, our inventions today, the very researches and discoveries being discussed at this conference, may appear as blue-eyed surprises, a thousand years from now. They are the warp and, with advances in hardware, the woof of today's paradigm shift.

When they explored the nature of electricity less than two centuries ago, I am sure that Count Alessandro Volta, Andre Ampere, Georg Ohm, Charles Coulomb, Joseph Henry, and Heinrich Hertz would have been quite surprised to learn that their names and life's work would become tightly woven into the complex language of our life today, if not stamped on every electrical appliance made.

These are birthing times when our explorations and researches along the leading edge CONTRIBUTE to the paradigm shift and define it. I would like to think that one of you, here in this room, may become the "Gutenberg" or the "Volta" of this information and multimedia revolution. From your vision at the frothy leading edge of your wave may emerge fundamental principles or inventions. For your inventions and discoveries, one of you could be remembered for a thousand years... whether you die penniless and poor or wealthy beyond dreams.

Agents of Change

People and money together are the agents of change in the information revolution. People are the creators and inventors; money fuels and enables testing of the ideas. The ideas themselves are wrung from chaos while financial adventurers bet on uncertain futures.

The story goes that a doctor, an architect, and a computer scientist were arguing about whose profession was the oldest. In the course of their arguments, they got all the way back to the Garden of Eden, whereupon the doctor said, "The medical profession is clearly the oldest, because Eve was made from Adam's rib, and that was an incredible surgical job." The architect disagreed. He said, "But if you look at the Garden itself, in the beginning there was chaos and void, and out of that, the Garden and the world were created. So God must have been an architect." The computer scientist, who had listened to all of this, said "Yes, but where do you think the chaos came from?"

Many of you, indeed, might be called "computer scientists," because computers form the backbone of the information revolution. Working in the void and sculpting organization from the chaos of breaking seas is a familiar but tough task.

On this chaotic sea of change are large vessels and small, manned by agile and smart local and multi-national crews. The large ships are megalithic institutions -- the banks, national telecoms, Fortune 500 corporations, and governments. The smaller vessels are startup businesses, academic research projects, and corner shops designing Web pages and server-based solutions. These little guys get tossed about in the froth; the big guys are backing and filling while their executives work in the chart room to make sense of shouted reports from their lookouts. Large or small, navigating a course through this chaos is difficult and dangerous. There be dragons here.

CEOs, division presidents, and soothsayers live near the chartroom. Other researchers, entrepreneurs, and visionaries on vessels too small to boast chartrooms and splendid midnight suppers, work with portable gear in spray-drenched cockpits. All are hard at work to divine the currents and wind direction and to pilot a successful course into the information future.

Off the edge of the charted sea is the unknown. Here are risks and hazards. Here are dragons to disturb the sleep of the mariner. Here, also, are great rewards -- the gold and spice brought back from the future to be converted into the everyday present -- treasures that change the human universe in a substantial way.

In the information industry, CEOs seeking to staff their new media projects complain that university graduates are typically 18 months behind the leading edge, and require significant on-the-job training to get up to speed.

Indeed, if you are a tenured professor, your vessel is likely more stoutly built than a surfboard, and poverty is not a personal fear as you ride the wave, with post-tenure peer review but a distant swell. Experienced mariners agree that somewhere behind the crest is the safest water of all -- where the rudder has good purchase and the shape of the wave remains steady. In this position, you may be further from the big rewards, but further also from big risks.

Consultants advise and predict while they struggle to maintain a knowledge base larger than their clients' The delta between these information bases is immensly valuable to worried CEOs hard at work in the chartroom, and has generated a class of highly-paid forecasters and implementers who specialize in measurement, analysis, prediction, planning, and risk management. EDS, Andersen, IBM, Cap Gemini, and many others claim to have teams with more precise instruments, greater experience, and broader information resources than available to a company in-house. Working aboard the great ships, they plan courses in the direction of "profitable growth," merging old-fashioned "management consulting" into more modern "information systems design." They relieve anxiety and occasionally responsibility, too. In the information revolution, information is money. In the best case, looking upstream into the sunlight of a consultant's knowledge advantage, you will never know if your consultant is a few steps of arcane code ahead of you, or several light-years. But it doesn't matter: success is measured by the bottom line.

Electronic management of information shows at the bottom line in bidding and purchasing, inventory control, customer service, sales and marketing, delivery of services, and retail: GE Lighting claims a 30% reduction of bidding and procurement labor costs; IBM Personal Systems announces a $500 million savings using electronic inventory control; Cisco Systems estimates improved customer service productivity of 200 to 300%, saving US$125 million; Hardware merchandiser Grainger states that 50% of orders on the Internet are placed after 5pm and before 7am; Airline ticketing costs $8 per ticket for an agent using a computer reservation system, $6 per ticket when booked directly with the airline, and only $1 per "electronic ticket."

If you are a student researcher, a programmer, a graphic artist, a database specialist -- you may be in the emerging middle class of knowledge workers. You are likely working in the engine room, and may seldom glimpse the chaos viewed from the bridge. Indeed, you are often consumed as fuel in the heat equation of progress. There are not enough of you. The Information Technology Association of America recently predicted a severe shortage of competent and skilled information-technology workers in the U.S., claiming that today there are 346,000 vacancies representing 10% of all jobs for computer programmers, engineers, system analysts. The Commerce Department predicts that the U.S. will need more than 1.3 million new info-tech workers in the coming decade. Some CEOs would like to import this fuel from less costly resources abroad.

A million of anything is mind-boggling. Start counting to a million, incrementing by one every second: (One) (Two) (Three) in a minute you have counted to sixty; in an hour to 36 hundred. In 277.77 hours you will reach a million - that's 11.57 24-hour days of non-stop counting, no pizza, no beer.

On this sea, often riding in sleek Miami-type power boats, are also high-tech venture capitalists whose job it is to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of other people's money. They specialize in locating vessels steering courses close to the edge yet diligently aimed towards treasure, and will come alongside to sell fuel and other logistical support in exchange for an interest in the booty brought home. A rule of thumb among these operators is that four of five of their investments will fail, but the staggering reward of the successful fifth venture will not only cover the cost of the failures, but will realize immense additional profit. Often the chartwork of these adventurers is no better than the soothsayers and consultants, but they are burdened with the obligation to spend money, and will occasionally jerk at the knee. Once, when I was raising capital for a risky course, a well-known venture capitalist from California told me "I'm not sure where the "play" is here, but I'll put in a million to be in the game." Perhaps five out of four have trouble with fractions. A decision analyst would tell you that probabilities are subjective, difficult and inexact; experiments show that people generally overestimate the probability of rare events and underestimate the probability of frequent events.

Money and profit will drive our creative ideas into the future, and it will be an international future of networked consumers and global markets. The birth of the Euro as a common European currency, the privatization and merging of the worldwide Telcos, and the popularity of in Helsinki are but bellweathers. If you put your finger to the wind, you will discover that there is change coming from all directions, and large institutions and businesses are paying attention to the information revolution, funding and reshaping their operations to ensure that they will survive. But these often ungainly vessels are nervous in a sea where new ideas and awesome implementations generated by unknown upstarts can be first to the marketplace and to the all-important mindshare of the new age. It is an unhappy company that must slog uphill, blindsided and tacking into the competitor's wake to recapture a market.

Threatening existing approaches to post-secondary education is a new model where competency-based education, available world-wide, changes the old measures of "seat time" and credit hours, and provides a new focus on whether learning has occurred, not on who provided the learning, the credentials of the provider, or how long a student "sat" in class. Such education might be provided by any business or retailer, while a student's competency is measured by a third party. Already, there are more than 5 million distance learners in the United States. Universities and schools worldwide recognize this developing challenge to their way of doing business today, and the more forward-looking are charting courses that will alow their survival into an new educational marketplace. Some of the research presented here in Freiburg speaks directly to this advancing front.

Threatening established telephone companies, startups aiming at the big game are offering TCP/IP Internet-based connections. Sprint has just announced its digital future, where customers will pay according to the number of bits they send and receive, not the time it takes.

Indeed, in the long view, those with too great an investment in old fashioned ways and who are too slow to change, risk foundering. In fact, you can go broke sticking to old-fashioned ways. Here I will repeat my underlying theme: "While it is difficult to predict the future, if you are navigating a vessel on the sea of change, you must go forward!" Like an winged aircraft, if you cease moving ahead, you will sink. Half a century ago, corporations developed 20-year plans; today they are uncertain about their 3-year plans. The rate of change over a given amount of time has increased. To most of us, it is chaotic.

Some people suggest that if you go flying back through time and you see somebody else flying forward into the future, it's probably best to avoid eye contact.

Well, I would propose that you suppress your guilt and stop for a while to chat. Offer him or her a Coke or a box of Pez. Talk about your family. It is likely that you will discover that your fellow traveler's view of the past is the same as yours from the future. Change and its attendant load of anxiety is ubiquitous -- a normal part of the human condition as time flows beneath our keel. We are today living through a great paradigm shift on a thrilling, challenging, chaotic, and sometimes scary ride.

Again, thanks very much for coming.