February 16, 1999 -- Newsletter #15

By Joe Burns


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February 16, 1999 -- Newsletter #15
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors...

Again I'm sitting here on the couch looking blankly at my Gateway screen. My wife's reading something by Fannie Flagg and the cats are asleep. It's a good time to get a thought process started.

The door to my office at school has a little sign on it that reads "College Professor: Will Think Great Thoughts For Food." I'd like to hit you with one of those Great Thoughts right now.

What about the Meepzork?

I teach a lot of what people call "nuts and bolts" classes. I deal with things: computers, radio equipment, television equipment. I show students how they run and what to do with them. So, as a way of making students start to think past "flip a switch, this happens," I ask them:

"What about the Meepzork?"

No, I'm not going existential, but you can see it from here. The "Meepzork" is my own, made-up word that represents the next completely different thing on the planet. But more than being something new and different, like, for instance, a sonic toothbrush, the Meepzork comes out of seemingly nowhere and captivates the public.

Here's an example. The record album was a Meepzork; the compact disc was not. Sure, the compact disc was different, but the effect was the same: It played previously recorded music.

Can you see where I'm going with this?

Okay, the time was 1920. If you wanted to hear music, you played it on a piano or sang it yourself. Then came radio. It was a Meepzork. And at that time people thought, "Radio is it. We have found a way to transmit sound across hundreds of miles." It captured a nation. People flocked to the radios in the evening to hear Fibber McGee and Molly, The Lone Ranger, and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. What could be better?


Another Meepzork. Yes, it was similar to radio (like the record and CD example above), but there was something very different about it. There's more to the Meepzork than just popularity. It has to completely overshadow what came before. The microwave is not a Meepzork because people still use the oven. Do you see?

The computer was a Meepzork. Out of nowhere came this box that could think. Traditional methods of doing business were changed and basically dropped from the face of the earth because of the computer. I saw a documentary once on the history of the personal computer. It talked about the first time an accountant saw a spreadsheet working on a monitor; he saw the columns and rows add up by themselves. Apparently the accountant cried. (The reason given was that he was so happy about this new machine, but I think he realized he'd be out of a job within a year.)

So, there it was, 1988. Pundits and great thinkers came together to proclaim it had All Been Invented. We were living in a world where all was well. The great ideas of the past would take us into the future of...

...the Internet.

Wow! What a Meepzork this thing is. To begin with, it's different than anything that was available before it. It is beyond popular. It has changed the way we do business, communicate, speak, and meet people. You can spend hours on- line, leaving behind traditional forms of Meepzork entertainment like radio, television, even talking with your family. The Internet is the ultimate Meepzork.

So, here we are. 1999. The new 1000-year span will soon be upon us. The recorded time odometer will tick over the number four to the left. What an amazing time we live in. I can purchase things on-line, play games with people all over the world, send e-mail at the speed of light. I look around and think to myself: It has truly all been invented.

But... what about the Meepzork?


That's that. Thanks for reading. I'll try to stay away from the Great Thoughts for the near future.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France was saved from demolition in 1909 thanks to a Meepzork. The tower had a radio telegraphy antenna on top. Apparently it would have been more of a pain to move the antenna than to simply leave the tower standing.

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