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Dick Hobbs. TV-Bay Magazine
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by Dick Hobbs
Issue 97 - January 2015

Charles Holland Duell, United States Commissioner of Patents from 1898 to 1901, is supposed to have said "Everything that can be invented has been invented". It is pretty certain that this is a completely apocryphal story, of course, but it sticks in the memory.

In fact, we have a verified quotation from him which says more or less the exact opposite: "In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold."

Recently I have been looking at a document called Digital Trends Report 2015. I should warn you that this comes not from one of the trusted research companies but from Hotwire, which describes itself as "a global PR and communications agency dedicated to helping ambitious companies change their game, build their reputation, and stand out from the crowd".

I should probably also warn you that they are probably not even very good at their stated aims, if their inability to create a PDF is anything to go by. If you embed the font, guys, it will not get replaced by Courier, screwing up your arty layout. Not what you call a "unified digital experience", chapter one of your report.

Anyway, bitching aside, the report suggests that the next big thing will be the anti-tech movement. "While there are many early adopters out there scrambling around to get their hands on the latest smartwatch or iPhone," they write, "there are a group of much cooler kids working out ways to kill tech altogether.

"Welcome to the era of the neo-luddite. They're here to make sure you switch off."

Incidentally, guys, good communication practice would want you to say there is a group rather than there are a group. Or is that me being a pedant again?

The suggestion is that digital refuseniks, who go on digital detox weekends, will become a major trend. Back in August someone came up with the idea of the "noPhone", a solid block of plastic in the shape of an iPhone to give neo-luddites something to do with their hands. In a masterstroke of irony, they took to technology to try to raise Kickstarter funding.

This musing on neo-luddism was started by an email I recently received from one of the largest vendors in the broadcast business, Imagine Communications. You may well have got it, too. "What's on your wish list for 2015?" it asks. Share your priorities with them and you could win one of three GoPro cameras.

Well I thought about it, and came to a conclusion on what I would like the technology industry to do in 2015. It is probably not what Imagine wants to hear so I have not entered the GoPro draw.

I think the technology industry should stop trying to invent stuff for 2015. Not stop forever: that would be silly. But just back off for now.

That is not to say the engineers all get to spend the year mountain biking. What I would like them to do is to refocus the priorities. In particular, I would like them to finish what they have already announced before they start on anything new.

We have all of us got used to the whole industry decamping to Las Vegas every April and Amsterdam every September. Sales directors demand that there will be lots of shiny new gadgets to unveil at NAB and IBC. Marketing directors would like to know what these shiny new gadgets will be three months in advance so they can give them glamorous names, design colour schemes and write press releases.

The result is that R&D departments spend the three or four months before each big exhibition - which, in practice, is the day after they unpack from the last big exhibition - sitting in briefing meetings, sketching ever simpler explanations of what the gadget does on whiteboards, and explaining with exemplary patience that no, it cannot go in that form factor because it needs to be big enough for an ethernet port, a control panel and a fan.
So here is my radical proposal, which I humbly present to the industry at no cost (although immortalisation as the Hobbs Principle would perhaps be fitting). In even numbered years, NAB and IBC will remain the orgy of new product announcements that they have been for decades.
In odd numbered years, NAB and IBC will take place at the same time and in the same place, but product announcements will be banned. Rather than waving vaguely at objects with NEW! in red letters above them, representatives will be able to spend time talking to delegates about the challenges their businesses are facing. Who knows: they might even be able to reach a collaborative solution which actually works.

I hope you will all join me in making our motto for 2015 "no more innovation just now, thank you".

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Contributing Author Dick Hobbs.

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