The myth of the digital lifestyle

The recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas brought back stark memories of Bill Gates delivering his keynote presentation on “the digital lifestyle,” a topic Microsoft had been touting for some time, at last year’s show.

According to various reports, the presentation was somewhat ambitious, with Gates attempting to move “live” digital content seamlessly from one device to another with all sorts of bells and whistles that should have added up to one really sexy presentation.

Gates forgot the First Rule of Presentations (essentially a restatement of Murphy’s Law): No matter how slick the demo is in rehearsal, when you do it in front of a live audience, the probability of a flawless presentation is inversely proportional to the number of people watching, raised to the power of the amount of money involved.

So it was that Gates wound up on stage with his digital device in his hand and marketing egg on his face. One of his goals had been ostensibly simple: to transfer photos wirelessly from a Nikon camera to a Windows Media Center PC. The PC did what Windows has been known to do, shall we say, “occasionally”: It froze. There, on stage, in front of an audience of thousands, a bright, shiny PC turned into an expensive boat anchor.

As if that round of humiliation wasn’t enough, a Microsoft product manager tried to demonstrate a new Xbox game. The gods of presentations that had humbled Gates decided to stick it to the project manager as well, and up popped the “blue screen of death” with a warning that system memory was exhausted.

Are we surprised? Not even slightly. If the richest man in the world, backed by some of the smartest engineers in the world, can’t pull off a canned demo, what hope is there for Joe Average to get any more than a headache from his digital lifestyle?

In his show, Gates also transferred a news broadcast from a home system to a cellular phone, then to an office system and finally to a workstation in an airport. Throughout all these transfers the news broadcast apparently continued to play. Yawn.

Let’s be honest. As neato as it might be to juggle content, media and devices with wild abandon, who really cares? Do I need “CSI Miami” available anywhere at any time? No. Will missing Fox News cause me mental anguish and make me dangerously uninformed? No.

It’s one year on, and the digital lifestyle remains no more than a marketing ploy. It’s defined by services that aren’t needed, cost too much, and rely on technologies that are naive, over-architected and underdeveloped.

Until Gates can deliver a flawless demonstration of the digital lifestyle that shows something other than the ever-more exotic and less reliable ways to consume the same old content, we can rest assured the digital lifestyle will remain fabulously irrelevant.

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–Is your lifestyle digital or analogue?

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