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Letters to The Man, Technology

Microsoft and the New Yorker

I’m flipping through the latest New Yorker, which this week has page after page of old New Yorker covers. This seems like a cheap ploy at generating the week’s content except that every New Yorker cover is, literally, a piece of art. Some are from way back, and so I have never seen them before. Others are familiar to me because I have been a subscriber for about two years. I turn from a full-page ad for Microsoft and see an old acquiantance.

It is a line drawing of a young woman sitting on the subway, looking up for that moment when her gaze can connect with that of someone who could potentially be her soul-mate, who is looking up from a copy of the same book while sitting on another subway train. It is likely that they will never connect, but that sort of moment is priceless.

This familiar old rectangle of art that catches my gaze rests on two pages sandwiched between a pair of two-page ads for Microsoft. You have probably seen these ads. They have a lot of line drawings trying to show you the potential great futures of young people in a world run by Microsoft. I thought these ads were kind of cute and interesting when they came out long long ago. But when real art gets 1/9, 4/5 or at most one page, these two-page spreads of recycled platitude look undeniably cheap.

I can not complain, because Microsoft is subsidizing some of my favorite intellectual venues. And I can understand why a company like ADM, which does mysterious things with corn, might produce vague advertisements about how they are making the world better, but given that 90% or more of the readers of the New Yorker are interacting with Microsoft software, often on a daily basis, we need something more then the promise that there is some vaporous connection between Service Pack 2 and the idea that some black kid could grow up to be an astronaut.

Users don’t care so much about the great things that might some day be accomplished by their indirect royalty fees: users want technology to work for them. They want to finish their chores on time and go home and not lose a day’s work to computer gremlins. Users want to be flipping through the pages of the New Yorker and have a little labor saving tip, like how to hook page numbers in to a Word document or somesuch, crawl across their conscience. Then when they get back to the Office, they have something interesting to try, that will make their work better, that will make them appreciate the gentle practicality of Microsoft’s ubiquitous advertising.

Right now they are mostly wasting paper, while their real job is to produce reliable software that helps us to accomplish each our own respective visions, whether they be little black astronauts, or getting out of work on time to get home to the family.

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Categories: Letters to The Man, Technology