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Better Place to Be

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My last post on this site is dated December 2010. Luckily no squatters took residence in my absence. I stopped writing here simply because I didn’t have time. My responsibilities for BetaNews commanded too much of me, and I shifted personal blogging to Google+. Both are fine places to live—shared common areas—but I seek solitude and escape from the daily news grind; also, I’m sick to death of tech.

I’m not a computer or gadget geek. It’s just my career path. Twenty years ago this autumn, what was then Washington Journalism Review, now American Journalism Review, posted a story that changed my life: “The Future is Now” by Kate McKenna.

She convinced me that we stood at the precipice, where the burgeoning public Internet would forever change publishing. Many people reading my post won’t remember. In October 1993, there were no commercial web browsers yet. Mosaic 1.0 released a month later. Netscape Navigator 0.9 hit public servers a year after McKenna’s story published. She truly identified an emerging trend.

Good journalism isn’t neutral. As investigative reporter Matti Taibbi asserted last month:

All journalism is advocacy journalism. No matter how it’s presented, every report by every reporter advances someone’s point of view… to pretend there’s such a thing as journalism without advocacy is just silly; nobody in this business really takes that concept seriously. ‘Objectivity’ is a fairy tale invented purely for the consumption of the credulous public, sort of like the Santa Claus myth. Obviously, journalists can strive to be balanced and objective, but that’s all it is, striving.

All writing is storytelling, for which there is an objective point of view—first, second or third person—and targeted audience. Based on her reporting, McKenna advocated where she saw print publishing going. I immediately recognized the truth in it.

Months earlier, in the same publication, John Morton did not convince me, and the 21st Century proves him wrong. He wrote, in June 1993 WJR:

Futurists say that in time we will carry around electronic newspapers in our pockets, ready to be whipped out to provide instant news, stock quotes and a wealth of other information that now requires reading a printed newspaper or picking up a telephone…Newspapers, though, serve a mass market now and likely will serve a mass market in the future. And the fact is, most consumers really do not have a pressing need for instant information.

My wife and I discussed making changes, from my reading of the October WJR story. She was pregnant and wouldn’t return to graphic design. I worked as as a lowly-paid editor for a general interest magazine, barely able to use the IBM PC at my desk. In January 1994, I bought a Windows 3.1 computer from a friend, who built the machines for a living—screaming Intel processor and 4MB or RAM, state of the art.

I set out to learn about computers and soon changed jobs, editing a popular medical devices newsletter. In November 1994, I took the first tech writer’s position at an insurance trade publication. Later reporting at trade pubs led to a staff position at CNET News in May 1999.

Over the next 14 years, I made a good career writing about tech. But the job never fit right. Computers aren’t my passion. Nor cell phones. I switch devices, even platforms, often because my work demands keeping abreast of the newest thing. It’s a treadmill to nowhere—a hamster wheel. There is always going to be something new. The cycle of chase is endless.

Two decades going down this path, another calls. I am reevaluating personal and work priorities. My mom went to hospital twice in May, the second following a heart attack. My 91 year-old father-in-law recovers from an emergency room visit and hospitalization at the new year. Their situations remind: You can always get more money, but time is gone forever.

Meanwhile, I am dissatisfied with tech news, which is more about spreading gossip than real reportingchanging economics and the rise of aggregators are major catalysts. The business model of giving away content for free, recouped through advertising, is a bottomless pit of false rewards. There is too much available advertising space for ad rates to support paying for good content. Writers cannot sustain a living, and readers are cheated from the immersive experience that, say, books—or newspapers of old—bring.

So I step back. For years my personal motto was “Why not?” In 2013, started as “Change the rules” and now is “Movement is life”. I’m an anarchist, in some ways, a believer that disruption brings positive change. That’s the start of my tech writing career, looking at how the Internet would disrupt news and information.

I’m tired of writing stories about technology. I want to use it to tell stories, and earn a living in process. The How is a work in progress. Storytelling is a better fit. I like how it feels.

Storytellers use many forms. I chose the title of this post in homage to singer-songwriter Harry Chapin, whose lyrics brought forth wayward characters, like ballad “Better Place to Be”, from album “Sniper and Other Love Songs“. The reference also is about change, which starts with dusting off this abandoned site that bears my name. Photos for archival posts were sized for a different WordPress theme. Pardon that. I’m still housecleaning, which will include migrating content from Google+ to this site.

But writing here will be occasional and purposeful. My storytelling plans are more ambitious.

Editors Note: Any posts between December 2010 and this one were later copied from Google+.


  1. Chips_B_Malroy says on July 23, 2013

    Mr. Joe Wilcox,

    I have not commented on your Betanews blogs or any since you parted ways with Eweek (MS Watch). But I admit, that I always found your posts intriguing, although I disagreed with many. Did detect a boredom with your interest in the nuts and bolts of technology somehow, as you are basically admitting in this blog. Sometimes your idea’s are very clearly written, and other times you seek to hide your idea’s with the facts presented both ways so as to not be labelled a fanboy. But I agree with your point that an article will almost always advocate a point of view either threw facts presented or outright.

    I do miss reading your article on this quarter’s MS financial results. Nokia’s and Google would have been a bonus too an that article. Hope that one article would still be forthcoming? As someone interesting in history, I see this quarter as the beginning of the Decline of Microsoft Windows. Sort set to the tune of Gibbons Decline and Fall of ____. You see, for me what was interesting in your articles, was how they related to the future trends. Of course I used the comment section on MS Watch as a way to highlight at first the problems that Microsoft needed to fix in Windows. After awhile it dawned on me that M$ was not interested in fixing windows to be as close to perfect as possible and only interested in making as much money as possible. It was then that I gave up on MS and moved to advocating something better, GNU/Linux for users.

    While many think I was a Linux and or Google fanboy, in reality I think of myself as a consumer advocate and someone that believes in most of the philosophy of Richard Stallman. Perhaps Joe, you would be more interested in writing about tech, if you had a consistent perspective about it such as a consumer advocate position?

    I am sure you are tired of writing about MS, but it is your day job. Best not to give up your day job till you have something better? Writing fiction is both our dream. And its not out of the question. If I was too hard on you about the ‘loaner’ machines, sorry. Believe you are more honest than most of the tech writers actually. The sad fact is that companies like MS (and even Apple to a lesser degree) resort to giving away or loaning products to tech writers with no intention of ever getting them back. Sadly this is the norm for the tech market, and advertising is the next biggest sin. As many times companies like MS are the main source of advertising income on sites like MS Watch in the past. Sadly, just the way things are.

    While we did not always agree on things, your writing was always interesting. Good luck old friend on whatever endeavor you decide to go with.


    PS. I also noticed that Mini-msft (whodapunk) site is neglected. The bad news for MS just much be too much for him to tolerate or writ about.

    • Joe Wilcox says on July 25, 2013

      Apologies for the slow response, Chips. I’m still recovering from Comic-Con. Your advice is hugely appreciated.

      I’m still figuring out my future in the post-journalism Google economy, where free content and the rush to pageviews bleeds gossip and rumors all over the Internet.

      Microsoft is the new IBM and Apple is the new Microsoft, and Google upends both. Microsoft’s fiscal Q4 results aren’t nearly as bad as the stock sell-off suggests. Yeah, Windows profits collapsed, but revenue grew everywhere. I agree with you that the quarter is right place to mark the post-Windows era.

      Google outmaneuvers Microsoft by every measure that matters. I don’t see how Ballmer and Company can recover mobile, but who knows. HTC, Nokia and Sony fell from phone grace and now they’re all comeback kids.

      Apple is in heap loads of trouble. The tactical responses remind too much of Microsoft — slow, uncertain and too protective of existing revenue streams. Meanwhile, Google disrupts the establishment on multiple fronts.

      My personal feelings are mixed about Google. The business model makes more information freely available to more people, which empowers them. I support that. But Google’s ambitions are often veiled. For example, Chromecast clearly is a Trojan Horse for finally breaking into TV advertising, a long-sought Holy Grail.

      If Google can’t get the ads by going to the TV market, the company brings the content to the television in a circuitous way, pulling advertising along and bridging the two ad models. Think of Chromecast as the ultimate crowdfunding experiment. Consumers buy in for just $35, opening future revenue stream worth billions to Google.

      About writing, you’re right about companies drowning influencers in loaners. I receive some but more often my reviews are about stuff I paid for. Not always, of course. I never let loaners influence my writing. But I’m an odd duck, too, as my post here indicates. Sure, I do like toys but more see them as tools. I’m beholden to no company in part because the newest thing doesn’t matter to me. Also, there are personal ethics about responsible writing.

      My writing changed going from Microsoft Watch to BetaNews for a couple reasons:

      1. The audience is different (and more expressive).

      2. Tech writing changed post-economic collapse. For example, aggregators’ rise led to more gossip, rumor and misinformation. Meanwhile, many blogs and news sites laid off experience staff; replacements often lacked experience. I often wrote stories as response to misinformation, although I rarely cast posts as such.

      3. Social networking leads to more close-mindedness. Too many people seek out points of view that support their own, and there is tendency to see things black and white. So I chose to tackle topics from different perspectives, often taking contradictory positions when posts about similar things are set side-by-side. Many people accused me of linkbaiting, which was never true. I meant the bold stories to shake up people and get them thinking about something in a different way. Hopefully they did. Sometimes.

      About Mini-Microsoft, maybe he no longer works there.

  2. Chips_B_Malroy says on July 29, 2013


    Your comment is profound and intelligent. It also would have made a very good article. Also I think you are mostly right on your point of view. However, you had to know I would add in my own two cents worth?

    “Microsoft’s fiscal Q4 results aren’t nearly as bad as the stock sell-off suggests. Yeah, Windows profits collapsed, but revenue grew everywhere.”

    Well not everywhere. And here is part of the problem for Microsoft, its where the revenue grew. Ballmer grew it by mainly raising prices on business, sharepoint and exchange. Even Office 365 is a really hugh price increase. The question is, how long can Ballmer keep raising the cost to businesses before they move on? A 6% decrease in Windows revenue after you remove the deferred upgrade money, is still and admission that Windows 8 has problems. A further admission by a MS employee is that 20% less Windows licences were sold this quarter. So 6% minus 20%=14%. This 14% figure is the number of businesses that are buying new machines with windows 7 on them to replace expiring updates (end of life) XP machines. This source of revenue will probably only last till April. Have my doubts that the 8.1 service pack names Blue will help to increase sales. So MS will need to rush out Windows 9 to stop the bleeding.

    This is not Vista again (windows 8), this is much worse. The reason why its worst for Microsoft is not because they did not make their expected gains. MS is still very profitable. It is because Microsoft’s OEM ‘partners’ are the ones really taking it on the chin for the failure of Windows 8. The longer Windows 8 is left in front of the public and if sales continue to tank for the OEM’s, there will be a massive rebellion by the OEM’s. Arrival Android Army, or Chromebook, or maybe even Ubuntu. No other competing operating system since OS/2 has ever been able to establish a beachhead on the PC desktop (not counting Mac of course).

    “Microsoft is the new IBM and Apple is the new Microsoft, and Google upends both.” We will see if MS is as good as IBM. It is yet to be proven. I don’t expect MS to die in the short term. They have massive lock-in. Where they are vulnerable is when the Android army marches into the land of the desktop PC’s. The desktop PC is the last stronghold of MS. Already Chromebooks account for 30% of all laptops sold under $300. Apple however, is not going away. Apple will be forced to take less profits on its products in time in order to not go away. We already see this happening with Apple forced to introduce the Mini Ipad.

    “Google outmaneuvers Microsoft by every measure that matters. I don’t see how Ballmer and Company can recover mobile, but who knows.”

    Windows Phone is lost. 3% market share with all the billions that Ballmer has thrown at it is pathetic. The name ‘windows’ phone is problem for many buyers, as windows is associated with malware, true or not. And of course, at least with Surface Pro, the windows malware problem is real.
    Google. How good is a company? Does it have a personality? Perhaps a company does in that it is only as good as the people at the top with the power that run the company. Its what these powerful people believe in and how they look at their customers. Larry Page and Sergey Brin the founders of Google, seem to want to push tech to new limits. Sure they wanted to get rich, most people do. But overall, they also seem to want to do the right things by people. Example: Google actually was willing to pull search out of Red China, and did move its servers at least to Hong Kong. Ballmer on the other hand, crowed about how he and Bing had no problems working (censorship) with the Red Chinese. Apparently Ballmer also loves the NSA as well. Which is the problem with Microsoft, its greed has no limits almost. Ballmer and Gates are MS. Now Gates maybe a great man, in that he gives a lot of his money to some good causes. But how is it he is still the wealthiest man in the world if he has given away so much?

    A link to Tim’s site, which I thought you might like. Tim posted polite comments on your MS Watch articles as Goblin.

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