None dare call it conspiracy

Conspiracy think runs rampant throughout high tech. We work in one of the most powerful industries on the globe, yet a good segment of its employees act like they recently emerged from a Masonic initiation rite.

Michael Kanellos
Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
3 min read
When it comes to arguing issues in the technological world, I subscribe to the Swingline Tot 50 theory of debate.

That is, every time someone erupts with a shrill, plot-thick email message on why, for example, the Justice Department wants to regulate Microsoft, substitute the words "Internet Explorer" with "Swingline Tot 50 Stapler" or some other inane invention.

This way, email reads, "Preventing Acco from coming out with a new version of the three-hole cardboard punch will not only impede the economy, it will be like throwing sand on the gears of human progress." Or "I noticed the line that informed the reader that Tiny Tots Norwegian Sardines is an investor in CNET. This, of course, throws the validity of your articles about salted fish into the category of propaganda and outright lies. Good day, sir!" Or "Maybe someday even small minds like yours will come to know that the future will be guided by Kragen [Auto Parts]."

Conspiracy think runs rampant throughout high tech. We work in one of the most powerful, sophisticated, and fastest-growing industries on the globe, yet a good segment of its employees act like they recently emerged from a Masonic initiation rite.

Truth is but a lie! If it's public, it's propaganda! The best technology succeeds, but only when it fails!

I get four or more messages a day explaining the real story behind Divx. Believe me--you are not alone.

The recent investigations into Microsoft and Intel have only fanned the flames. Either we are witnessing the beginning of the end of civilization or the overthrow of tyranny if GoofyGusGoesToTheCarnival.Com can't be accessed directly from the operating system. Somehow, I doubt doctors spend their days firing off messages that read, "If I can't work with the cutting-edge colostomy bag, it just isn't worth it!"

Generally, conspiracy theorists fall into one of two categories: the spurned Victorian Gentleman ("I take great exception to the analyst's assumptions. Only a biased and closed-minded fool would not see the effects of quashing this release") and the Mystic Troll, those writers who prefer to make their points through allusions to the New Economy, acronyms, and lots of random exclamation points.

Although they differ in tone, they share in an unshakable and convoluted sense of right on nearly every topic. If you want to know whether you are dealing with a conspiracy nut, ask this: "CORBA, ORBA--I mean, what's the difference?" If they respond, "Savages!" you are on the right track.

Like a lot of problems in the computer industry, this one can largely be laid squarely at the feet of Apple Computer.

Years ago, Apple achieved a historical breakthrough. The company brought computing to the masses and, in the process, constructed an entire lifestyle built around office supplies. Purchasing a computer became a statement of protest and belief. Suddenly, two guys whose strongest influence was the first Santana album held the reins for guiding the pace and psychology of the industrialized world. They were the twerp demigods.

Unfortunately for Apple, history went the other way. Although the company seemingly had the answers and the technology, the vast majority decided not to buy into the dream. Most of the billions to be made in software went to other, far less charismatic individuals. A mission to reshape humankind turned to a battle for retail shelf space. Rather than admit defeat--or worse, a second-rate commercial status--Apple retreated into invective and hair-splitting arguments.

Complementing this wild mood swing of opportunity in turn is a syndrome I call the Engineers Fatal Tragedy. The Engineers Fatal Tragedy, which is dedicated to my freshman-year roommate Howard Kagan, is this: Because you passed physics, you think you know everything. Those trained in the mathematical precision of right and wrong have found themselves thrown into the murky and irrational world of customer preference.

So in the end, you have a volatile industry where any invention can set the direction for economic development for the next half-century and lead to untold wealth in a market where only one innovation in a million will succeed. It's all or nothing--sort of like Hollywood with cubicles.

But here's what do I know: Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.

Michael Kanellos is a senior writer for CNET. He is a walking pack of lies.