In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king
A real life example of chaotic turbulence
For me, the world of computers and digital communications has involved a continuous and intensive learning process over a period of ten years. I'd first come into the field of digital communications in 1989, when it seemed the next big thing would be CD-ROMs. I spent three years creating a CD-ROM to describe the lessons I'd learned over the twenty-five years I'd spent as an entrepreneur.
Those three years, working on that CD-ROM, gave me first hand experience of a rapidly changing technological world. I started with a top of the range personal computer: a Macintosh SE with a built in 20 megabyte hard disk and an incredible one megabyte of RAM. At a cost of over four thousand dollars I bought a 600 megabyte external disk drive and for another fifteen hundred dollars a CD-ROM reader (one of the first in the UK). I then spent a further few thousand dollars buying every possible application program I could think of that I thought might come in useful. My intention was to produce the first ever interactive CD-ROM book. I wanted to be a pioneer in this newly emerging industry.
I'd liked the idea of an interactive CD-ROM book because I could see how it might enable me to explain abstract ideas with animated examples. I could illustrate the effects of probability, game theory, group interaction and genetic algorithms. I could bring to life the realities of calculated decision making; introduce the concepts of compound interest, discounted risk and uncertainty. Demonstrate games of strategy and competition. With all the industry experts, gurus and visionaries telling us that CD-ROMs would be the next big thing it seemed a safe and certain way to go.
Over the three years of the CD-ROMs development, everything was changing: programs were continuously being updated, hardware constantly needed to be replaced. New techniques and programming languages had to be mastered. It was a nightmare of constant change. However, at last it was finished and I sent out review copies to every computer magazine I could think of. To my delight, I got rave reviews and immediately won a prestigious award from the MacUser (UK) computer magazine. I really thought I'd made it into the world of digital communications.
Sadly, it was not to be. I'd completed my black and white CD-ROM at just about the time color computers were coming onto the market. The ease with which media could be put onto CD-ROM had attracted thousands of CD-ROM developers and artists from all parts of the planet. The anticipated huge market in CD-ROM sales had brought in hundreds of publishers who had back logs of material that could easily be transferred onto CD-ROM. Schools and colleges were making CD-ROMs. Within a few months the whole market for CD-ROMs became saturated.
The problem wasn't so much that there were a lot of CD-ROMs on the market; the killer was that so many of them were of poor quality. The headlong rush to get into the next big thing had resulted in products coming onto the market before any proper market research or testing. Products that worked well on high end developer machines performed poorly, if at all, on standard PCs. A twelve megabyte illustration looks fine on a developer's screen, but, when it gets to the user and it takes half a minute to load the novelty soon wears thin.
The magazines that had began to specialise in CD-ROM reviews and comment were swamped with samples. Some of them were so poor that it was an absolute pain for any reviewer to go through them. Most were despatched to the trash can, unseen. Retail stores, anxious to be in on the next big thing had opened special departments to sell CD-ROMs; several big distributors had set up to service them. There were CD-ROM charts; there were CD-ROM advertisement; everything seemed to suggest that here was a whole new world of opportunity. Yet, in the space of only a few months the whole thing collapsed; destroyed by overload and an abundance of poor quality product. The promising infra structure that had risen up in anticipation of a demand for CD-ROMs just melted away almost overnight.