Walt Mossberg: A Classy Guy



I once worked along-side an older gentleman; in his sixties; grey hair; grizzled, who we’ll call Roger. He was an electrical engineer who was quite highly regarded in his field — in his day. But that day was long passed.

In Roger’s world a switch had been thrown at some point, and after that moment everything was: “This new stuff,” that he had no time for. Working practices, entertainment, politics, technology… At some point he had taken a snapshot of his views on all these subjects and held onto it from that point on.

A ridiculous example was the time he went home one lunchtime to press the record button on his VCR. When I asked him why he didn’t simply program the timer, he said, “Haven’t got time for all that digital nonsense.”

There and then I came up with a theory that Roger, and others that I’ve known, reach a stage in their lives where they say: “Enough! This is my world view from now on — leave me alone.” I promised myself that I’d keep a look out for signs of throwing my own switch, and avoid it at all costs.

Fast forward to now and I’m decades away from Roger’s age but I’ve already popped a circuit breaker. You see, I just can’t abide marketing-speak. Talk that talk and you may as well be poking sticks in my eyes; no, it’s more like you’re sticking a finger down my throat.

You know the kind of thing: A plumber becomes a total plumbing solution, a stupid thing becomes a lifestyle thing. Instead of one thing relating to another, it speaks to it, we don’t learn — we upskill…

Now to Walt Mossberg. For a long time I liked him without knowing any of the back-story; I just happened to stumble upon his work on the web and stayed to read more. Like David Pogue, he has that gift of being a pundit who writes in an exquisitely easy, yet informative style. He answers all the questions that a shopper might ask, without crossing over into the arcane.

After reading the linked article I find I admire him even more because even though he’s from the same generation as Roger, but there’s no sign of him throwing Roger’s switch; he hasn’t even popped my circuit breaker. Look how ably he handles the marketing-speak below:

“How much memory for music?” Mossberg asked.

Titus said, “It will come with a sixty-four-megabyte card.”

“That’s trivially small.”

“It is,” Titus said, adding, “And it’s consistent with our larger up-sell opportunities”—that is, opportunities to buy related products and accessories…

“And how about for playing music?” Mossberg asked.

“About seven hours,” Titus said.

“That’s low,” Mossberg said. (The iPod Nano gets up to twenty-four hours.)

“There’s some other out-of-the-box advantages,” she continued, and pulled out a pack to expand battery life—a seventy-dollar value. But Mossberg was skeptical…

He held up the Samsung and said, “I’m treating this as a real music player, so I have to compare it to an iPod.” Then he added that the phone seemed to be “a crippled music player.”

“This is a phone first, with a dynamic music capacity,” Mermelstein said…

My hat’s off to him. I would have been knocking over furniture to get out of there by now. I really should loosen up.

Critical Mass:
Everyone listens to Walter Mossberg.

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