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  • Are They Reporting or Are They Copying?

    December 30th, 2010

    It’s part of the human condition to tell stories and, often as not, to embellish the ones you hear in the retelling. Sometimes you wonder how information conveyed orally passes on through generations supposedly without loads of changes.

    So here’s a little story: Years ago, the late comedian Steve Allen would occasionally conduct an informal experiment on one of his shows. He’d have someone tell a joke to another person, whispering in the recipient’s ear. In turn, the person who heard the story would whisper it to another person, and on it went through ten generations of oral transmission. At the end of the line, the final link in the chain would repeat what he or she had heard.

    As you might imagine, that little joke, suffering through ten generations of human oral transmission and embellishment, would bear no relationship to the original. Not even close.

    Does this remind you at all about some of those Mac rumor sites?

    The scenario is often similar. Someone delivers supposedly secret information about a new product or service from Apple. Maybe it’s an iPad or iPhone case that might deliver hints of an upcoming model changeover.

    Such stories can often take a life of their own. Another site quotes the original, maybe adds a smattering of speculation or embellishment to the mix and, after going through this regurgitation cycle a few times, what may have been just a very basic rumor suddenly becomes a major story. It has to be a major story because so many bloggers take it seriously. Sometimes even the mainstream media chimes in, and soon a little event becomes a major revelation.

    Now in the old days, a journalist usually wouldn’t just repeat what someone else had already published. They’d try to verify the source, or lacking that, seek out other sources to see if the story had merit. Sometimes there’d even be a denial, or the realization that the information had been distorted somehow in the original report. Regardless, at least some effort was being made to actually do a little reporting, rather than serve is a copying machine.

    All too often the simple repetition of a published report, without any new content, is sufficient to give it added credibility. Now you have two publications delivering the same information. Why it must be true!

    In this viral media environment, even the most innocuous anecdote, photo, or video can not just assume a life of its ow,n but dominate the headlines.

    Consider that curious Antennagate scandal that began that way. Someone posted a YouTube video showing how easy you could kill the reception on an iPhone 4 if you held it a certain way. Everyone wanted to get into the act, so they duplicated the notorious “Death Grip” on their iPhones and, soon enough, Apple had a serious public relations problem.

    It’s not that they didn’t make things worse. An offhand comment in an email purportedly coming from Steve Jobs suggested that, if you had such a problem, just hold the phone differently. That only fueled the fire, and before long, Apple issued this strange press release that the problem was actually caused by the overoptimistic display of signal strength bars on your iPhone. Imagine! After building the thing for three years, Apple had just discovered the error of their ways. But don’t you worry! It’ll be fixed in the next iPhone update.

    Unfortunately, an incorrect signal strength reading served as a poor excuse for the oh-so-obvious dip in signal strength when the Death Grip was applied. True, other smartphones had the same shortcomings, since they all obeyed the laws of physics. Some even had labels affixed to the sensitive region of the phone, while others put up warning notices in their user manuals. But who reads manuals anyway?

    Obviously, the technology testers at Consumer Reports magazine didn’t read manuals, because they fooled themselves into believing that the iPhone 4 was the only smartphone on the planet that had this alleged antenna deficiency. Apple’s solution was to give you all a free case until the furor died down, but Antennagate demonstrates once again how little things, if not dealt with promptly, can come to mean an awful lot.

    Now I don’t want to date myself any more than is obvious by the flavor of this article, but at one time newspapers had staffs of investigative reporters who’d actually dig into a story to separate the truth and the fantasy. You still see that from time to time, but as advertising and circulations decreased, publishers fired the least profitable segment of their business. You get the picture!

    But as far as Apple rumors are concerned, I have high confidence in these two: The second generation iPad will have a front-facing camera for FaceTime use, and very likely a Micro-USB port, to meet the new European Union requirements for a uniform charging port for mobile devices. You may even see the same port on the iPhone 5.



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