By GERRY BARKER
(Originally posted May, 2009)
My first encounter with Gary Arlen was not long after StarText launched.
Gary (spelled the right way) headed up Arlen Communications. Inc., a Bethesda, Maryland, research and consulting firm which, according to his web site, is "known for its insights into the converging and sometimes conflicting worlds of interactive media, telecommunications and program content. For 20 years, Gary has accurately analyzed the emergence of new media and technologies, forecasting the evolution of customer-controlled video and data services."
In the Eighties, Arlen published the "International Videotext Teletext News," a "must read" for anyone in the telecommunications arena. As StarText added more services and subscribers, Gary gave us coverage right alongside Gateway, Viewtron and other heavy hitters of the day. We even were listed in the "Box Score" section that listed online subscriber totals. We weren't DowJones or CompuServe, but we were on the list.
One thing I always appreciated about Gary was his sense of humor. With all the $millions being poured into those early efforts (don't count StarText in that group), making a business out of online fell into "it's the future and always will be" camp. So much so that a pundit at a 1983 Kelsey Conference proclaimed, "In 1990 videotext will be a $30 billion industry. We don't know if that's revenue or expenses."
That being the case, Gary started rolling out his famous lapel pins, beginning with "1990 I Can't Wait."
Quoting from Gary's "Lapel Button User Manual:"
"In the early 1980s, business prognosticators conjured impressive forecasts about the success of new media services by the then far-off year of 1990. Their upbeat predictions prompted us to create a lapel pin expressing our eager anticipation: 1990 I Can't Wait.
"By 1990 their forecasts proved to be irrationally exhuberant and just plain wrong. Undeterred, they issued 20-year predictions, again envisioning vast revenues and huge penetration for whatever new technology they were touting. We were ready for our 2010 I Can't Wait buttons. Of course, those forecasts were off base."
And now we have the debut of "2020 I Can't Wait" or as Gary says, "Keeping the Wait Alive!"
Again quoting from the User Manual:
"Here is the 3rd generation version of the famous 'I Can't Wait' button, letting you show off your enthusiasm about the uncertain future. . .So now, with clear vision, the predictions are appearing for the great business a decade away in 2020. Yes, there will be vast revenues and impressive penetration and expansive profits from the next technology coming to market. The predictions are so rosy that we're excited again.
"You can demonstrate your belief with a 2020 I Can't Wait lapel button. It's green and expected to remain meaningful through the promised year of 2020. The future is always out there, ready to fulfill technology dreams if you have a clear vision."
While I am the proud owner of all three pins, I also treasure one of Gary's other collectibles from the Eighties, the computer-shaped eraser for the end of your pencil. It carried this simple message:
"Videotext: You Can't Rub It Out."
Response from Arlen
Thanks for the plug for the 2020 pins. I'll get you a complete set of the old ones.. there was NOTHING for 2000 .. it seemed toooooo millenial and I was looking for a 20-year span when I made the 2010 pins for the 1990 New Year's Eve party.
Funny you should remember the terminal shaped erasers (I always thought they looked a bit like Minitels. [Reader Note: The French Minitel was a videotex terminal delivered free to millions of users that launched in the early 80s] It's interesting what people remember from those smarmy days. Some people favored the Videotex wooden nickels ("Videotex: As valuable as ever."). Others liked the anonymity kit ("Groucho" glasses and nose/moustache mounted on a card that said "Proud to be a Videotex Pioneer."). And there was more.
And to round out our reminisces: I've been in NYC the last 2 days. As I headed home tonight, at NY Penn Station, the young man on the escalator behind me was carrying a well-worn VIEWTRON gym bag. I said, "That's a real collector's item." He said, "It's old school. My dad worked there." And before I could followup, he and his companion headed toward the Long Island RR trains, and I wonder if I knew his old school dad back in the VIEWTRON days.