March 24, 1997 4:00 PM ET
Metaphor, models and
myths, oh my!

By Eric Lundquist

  TUCSON, Ariz. -- Twenty years ago, a group of "chip heads" met to gossip about the semiconductor industry and take a guess at where the business was headed. The host was Ben Rosen, the gossip was great and the projections were no better or worse than other attempts at trying to forecast an industry that constantly shifts underfoot.

Twenty years later, at the swank Westin La Paloma in Tucson, that semiconductor gossip group has morphed into The Living Web conference hosted by Esther Dyson. Agenda items? Well, it sure isn't submicron lithography or client/server computing. Try the 8:20 a.m. session on "The Metaphorical Mind." Or how about "What Would Darwin, Rousseau, Hobbes and Smith have said?" Or "Tending the Soil, Clearing the Paths."

Can you really take a group of 600 or so Internet-time paced, E-mail-crushed, nervous venture capitalist-spurred industry execs, sit them down in a ballroom in Tucson, and have linguistics professor George Lakoff deliver his Metaphor 101 lecture? The answer is yes, but after about 20 minutes, the digerati in the audience started to steal looks at the Wall Street Journal to check stock prices or catch up on news of Microsoft booting the launch of Memphis into next year.

The metaphor discussion was interesting for about 25 minutes, but was scheduled for more than an hour. How long can you have a discussion on the definition of Web event when your stock might be tanking because someone cloned your product?

The news at events such as PC Forum usually occurs late at night in the hotel bar and in both chance and planned backroom meetings. For research purposes only, I hung out at the bar the night before the forum started. Once the compulsory discussion on "Will Microsoft crush everyone?" was disposed (the answer was Java and zero-footprint devices may save the day), the question of what the next big thing will be held center stage at the bar. Education and education-related activities were the topics that held sway. Could it be that the graying (and balding) PC Forum attendees want to leave more of a legacy than a bunch of successful IPOs?

Esther Dyson, in her opening remarks, claimed education and non-profit activities are becoming the hot subject of debate. Even Lakhoff's remark that seeing education as a business is simply "awful" (a self-serving remark from a professor if there ever was one) didn't dampen the education discussion.

The second place where news takes place is the exhibit rooms outside the main audience and in brief presentations before the assembled audience. There were six presentations scheduled for the PC Forum session on Monday. I'll be posting a synopsis of each product later in the day.

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