Assumptions in the news

bridging gaps in logic with assumptionsIf there is a continuing theme of this publication, it is that understanding created by logic and reason must necessarily be built upon certain assumptions, because we are not omniscient, and where we cannot employ facts, we deduce logical suppositions to fill in the gaps in our reasoning. There’s also the not‐so‐little matter of the often slippery nature of “facts” that are self‐serving; the point being that logic often drifts from logic, and that is best demonstrated in our use of assumptions.

When I first began writing, I did so to challenge my own assumptions, an exercise that is both frustrating and revealing. Why DO I believe some of the things I believe? At what point in my thought stream does assumption take over in the creation of arguments in support of this idea or that one? It’s quite liberating. It’s also an exercise in postmodern deconstruction and one that I highly recommend.

After that, the trick becomes identifying assumptions in others, but if you pay attention, you’ll spot them. So let’s examine the news this week.

Thursday, Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore told attendees at parent company Time Warner’s “Investor Day” that the iPad model for magazines was “a business model that is just really very delicious.” Reporter Jason Fell of Folio was present and recorded many great quotes from Ms. Moore. Bear in mind that the CEO of Time Inc. really needs to believe in the iPad/tablet model, because many think it represents the future of print media. This belief is the kind of thing that, in a logical sequence, needs assumptions, and here’s a doozie:

It’s become increasingly clear that customers will pay for trusted quality content that’s easy to access and fairly priced.

At best, it can be said that people such as Ms. Moore “hope” this is true. Research to support this assumption is not certain, because the model isn’t far enough along. In the example of Wired’s talked‐about iPad app, its early success can largely be chalked up to a certain group of core readers, so where’s the proof to validate Ms. Moore’s statement? There is none, because this is an assumption in the logical progression of those who want it to be so. Will it become fact? Who knows? But such a statement should not be used to justify one’s excitement, for, at best, it’s a “forward‐thinking” statement, which is the caveat of proclamations of companies speaking with investors.

Meanwhile, thought leaders in the world of new media are singing a contrary song. Jeff Jarvis bought an iPad and then returned it, because it offered him nothing new. “It’s filling a need,” he said, “that I don’t think exists.” Fred Wilson says he prefers the iPad’s browser (Safari) to its apps and offers eight reasons why.

I understand why content companies are so interested in iPad apps. It is a familiar model to them. But as currently configured most content apps do not take advantage of the power of the digital medium. And so they are mostly useless to me.

Like Wilson, Dave Winer has an iPad but prefers his netbook, because he’s all about inputting and the iPad is an outputting device. That, he predicts, could be its downfall.

Apple has a long way to go before the iPad is a useful tool. Lots of little things to fix and tweak, and a philosophy that’s going to keep the really innovative stuff flowing elsewhere (where — not determined yet).

These are three very prescient and influential fellows, but they are not alone in their thinking. It is, therefore, quite a stretch to make the statement that it’s “increasingly clear” that customers will pay for trusted content that’s fairly priced. Go to WalMart and stand in the over‐the‐counter medicine aisle for awhile. Count the number of times people buy Tylenol over the generic. People won’t pay more for something they can get cheaper; it flies in the face of human nature. The same is true with publishers trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube. There is not one single shred of evidence to validate a return to pay, and yet publishers keep driving down this path.

I’m not dumping on the iPad or the tablet model of publishing. It’s still far too new for any real judgments. I think tablets are pretty cool; it’s the draconian methods of Apple’s “store” in determining which apps are “appropriate” for the iPad that bothers me about it, but a tablet is really just another computer, and I think the market will be much clearer a year from now.

Until then, the jury’s out on the facts.


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