Last week I was star-struck at having read the article by Tim Berners-Lee. I couldn’t believe that the guy who I had just learned was the guy who invented the Internet (not Al Gore), was talking to us via our textbook. So, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the name Newton Minnow in the very next article. I thought, “Hey! That’s the ‘vast wasteland’ guy!” In fact, he mentions the fact that those two words have basically come to define him, even 50 years after his famous speech as the new head of the newly formed Federal Communications Commission. I laughed at the thought of his daughters engraving “On to a vaster wasteland” on his tombstone, and the sinking ship from Gilligan’s Island being named after him by Sherwood Schwartz – the HMS Minnow.
As I read the article, A Vaster Wasteland, I was struck with the same feeling I had when reading the article by Berners-Lee. That a respected and revered member of the media elite was presenting incredibly intelligent and practical ideas that will most likely be agreed with by the intellectuals and ignored by the rest. But, as I read through the six major goals that Minnow outlines, I began to see the possibility of these actually being implemented.
He’s obviously a man who knows of which he speaks. He was appointed the first chair of the FCC, PBS, The Rand Corporation and The Carnegie Foundation. He is the Annenberg Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University. Those are some incredibly solid credentials. But will the media at large take his suggestions? Well, yes and no. The two that carry the most potential are ideas three and four. Idea three is to use new technologies to improve and expand the reach of our healthcare system. There is potential here, because it could significantly reduce healthcare costs while improving the quality of care. Where there is potential for more profit, there is potential for implementation. Idea four is to use what we learned from the communications failures that our first responders experienced on September 11th to improve the public safety infrastructure. This idea will gain traction because even after a decade, the scars from that awful day still run deep and we are still motivated to prevent a repeat of it.
I honestly thought Newt Minnow was dead. In my mind he stood out as one of the pioneers of the telecommunications world. John F. Kennedy appointed him; surely he must be dead and gone, right? Nope. It turns out that he’s still alive and still advocating. Way to go, Newt. Way to go.