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Denying Destiny: Viewtron and the refusal to recognize mutual shaping of technology
Unformatted Document Text:  Viewtron and Mutual Shaping of Technology market for Viewtron as a toy? Or are we looking at figures distorted by high­tech, early­adopter  types?” The next section of the memo asks, “Where are we headed?” The first subheading: “It’s  not like the newspaper business. Newspapers are uniquely sheltered from competition.” Ashe  expressed concern that while newspapers require enormous start­up costs and years of operating  losses, Videotex would be likely to face a great deal of competition due to non­proprietary  technology and a low risk factor for upstart competitors. A crossed out section of the memo  reads: “Don’t expect videotext to follow the newspaper model. It will probably become a much  more competitive business, with much lower barriers to entry and exit.” Recognizing the low  barriers to entry and crossing that statement out of the memo suggests an unwillingness to  recognize the shaping of the technology that was happening before VCA’s eyes. This also speaks  to the nature of the project itself as an experiment in a technology by a company who viewed  that same technology as a threat. At times it seems as though K­R was content to build a $50  million technological straw man just to watch it burn. After the first quarter of 1985, VCA was revising goals and reassessing strategies. Their  response to initial failures was an opportunity to examine the most popular aspects of the  technology and redevelop it in a way that listened to users’ wishes. In a memo to the K­R Board  of Directors dated March 21, 1985, Reid Ashe wrote: “The opportunities we foresee now are  rather different from those envisioned when the service was launched. They are more modest,  they involved different partners and different services and, in part because they no longer seem  25

Authors: Poepsel, Mark. and Ashley, Seth.
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Viewtron and Mutual Shaping of Technology
market for Viewtron as a toy? Or are we looking at figures distorted by high­tech, early­adopter 
types?”
The next section of the memo asks, “Where are we headed?” The first subheading: “It’s 
not like the newspaper business. Newspapers are uniquely sheltered from competition.” Ashe 
expressed concern that while newspapers require enormous start­up costs and years of operating 
losses, Videotex would be likely to face a great deal of competition due to non­proprietary 
technology and a low risk factor for upstart competitors. A crossed out section of the memo 
reads: “Don’t expect videotext to follow the newspaper model. It will probably become a much 
more competitive business, with much lower barriers to entry and exit.” Recognizing the low 
barriers to entry and crossing that statement out of the memo suggests an unwillingness to 
recognize the shaping of the technology that was happening before VCA’s eyes. This also speaks 
to the nature of the project itself as an experiment in a technology by a company who viewed 
that same technology as a threat. At times it seems as though K­R was content to build a $50 
million technological straw man just to watch it burn.
After the first quarter of 1985, VCA was revising goals and reassessing strategies. Their 
response to initial failures was an opportunity to examine the most popular aspects of the 
technology and redevelop it in a way that listened to users’ wishes. In a memo to the K­R Board 
of Directors dated March 21, 1985, Reid Ashe wrote: “The opportunities we foresee now are 
rather different from those envisioned when the service was launched. They are more modest, 
they involved different partners and different services and, in part because they no longer seem 
25


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