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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 nearly as well through traditional means. That’s the main reason that—so far, at least—it’s never become anything but a toy. (Viewtron Presentation, Dec. 2, 1986, pp. 5­6) From this, it appears that leaders of the Viewtron project understood exactly the way  people were shaping the technology and decided not to pursue it precisely because of what it was  becoming.  While noting that videotex was not a threat to newspapers at the time, they also  learned the facts about online communication that have since threatened the newspaper business  model.   RQ3 asked in what ways do internal Viewtron documents emphasize DI and/or SST? In  fact, internal documents show a strong understanding of the challenges of providing a product  that could potentially create its own market and an understanding of the new market emerging as  people shaped the technology. It was not ignorance that led VCA to shut down; it was a fully  conscious decision not to pursue the technology that, when fully developed would have low  profit margins and low barriers to entry. Rather than continuing to develop online media, they  chose to kill the project. They began to envision a world beyond proprietary electronic media.  They did not like it, and K­R got out after losing $50 million, which was, after all, the price of a  mid­sized newspaper at the time. Today Roger Fidler continues to work on new media technologies. As Program Director  for Digital Publishing at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, he is a pioneer in the field of e­ readers, for which he has high hopes. He recently reflected on the demise of Viewtron in the  1980s:  After the ‘failures’ of Viewtron and Gateway, I know many newspaper executives  28

Authors: Poepsel, Mark. and Ashley, Seth.
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Viewtron and Mutual Shaping of Technology
nearly as well through traditional means. That’s the main reason that—so far, at 
least—it’s never become anything but a toy. (Viewtron Presentation, Dec. 2, 
1986, pp. 5­6)
From this, it appears that leaders of the Viewtron project understood exactly the way 
people were shaping the technology and decided not to pursue it precisely because of what it was 
becoming.  While noting that videotex was not a threat to newspapers at the time, they also 
learned the facts about online communication that have since threatened the newspaper business 
model.   RQ3 asked in what ways do internal Viewtron documents emphasize DI and/or SST? In 
fact, internal documents show a strong understanding of the challenges of providing a product 
that could potentially create its own market and an understanding of the new market emerging as 
people shaped the technology. It was not ignorance that led VCA to shut down; it was a fully 
conscious decision not to pursue the technology that, when fully developed would have low 
profit margins and low barriers to entry. Rather than continuing to develop online media, they 
chose to kill the project. They began to envision a world beyond proprietary electronic media. 
They did not like it, and K­R got out after losing $50 million, which was, after all, the price of a 
mid­sized newspaper at the time.
Today Roger Fidler continues to work on new media technologies. As Program Director 
for Digital Publishing at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, he is a pioneer in the field of e­
readers, for which he has high hopes. He recently reflected on the demise of Viewtron in the 
1980s: 
After the ‘failures’ of Viewtron and Gateway, I know many newspaper executives 
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