Walt Mossberg is the author and creator of the weekly Personal Technology column in The Wall Street Journal, which has appeared every Thursday since 1991. With Kara Swisher, he currently co-produces and co-hosts D: All Things Digital, a major high-tech conference with interviewees such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and many other leading players in the tech and media industries. The gathering is considered one of the leading conferences focused on the convergence of tech and media industries. In addition to Personal Technology, Mr. Mossberg also writes the Mossberg's Mailbox column in the Journal and edits the Mossberg Solution column, which is authored by his colleague Katherine Boehret. On television, Mr. Mossberg is a regular technology commentator for the CNBC network, where he appears every Thursday on the mid-day Power Lunch program. He is also a regular contributor to Dow Jones Video on the Web.
In a major 2004 profile of Mr. Mossberg, entitled "The Kingmaker," Wired Magazine declared: "Few reviewers have held so much power to shape an industry's successes and failures." Mr. Mossberg was awarded the 1999 Loeb award for Commentary, the only technology writer to be so honored. In May of 2001, he received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Rhode Island. In May of 2002, he was inducted into the ranks of the Business News Luminaries, the hall of fame for business journalists. That same year, he won the World Technology Award for Media and Journalism.
Question: Is technology changing traditional power structures?
Walt Mossberg: Yeah. I think that’s ridiculous.
People have such a short memory of history. First of all the Kremlin, even in Russia’s reduced state, has, the last time I checked, thousands of actual operational nuclear warheads. So when you have the power to push buttons and destroy entire countries and hundreds of millions of people, that’s actually more power than even Sergey [Brin] and Larry [Page] have at Google, I think, by at least some measures.
Secondly, people forget that there have been business tycoons--the robber barons, the people that owned the railroads. John D. Rockefeller owned most of the oil in the country at one time. That’s pretty good power. So yeah Bill Gates and the guys that run Microsoft are really powerful. Steve Jobs is really powerful. The Google guys are really powerful.
The flavor du jour – whoever is hot on the Internet – is really powerful. The Internet itself is obviously really powerful, although it’s not controlled by anyone.
So there have always been multiple centers of power. There’s cultural power. There’s military power. There’s economic power. There’s business power. We have all those things today. They’re just different and different names.
And I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to cover in one part of my career some of those power centers; and now in another part of my career some others where there’s a lot of innovation.
I would say the Kremlin was very innovative. I wouldn’t say the White House was very innovative. I think it’s great fun to talk to people who have fascinating new ideas, and the inclination and resources to try them out. But I don’t think it’s a new thing that we have business figures who have a lot of power.
We obviously still have no idea just what the rise of China and India means. They have enormous economic potential, including, by the way, a significant high tech potential. And I’m not just talking about call centers. They have the potential to invent and develop things that we have become accustomed to seeing invented and developed here. And from the point of view of the United States as a country, it would be very interesting to see what happens in those countries. Because while they do have these concentrations of educated people, and middle class, and people who are even wealthy and entrepreneurial, they also still are, in the majority, full of extremely poor, uneducated people who have a right to a future. And how they distribute their wealth, and how they go about taking care of their whole populations – particularly in the case of China which is, of course, not a free country – is going to be a fascinating situation.
Recorded on: Sep 13, 2007