The Evolution Of The World’s Most Influential Technology Critic, article in Forbes

May 30, 2013
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Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal describes his personal journey as a technology journalist and what excites him about the future.

by Peter High, published on


Walt Mossberg has been called the most influential technology critic in the world. As I prepared for our interview, I was interested in the similarities between Mossberg and the famous wine critic, Robert Parker. Each is a powerful commentator whose opinions can make or break product launches, whose field of criticism is dominated in this country by activities in Northern California. Yet each chooses to live in Maryland, each refuses to accept gifts or perform advisory roles to those companies whose products he critiques, and each relishes the role of criticism even if greater remuneration would follow from joining such companies. Mossberg made quite clear that the mantle of “most influential technology critic” was not one that he chose.

Mossberg’s office is adorned with articles he has written, articles about him in various languages, and a healthy dose of memorabilia from his beloved Boston Red Sox. As I sat down, he graciously walked me through a book that was produced a year ago to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the D:All Things Digital conference. There were photos of people from each of the ten events, and it would have been difficult for me to come up with a technology luminary of great import in the U.S. who has not spoken or at least attended the conference.

This was also the first interview I have ever done where I felt self-conscious about pulling out my personal technology, curious what he might think of the technology choices I have made. As a means of expanding upon an opinion about how he evaluates personal technology products, he used my PC as an example.  He said that if one judged by technical specifications alone, my PC would seem no different from a variety of other PCs on the market. Since he had spent significant time with my PC and with its equivalents, however, he indicated that mine was among the most rugged, had a good screen, and also had the best keyboard. That put my mind at rest.

I began our conversation by asking how someone who had made a name for himself as a journalist covering national and international affairs, with a Rolodex filled with a who’s who in those fields would be audacious enough to make a dramatic change in his 40s into a field where he had no educational or professional background. What followed was an interesting conversation about his own professional evolution, as well as some thoughts on what excites him as he looks to the future.

Peter High: Walt, I wanted to begin with the genesis of your journey. Your educational training is in journalism. You were at the Wall Street Journal for 18 years covering national and international affairs before you made a major change professionally and elected to focus on consumer technology with the commencement of your “Personal Technology” column in 1991. How did it occur to you to make this change?

Walt Mossberg: It dates back to 1981 and the purchase of my first computer, a Timex Sinclair. From an early stage, I was hooked. I spent more of my personal time as a tinkerer, training myself.  What I found as I looked for technology advice was a dearth of technology writing that spoke to average users, not just hobbyists like me. Most of the writing was geared to people who were much more sophisticated, and it tended to use jargon that was foreign. I saw the need for something for a broader audience.

PH: Was it controversial when you proposed the idea?

WM: I originally proposed the column in 1990, when I was covering national security. With the end of the cold war, and a lot of the changes that were afoot in Eastern Europe, the idea was accepted; the timing was not right given my focus at the time. A year later, however, the timing was better, and “Personal Technology” was born.

Even more interesting was the reaction from friends and government leaders with whom I was regularly in touch at the time. I recall telling then-Secretary of State James Baker about this change, and he could not fathom why I would want to do it.

The prevailing reaction was either that I had been demoted, or that I was sick in the head. Washington, then even more than now, was not a tech-centric community. When the major focus is government, people can’t understand why one would wish to get out of that game and into something so foreign.  Fortunately, I was neither demoted nor ill, and I am quite pleased with how things have gone ever since.

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