Back in the dark ages at the end of 2013 I wrote an article about how that year, mostly in tech but also in other aspects of life, was full of enough flubs that it should probably be forgotten. I lamented that the tech industry specifically and the mountain of humans in charge of things in general had lost touch with reality and were making decisions seemingly based on what they thought was a good idea without doing any testing. I made a few predictions for the future that these tone-deaf companies would roll back what they did and use the “frog in hot water” method to bring them back. I was slightly more accurate than I expected, but I still held out hope that the people in charge would take the hint from their customers (probably in the form of declining sales) and change their tune. Three years later and I couldn’t have been more wrong. So I’m back again to take a look as some of the “facepalm” (I guess) worthy instances of the last year.
Starting off strong where I left off: Yahoo! (a company I’m already not a fan of for reasons that could be a post on their own) disclosed that it got hacked (“hacked” always being a relative term) years ago and that a huge number of accounts’ information and passwords were stolen. As anyone who uses the system knows, they now advise you to change your password and personal information. Thank you for telling everyone a few years too late. Your security is so good that I, the “owner of the account” can’t log in, but some other random person who stole millions of accounts data can and I appreciate that. At least it’s good news for Verizon who could negotiate to pay a capitol “B” Billion dollars less in their acquisition that now seems even more questionable than that time they bought AOL. So with Verizon in a slap-fight with Sprint while cutting off customers’ unlimited data plans and Yahoo! (who I’m pretty sure still runs AT&T’s email) bleeding money like it’s done for the last decade it seems like Tumblr is still the most sane member of the family.
My segues didn’t get any better in the intervening years so I’m just going to move on to Apple, who seem to be determined to destroy everything I once liked about them. The Apple watch isn’t doing so hot, even with its second generation. I don’t know why they thought it would work well. I, and others, made fun of Samsung for doing it back in 2013. I guess they probably still made boatloads of cash, so success is relative. Their Macbook Pros finally followed their desktop brothers and restricted users to a single port-type, to which I respond “I get it, I get it, the future is coming, but could you please not shove it down my throat?”. But I guess I’m an outlier. I’m still kinda mad they got rid of optical drives. It seems like their innovation has become more desperate to put out a new model of at least 2 devices each year. Their last iPad had me bored, their touchbar had me snoring, and Bluetooth headphones had me enraged. At least the iPhone 7, while being bigger than a datapad from Star Trek and having the worst audio playback quality of any phone in recent memory, has enough internal storage now to replace my iPod classic that lets me have all the music I want anywhere I want it; thank you very much for not coming up with a suitable replacement. People might just say I’m behind the times with my clunky old devices, but as Apple’s OS’ bugs increase, their product lines diversify in the weirdest, most confusing possible way, and they start to become more locked down. I get the impression that Apple thinks I’m an idiot, and an idiot who can be counted on to buy their chained-down PC’s time and time again without question. They’ll still probably get one more generation of devices out of me, and hey, they’re one of the richest companies in the world, but I’m seeing a downward trend I hope they can pull up from.
But while Apple might be specifically annoying to me (and making some general duds) the whole message coming out of the tech industry this year is one to make them not be trusted. While there hasn’t been too much negative press at the announcements themselves, things like Uber’s new “fleet” of self-driving cars and Amazon’s grocery store show that the ideal future in the minds of emerging companies is one without you (and anti-trust laws). And this latest attempt to begin the demolition of these two huge employment sectors in the US comes after years of union gutting, tax evasion, and price slashing that competitors can’t keep up with, while offering no compensation and spitting in the face of one of the core tenets supposed to keep capitalism in check “if the people working for you don’t earn enough to buy the products, your sales will diminish”. Amazon has gone the pacification route by also introducing a way to donate to charities without changing much of your shopping routine (maybe someone’ll create a charity for helping Amazon’s warehouse workers in poor conditions) while Uber and Lyft decided to stamp their foot down and declare “We don’t need you, you need us!” and pulling out of Austin (and other cities) when a clunky but reasonable local law made it necessary to fingerprint their drivers. Their leaving sends the interesting message that the law, their customers, and their contractors can all go to hell, they’re playing for some imaginary future where they win. The future isn’t quite here yet: Teslas are smashing into trucks they think are the sky, Samsung’s phones are literally exploding (because seriously, maybe they should test their products a little better; they don’t have to release a new pocket-dinosaur every year), and a private company landing a rocket is still something to be impressed at, but as the most recent job-destroyers gain footholds on the coasts, it’s only a matter of time before they start moving inland.
And well… I mentioned politics last time so… Trump, am I right? or more the fact that he created a social-media campaign strategy that no one seems to really understand, even the facilitators like Facebook and Twitter. Presumably afraid that any human interference would be labeled as bias and hurt their image (which did happen) Facebook got rid of human news “editors” and replaced them with an algorithm that gave everyone a healthy dose of fake. I’m still not sure if I’d prefer a biased human serving me up news or a robot feeding me wrong information, because given two bad answers, why choose? (-Apparently Everyone in 2016). Twitter (or Reddit, or really anywhere,) didn’t fare much better, as every attempt at policing they did was interpreted as an infringement on peoples’ rights (which it might be?) and only served to bolster the things they were attempting to be rid of. But public confidence in their ability to be arbiters was only destroyed once they were all that was left after most of the “regular” media came out as crazy biased, as in “blatantly endorsing a political candidate when you’re supposed to be a neutral arbiter of truth” biased. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy with the fact that there was an election between, and I don’t have the exact numbers here, about 176,000 people all of whom I hated, but someone had to win, and if anyone stating an obvious political opinion when their job is supposedly based on facts and not opinion, is obviously shooting themselves in the foot. Even sites like Wikileaks that don’t really even have stories, just documents, appear to be extremely biased with the specific documents they release (but who was trusting information from potential traitors anyway?)
Without a segue, but with a bad taste in my mouth, I’ll just move back to less political industry topics. Time-Warner Cable was going to merge with Comcast in a deal that was shady enough they were going to give a significant chunk of their subscribers to Charter Communications and create a new company with other divested subscribers that would be controlled by both of them. But even still, it apparently wouldn’t make it through anti-trust regulations so they had to give up and Time-Warner merged with Charter instead creating the second-largest telecommunications company. Now they’re trying to re-brand, meaning people will get the same terrible service with a new uninteresting name: “Spectrum”. They’re even shooting themselves in the foot a bit by continually saying “Time-Warner Cable is now Spectrum”… way to get your name off of it. But at least they’re addressing their criticism, albeit by running away from it, unlike the Youtube/Google/Alphabet (who cares?) machine that long ago figured out it didn’t have to answer to anyone, especially customers. Even as Youtube sparks large controversies that alienate creators (3 in the last year if my (minimal) count is correct) there is no danger of any competitor catching up and thus a negligible number of creators will leave. Google (and Alphabet) like to keep their big mouths shut about how they can control your online lives for the most part (smart tactic I suppose), and Youtube mostly does as well, but its actions affect so many people that they are pretty uninterested in how to run the business so it benefits the creators and the consumers more than it does at the moment. And they’re big enough that they don’t have to answer to anyone, and even though they’re guilty of many of the things I’ve already talked about here nothing sticks. They just put their heads down and barrel forward with only their own internal monologue to hear.
So I guess the moral of the story is that everything is terrible and you shouldn’t trust anyone? I don’t want that to be the case, and while one should be watchful of that potential outcome we aren’t quite there yet. But as these newer companies get larger, they grow increasingly out of touch with regular people. In many cases they’re just sort of forgetting that people exist, and it seems like more often than not they’re being forgiven (or maybe just forgotten) for it. Hopefully, there are greater potential repercussions for these companies than just me and a few other people talking into the internet void, and hopefully that means more of a dialogue between the parties that will lead to more awesome things in the future. But now my internal pessimism disguised as realism begins to show through. I would feel equally confident in a prediction that the increasing complexity of electronic systems will lead to companies focusing even less on the end user and more on simply creating a product that they can put out, and still crashes, bugs, glitches, and hacks will become more prevalent and more disastrous. And even if things get better, I’ll probably be back in 3 years to talk about some other perplexing failure. But hopefully not sooner.
Man, I left the 2013 article on so much less of a downer… Maybe pessimism is just the curse of a thinking people… No that’s not funny! Um… At least we won’t hear “Do it for the Vine” anymore? Maybe… Samsung and Apple should be less conspicuous with their Hitman™ exploding phones… Sure, good enough.
Post-Script: Here is a link to a Verge article that, while not being the inspiration for this article, helped guide the direction it went.