2016 The Year of Oops… Redux

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.

2013 – The Year of “oops”

Well 2013 is over, and it has been for a while when I write this because I am lazy, “cough” I mean wanted time to reflect. Although reusing that joke kinda makes me look lazy, doesn’t it. Anyway, I’m going to talk about 2013, but not the year as a whole, or anything like that. I’m going to focus on the tech industry in 2013, which can be summed up easily by a quote from someone at Rooster Teeth whose name I’m forgetting: “The year of oops”. Specifically, he was talking about the games industry, but I want to apply it to the broader tech industry as a whole, because in 2013 it came to a screeching halt.

I’ll start with the video game industry, which began this year with the runaway success that was the Wiiu… Okay, the fact that Nintendo prematurely released a console with not a game but Nintendo games for it is almost unsurprising at this point. I can’t remember people playing anything but Wii Sports for the first two years that console existed. The surprising thing this time was that it almost backfired. By almost I mean that I’m sure Nintendo made a lot of money off of the console, and I’m sure it will be a well loved platform in the future, but it has literally nothing to talk about on it. “Hey, have you played the Wiiu?” “Yeah, I played that cool remake of a 10 year old game on it!” “…” Is pretty much how it goes. But at least no news is good news when comparing that to Microsoft’s marketing and PR departments which appear to be made of one super-smart, typing weasel apiece.

I’m not sure exactly what Microsoft was thinking when telling people that their console was going to be doing all of the things people usually don’t like their electronic things doing: i.e. looking at them all the time. But it does show something that I am going to iterate and reiterate throughout this article: that people developing in tech companies have distanced themselves from the consumer, which makes it impossible for the developer to determine what the consumer wants. For instance, the developers at Microsoft, being around cameras all the time with high-speed internet, don’t understand that there are people, like myself, who don’t have reliable internet connections or enjoy weird, gimmicky, “cameras” staring at them all the time. The developer is so far removed from these problems that they are completely unaware that the consumer even has them.

But in the end, Microsoft did a 180 on all of that, and turned off all of their wonderful features they’ll patch back in in a few months “cough” “cough”. And throughout the entire thing Sony was in the back saying, “we don’t do that, or that, or especially that”. Keeping their mouths shut and letting the rather large ones at Microsoft make the mistakes and then address them was very clever of Sony. And in the end it looks like it might have won them the launch month, though if the past is any indication, that’ll even out over the next few years.

None of that really matters, though, because no games were released for either system, an artifact of the fact that they were just launched. I never get caught up in console hype for this reason. There are no games to play until the second year, at least. And with these always-on functions, I’m not sure I’m even going to buy a console from this generation. But for those who did buy this generation of consoles near release time, let’s at least hope that they are faster than Nintendo at releasing games for them and that they aren’t ask broken as GTA V and Battlefield 4.

Getting away from video games for a second… ha! just kidding! I’m gonna talk about Windows 8, which as far as I can tell is a phone gaming platform for your desktop. An OS that failed so miserably no huge amount of Surface tablet marketing, or giving them to all the TV shows, will save it. I’m sure Microsoft will be using those tablets for firewood soon the way they’re (not) flying off the shelves. This goes way back to the aforementioned disconnect between developer and consumer. Who asked for such a device or piece of software to be created? Clearly only people at Microsoft did. I have heard no excitement for Windows 8 (to be fair, no one is really excited about a new OS) and have not only not seen anything positive, I’ve barely seen anything at all. Such problems with the Xbox One (Did I mention how dumb that name is?) and Windows 8 (In which the titular “windows” were almost completely eliminated in windows 7) just prove that Microsoft is so big that it can just shove things at us and still make money.

And speaking of shoving things onto us, (every… single… segue… is going to be that clunky) Google decided that it hadn’t covered its quota of stupid stuff, and near the end of the year decided to shoe-horn in their failed social media site to Youtube (the only thing that makes Google money anymore) purely for statistics jacking purposes. “X-million people use Google+” now counts in at least 75% who do so under duress. What are you gonna do? Go get kicked off Blip? (something I have experience with!) As far as user-submitted, simple content, there is nowhere else to go. Blip and a few others are only for making shows and getting paid (two things I’m very bad at, so I see why they kicked me off). There is nowhere for that market to go, so they have to stay and make a Google+ account to use the basic functionality of the site they already signed up for. Hell, I had Google+ and didn’t want to link the two, why? Because the back end of Google sucks enough already without having to be afraid of accidentally moving to another service and being stuck in an infinite hole of madness. The whole guise of combining Google into “one service” or “one Account” is laughable when the rough edges between several completely different user interfaces glued together are at best badly blurred over with a Photoshop tool, and at worst serve to break the entire system. I still haven’t figured out how to get from Google+ to any other service, even though Adsense, Adwords, and Youtube all take me there. I just don’t understand how a company like Google, with so much money, infrastructure, servers, and interaction with people can create something so fundamentally broken. I mean they followed up the public stupidity that was Google Glass with this. (I forgot Glass was even in this year, because It was like five years ago that we figured out people don’t want to wear a computer on their face, or talk like an idiot to nothing, or be banned from literally every public place for spying, and don’t tell me someone can’t crack google glass in about a day and a half, because people do that with everything.)

None of this even mentions the fact that they’re basically spying on us and manipulating us into searching for what they want while chanting such a subjective, nebulous phrase like “don’t be evil”. The only way Google isn’t evil at this point is them standing up (read: trying to) the even larger travesty that is the NSA, who apparently think “help people” means “steal all of their personal information” or something similar. I can’t wait until they just accidentally release all of their data out into the wild like Target’s credit cards or Adobe’s passwords. I would have trusted Adobe more with my passwords than the NSA with where my phone has been and those guys still messed it over harder than someone trying to Google search in Facebook. So now that the Government (who, by the way, also says “don’t be evil”) and Google are spying on us, where do we turn? Right into our graves, I bet. RIght where people will be using our credit cards at Target and logging into Photoshop as us.

And that’s not all the stupid tech stuff the Government’s done this year. (I am in the US so Government means the US Government) Right after the shutdown, with its ridiculous premise of “you’re going to steal millions of dollars from the American people, so we’re going to steal it first and call you a sucker” (I hate these people), they rolled out a website for the bill they passed nearly five years ago, (in what I’m sure was a plot to make the next president look like a nob if he didn’t get reelected) but apparently this site was designed by Ted, the guy who knows computers, who sits right next to Tim, the guy who funds crack in the ‘Department of people who think they have Government jobs’ in the Government. Ted, the guy who knows computers, apparently said he could design a website (he made one for his dog), and then bopped off (with a billion dollars the way our government spends), leaving the website so broken that even the NSA’s inexplicable number of servers couldn’t save it (they should have called Microsoft).

Now some may say they should have called Apple, but Apple is experiencing its own problems now that the only person who knew what he was doing in the entire company is gone. Apple products are now as buggy as anything else now that the man who actually yelled at people who did something wrong is gone. Remember how much Apple sucked without Jobs before? If you don’t, it was like Microsoft with more colors and fewer features. Now the Iphone has become just another gimmick “ooooohhhh, different colors, oooohhhh, cheaper plastic version” I went on record saying that the second the Iphone 5c releases the Iphone has lost its exclusivity and thus a huge percent of its market share. With a few more years of this the IOS and Android (oh, hey, something good Google did, and I never use!) will be indistinguishable save for the fact that the IOS has a higher barrier to entry. Who do you think’ll win that?

But not to worry, Apple will stay afloat with the new Mac Pro, assuming people don’t throw away too many things into is trashcan center (it’s where you store the snacks). Even though they were technically released this year, they won’t be going to consumers for another few months, partially because they are made in America, and partly because Apple just wanted to release them early and said “release” with an unfinished product, another trend I don’t like. And it doesn’t have USB ports, which ensures that I won’t be buying one for three decades. Seriously, I still have several operating computers that exclusively use serial ports. But wait, there is a new Ipad! It’s about a millimeter thinner than the others, and oh, who cares anymore? Apple releases so many stupid updates to its products it sounds like Call of Duty at this point. And they broke their OS, and the Email software, and they broke Itunes for me about 17 updates ago so I don’t care. I kinda just want Apple to shut up.

Now let’s finish up with disappointment at things that nobody cared about in the end. Samsung released a watch phone, because everyone was just dying for one of those to make them look like an idiot and not at all like Dick Tracy or the Jetsons, as the commercial would have one believe. Again, another product that no one asked for and I’m positive no one wanted, just throw it in the bin with our futuristic glasses that cost more than your car and continue to surf the web on a slab and play games with a controler like a sane person. And finally, the biggest disappointment… Yahoo didn’t screw up Tumblr. Well, at least not yet, nothings happened, I mean Tumblr is still great. Who’d have thunk (ha, it’s funny because it’s wrong) that the only companies in the tech industry to not screw up this year are the newest, and the one known for screwing up. That’s both great and terrifying. And while 2013 may have been a good year for people I can say with certainty that I hope in 2014 the tech people will again figure out how to do their jobs. I hope y’all had a good 2013 and I hope you have an even better 2014, I might see you there, but probably not, because we are interacting through text on a computer screen.