Charlie's Blog: Tech Fatigue

2.14.2015

Tech Fatigue


Men have become the tools of their tools.
HENRY DAVID THOREAU

One of my peeves in life is when someone asks me a question about some topic or subject such as how to convert gallons to liters or when Burr shot Hamilton or whatnot. There was a time when such questions did not bother me, but they bother me now because we live in the age of smartphones where the answer to every question is a Google search away. It has become irritating in the same way that people would ask me the time because they were too lazy to pull their phones out of their pockets. I wear a wristwatch, so people think I am obligated to provide them the time. My answer? Get a watch.

I am no Luddite, but I can't help but notice the fact that technology is losing its power to improve our lives. This could change if they ever invent cold fusion or something really groundbreaking. But since the internet became a big deal in the 90's and cellphones got cheap, the improvements have been merely incremental. This is a problem for the folks in Siliconia because their business thrives on providing new things except none of it is really new these days. It doesn't take much to see the parallels between Facebook today and AOL in the 90's. We are in an era not of invention but reinvention as tech fatigue sets in. If you doubt this, consider this advertisement:


The tablet is already old hat. Nobody wants one which is why they are giving them away. The tablet is simply a cheap computer minus a keyboard. It is old tech repackaged as something new courtesy of the overhyped imagination of Steve Jobs. I can predict that the Apple Watch and Google Glass are destined for a similar fate as the tablet computer. These things are examples of tech fads.


Tech fads are nothing new, and they provoke a laugh when seen in hindsight. But no one really has the courage or the brains to call them fads while they are fads. A fad is nothing more than a novelty that excites curiosity for a brief time then fades as the novelty gets replaced by the need for utility. The Palm Pilot was one of those novelties, but it was less useful than using a simple paper address book and dayplanner. This continues today as I notice that many of the pictures on EDC show smartphones and tablets paired with Moleskine and Field Notes notebooks and an array of pens and pencils.


One would think that Jobs and Edison would have totally obliterated the Gutenberg world, yet paper survives in the age of screen ubiquity. It isn't like the nerds haven't tried to get rid of the notebook and the printing press, but paper persists because of its utility and ease of use. You don't have to plug in paper. Paper does not catch viruses or become clogged with malware. Paper doesn't shatter when it hits the ground.

Things don't change that much. You realize this when you watch a movie from the past about the future which is now the present. There are no flying cars today. Doors are still opened by hand with knobs and hinges. Artificial intelligence is nowhere near HAL 9000 levels.


I have loved tech for a long time because I saw how it made things better. The internet put the world of information at my fingertips. Cellphones made communication much easier. I never had to be pushed into adopting these things. It is only lately that I feel that the world of tech has become pushy. In the past, I always said yes. Today, I say no, and it isn't because I am some old dude averse to change. I say no because there is no change. Because of the lack of real change, the tech world has had to repackage the same old stuff and shove it down our throats. If you disagree with my thesis, consider the last time Facebook frustrated you by a change forced upon you. Just when you get used to it, they switch everything on you forcing you to go along or drop them altogether. Or, look at how Microsoft tried to force its customers into the touchscreen world with that abortion of an OS known as Windows 8. Tech used to change the world. Now, it tries to change its customers to like whatever they offer. The new things aren't really new. They are merely different.

The pinnacle of all this pushiness is the smartphone. People make fun of me for using an indestructible flip phone with long battery life, good sound quality, and great reception when I could upgrade to a piece of exposed fragile glass that drops the call that I can't hear and needs to spend every four hours plugged into the wall to recharge it. So, I ask the question I always ask when the mockery begins. What does the smartphone offer in terms of utility that I need and don't already have? The best answer is that a smartphone has GPS capability that I already have courtesy of my GPS and flip phone. The smartphone has been around long before Steve Jobs dumbed it down for the masses. Now, the phone resembles a game more than a communication device. The most popular app in the world for smartphones is the Facebook app. The smartphone is the tech version of candy which is tasty but not good for you.

It is easy to ignore a fad. You choose to be smart while everyone around you chooses to be stupid. The stupid people are the ones that are hard to ignore. I can't help but notice that smartphones are usually in the hands of stupid people. Many of these people don't even own a PC or have read a book since the requirement back in high school. Even the most impoverished welfare mother has a gigantic phablet smartphone. As for social gatherings, they amount to nothing more than people gathered in an area that serves food and drink while they ignore each other in favor of their screens.


I can lament these things, but I know they won't last. I survived hair metal, so I can survive this. If there is anything truly new today, it is the desperation that the tech industry displays as the price of their wares heads towards their true value and away from their hyped value. This is why they are giving away those tablets for free. This is why Bluetooth earpieces are left in the drawer unused. This is why they have an app that turns your smartphone into a dumbphone.

I don't know where things go from here. What I can say is that new fads will replace old fads in the same way that Justin Bieber replaced the Jonas Brothers. I just know that I am a late adopter when it comes to technology, and the tech industry would prefer that I be an early adopter which explains the pushiness. Their goal is not innovation but more profit from less value. I'm just tired of being pushed around.