This is the best email I’ve ever gotten from a reader. Ever. It’s addressed to USA Today’s Jefferson Graham and me, likely because we were the most visual reporters under the USA Today umbrella at CES. (I’m a freelance columnist for USA Today/Gannett and reported on four stories for them during my time at CES 2018.)
Since Andy sent this email, I’ve replied and kept in touch. My first response to him is under his letter – and while I might not agree with everything (I need a sunscreen reminder…) he makes incredibly valid and insightful points. I always look for better ways to cover new tech and gadgets. I realize that, “most people have no idea how any of these things work, and are already hopelessly confused by the tech they have.” (To quote a link from Nilay Patel’s excellent Verge article “Everything is Too Complicated.”
I – as a tech+life reporter have to do better, and so do the people making these gadgets. Thank you Andy – and thank you readers – please keep the emails coming!
From an email January, 2018 – republished here with the author’s permission:
(Apologies in advance — prepare for a rant)
Hi Jennifer and Jefferson,
I’m a big fan of USA Today, and, although I personally like to keep tech advances a bit at arm’s length, I do really enjoy your coverage of all things tech. I’m a reporter myself and I used to live in Las Vegas, so I always enjoy the coverage from the CES.
But I have a question to ask:
Could you please — PLEASE — take a slightly more “big-picture” critical look at tech and all these so-called “advances”?
Jennifer, you wrote this week about the new wearable UV Sense that reminds you to put on more sunscreen or to stay out of the sun altogether.
I’m sorry, but… if you need a device to tell you to put on more sunscreen, or to stay out of the sun, well… you need help.
And the Lenovo Smart Display which can…”remind you to feed the dog.”
If you need a device to remind you to feed the dog, well… you probably shouldn’t have a dog.
And here’s a sentence that struck me: “If all this sound like stuff you can already do with an existing connected home device such as the Amazon Echo Show, that’s because it kind of is…”
Here’s my suggested re-write: “If all this sounds like stuff you can already do ON YOUR OWN, that’s because it kind of is…”
And a conversational, cuddly “social companion” called Buddy? Having a “relationship” with inanimate device?
That’s just depressing. Did anyone see the 2013 movie “Her”?
And while I DID find the new “Translator” interesting (boy, how many times could I have used that on trips overseas?), it really just provides one less reason to actually take the time to learn some foreign language phrases.
Yes, I know, I know…. I’m sounding like an old, Grandpa Simpson, “get-off-my-lawn-you-damn-kids” techno-phobe.
I’m not. I’ve benefited greatly from tech advances at home and in my work, which is why I love reading your work.
But I’m concerned about two things:
First, for decades, the tech industry (and tech reporters) have tried convince us that our individual lives are SOOOO busy that we NEED all these devices and apps to make our lives simpler and more streamlined.
That’s a total myth.
Seriously, is ANYONE’S life that harried or hurried?
And with the Lenovo Smart Display (or any of the other “smart” home devices)… so it will give us, say, an extra half hour of free time in our lives.
What will we do with that extra half hour? Get extra sleep? No.
Will we do a half hour of yoga? Spend it in the gym? Start writing that great novel we always promised we’d write? Cuddle with that dog we’ve been reminded to feed?
Of course not.
We’ll spend it doing exactly what we’ve all been doing for the last ten years (myself included):
BURYING OUR FACES IN OUR DEVICES, just like the tech companies want us to do.
It’s like a cocaine dealer who tells his customers, “Hey, now that you have the energy to tackle a thousand more daily tasks, how are you going to keep up with each one? More cocaine!”
(I’ll never forget a print ad years ago for Blackberry (“crackberry”, as it was called) — a woman sits on a big sofa, in jeans, bare-foot, sipping tea, with a big cuddly dog next to her. There wasn’t even a Blackberry in the photo. And the caption read simply: “Life on Blackberry”. Ridiculous.)
The other big myth is this:
That advances in tech are simply inevitable, and that if you don’t jump on board now, like “everyone else” is doing, then that tech-savvy, 19-year-old hipster in a hoodie sitting next to you on the train will soon take your job and lead a much more fabulous life than you.
These things are NOT inevitable.
Years ago, the tech world (and reporters) went ga-ga for Google Glass. The public? Not so much.
It flopped, as did Snapchat’s Spectacles, and, I’m guessing, as will the new iterations of it that are coming out.
When Google Glass flopped, the tech world wrung its collective hands trying to figure out why.
“Maybe it was just too ahead of its time”, they said.
First, people were just plain creeped out by someone approaching them wearing Google Glass, and hated the idea of being monitored, recorded and digitally sliced-and-diced like a Christmas ham.
And secondly — and I didn’t see one bit of discussion about this — quite basically… people don’t want to wear %*!$ on their faces. How simple an explanation is THAT?
When I was a kid, I accidentally broke or lost my glasses all the time. I couldn’t WAIT to finally ditch them for good, and wear contact lenses! People didn’t care if Google Glass cured cancer — they simply didn’t want to wear stuff on their faces (Yes, I know… I’m sure Google will release its new virtual reality, internet-accessible contact lenses by next week. Shudder).
All of this is, again, just a long way of saying that I wish tech reporters would just be a little more critical.
I worry that, as a society, we’re hurtling toward the second half of the movie “Wall-E”. Remember?
It’s revealed that what’s left of humanity are ridiculously obese “blobs” of humans, with limp legs that don’t function, wheeled around on motorized lawn chairs, with computer screens permanently in front of their faces, making them think that their every whim will be answered, when, in fact, the computers are simply TELLING them what to do.
And it’s all controlled by the mega, monolithic, Amazon-type company, “Buy N Large”, with its trademark blue and red colors… and its disembodied voice of Sigourney Weaver (an inspired touch) seductively telling them to “Try red, it’s the new blue!”.
BUT.. thanks again for all your coverage, which I DO appreciate.. but please tell me I’m not the only one who feels this way….. am I…? (cue Grand Canyon echo sound effect).
Hi Andy – I for one, love this rant – and this discussion. And you are definitely not alone in feeling this way! I actually agree with you on most most of it – and try to take a critical look at a lot of what I do, as well as push the gadget-makers on it too. I actually posted a note on social about this a few hours ago –
“This story sums up the reason I do what I do “at the intersection of high tech & real life,” especially this line: “most people have no idea how any of these things work, and are already hopelessly confused by the tech they have.” I say, it’s time for the industry at large to take note – http://bit.ly/2DnUGQr The Verge Can you relate? What do you think? Let’s discuss.”
Also, it’s the EXACT same one I had with my 70-ish-year old parents and 16 year old daughter at our dinner table last night. I am working on a follow-up report on this subject/topic and likely will do a lot of follow-up over this next year. BUT – I think you’re off on a few things and missing the point on a few others.
I don’t have time (I’m one of those who is desperate for an extra 30 minutes in my day – yes for yoga, reading, writing, mostly to spend more time with my husband and daughter…) to address your note point by point right now – but will asap.
As a reporter – consider this:
– LOreal’s fingernail wearable: Skin cancer: “Between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have either basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma at least once. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. … More than 1 million cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.” Yes, people need help managing UV exposure, as well as pollen, pollution and other potential dangerous health triggers. Also – the size and function of this particular gadget signal ways tech is shrinking – I want a bluetooth device on every pair of reading glasses on sunglasses I own – because I lose them all ALL the time.
– Lenovo Smart Display – okay, the dog example might be lame – but this product in particular caught my attention (and won several best of show awards) for design and function. It does what the Amazon Echo Show tried to do – but much, much better. I can’t wait to have it in my kitchen – so that when I’m cooking and my hands are covered with gunk, I can ask it to read the recipe, show me how to chop chicken, turn on lights as the sun goes down, turn off the boiling kettle, call my mom, turn on some music, or call my daughter from upstairs to come help me, or watch the news or change the channel – and YES – I need it to tell me about my schedule for the day. Can I live without it? Absolutely – as can a ton of other people. But if I spend money on a new gadget this year – this will likely be it. Do I want to do more things in less time? No. Do I want to do what I do now more conveniently (and in less time)? Hell yes.
There’s a reason personal electronics with voice activation is taking this shape – and I address it here: “Tech makers envision a future where our voices are like remote-controls for our homes, which might be soon be considered our biggest personal gadget. Or like one big robot servant, wired and waiting to make our every wish its command.”
Make no mistake – I’m not endorsing – far from it – just telling you what to expect. Also – Expect many more stories – including critical questions – from me on this topic – and please – ask me questions, share comments, let’s discuss.
Andy – THANK YOU for your email –
All the best,