Monday, November 6, 2017

Week of 11/06/2017

Technology Rants for 2017
For those of you who are new to the world of Brutally Honest ramblings and rants, understand that this commentator has been involved with computers long before many of you were even born.  My generation was introduced to computers back when the Internet was still a government-funded experiment called the Arpanet.  While Matthew Broderick was playing a hacker in “War Games”, I was writing primitive text-only computer games using a program called BASIC on a small Digital mainframe system that my high school had, and that was only because the Apple IIe computers were reserved for the computer science class.
Yes, I lived in a world before HTML and i-named products.  I learned to type on an actual typewriter.  My first newspaper articles were on a word processor, which was a hybrid of a computer and typewriter.  A mouse back then was just a rodent.  I spent many a quarter playing the original Pong and Donkey Kong and Pac-Man.  I still have my original Atari and Sega and Nintendo game systems and all of the games that you would have to physically insert in order to play.  Social networking back then were digital bulletin boards that you would have use a modem to connect to and share information with.  And, yes, even then they were talking about the dangers of online predators.
That lets you know just how far we’ve gotten over the decades.  And you will not find a better and more diehard supporter for technological freedom and advancement than yours truly.  Bill Gates may be a close second.
And yet, at the same time, I’m not happy with how we’ve been going.  Back in my day, the tech leaders had noble ideas for technology and how it should be used.  Gates used to write books about his vision of the future and even did multimedia presentations to see how that vision could come about.
Today, however, I don’t see any of our current tech leaders showing any kind of interest in the future other than to make mountains of money.  And that myopia can be seen in what we are focusing on... specifically cellphones.  Correction: they’re supposedly called “smart” phones, but there’s nothing really “smart” about them.
Today, Apple has invented a season called the “iPhone Upgrade Season”, where their obsessive iSheep fanatics wait in line for what they believe will be the “newest” version of the iPhone.  Except, what is really “new” about this phone other than the nearly $1000 price tag?
What is not getting too much mention is the fact that more and more of the iPhone is becoming so 100% proprietary that they’re eliminating third-party peripherals.  We first saw this with the removal of the earphone jack so as to rely on Apple’s exclusive wireless earbuds.  That means that all of those companies that could make earphones for hearing and for communicating won’t be able to use them on iPhones.  Apple would control which companies would be “allowed” to create peripherals that would work on their devices.
Now this is nothing new for Apple.  They were doing this back when the name of the game was the personal computer.  Their monitors, their keyboards, their mice, their speakers, and their software.  And that was fine because at the time there was more than enough competition for them to be so picky.  But today, Apple’s iPhone is the standard-bearer.  A very expensive standard-bearer.
And the competition?  Well, there are other cellphone makers, but they all run under one operating system: Android.  Microsoft used to have a stake in the game, but this is not the same company that Bill Gates ran.  Now they’re out of the cellphone business, putting their own stake in netbooks and their Xbox game system.
Android is owned by Google, aka Alphabet, and, like Microsoft, they set up a universal operating system for cellphones and tablets and even some netbooks.  That, in and of itself, is a good thing.  That allows competition.  That provides a common platform for developers to design and perfect peripherals and applications that are not bound to just one company or one provider or one phone.  This is what originally helped to make Microsoft the king of the computer operating systems.
But Google is not Microsoft, because Google has decided to do to Android what Microsoft did not want to do with Windows until recent years, and that is to whore their users out to advertisers.
Do you like Google’s weather app?  Well get used to seeing it more and more and get more and more annoying, because now Google is doing everything they can to put ads in it and also to have its own lock screen in addition to your own lock screen, all so you can see more and more ads.  Swipe to clear their lock screen, then again to clear the phone’s lock screen, and make certain you don’t swipe across an ad, or else you’ll be forced to visit it.  Cha-ching for Google!
Google’s file manager app is the same way.  No debate, no notice or announcement, they just upgraded to a new service that says “contains ads” on it and then hits you with ads with every use.  You open the app, you get an ad.  You try to navigate to your folder, you get an ad.  You close an application, you get an ad.
If you were to check out Google’s website, they’ll tell you that some ads are “necessary” to supposedly pay for the “free service”.  Now that may be true when it comes to their browser and online search engine, but keep in mind we’re talking about apps on your phone that you cannot remove!  You cannot remove Google’s Weather app.  You cannot remove Google’s File Manager app.  You can only neuter these apps by uninstalling it to its original version, shutting off all other updates for it, and then installing another app that hopefully won’t have the intrusive ads, or at least not be as intrusive.  But the original apps are still there, still taking up space on your phone’s memory.
Oh, and let’s not forget that Android isn’t free to the cellphone makers!  They have to pay for a license to have Android on their phones.  That’s part of the price that you paid for that phone, so you’ve already paid for that not-really “free service”.  Those ads, then, are nothing more than Google whoring you out to get more money for themselves.
One more thing to consider when it comes to these in-app ads: they are downloaded through your phone’s connection, which includes your phone provider’s data service.  So if you don’t have unlimited data service for your phone, those ads take bites out of your monthly allotment.  Then again, I don’t think anyone should be surprised about that, because the people who come up with ads don’t care what the recipients have to go through any more than a McDonald’s executive cares about what the cow thinks about becoming hamburger meat.
Speaking of ads, I am getting really tired of seeing websites like the Huffington Post bitch at me for using ad-blocking software.  Hey ad whores: did it ever occur to you that the reason why people are turning to blocking software is because those ads are getting intrusive and annoying?  Did it ever occur to you that maybe we are going to your site to actually read your articles, not to be bombarded by advertisements?  Here’s something to chew on: how much money do you think you’d make if you didn’t have anyone visiting your site because of your ads?
The media of late has been focusing on how extensive Russia infiltrated and influenced political activity here in America through social media.  It wasn’t just the 2016 Presidential Farce either.  Pretty much every political subject has been an opportunity for the Russian troll farm to instigate and aggravate.  If it can further polarize and divide Americans, the Russian trolls did it.  It didn’t matter if it was about Donald Trump or NFL protests or Black Lives Matter or some local issue, if they heard about it and it could be exploited, they exploited it.
And now we expect Facebook and Instagram and the other social media services to somehow “fix” this problem.  Why?  Keep in mind that we are not the customers to social media.  As I’ve pointed out three years ago, we are the product to them.  The Russian trolls are really the customers to social media.  So why should Facebook and Instagram and the other services do something that would affect their real customers?  They’re McDonald’s and we are the cows ready to become hamburger meat.
Understand that social media services like Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat are really not in the business to provide a service for us, the great unwashed online.  Their real business is information brokerage.  They use social media as the method to lure us in and share our lives, where they take all of that sharing and find ways to market the information from that sharing with other businesses like advertisers.
Never thought about it that way, did you?  Maybe we all should.
But let’s get brutally honest here... how much of the “new technology” is actually helping us?  And how much of it is just there to suck information and make a boatload of money?
There are advances that do help us.  Look at the auto industry and some of their new features.  Things like accident avoidance and parking assistance and syncing with smartphones so you have hands-free calls and hear and send texts by voice.  Those are advances that certainly help us a whole lot more than Snapchat, or the people that come up with selfie-sticks and phone clips for your car so you can post videos of yourself talking while driving.
Listen, the more we are encouraged to share our lives with others online, the more we give up our personal sense of privacy.  Technology itself is not “smart” enough to know the difference between right and wrong.  It’s still a tool that can be used in many ways.  Yes, it’s nice to know that hundreds of people (or, in my case, dozens) know who you are and like what you’re wearing or what you’re thinking.  But that is information about your life that you put out there freely, and once it is out there, you have no control over how other people use it.  How would you like to know that someone else is making money off something you put out there for free?
Maybe what we need are more dreamers and visionaries in the tech world instead of money-grubbing profiteers, people who can look five or ten years into the future and see where we are headed.  Because there is no future for us all when the furthest into the future that we are interested in is the next fiscal quarter.

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