Remember the Yellow Pages? I know I am walking down memory lane a lot lately, but things are changing so quickly. I often like to think about life before tech because it has certainly changed the way we do just about everything. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! What would we do now without Amazon or Google? As long as you are near a computer screen in whatever form you prefer, you can probably survive living alone on an island provided there is connectivity and free home delivery.
Here is what one NY Times reporter noted recently: “When the kids were born, it (Amazon) become my household Costco – supplier of diapers and other baby gear. Then it began a services designed to remove any decision-making from shopping: My toilet paper, paper towels and other consumables now come to my house on schedule, no thinking required. Then Amazon moves into media, and I was more hooked: It had me for packaged goods, so why not movies and TV shows too?” And now there is even more. Amazon gave us Echo, the company’s talking computer which speaks through a persona known as Alexa, and which has now infected American families like a happy virus.
But if it’s not Amazon for you, it’ll be one of other tech giants: Alphabet (Google), Apple, Facebook, or Microsoft. It’s too late to escape.
Do you ever think of social media as a business that has to be regulated in order to ensure fair competition in this marketing space. In the period of ten years we have gone from a time when the American marketplace was dominated by companies such as Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Microsoft, Citigroup and Bank of America to a new era of technology companies replacing them in the size of their market caps. Microsoft remains in the middle of this group at #3, but is now joined by its largest tech competitors: Apple (1), Alphabet (2, Google parent company), Amazon (4), and Facebook (5). We may eventually have to regulate these tech giants if they are determined to truly be monopolies that limit competition by smaller tech businesses in this space.
“We are going to have to decide fairly soon whether Google, Facebook and Amazon are the kinds of natural monopolies that need to be regulated, or whether we allow the status quo to continue, pretending that unfettered monoliths don’t inflict damage on our privacy and democracy. It is impossible to deny that Facebook, Google and Amazon have stymied innovation on a broad scale. To begin with, the platforms of Google and Facebook are the point of access to all media for the majority of Americans. While profits at Google, Facebook and Amazon have soared, revenues in media businesses like newspaper publishing or the music business have, since 2001, fallen by 70 percent.” So most Americans can now “proudly” say that they only know what they see on their computer screens (of varying sizes). Maybe this is really how all those fake news stories began?
Fewer newspaper readers, but more “screen” readers. Let’s face it, our social media markets are like the Wild West of the Digital Age. Maybe we do need a few Marshall Dillons to protect all of us law-abiding citizens (anyone remember Gunsmoke?).
Maybe mobile phones will finally bring the dawning on the new Age of Aquarius. We used to think that transcendental meditation would do that for all of us, but the answer may be literally in the palm of our hands. Who would have ever thought that Communist China would now be opening its economic doors and welcoming America’s iPhones to compete in their domestic marketplace. I guess we can all thank the Beijing Intellectual Property Court for revoking a ban that prohibited such sales. LET THE SUNSHINE IN!
The Beijing Intellectual Property Court ruled that the regulator, the Beijing Intellectual Property Office, had not properly followed procedures in ordering the ban while there was no sufficient proof to claim that the designs constituted a violation of intellectual property rights. Those required procedures will get you every time. I guess we all have to wait until a legal battle between some high-powered attorneys from both sides settles this issue in court. But I am not sure how this all happens in China when, in this case, the government’ s Intellectual Property Court has ruled that its own government’s Intellectual Property Office had “not properly followed procedures”?
Soon there will be Apple Stores all over China, and there may even be some stores selling iPhone copies. Just a guess on my part. )
Unfortunately, the censorship of apps on the Internet is a much easier tool for repressive governments to apply. In countries such as China and Russia, it is like a return to the “good old days” when books were banned by totalitarian governments or local authorities and other self-appointed censors. It seems like censoring apps can be done in a very effective and efficient way if any government so chooses. Banning an app from an App Store is like shutting down the printing press before the book is ever published. If the app isn’t in a country’s App Store, it effectively doesn’t exist. The censorship is nearly total and inescapable.
In the last few weeks, the Chinese government compelled Apple to remove the New York Times apps from the Chinese version of the App Store. Then the Russian government had Apple and Google pull the app for LinkedIn, the professional social network, after the networks declined to relocate its data on Russian citizens to servers in that country. Finally, two weeks ago, a Chinese regulator asked App Stores operating in the country to register with the government, an apparent precursor to wider restrictions on app marketplaces.
Decentralized communications was once a central promise of the Internet. Not any more. Big brother may be watching, and blocking.
Figuratively speaking that is. But this all about how technology has expanded as an industry that has a global reach. Not only in terms of the powers of the Internet, but its effect on humanity around the world. Many different races and people from all corners of the globe can now benefit and contribute to its continuing growth and reach. Silicon Valley has brought some of the most talented tech “workers” from around the world into the U.S. We are talking about companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, Netflix and Microsoft. Trump’s proposed immigration ban could impair the ability of top U.S. companies to recruit and retain such talent in order to better compete globally.
In a company-wide email, Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, stated his opposition very clearly, particularly in terms of its impact on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries. “I’ve heard from many of you who are deeply concerned about the executive order issued yesterday restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. I share your concerns. It is not a policy we support.” In open letters and other public statements during the Presidential campaign, tech executives and workers also objected to Trump’s anti-Muslim statements, and some signed onto a commitment not to help design his proposed Muslim registry.
Well, it’s the start of another work week at the White House. Although it’s only the second one, it already seems like a long time from the inauguration. I’m still waiting for the part where we become “great again!”
Well, the assumption here is that the more technology we pack into our cars, the more fun we will have behind the wheel. I am just not sure if this will happen. Then again, I am not so sure Donald Trump will make America great again. I like driving my car the old-fashioned way with the radio as the only “auditory aid” I have. I guess some people consider that a distraction, but it does enable me to practice my vocal skills when no one else may be listening, except when my wife and/or other family members, friends are in the car.
I first heard about this expanding business venture when I read a news article about Pearl, a new Silicon Valley auto-accessory start-up staffed predominantly by former Apple employees. Most of them wanted a different work environment where they could contribute to making the car America’s second home with nearly all the technological conveniences you may want. I am not exactly sure if this was the primary motivation, but it seems that most of the former Apple employees were also looking for a more collegial week environment. Managers brief employees on coming products, company finances, technical problems, even the presentations made to the board. What would Henry Ford say, or maybe this is what he had in mind all along. In any case, the Pearl employees, making auto acessories seem to be enjoying their new “mission” that frees them from the secrecy and paranoia of the Apple days.
I am just wondering about how many accessories you really need on a car. But maybe it is just a simple fact that we are spending so much more time in our cars that we need all these other conveniences to keep us alert? I am still trying to master the backup camera. I just find it hard to look at the dashboard to see what is behind me.
“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The sweet smell in this case refers to the emergence of tech companies as stock market leaders in the U.S. At the close of trading on August 1, the four most valuable companies on the Standard and Poor’s 500-stock index (S.&P.) were tech companies: APPLE, GOOGLE, Microsoft and Amazon. That meant that tech companies, by one common definition, occupied the four top spots in the market capitalization rankings, a rare and brief occurrence.
We can easily identified these companies as “tech companies” in the traditional sense, but the fact of the matter is that the most successful businesses or companies on the S.&P. today are using technology to fuel their continued growth and expansion. These days every company is a tech company, but some have better niches, faster growth, more attractive offerings or more favorable share prices than others. Tech has already taken over in nearly every business sector.
So what’s in a name? Do we identify these stock market leaders as “information technology companies,” or do you prefer “consumer discretionary companies”? Your choice.
And now for something completely different. This past week a new book was published on Amazon as well as other online book publishing formats. I authored one of the essays in this book: “Changed During the Sixties.” The book’s title is “Turning Points: Discovering Meaning and Passion in Turbulent Times.” I hope you will enjoy reading these essays about personal and professional transitions made during this time.
During the remainder of August, I will only be posting commentary on Mondays. I will be “resting” on Labor Day, but will resume my posts on a regular M-W-F basis on September 12.
Oh, the irony. “Apple, which has been criticized in recent years for failing to pay outside hackers who report bugs in its products, said on Thursday that it would begin offering a so-called bug bounty to technologists who alert the company to flaws.” As you might remember, the lack of an Apple bug bounty program made headlines earlier this year when the F.B.I. announced that it had paid hackers more than $1 million for a back-door into Apple’s iPhone. If you are a hacker you may be happy to learn that Apple will pay as much as $200,000 to flag critical problems. I know that’s down from the $1 million that they paid to solve the iPhone problem, but maybe there are just more hackers out there now to make it a more competitive?
Hackers have now entered the political arena. “Hackers for Hillary” recently held a fund-raiser where tickets were going from $100 to $2,700. According to event organizers, the fund-raiser focused on “cyber policy issues the next administration faces.” A number of researchers recently suggested that the Democratic National Committee was hacked by two Russian intelligence groups in what they believed was a campaign aimed at hurting Mrs. Clinton’s presidential candidacy.
I guess you could call all this “hacking for dollars” or “hacking for political power.” But this hacking of our tech industry and our political processes has enormous consequences world-wide.
Google is really just one of over a hundred websites blocked in mainland China. How do I know this, besides reading about it in the New York Times? As I mentioned in previous posts, I landed in Guangzhou, China, in flying to and from Hanoi over the past two months. I politely told one of the hostesses in the airport travelers’ lounge that I was unable to connect to Google, and received a very terse reply, “No Google.” Once over the border into Vietnam, I again became part of the Internet world, or at least to that part of the connected world where I spend a lot of my time.
I only revisited this topic in reading the Times’ article this week about China’s Internet Czar, Lu Wei, “stepping down” from his post. He had visited the U.S. this year and met with some of Silicon Valley’s giants such as Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg (I think he even wore a tie for the occasion). The Times article describes this leadership change as “a surprise move, but unlikely to signal a change in restrictive digital policies.” As for Mr. Wei, please don’t worry too much. China experts predict that he will likely end up getting a promotion in another area of the bureaucracy. It’s not uncommon for these important positions to be moved around frequently. Not exactly like the “up or out” policies in many other workplaces around the world.
What will happen next in terms of China’s digital policies is really anyone’s guess. Now if you had access to Google, you could probably just type in “social media in China.” I just did and got “very local and fragmented.” I guess that’s it, for now?
Some people just like to keep things working for a long time. But I guess if you are into having the latest in personal tech, you’ve just got to be the first to have it. Some might even say that this is all about “conspicuous consumption” to borrow a term from past decades that was often used to describe consumers who were obsessed with having the latest or newest for obvious display to their peers. Could this be something happening in the tech world today? Early signs seem to be that there might be a “used tech”market that is finding some traction in more urban centers around the U.S.
At the same time many tech companies are trying to train people to constantly upgrade their gadgets as soon as something newer and faster comes along. One Apple executive recently remarked at a product event last month that it was “really sad” that more than 600 million computers in use are more than five years old. I guess he was thinking about people like me, but he can be assured that our family does have an assortment of old and new mobile devices. And he should be happy that most of them are Apple products. But from a business standpoint this is not really good news. Industry data suggests that consumers are waiting longer to upgrade to new phones than they have in the past.
As a result the used tech industry is growing, and if you choose not be a consumer of the latest personal tech innovation, you can be as “techie” as you want. Join a Fixers Collective, or find a repair shop like the NYC iPod Doctor, or find a local Geek Squad. You might even come to form a more sentimental bond with the older technology and the people who fix it.
They really do need us. Just when I was starting to worry that Artificial Intelligence (AI) would become so pervasive that it would eclipse our limited human capacities, I now read that the tech behemoths (Apple, Amazon, Microsoft) are now hiring real people to make these virtual assistants sound more human. Microsoft, for example, has hired poets, novelists, playwrights and former television writers to be members of their writing teams. So technology may help us become more literate after all, or at least will provide more employment opportunities for those who are literate. Oh, I forgot to include comedians in the list of desired writing team members. That makes me happy!
This is very good news for job seekers in the U.S. By 2025, 12.7 million new U.S. Jobs will involve building robots or automation software; by 2019, more than one-third of the workforce will be working side by side with such technologies. That’s only three years away (Forester Data). What a change in the work place! In the old days you just had to worry about getting along (or not) with the humans you worked with. Now you will have to get along with your “artificial” colleagues as well. I’m not sure that they will become supervisory personnel in the future, but I would guess that many of you are thinking that you have already worked for some real “bots” in the past.
Some early studies of human-robot interaction have found that attempts to make robots seem more humanlike can inspire unease or revulsion instead of empathy. Maybe we all just have to learn to “get along,” but I don’t know if robots can be programmed for that?
So back on January 11th this year I posted some comments on a tech industry convening in San Jose, California, aimed at trying to untie the “Gordian Knot” of how everyone’s personal privacy can be protected whenever they choose to use any of the social media tools available to them (“Dazed and Confused in Silicon Valley”). Government officials flew in from Washington in order to help broker this landmark agreement. Nearly three months have passed and quess what? We have reached an impasse, well at least with one of the the technological giants who does not want to share the secrets of its programming encryption. Mr. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, wants to protect his users’ data.
I guess that’s all very noble and reassuring to iPhone owners, but let’s remember that an act of terrorism was committed here and many innocent American lives were lost. Does Apple really want to protect the privacy of its customers, or are they more interested in guarding its “special sauce.” I think it’s the latter. I remember hearing something about corporate responsibility in American business practices in the past. This situation may not be perfectly analogous, but let’s remember that companies like Apple have become very successful and very wealthy because of the favorable economic environment that exists in this country.
We should not forget that the victims of the San Bernadino attack at a Holiday party last December were professional staff who were working with individuals with developmental disabilities. Fourteen were killed, twenty-two were injured. I think that their lives mattered, and we should respond responsibly. As Tim Cook himself has said, “This is an issue that impacts all of us and we will not shrink from this responsibility.”
It’s all about stopping terrorism. Who’s not for that? And I certainly believe that the individual rights we have as Americans are the envy of most citizens inhabiting this earth, but I think we are now entering an age of increased cyber security demands that may signal the end of the open Internet. At least the free open access that we have enjoyed over the last four decades. Ironically it appears to be our attempts at being more “social” on the Intenet that have become the most popular tools for terrorists to co-opt in pursuit of their sinister ends.
But I may be overreacting. I should be encouraged that this past week senior executives from our leading tech companies and high-ranking federal officials met in San Jose to try and figure this all out. The expected participanting companies included YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Apple. Maybe the federal government will appoint a “Social Media Czar” who will keep an eye on all this. I really don’t think that is going to happen, but I am not really that sure how we will be able to protect freedom of speech while establishing new rules to determine when that freedom has been abused in social media?
We may soon learn what some of those changes may be, but we may find that we can not be as socialable on social media as we once were. Perhaps there will be some ingenious, creative solution upon which all can agree. Let’s hope that this “Gordian knot” of government policy and individual freedoms can be untied.
I know I have been posting frequently about Facebook’s role in the social media world, but they are truly becoming the leader in shaping your reading habits. Or should I say making you more comfortable in just subscribing to the news you want to read. Other tech companies are also competing in this contest of becoming subscribers’ gateway to the digital world; such as Google starting a social network, Amazon making a phone, and Apple helping you shop online.
Now what’s wrong with that? I guess that’s something we all have to decide, but a couple things come to mind as possible pitfalls in self-selecting the news or information we want to receive. When the protests were happening in Ferguson, Missouri, there was little commentary on these events on Facebook. One advertising website recently reported that just three years ago, forty percent of traffic came from search engines and fourteen percent from social media. Today, social media has outpaced search engines as the preferred gateway to that site.
I may be overreacting but I hope that we will all maintain some autonomy in the use of our digital “guides.” Let’s be careful that they don’t become our “Big Brothers.”