Its Time for Consumers to Step Back from Tech-Gadgets

     It isn't as if I'm a tech expert, but I am tech savvy. Born into the beginnings of the internet age, I remember when AOL online really first brought internet to the masses. I also remember playing the modern consoles, NES, SENS, etc as well as the start of the World of Warcraft age of MMOs (what a plague that ended up being) but I also was always interested in science and tech as a tool as well as entertainment. The current buzz word in tech is SMART devices, and the new iPhone. Nobody gets press coverage like Apple's tech. Although, the Google Glass was an entertaining idea for a while (that isn't dead mind you). However, the past few years of development and particularly consumerism of tech has really had my skepticism cranking. Honestly, I've settled on two main ideas about why people, particularly non-tech-savvy people, should take a step back from the latest and greatest: point and purpose, and security.

     The one that fascinates even myself is point and purpose. For myself, I would upgrade my iPhone every year or two years like clockwork, damn near bought an Apple Watch. I did buy an XBox 360, which I played a total of THREE times before parting with it, just as the Sony PSP. For what point? In the case of the consoles its simply a matter of entertainment, which I never used. What a waste of money. The phones, watch, is still along those lines albeit one might make a better case for need of a phone. But really, why would I need a new iPhone 8? My 6 works just fine, which I upgraded when I completely shattered my iPhone 4S. I should note before I proceed further that it isn't as if you can keep the same smart phone for years and years, OS upgrades will ensure built-in obsolescence as well as the likely sidewalk concrete interface. However, the unneeded upgrade, Why? Exactly why do you need it? What are you doing on that iPhone 8 that is any different than your iPhone 7, or my iPhone 6, or my 4S? My own answer was - nothing. I like being able to stream music when I work, I also find it quite useful to have my e-mail at the ready and even that one is debatable about being separated from work. Of course we have the large array of time-sinks of games, YouTube, Social media, etc.

     What really sparked me into this article was reading how the generation three Apple Watches will be capable of making calls absent of a 300 foot bluetooth connection to an iPhone, for a nominal fee of $10 on the cell phone plan. Exactly what freaking point does that really serve that A) You should spend the $300+ on the watch, and B) $120 per year for the privilege to make a phone call on it the same way Dick Tracy comics did that in the '50s (or was it the '40s?). This is the main idea behind point and purpose. When is the last time you walked out of the house willingly leaving your phone behind? If you do that regularly and not run back in like a maniac having a heart arrhythmia looking for your phone, I'll bet my damn laptop you've never even considered buying an Apple Watch. Maybe it will come to me, but I don't see the purpose in a SMART Watch besides anything more than the same point of a house plant. I'd even argue the house plant is more useful and has greater health benefits.

     Honestly the actual utilitarian usage of your average smart phone, watch, or device is minimal if you really think about it compared to everything else we do on them. The last real gain I found on a tablet was the Nook or Kindle approach to books. We could even venture into the health concerns of being, what my physics professor rightly called "so teched out" all the time. In all seriousness, social media addiction is a problem and has a tendency to kill your attitude with everyone spilling their problems and private lives. But the basic idea of all these new devices is simply what is the point? The real point, how is it really going to enrich my life? I don't mean frivolously. Is it going to improve my commitment to being more healthy? Eat better? Learn a new skill? That would be worth it. No, we play on Facebook, watch porn and take 5000 photos every time we go to the bathroom. Think about that, what is a noble, enriching use for that next tech device? Its also worth considering if you really need that upgrade. This laptop that is nearing 3 years old works like a champ for what I do every day. But no, its never going to run Call of Duty but that's ok, I don't need it too which means I don't need to spend that $2000 for a new one that would. I tried a Surface Pro 2 for several years. I liked the idea of the tablet pen concept, which was novel, and made writing notes and such very nice but in actuality, I couldn't see the grand leap in benefit (I don't mean graphics art). It ended up being clumsy at best over the novelty of it. For note taking in a physics class, give me Mathematica or Pen and Paper. They're more useful.

     Security and the Internet of Things. Any cyber security expert worth their salt I would wager is avoiding these things like the plague. I'm talking about SMART fridges, SMART Thermostats, SMART Lights (OK, maybe not those, I love my Philips Hue). There are two major points to give a great deal of thought on before deciding to interconnect every single aspect of your life and this would apply in general to tech anyway but even more so for IOT devices. Privacy and Security. SMART locks crack me up. Everyone from Yahoo to the NSA is getting hacked and you're going to strap an internet connected lock to your door? Just leave the door unlocked. Fridges, Thermostats, the list goes on. No system on the planet is entirely secure and these devices aren't built by companies with security at the forefront of the plan, but rather sales. You can bet your hard-earned dollar (because you would be buying these) that there are plenty of holes in the programming because the bosses are pushing these project development times beyond what would be needed to plug them. Hell, Windows has been playing this game for over 30 years and they know better. How much of your home and life do you want to turn over to a potential hacker than you already have as you sit and read this? Keep this idea in mind as they want to wire your car to the internet and have an automated driving system. I'm not above the idea, (I'd love it actually), but we're a long damn way off in tech security for it, not when hackers could compromise a nuclear enrichment facility and destroy it (reference Stuxnet).

     Another point of consideration is privacy. Did you ever ask yourself why Windows 10 was released near-free of charge? If you haven't figured it out yet, if you're not the buyer, you're the product in the tech world. Every modern device you own is likely mining the shit out of your usage habits to sell for advertisement revenue and targeted ad development. Honestly, these algorithms are a work of art. But a work of art in much the same fashion the first Gatling Gun was, but remember its purpose (nefarious). You might ask, "why should I care? I have nothing to hide?". Ok, maybe, if that were true then let me read your e-mail. I assure you, Google, Microsoft, and all the big boys already are. As well are Facebook and probably Twitter, and every other social media giant analyzing your posts. It's not a question of if you have something nefarious to hide its a question of weather or not you want any random stranger knowing you better than your mother. Even your health data ran through your Fitbit or phone is logged and analyzed.

     OK so, perhaps you're considering what the point would be, of stepping off the tech wave flow. For starters, you vote with your dollar - not letters. Features, product design, usage, all of it gets considered based upon what consumers want and what their willing to put up with. Downturn in sales will change a company far surer than letters. But that's really the point. People sending the message they actually give a damn rather than swallowing tech issues like bad cough syrup because they can't miss that Facebook post or Snapchat. Honestly, its not a full-on minimalist approach but rather a tapered approach the same way most dads analyze the purchase of a new car. Be smart with your money (and privacy) and in turn, Companies are forced to build their ecosystems with those concerns in mind. The biggest hole we have right now is lack of consideration for privacy and security. After all, that's why Equifax was hacked.

© 2016 Zachary G Wolfe -- Remember to turn your brain off for a reboot sometimes...