I’d like to present a recording of my latest talk, People Don’t Change. It’s about the history of modern human behaviour, and technology, and how the meeting of those two affects society today. I presented it at Front End London in August, and I’m really proud of it because I’ve been thinking about it for a long time—if you’re interested to hear it, the story of how I wrote it is below the video.Continue reading “People Don’t Change”
Many of the largest consumer digital technology companies have, or are preparing to introduce, a digital (or, virtual) assistant. The list includes Alibaba (AliGenie), Amazon (Alexa), Apple (Siri), Baidu (DuerOS), Facebook (M/Aloha), Google (Assistant), Line (Clova), Microsoft (Cortana), Samsung (Bixby), Xiaomi (Xiao Ai), plus any number of lesser-known assistants.
Although this is partly driven simply by advances in machine learning—digital assistants are happening now because they couldn’t happen before—the larger reason for all the interest is because of how consumer internet technology is changing—and how it’s set to change even more in the coming years.Continue reading “Why Is Every Company Making a Digital Assistant?”
Google Maps got a small update on Thursday. A zoomed-out view now shows a globe instead of the old, less accurate, Mercator projection. They announced it in a tweet:
A few tech publications noticed, and wrote articles about it, treating it as the useful but ultimately relatively unimportant feature that it is. Mashable’s Zooming out on Google Maps now shows you a globe is a typical example.Continue reading “How a Google Maps Update Lead to the Promotion of Fringe Views”
I publish an occasional newsletter called The Thoughtful Net, a curated collection of good writing about technology and its effect on culture (among other things). So when I started reading The Death of Don Draper, an article by Ian Leslie on the impact of algorithms on the advertising industry, I was all set to include it—for passages like this:
The ad industry, run by people who pride themselves on creativity, is being displaced by the ad business, which prides itself on efficiency. Clients are spending less on the kind of entertaining, seductive, fame-generating campaigns in which ad agencies specialise, and more on the ads that flash and wink on your smartphone screen.
I read through it excitedly until almost the end, when—sadly—I came across the inclusion of one of my least favourite tropes:
We stoop over our phones when we should be doing almost anything else.
This idea that time spent ‘stooped’ (I can’t be the only one inferring that as a negative word, can I?) over our phones is time better spent elsewhere is snooty and judgemental. I’ve written before about people ‘staring at their screens’, and what a nonsense phrase that is, and ‘time better spent’ is equally grating to me.
People use their phones for all sorts of things. A lot, if not most of that, is extremely important, if not vital, to the person doing it. I thought Maya Indira Ganesh put this very well in On Time Well Spent and Ethics:
The digital ecosystem generally, and some social media platforms, host both public and intimate economies of care and work that make getting off near impossible. Migrants maintain family relationships across distance; entrepreneurs set up and manage businesses; millions are employed by digital apps and platforms; activists amplify their causes; marginalized people find community. Not spending time on these platforms is not a choice for many people.
I’d suggest that if the advertising industry doesn’t understand this, it’s perhaps understandable that the advertising industry is diminishing.
I got a bit more sad when I read a little further and found this:
A comprehensive US study, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, identified a strong association between social media use and depression.
Leslie doesn’t link to his sources, unfortunately, but I’m fairly sure he’s talking about the work of Jean Twenge (Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?) whose work has been, if not debunked, then heavily criticised for laziness, correlation, and cherry-picking (No, Smartphones are Not Destroying a Generation and Yes, Smartphones Are Destroying a Generation, But Not of Kids, amongst others).
Ian Leslie is a writer who also works as a strategist in the advertising industry.
This doesn’t discount him from holding an opinion, but it does speak of a certain bias. It’s a shame that as someone who works in the advertising industry, he doesn’t think a little more highly of people, and of their being more than powerless zombies.
Anyway, I recommend you read the article to make up your own mind, even if I can’t recommend it as the great piece it promised to be.