One thing the news media doesn’t shy away from is telling you about how your technology use is out of control. Your kids are getting too much screen time. We’re costing businesses billions wasting company time on YouTube and Facebook. Experts say the reason your relationships are so screwed up is because you spend too much time checking emails and not enough time checking-in with people.
So isn’t the answer to just calm-it-the-hell-down? Starting right now let’s all just stop looking at screens when we’re with family, at work, or on vacation. And, for extra measure, we’ll also just take more time to appreciate life and real face-to-face conversations.
The only problem with that: unless you literally go off the grid and remove all digital connectivity from your life, it’ll always be waiting for you. If you aren’t addressing the “online” world in real-time it piles up. Email overload, experts say, causes a ton of stress.
There’s no such thing as “going offline” anymore, unless you do it permanently. No matter how hard you try to just get away from it all: it’s all waiting when you return, like a neglected pet that’s going to require tons of extra attention in order to nurse back to health.
If I don’t check my email for one day, my inbox becomes an abyss to rival the depths and horror of the Sarlacc.
In 2017 I treat talking on the phone as something I have to do for work. The only person in my life who I call for anything other than business is my mother, and you can rest assured she’ll tell you I don’t do so often enough. Plus she’s in her 60s and doesn’t like to text. Anyone born before 1960 gets a free pass, if they want one.
Twenty years ago logging on to the internet was an act. Online was a “place” you went so that you could interface with other people and their websites. Then you logged off and you weren’t connected again until you went back to that “place.” This was not a physical location –though web cafes were a fresh idea then too — but something you compartmentalized as different from “the real world.”
What happened to that? Did we fly too high, each of us an Icarus of the internet, and lose sight of reality? No, probably not. The fact that we’re stressed when we don’t connect doesn’t mean we’re doomed: perhaps we can just connect.
We need to change the way we look at things. It’s becoming counter-intuitive and counter-productive to continuously suggest that the solution to our connectivity woes is simply to place arbitrary limits on usage.
This doesn’t work for me – email and text messages are more than an upgrade to “the phone call” for me, they represent a ledger and record of everything going on in my world.
I have “shared memory” with my devices. This means if I lose connectivity I know, at best, three actual phone numbers. One of them is 911. I can’t remember dates, I don’t keep track of my own appointments, and can barely use an ink-pen for anything other than stabbing someone trying to steal my tablet.
We rely on the data we carry around in our inboxes and messages.
I’ll be 100 percent honest here: I often start start saying something that requires me to use Google search to finish.
“Jason Mamoa? He’s one of my favorite actors,” I’ll say as I’m already pulling my phone out of my pocket “In fact, hold on, OKAY GOOGLE,” I pause until I feel the vibration, “how old is Jason Mamoa?” My phone responds and I continue speaking as though it was a part of the conversation “I like that he’s almost my age but still a badass.” I’ll conclude, as though I knew that all along.
It’s not feasible for a lot of people to just put the phone away when they aren’t working – which is something that’s changed, it used to be. A lot of research has gone into telling people they need rules and boundaries with online usage. In light of that research, by real experts who are basically saying the opposite of what I’m saying, it might seem like bad advice for me to say: use your devices when you need to and check your email and messages whenever its appropriate.
But consider that setting priorities instead of boundaries might actually be more beneficial, as TNW’s CEO Boris wrote, we sometimes treat what children are doing on their devices as unimportant without regard to what kind of online citizen they are being.
Arbitrary time limits don’t respect their primary source of social interaction, and they don’t encourage prioritizing whether you should be staring at a screen or a person. We’ve also arrived at the era of adult professionals who grew up on social media. The President uses Twitter for official announcements.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way advocating you forget what experts say, nor do I claim to be any kind of expert here. What I’m saying is: there’s a difference between an addiction to being connected and the desire to stay up-to-date. I’m advocating the seamless integration of Siri into my life, not setting time aside for her.
I believe it’s important that we stop trying to separate the “online world” from the “real world” and start prioritizing how we spend all of our time in order to avoid constantly being the source of our own anxiety.
Tell me I can’t check my email and I’m instantly going through a checklist of things that will go wrong while I’m “offline.”
Hang on, give me a minute here and I’ll have a conclusion for you.
Just a sec, checking this email real quick.
Anyway, as I was saying, there’s nothing wrong with taking a few minutes to check your email and then returning your attention to the real world. Just don’t forget that the people who know you’re doing it are aware of where your priorities are in that moment.
The secret to avoiding CES cynicism is never really going
I’ve been going to CES for almost ten years now, and it amazes me that really, nothing has changed that whole time. The same people are saying the same things on the same stages, selling the same people the same junk with slightly higher price tags. But this year I had a great time and found some amazing companies — because I avoided at all costs actually stepping foot on the show floor.
The math is simple: when a company gets big enough to get itself a big booth showing off its products, it is almost always at that point that it ceases to be a source of real innovation — or at least the kind of innovation I think is worth tracking down and writing about at CES. They don’t do anything truly cool, nor anything truly dumb.
And I’m not punishing them for their success. I’ve seen some of these companies grow up from nothing to a flashy booth staffed by dozens, and that’s great. But they exist on a different plane now: they seed their news with sites ahead of time, they have private press conferences, they’re working in suites to set up sweetheart manufacturing deals. They’re part of the machine now. Congratulations!
(The most eloquent summary of this side of the show came from a cab driver. After he asked about the latest advances to the TV ecosystem, we explained — something about OLED versus Micro-LED and refresh rates and other things that make almost no difference. “And is it cheaper or more expensive?” he asked with a straight face — then he cracked a grin and laughed uproariously. He knew the score, and with a single question reduced the whole industry to a pack of charlatans, which is exactly right. That was probably my favorite moment of the entire week.)
It’s for this reason that I spent my entire time at CES roaming the hot, shabby wilds that are “Eureka Park.”
Technically it is part of the show, but it’s also like hell. Hundreds of booths perhaps six feet wide and deep are crammed in, CEOs displaying their wares like butchers or street merchants. It’s hot and humid (even in the cold, usually dry Las Vegas January), there’s barely room to move along the inadequate aisles, and if anyone sees you’re media they make a sort of flying pitch at you to pique your interest au volant.
Normally I’d hate this kind of thing, but of course I’d do anything for our glorious parent companies. And actually, this is where pretty much everything cool is.
Sure, you can find crazy gadgets and knockoffs in the innumerable Chinese manufacturers, and the likes of LG have things like roll-up OLED screens, but these are no more than novelties, both for the companies themselves and those viewing them. The companies at Eureka Park are generally startups with one product or service that they’ve put all their money and time behind; they really care about this stuff.
That earnestness is endearing and makes for a good story — though not necessarily a good idea. I passed by hundreds of booths full of things no one needs and I suspect no one wants, services doomed to languish in obscurity, or devices surfing on a trend that won’t last out the year. (Just how many smartwatches do they think we need?)
Every once in a while, though, you hit the trifecta: a smart piece of technology being created for a worthwhile purpose by people who actually care about both. I dare you to find anything like that in any of the main halls.
This year I found a few examples of this. The first one I visited was LifeDoor, a device that closes a door it’s attached to when it hears a smoke alarm go off. Here’s something that could save lives (really), is simply yet purposefully designed, and created by a few people (including firefighters) who saw a chance to make something that helped others.
Another gadget I found seemed too good to be true, so much so that I requested third party documentation that it works. It was Lishtot’s TestDrop, a device smaller than a keyfob that instantly and reliably tells you if water is drinkable without even touching it. Wouldn’t you be skeptical? This company didn’t really even have its own booth; it was listed under the “Israel Export Institute.” An affordable device that could save thousands of lives, and it has less room dedicated to it than Samsung’s cheapest TV!
Elsewhere I found Signall (pronounced “sign all”), a company using a rather complex camera/Kinect setup to translate sign language in real time. Here’s a tremendously difficult engineering problem, further complicated by it being a language and social problem as well, yet this small company is approaching it slowly and steadily and with the support of the deaf people it hopes to enable. (I’m still working on my writeup of this one.)
Other stories are less life-changing but equally fun stories. Euveka’s shape-shifting mannequin could help create clothes tailored to body types not catered to by the industry. Soundskrit’s student founders want to reinvent the microphone. And a high school student, tired of her hands freezing while playing lacrosse, worked with her dad to make a heated stick.
This is the interesting side of CES, full of people using technology for good or at the very least interesting purposes — not looking to sell you yet another “smart” appliance or scrape the bottom of the funding barrel for one more VR accessory.
More than a hundred thousand people come to CES, and among those myriads are a precious few who love what they do and want to accomplish something using technology. It isn’t easy and it isn’t glorious (especially not the booths), but it really is worthwhile, and worth seeking out.
It’s easy to be cynical about the excess of CES: the pointless press conferences that cost millions, the acres upon acres of TVs nearly indistinguishable from last year’s, the buzzwords and half-truths used to stave off the reality that none of the junk they’re selling matters to them or anyone else. See, I waxed cynical just writing that sentence!
But there are treasures waiting to be discovered there, and people waiting to be listened to and learned from. Just don’t look for them in the cavernous main halls and truth-deprived marketing. I can honestly say that CES was well worth going to this year — as long as you didn’t actually go.
Featured Image: CTIA Readmore
Why Snapchat Spectacles failed
How come only 0.08% of Snapchat’s users bought its camera sunglasses? Hundreds of thousands of pairs of Spectacles sit rotting in warehouses after the company bungled the launch. Initial hype and lines for its roving, limited time only Snapbot vending machines led Snap to overestimate demand but underdeliver on quality and content.
Massive piles of assembled and unassembled video-recording sunglasses sit unsold, contributing to Snap’s enormous costs and losses, says The Information. Internal Snap data shows less than 50 percent of buyers kept using Spectacles a month after purchase, Business Insider’s Alex Heath reports. A “sizeable” percentage stopped after just a week, with a source calling the retention rate “shockingly low”.
What was the problem? Snap generated huge hype for Spectacles, but then waited 5 months to openly sell them. Once people actually tried Spectacles, few kept wearing them, and word of mouth about their disuse spread. Snap never got visionary video markers onboard. And as Snapchat’s popularity waned in the face of competitors, the fact that Spectacles only interfaced with its app rather than a phone’s camera roll became a burden.
Snap did some things right with Spectacles. The fashion photo spread announcement felt classy and surprising despite clues and photos of CEO Evan Spiegel trickling out ahead. The initial launch was a marketing extravaganza, with multi-hour lines of cool kids waiting on the Venice Beach boardwalk to buy them. And the Snapbots being dropped in random locations was exciting and made people feel special if they got ahold of them. But once people put them on their face, the excitement died off.
Here’s a breakdown of the major flaws that emerged with Spectacles in the year since their debut, with a focus on the stilted launch strategy:
Botched Roll Out
Snap first announced Spectacles with some Karl Lagerfeld photos of Spiegel wearing them on September 24th 2016. Hype was high despite the beachey color options that turned some people off. It took until November 10th for the first Snapbot vending machines to launch. While the hype had cooled slightly, demand was huge as people wanted to be the first on the block with Spectacles, and lines stretched down streets.
But Snap whether it was because Snap wanted to milk the Snapbot promotion, couldn’t tell if Spectacles should be exclusive or widely available, or it had supply chain problems, it took until February 20th for Snap to start openly selling Specs online.
Waiting five months after the initial announcement was an eternity in the fast-moving teenage fad cycle. They weren’t cool by the time they were buyable. Everyone had already seen the sunglasses and circular video all over the Internet, most owners had long since stopped using them, the holiday season had passed, and few people wanted to buy so late. It took until June, 8 months after their debut, for Spectacles to become available in Europe.
If Snap had instead made its announcement, quickly outfitted some lucky normal users and celebrities with Spectacles, then launched a giant Black Friday sale at the peak of its hype, all those people fascinated with the gadget might have bought immediately. Everyone would have paid before word got out that people weren’t going to wear camera glasses all that much.
Alternatively, Snap could have gone the path of exclusivity lit by its fashion-focused debut. Rather than ever selling Specs openly, it could have gotten them into runway shows and magazines while sticking with the limited-edition Snapbots. Then after a few months it could have ceased all sales, turned existing pairs into fought-over collector’s items, and saved the mainstream rollout for an eventual v2 launch. Unfortunately, Snap seems to have got stuck between these exclusive and mass-retail strategies.
Where Were The Spectacles Influencers? – To drive demand, Snap needed to demonstrate all the creative things you could do with Spectacles, and the cool people who wore them. Yet at the time, it still had a very hands-off approach to dealing with traditional celebrities and web influencers. Snap didn’t make outfitting creators with Specs and training them to use the camera glasses a priority. Instead of top Snappers constantly posting circular videos and encouraging fans to do the same, Snap effectively left the gadget out to dry. Snap let random Spectacles buyers, often over-enthusiastic social media amateurs, define the image of the product, similar to how Google’s core mistake was allowing geeky developers to become the face of Glass.
Few Examples Of Great Content – Stemming from Snap’s failure to foster a Spectacles creator scene, it did a terrible job of showing off how Spectacles could be used beyond the initial commercial. Neither Snap’s in-house team or independent social stars were recruited to make videos exposing the creative opportunities of the device. It did little through event marketing or in-app promotion to encourage Spectacle content creation. Karen X. Cheng was perhaps the only Spectacles influencer lighting the path, with her first-person mirror dancing video and Spectacles-on-babies ad she helped Brawny make. But Snap should have ensured the Internet was flooded with these videos proving what you can’t do with your phone’s camera, and why you should buy Spectacles.
People Are Still Freaked Out By Camera Glasses – Google Glass tainted the market with its “not sure if you’re recording me” design. Even though Snap put more obvious recording signal lights on Spectacles, people would still question you about whether they were on camera. That not only made people uncomfortable being around Spectacles, but made you feel like a bit of a creep just wearing them even if you never tapped the shutter button. Their appeal was further limited by their polarizing “fashion-forward” design (some would call ugly), while the only non-black colors were aggressively bright teal and coral.
Limited Content Portability – When Spectacles debuted, Snapchat clone Instagram Stories had only just launched. But soon reaching over 250 million daily users, Instagram Stories grew bigger than Snapchat’s whole app that now has 173 million. Snap didn’t have the only Stories in town, and lots of people began cross-posting between the two apps. But Spectacles made that difficult. Specs shoot in a proprietary circular video format. On Snapchat, you see the content full screen no matter what orientation you hold your phone in. But when exported, those circular videos get inset within a white square in a locked orientation. That makes them look obviously ported from Snapchat rather than made for these other channels, especially inside a rectangular Instagram Story. Spectacles wouldn’t connect to your phone’s camera roll, only to Snapchat, making exporting a chore. And they didn’t take photos, just videos.
Stuck In The Fuzzy Sun – The shaded lenses in Spectacles made them tough to wear indoors or at night. That disqualified a lot of the parties, concerts, meals, and hang-outs people like to Snap. Beyond music festivals, beaches, back yards, and parks, there fewer opportunities to use them then buyers may have expected. I saw one guy who had popped the lenses out so he could wear them anywhere, but that made their look stick out even more. Snap never struck any official partnerships with companies offering non-shaded or prescription lenses, though some providers of lens replacements cropped up. That led some people with vision problems or who stay out of the sun to write-off the product entirely.
Usability Problems Galore – Having to pair Spectacles with Snapchat instead of the standard Bluetooth menu was annoying. Data transfers from the glasses to the phone took forever and would get easily interrupted. They only recorded videos in 720p, not 1080. Videos were clumsily first sent in low-resolution until a higher-res version could be delivered. Spectacles drain your phone battery super fast. The bulky and oddly shaped triangular prism case was tough to fit in bags and impossible to get in your pocket. The battery and recording lights were confusing. Sometimes Spectacles would require a “hold the shutter button for 55-seconds” reset that wasn’t clearly explained on any of Snap’s support pages. And finally, our hands are already an incredibly agile, auto-stabilized, selfie-able conveyance for a camera.
For a v1 product, Spectacles were a valiant effort. But it was the stuttered roll out, lack of promotional support, and rising competition combined with their hardware problems the doomed Spectacles. Hopefully v2 will correct these missteps. Snap already has a patent for an augmented reality version, and it’s shelved other product ideas like a drone.
If Snap wants to truly live up to its name as a camera company, it either needs to nail a single gadget you want to use multiple times per week forever, or release an array of short-lived but fun camera toys. Either way, it must seize on the hype it creates rather than letting it fade, and put the work in to foster an ecosystem of creators to pioneer videography styles everyone else can try. Building a trend-setting camera isn’t just about the tech you put into it, but encouraging the content that comes out.
Virtual reality – the only way same-sex marriage is legal in Australia
As Australians agonizingly await the final results from the same-sex marriage survey (which doesn’t even guarantee a change in the law), gay couples continue having to tie the knot elsewhere, as it’s insanely the only way.
A dedicated group from Sydney have done their best to try and change this with an event they termed Virtual Equality. The project gives Australians the possibility to experience a same-sex wedding the only way legally possible in Australia – through virtual reality. Giles Clayton, one of the organizers, wanted to emphasize that same-sex marriage is nothing to be afraid of:
The goal was for Aussies to get the chance to experience something they can’t right now and hopefully change perspectives about the fear of legalizing same-sex marriage.
The project was funded by J. Walter Thompson and Luscious International, both major players in the Australian advertising and video production world. To bring the event to life, the first step was finding a same-sex couple looking to get hitched.
Through a few degrees of separation, they came across Dan Thurston and Thomas Crow, a soon-to-be-married Kiwi-American couple based in New Zealand. The loving pair volunteered for the project, allowing J. Walter Thompson and Luscious International to attend their Kiwi wedding on September 22 and film the ceremony in 360-video. You can watch the ceremony here.
After attending the NZ wedding, the Virtual Equality team began organizing a second wedding for Dan and Thomas in Australia – only this time, in virtual reality. They invited the public, politicians and some of the couple’s Australian friends to attend and appreciate how great a same-sex marriage in Australia can be. Dan was hopeful that seeing would be believing.
I hope that, in seeing us as a positive model for marriage, Australians can see that marriage equality is a no-brainer and any debate about such basic human rights is dumb.
The ‘virtual ceremony’ took place in First Fleet Park in Sydney on October 10, with each guest receiving a VR headset and headphones to experience the Kiwi ceremony. Hundreds of people of all ages lined up to be part of the event, with responses ranging from joy and laughter to tears. Directed by Lou Quill, watch how it went below:
Guests included Sally Rugg, director of GetUp’s campaign for marriage equality and Jenny Leong, member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly representing Newtown for the Greens. Leong was deeply affected that something so simple and natural can’t legally happen in Australia.
It’s bizarre that in Australia we can only experience a same-sex marriage through virtual reality. Especially in Sydney where we fly the rainbow flag so bright. Love is personal but should be inclusive of everyone and this is why we need to change the ban on same-sex marriage.
The legalization of same-sex marriage has been a controversial issue on Australia’s political agenda for several years. The current Marriage Act 1961 in Australia narrowly states that marriage is “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.”
Australia is currently in the midst of a non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey which asks the question “Do you support a change in the law to allow same-sex couples to marry?” Unlike a referendum which seeks to amend the Australian Constitution if a majority of Australians vote “Yes” in the majority of states, the postal vote merely seeks to gauge public opinion on the issue.
That means, even if the postal vote delivers a majority “Yes” result, there’s no guarantee the law will change. Instead, the government will introduce a private member’s bill to amend the current Marriage Act. Members of parliament will then be allowed to freely vote for or against the bill. On the other hand, if the postal vote delivers a majority “No” response, the decision is binding and no bill will be introduced…
The team behind Virtual Equality are hopeful it won’t get to that. They have distributed hundreds of rainbow-branded Google Cardboard headsets to influencers and politicians around the country, letting them experience the same-sex wedding in VR. Rachel Wintle, one of the organizers from J. Walter Thompson explained:
With many Australians still fearful about same-sex marriage both companies urge positive responses from anyone who wishes to share or comment on the campaign, to counteract the often hateful messages that have been shared by members of the NO campaign over the voting period.
While the absolute deadline to return your ballot is November 7, 2017, both companies encourage Australians to vote “Yes” for marriage equality by this Friday, October 27th.
With same-sex marriage now legal in 23 countries, let’s hope that Australia will be the next to recognize loving relationships like that of Dan and Thomas. And the message to take away from Virtual Equality’s campaign: it’s time to make marriage equality a reality.
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