Smart Tech A Dumb Idea?

For someone who is into tech stuff, you’d think I’d be all over the trend of making a “smart-home.” But I don’t even own a smartwatch (anymore)! My tech stance is strangely anti-smart stuff. It might be a dumb position, but there’s wisdom behind it. I might be open to some “smart” house stuff in the future. But proceed with caution!

The Costs Of Smarts

Before I tech-splain, I should state for the record that my phone is a smartphone – I love it! It’s the only “smart” thing I have.

But a smart-home?

All your household appliances down to your light-switch get smart with built-in wi-fi and mircochips. They’re interconnected to your smartphone. This makes your smart-home more efficient and convenient. And it puts you in more control. Great, right?

But there’s a big downside: it adds new complexity to your home and life. With every extra processor, modem, and other silicon wizardry, your once simple devices have new points of failure. Your thickened wi-fi mesh network – the internet of things – becomes a stickier web of technology, weighing on your house like a wet blanket.

Recall all the frustrations you’ve ever had while using your desktop computer. Now extend those to your entire home! You don’t wanna need to reboot your house! That’s the complexity I’m getting at.

So I’m not entirely sold on the idea of a smart-home. Besides adding technical difficulties, it also adds cost.

Buying more tech – smarter gizmos – increases your expenses. The home budget must balloon. I like tech, but I don’t like being broke.

Dumb Works

Aren’t some devices better off “dumb?”

The smart-TV isn’t so smart. Consolidating an internet connected device (like Roku) into your TV box – 2 become 1 – is a nice way to simplify.

But since the “smart” part of the TV is a computery-thing, it needs to be updated. And it soon becomes obsolete. Then you must throw out your otherwise perfectly good working TV because, in effect, it has become “dumb” again!

This extends beyond the TV. Any gadget you integrate with a web connection or an app system risks becoming obsolete sooner than later.

The “dumb” light-switch in my wall today is the same one from decades ago. Not only does it work in the same way, it still just works! That is smart.

Internet Of Things

There is a growing industry and market towards the Internet of Things – IOT. So all your common housewares become wi-fi enabled or have voice activated A.I. digital assistants to make them “smart.”

But this market is slow to take off. And that’s because of standards.

Different companies – Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft – want to capitalize on IOT. For all your housewares to work together “smartly,” there must be standards.

Which company will win your home and rule it with smart tech, or can you mix it up? Can you ask Amazon Alexa to speak your schedule from your Apple calendar? Will Google Assistant dictate email using your Microsoft account? Things get confusing.

Simple Is Smart

My dumb-watch is smart because: it never needs to be charged. Simple.

My dumb-light-switch is smart because: it works with the flip of a switch. Simple.

My dumb-TV is smart because: it’s agnostic thus able to display anything. Simple.

I don’t mean to oversimplify the above devices – they are a form of technology after all. My point is that there’s intelligence in simplicity.

I don’t want to over-tech (over-engineer) things. Some stuff will be too smart for its own good.

I might buy into a smart-speaker one of these days.

But before I aim for a smart-home, I aim for a simple-home.

What do you think? Reply below with your comment. Contact or Email me at the buttons above. Thanks for reading!

Transform Social Media – Part 3

Stuck With Social Media

In part 1 of this article, I talked about the bad and ugly side of Social Media that overshadows the good side. The question there was to either remove or improve the social networks.

Part 2 talked about removing Social Media altogether because of its negative effects on society.

Now it’s time for part 3: improving Social Media. But that’s a soft word. Let’s say: transforming.

Social media needs a paradigm shift!

New Social Media

At this point, it’s unlikely Twitter or Facebook will disappear. According to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook can be killed, but only by a superior social network (No Filter by Sarah Frier, pg 64).

These networks are entrenched in society; they span the globe. Indeed, we’re entangled in a world wide web. Facebook and Twitter are not just websites, they’re cultural centers of communication. They’re planetary town halls. They are woven into the fabric of culture, for better and for worse.

If Social Media persists, there must be radical new ways to do it:

  • Only paid subscriptions; no advertising-supported models.
  • Only real names; no pseudonyms.
  • Only individual people; no brands, companies or business pages.
  • Only individual profiles; no universal aggregated feed.
  • Only group feeds; small administered groups of people would have their own feed.

These ideas are necessary to try because the ways we’ve been doing Social Media continue to fail.

The New Face Of Facebook

Facebook can take radical change for the better. You and I can keep using it; we won’t need to change, Facebook will.

First, no more Newsfeed; just kill it. Go back to the original Facebook that had only profiles of everyone.

The new Social Media rejects the Newsfeed or Timeline. If I want to see what my friend said or did over the weekend, I click on his/her profile! It would be like simple blogs or tumblogs without the overhead.

For convenience, small groups could have a feed. Individual users who manage the group would moderate the feed. The feed is optional, turned off by default.

Second, no more ads. Charge $1 per month per person. I’m sure most of the 2 billion people using Facebook right now can afford that. So that would be $2 billion dollars a month in revenue from Facebook Subscribers! That is serious business.

A Facebook Subscription model would work like Netflix. You pay monthly – just $1! – for the network, and at any time you may cancel.

And your profile is saved. So if you want to return after a 2 month hiatus, no problem! Just log in and flip the payment switch. Buy some Facebook one month at a time. Take a break when you need to.

Other Options

But what if Mark Zuckerberg is unwilling to change Facebook? Then you and I should move to a better platform. What other social networks are there besides Facebook and Twitter?

New social networks with real growth potential have launched before, threatening Facebook. Either Facebook copies them (SnapChat) or buys them (Instagram). Or they implode (Google+, Path)

But there are two new networks that aim to do things better: AllSocial and Bokeh.

The Facebook/Twitter Alternative

AllSocial abolishes the algorithm; it’s in opposition to Facebook. You get a user profile, and there’s a universal feed. But in that feed, you see every single post from every single friend in chronological order! There is no algorithm filtering or sorting anything. While there is content moderation, there is no censorship.

This network is young. So if you join now, you might get the username you want, like I did! Here’s my new profile.

The Instagram Alternative

Bokeh eradicates the entire advertising model of Social Media! It requires a paid subscription; there are no ads! It’s more private, there’s no algorithm for the feed, and it’s also in chronological order. Go check out my separate article here. Suffice to say that the promise and potential are so great, I backed it on Kickstarter.

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

For Better Or Best

Maybe I’ve been too focused on the negative effects of Social Media. To be fair, I could talk more about the utility, convenience, and fun of scrolling the Newsfeed.

But if it’s fun entertainment I’m after, then you and I both know there are far better ways to enjoy it outside of Facebook. YouTube much? Or better yet, take up a new hobby.

And though we like the utility of Facebook Groups or Marketplace, those services are elsewhere too. But they’re often overlooked. And if they don’t exist, it’s because there’s no chance for them to compete against the leviathans of Social Media.

There are real benefits to a universal platform where anyone can say or publish anything. Much good comes from such freedom of expression. Social Media is sometimes a helpful change agent.

But it’s not the only change agent, and it’s not the best. Worse is the unprecedented power of Facebook. Its vast global reach is under the ultimate control of one person. This is precarious; it could be perilous. Who can change this mighty change agent?

In any case, Social Media must change. We must transform it because it causes more harm than help in society.

So don’t hesitate to consider other social networks. Think about joining AllSocial or Bokeh. I know your friends and family might not be on those networks; maybe they’d never switch. I get it.

Change is hard, and when “everybody” is on Facebook, there’s too much inertia from the network effect to break free. It’s a real issue! But is that issue insurmountable? And is that issue greater than the negative effects of Social Media on everybody?

Talk to your friends and family. Open a good discussion (not on Facebook) about starting fresh on a new and improved social network. Invite them out for coffee and politely ask if they think current Social Media is a net negative or positive. Share this 3 part article with them.

You’ve got to give change a chance.

You are the change agent. For the better. And for the best.

What do you think? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!

Transform Social Media – Part 2

The Social Media Dilemma

We’re talking about living with Social Media for better or worse. Part 1 of this article showed the overwhelming downsides of Twitter or Facebook. We’ve tolerated and suffered them long enough.

We asked the question, should we remove social networks or improve them?

In this Part 2, I say remove Social Media. But remove is a soft word. Instead, let’s say: eradicate, abolish, and abandon.

No Social Media

I first joined Facebook in 2009 and have been using Social Media ever since. Years of privacy scandals, election tampering, misinformation, and fake news hurt society. Mixing that with funny memes, dad jokes, cat videos, baby pictures, and travel photos is jarring. Doesn’t your mind feel assaulted when scrolling the feed?

Social Media: the pros don’t outweigh the cons.

Despite the good stuff you and I enjoy on Facebook or Twitter, all the bad stuff is too much. The negativity is too negative. And it spreads like a pandemic virus across the globe! Why is negativity so viral? The downsides of Social media are too detrimental to our society.

We should eradicate Social Media from our culture and daily life.

My normal response to Facebook when it gets sour is to disengage.

Then I delete my account!

But since I always return to the platform, I do not plan to #deletefacebook this time.

In the past, I’d hoped that enough people would delete their accounts to cause a mass exodus. The network effect would kick in. If enough people left Facebook, then everyone else would follow along and leave too. It would become a ghost town and get shut down.

The problem is that everyone would end up on another Social Media platform. Then we’d have all the same people and all the same problems.

Back on our soapboxes, discord would be sown again. We’d reap a new harvest of civil unrest. Do people tend to agree-to-disagree on Facebook? Is Twitter a place where we compromise our agendas?

This is why we must abolish or abandon Social Media. We must avoid the degradation of society.

Connecting the world together reveals and exacerbates our differences and facilitates division. We want to moderate other people’s opinions when deemed as bad speech. But we feel we’re muted when our own posts are moderated. It’s decried as censorship, and the ranting escalates.

We’d be better off without the global megaphone of Social Media.

But can we live without Social Media these days? Yes, we can.

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Remove Social Media

We can return to the Old Way of digital networking via blogs, emails, and chat apps. You find the utility of Social Media replicated by these and other forms of decentralized or federated communication.

And there are advantages to living without the silos of social networks, like privacy and control of your personal data. On those lines, the IndyWeb movement fundamentally upholds the free and open web.

These old and new forms of social networking also have their pros and cons. But given our current state of Social Media, it’s time you and I understand and consider alternatives. Our very own democracy may be at stake.

Improve Social Media

If Social Media is too entrenched to be expunged, then we must find a New Way to network on the web. We must change how Social Media works.

Can we erase and replace Facebook and Twitter? Are social networks broken beyond repair?

In my next blog post, part 3 of this article, we’ll look at a New Way to do Social Media.

What do you think? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!

Transform Social Media – Part 1

For Better Or Worse

Let’s talk about Social Media. It’s an established part of our culture and daily life, for better or worse. Even if you or I choose not to have a Facebook or Twitter account, we still tolerate their effects on society. The problem is the worst parts seem to outweigh the best parts. So wouldn’t we be better off without Social Media?

The Pros And Cons

As with most things, Social Media has pros and cons. I’ve deleted my Facebook account four or five times. And I always end up rejoining. Why? What’s the first thing I do? I start re-friending! The greatest feature of Social Media is the people you know: friends, family, and acquaintances.

The Good

We can talk about the convenience of connecting to all the people we like. You enjoy following them, reacting, emoting, and commenting. We do this anytime and anywhere; just whip your phone out of your pocket. It’s easy!

There’s also the utility. We like the tools that help us network with others: Facebook Groups and Marketplace, or breaking news on Twitter. It’s handy!

Sometimes Social Media is fun! Remember Farmville? Okay, nevermind. Cat videos…memes… It’s silly!

The Bad

Despite the pros, we must deal with the cons. I don’t know about you, but I often reach the point where I’ve had more than enough of the worst parts of Social Media. And I’m not talking about its addictive nature.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Social Media Fatigue or Newsfeed Stress. In the past few months, we’ve been stuck at home surfing the web more than usual. I bet you’ve noticed a lot of negativity on Facebook or Twitter.

A global pandemic. A deadly virus.

Panic, protests, and politics.

Discord, division. Stress, anxiety.

Riots, violence, brutality, and death.

We did not sign up for these in our Newsfeeds, did we? There are not enough cat videos or silly memes to make up for it.

All that is bad stuff. And you’d hear about it in the news on Cable TV or news websites. Or you might even hear about it in the good ol’ fashioned grapevine, the word-of-mouth network.

The Ugly

Here is where it gets worse though. After bad news knocks you to the ground, you get kicked while you’re down by everybody’s opinion. Then things devolve. Not sure what to think about the hard times we’re facing? Twitter or Facebook will tell you what to think. They want you to pick sides.

Social Media is everybody’s soapbox. It’s a personal megaphone for declaring opinions as if they’re facts. It amplifies our base natures. Pseudonyms lower inhibitions or inflame egos. Algorithms exacerbate the situation, causing a downward spiral. Have you seen any high-profile incendiary posts lately?

You and I agree, on a rational level, that issues we face have many nuances and gray areas. But then we disagree, on an emotional level, over those same issues, making them binary. We end up polarizing the problems, which causes more problems.

Social Media is a place to post short statements, like sound bites. Whether pictures, video clips, or words alone, they’re brief. Often the context is incomplete. We make hasty generalizations and oversimplifications of complex issues.

When we do that, we lack civil discourse because Social Media platforms are not designed for it. The comments section of a post is a poor place to discuss watershed moments. Who likes arguing about politics or religion on Facebook?

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

The Turning Point

What are you and I to do about this? We ask the question that Nick Bilton in a recent Vanity Fair article asks:

“If this is the case, it leads back to the age-old question of whether social media is a net positive or a net negative for society.”

My answer to that question came to me a few weeks ago; it’s what prompted me to write this article. It’s clear to me that Social Media is a net negative. The cons outweigh the pros.

Plus, Social Media is not necessary. It’s fun, convenient, and has utility. But you and I can have plenty of all that without Social Media.

Yet a troubling point came from Nick Bilton in the same article. The answer to the question isn’t what you think (emphasis mine)

“I spoke to both a former Twitter employee and a former Facebook employee about this, and their answers were surprisingly similar. Social networks are neither a net negative nor a net positive for society, they both said. Rather, they magnify our most visceral feelings and beliefs, at a blazingly fast speed. We yell at one another and point fingers, these former employees said, until we eventually abandon the platform that does not align with our views, and instead go to the one that does.”

I’m afraid those employees are right. Social Media is either neutral or playing both sides! It muddies the water.

So which is it? Should we remove social networks or improve them?

In my next blog post, you’ll read about my ideas for No Social Media.

Then, in part 3 of this article, I’ll talk about ideas for New Social Media.

What do you think? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!

The Social Pressure Is Getting To Me

Socially Compelled

Alright, I’ve got a bit of a confession. After deleting my Facebook account almost 6 months ago, I started feeling drawn to rejoin. Perish the thought! I’ve already admitted to the cycle I have, like bouncing back and forth in an unhealthy relationship. So I think I need an intervention. Will the cycle ever end?

The Network Effect Of Everyone

I have not rejoined the world’s largest social network. Yet. I’m resisting the pull. But I can’t help wonder why this urge returned. It’s a little perplexing yet not surprising. Just, why?

I have good reasons to not be on Facebook. And I think some of them apply to everybody. But though I can articulate them in writing, as I did here, I find it harder to tell someone face to face why I’m against Facebook or why it’s so off-putting and should be avoided by all.

I feel like capitulating. Like, everyone is on Facebook. Not only that, there are some bonafide good uses of the platform simply because everyone you know is there. I’m talking about Groups and Pages and Marketplace. The network effect is real.

These three examples of Facebook’s utility are not unique. Elsewhere, the internet offers similar options that provide the same features. But honestly, I don’t know of any that are better or easier to use. And even if they are, they lack the greatest feature: everyone.

Even though everyone is on the web and therefore can connect, those connections are separated across various websites. So connecting requires juggling multiple accounts and log-ins (unless, of course, they provide the Facebook log-in). The point is, different websites that offer different Facebook-like utilities are separate. But Facebook easily connects everyone on the web in one central place.

The One Place To Rule Them All

Like an existential rule, it seems that there had to be that place: the one website online where all people could unite, connect, and network together (ironically, that union has also surfaced and reinforced much division). Social interaction defines humanity; relationships! Other websites (Friendster, MySpace, and more) were built on this fundamental trait. It’s just that Facebook was able to take off. Right place, right time I guess.

If the internet is a connected web of everyone spread across earth, then like a modern day digital Tower of Babel, Facebook is the defacto site for everyone online to come together, for better and for worse.

The network effect is what compels me to rejoin Facebook. Practically all my friends, family, and acquaintances are there. (Just this week, a co-worker asked me if I’m on Facebook – that never happens – what a coincidence!) And though I’ve lived totally without a Facebook account several times, the truth is I’m unable to escape it altogether. Like pumpkin spice in Autumn, Facebook is everywhere.

It’s in my house. My wife’s use of the social network remains stalwart. Through her, I am informed of daily life stuff via Facebook. Also, I see how it benefits her. And honestly, I don’t see much consequential detriment to her personal usage of Facebook (other than the negative drama that gets posted sometimes). As for sucking a lot of time, I can’t talk. I use Twitter as much as my wife uses Facebook. Guilty!

By nuking my Facebook account from orbit, have I cut off my nose to spite my face? Other questions have come to me: am I “too good” for Facebook? And is my personal boycott of the platform benefiting others or advancing a good cause? Am I just being a Facebook-hater? These are good questions that deserve good answers.

Sharing Online

Here’s a situation that affects my decision to rejoin Facebook or not. I have a vacation coming up with both immediate and extended family members. We’ll be taking a lot of pictures! Naturally, after the trip, we’ll want to share those photos with each other. So where will that happen? There are several good options, but the easiest and practically the best place to do that is on Facebook.

Another scenario that makes Facebook compelling is that I have a family member who lives overseas and is active on Facebook. We seldom email each other, so Facebook is the strongest way we can stay connected with text updates and photos. This is hard to resist sometimes.

Socially Awkward

There’s more weirdness. Since I have deleted and rejoined four times, what will my friends and family think if I rejoin again? Will they be glad to see me there? And will others keep me at a distance, expecting my cycle to spin around to deleting again? These questions spawn a meta-query: why am I wrestling with such social anxiety? It’s just a website! Right?

So what will come of this? Despite the pull to rejoin Facebook, I’m not totally comfortable with the idea of being tallied in the census of the world’s biggest digital country that is controlled by one idealistic man who is also trying to create a new global currency. The size and power of Facebook and its influence are disturbing, and the Libra initiative is foreboding. I’m wary of the whole thing.

But Facebook is, frustratingly, like a utility because of its network effect. I think my back and forth tug-of-war will continue. Maybe it will be a stalemate. Is resistance futile? Is rejoining and reestablishing a love-hate relationship with Facebook inevitable?

Resist or rejoin? I don’t know. I’m leaning toward the latter.

What are your thoughts? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!