You Have an iPhone Now - Do As You're Told

So many inexperienced Internet users nowadays are willing to accept what the computer serves up. It all started at the motor vehicle departments in the 1990s when the clerk said, "I don't care what you say. This is the what the computer says. It can't be wrong."

Things have evolved from there. For example, "Teens can't tell the difference between Google ads and search results." And now, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella believes: "Smart agents like Cortana will replace the web browser." This is all part of an effect that I've written about before, namely, the Internet doesn't teach its users how to use the Internet.

By that I mean that people who get a good education and learn the meta information about how the Internet works are better prepared to evaluate what they read and watch on the Internet. On the other hand, if one has bypassed or never been engaged in a classic education that involves history, logic, philosophy, mathematics and science, then the Internet and all its voices merge into a giant, influential, dictatorial body of knowledge - or myth - or fashion - or dogma.

Back to Mr. Nadella's thesis. An intelligent agent can quickly learn what your habits and interests are. That can lead to pigeon-holing the reader into ignorance, bias or worse: the embrace of demagoguery. It all starts out with an innocent dependency on the fulfillment of temporary needs. Here's what CEO Nadella said:

It's still browsing, but it's different because you're not invoking every app, Nadella said. Instead, if someone asks "do I need to bring an umbrella today?" it will be the agent who knows your location and can look up the weather to see if it's raining and say yes or no.

This raises so many questions:

  • Why are tech giants so interested in providing customers with software that provides guidance?
  • Do they have so little insight into how responsible adults make decisions?
  • Are those responsible decisions an irritant?
  • What happens to those people from whom the guidance is temporarily disrupted and removed?
  • What are the dangers in letting machines make decisions for us about what coat to wear or where to eat? Or which smartphone to buy?
  • Does that, eventually, lead to a dependency on the machine to guide one about what job to take or which candidate is best for the U.S. presidency?

An obsessive prying into customer habits and preferences with information then sent back to the mothership by every app, in turn, translates into the corporate temptation to make money by leveraging that information into what appears to be helpful guidance. However, as we'll see on page two below, if the customer starts to act up or bypass the guidance, they may well be punished by withholding of critical services.


The danger here is that it'll become increasingly rare for people to make decisions based on their own common sense and values. Instead, they'll go running to their smartphone, begging for its guidance, or the guidance of those on social media, as to what to eat, what to wear, what to think and how to act. Or who to love. And who to hate.

It's not hard to imagine where it goes from there.

Next page: the tech news debris for the week of November 16.  You were bad and will be punished.

Page 2 - The Tech News Debris for the Week of November 16 


YOU WERE BAD and must be punished.

There is something to be said for designing your computing life to have essential services separated from big companies that ofer a lot of services. And have an agenda. In this story, it appears that Yahoo is spot testing the blocking email for users who have ad blocking enabled. 

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It's okay for any company to be concerned about how it generates revenue and plan for its continued financial success. But when large companies offer a broad range of services that have a conflict of interest with essential services like email, perhaps it's time to look for another email provider, one who sees excellence in service as a top priority.

Related: This next article didn't quite fit into the discussion back on page one, but it's also relevant. "The Generation That Doesn't Remember Life Before Smartphones."

Small companies have small ambitions. Large companies have large ambitions. Apple is a large company. To wit: "Apple The Biggest Threat To Visa And MasterCard."

Particle Debris is generally about interesting news that didn't make the TMO headlines. But it's also a place for me to point out valuable articles for my readers. This is one, from one of my favorite tech writers Jonny Evans. "What to do when OS X Recovery Mode lets you down." And here is a second one form another favorite writer of mine, Kirk McElhearn. "10 essential Mac utilities." These really are great utilities, and you shouldn't go without.

I am less critical nowadays of Microsoft than I have ever been. But that doesn't mean it isn't occasionally fun to go back and look at some of their prior snafus. Thought candy. "11 times Microsoft saw the future — and blew it."

I've mentioned before that the TV industry and its partner providers are always seeking revenue growth. However, there are some factors that are working against them. The primary one seems to be the struggle of the m middle class to deal with ever increasing cable or satellite bills. Technology has provided a way for customers to fight back in a way they never could before.

Overall, that's suppressing prices. For example, with well known issues such as live sports aside, there are many customers who are happy to pay Netflix US$9/month and dispense with a $90 cable bill. This tendency towards lower and selective pricing has the industry in a tizzy. "Pushing Pause on SVOD?" Worse, Apple is maneuvering to pounce and will eventually figure out the inroads. The TV industry, in failing to deliver what customers really want, is killing the golden goose.

No matter what Apple's motives are for not including 4K UHD in its new, 4th generation Apple TV, the competition is going to make Apple pay for that decision. How well they'll do is anyone's guess, and Apple won't suffer too much at this point in 2015. But observers will likely make a big deal about Apple's poor competitive position next year.

Here's an example of what's to come. Jeremy Clarkson, formerly with BBC and Top Gear, and his teammates have a new TV venture with Amazon. The new car show, to be produced and delivered on Amazon Prime, will be recorded in 4K. If you have a 4K UHD TV and an Amazon Fire TV, you'll be all set. If not, then you can still watch with the Amazon video app on your, ahem, tiny iPad. But not in 4K UHD.

There will be a fuss.


Indecision and naughty cat images via Shutterstock.

Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble on page one) followed by a discussion of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.