We need less mobile technology

mobile everywhere 2

In the past 3 months, I lived without a mobile phone. I was led to this situation more than I chosed it, but I went along with it to see where it would take me, perfectly knowing that mobile phones grew like cancer recently.

At first, living without a mobile phone is stressful. You always think that something important is happening and you are not in the know. Then you realize that this actually never happens. In 3 months, not having a mobile phone only mattered when dealing with people who just assume you have a phone and things can get planned at the last minute. They just got disappointed, and I could rightfully justify my unavailability. Otherwise, with a little planning like we used to do back in the days, everything went smoothly.

Once you understand that, you reach a first threshold. That’s the breaking point, where you took the blue pill and now stand on the other side of the screen. That every service has been digitalized sounds kind of a great thing, but that people are now obsessed with their portable screens and their never-ending flow of notifications is not that great. Mobile phones are used on any type of transportation and sometimes while driving, in the bathroom, while having a drink with friends, while there’s seemingly nothing else to do… This adds up to a lot of hours of attention for mostly noise. Most of the time, what we do with mobile phones is useless : Chatting, snoozing on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram, looking through contacts and latest sent texts over and over, playing popular games, even checking spam messages in email inbox because what else… Picking up a phone and do whatever has become the new void-filler.

mobile everywhere 1

Yet, when you don’t have a phone, you gain more thinking time: in an age when information has become a permanent attention-grabber, we spend a good deal of our free thinking time getting informed: news outlets, social networks and the mobile phone have made us zombies staring at a constant stream of info. Notifications keep us captive. With less mobile phone comes more free time, more thinking time, more self-made opinions, thus more autonomy overall. Quoting French TV vet Patrick Le Lay, head of TF1 “we sell available brain time to brands”. Reading posts on social networks and news articles is not the same intellectual gymnastics as reading a book. It’s usually easier and related to opinion news in general.

After 3 months off the hook, I did purchase a brand new phone. I only set up the following apps:

  • Android’s native: Google Docs, Keep, Calendar, Music, Maps, Photo, Chrome, Hangout. I also have YouTube but I never watch YouTube on mobile.
  • I downloaded Whatsapp because it’s widely used as a replacement of the phone in Latin America, Feedly because I’m an old school RSS geek, Skype and my printer’s app because they won’t work properly on my Chromebook, and Wemo to remotely manage some of my house’s electric devices.

No more Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, banking apps, blogging apps, analytics apps, gaming apps, Netflix, Soundcloud, … Truth is, I don’t need those apps in the palm of my hand. I use them on my laptop, this way they don’t feel invasive. I’ve been an Android fan for a long time. I bought the G1 when it came out, and always lived with Android since then. Just like any long-time, tech-curious mobile user, I tried an infinity of apps. I know how it feels to be a vibrant mobile consumer, but that ship has sailed.

Wikipedia-backed Wikitribune won’t fix fake news

wikipedia wikitribune truth

Those past months, we’ve been hearing about Jimmy Wales’ ambition to create Wikitribune, a system that analyzes potential fake news to sort out the truth from the junk. Wikitribune claims to deliver exclusively “evidence-based” information, or put more simply “true news”. While I have a lot of respect for what’s been built over at Wikimedia & co, there’s one thing that Wikipedia is not: A reliable source of true information when it comes to controversial topics.

On Wikipedia, in case of a disagreement among the contributors of an article, two top principles are supposed to self-handedly manage the feud :
NPOV (neutrality of point of view): NPOV is reached by bringing up all verifiable POVs on a given topic, instead of working towards a more elaborated way to filter the controversial info.
Consensus by majority: In case of disagreement between the contributors of an article, a consensus must be reached in the discussion page before going any further. Thus the biggest group represented wins, regardless of the veracity of each party’s arguments, because it forms its own consensus (like a leading majority in politics).

Therefore, on Wikipedia, the biggest group of opinion represented can win over any battle of opinion because it will have the lead on controversial editorial decisions. And since NPOV is defined as nothing more than a patchwork of POVs, the winning majority will have the entire freedom to define how that’s going to be applied. In some cases, the minority abandons the field and the Wikipedia article becomes nothing more than a feast of biased and misleading information.

Needless to mention that when a leading party on Wikipedia also has connections in the press, the barriers of Wikipedia against distorted or fake news become useless (because if the press says it, it’s true). Wikipedia is a great vehicle of knowledge, but it certainly is not a conveyor of truth in any way. Therefore, there is no logical reason for Jimmy Wales to launch Wikitribune, because he has nothing to back it up with.

Source of featured image: The ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth on Wikipedia, which is also a great article to read on that topic.

calvin hobbs history

Facebook vs Myspace, 10 years later

facebook myspace

I would define the peak of the web 2.0 from early 2000’s – blooming of the blogosphere and the first Friendster-like social networks – to 2008 – up until the iPhone broke in. In 2007, the debate was Facebook vs Myspace, the private (Facebook was walled down then) vs the public approach. While 10 years later it became cristal-clear who won the match, it’s still a good thing to look back and analyze what happened.

Historically, you could say that Myspace opened up the door for Facebook to explode. Myspace made social networks international, vibrant, and a great marketing tool for engaged online communities. The myspace.com/… URL was the first among its peers to walk in the world of traditional ads. Myspace was everything that Facebook became, without the cutting-edge technology. Both companies got financial traction through private investments, but Facebook had the right business ties, and its leader maintained a straight-forward vision that kept the boat afloat. Myspace got unsavvy Murdoch money and our friend Tom did not show clear signs of business leadership, which led to market failure.

That brings me to the topic of leadership in social-oriented technologies. On one end, we had Tom, founder of Myspace :

tom myspaceWhen you created your account on Myspace, Tom was automatically assigned as your first friend. And everybody was keeping him as a friend, which obviously made him the most popular guy on the site. On Facebook, you were invited to 1.Use your real name, and 2. Connect only with people you know (so no Mark was assigned as your first friend). Tom was some sort of democratic president, not elected by vote, but accepted, legitimized by his popularity.

When you think about it, Tom is the kind of leader we say we want : a like-us, close-to-us person that we can have a beer with, and a leader that doesn’t value business over its network’s social values. Exactly the opposite of the leader of Facebook. Tom failed. And Facebook, with its autocratic approach to social development, became a Big 3. What does that tell us about managing (online) communities ?

The smarter the technology, the dumber the user (do we need al those apps ?)

Smartphones brought something pretty incredible to our daily lives : an infinite source of artificial intelligence in the palm of our hands. Clearly, in the breakthrough of technology, smartphones stand at the cornerstone of our transhumance.

In 2017, a lot of us will reach 10 years of unpaused smartphone usage. What conclusions can I take as an individual user with a light early-adopter bias ?

A smart-apps world clouded my brain

It has become obvious to most of us that our mobile has made us dependent of the machine. With technology always at reach, I do not need to foresee much as I can do everything right in the momentum: No plane ticket ? I can buy them in the taxi on my way to the airport. Where will I meet my friend and make sure we don’t miss each other in a crowded place ? Instant messenging. How much money do I have in my account ? Online banking. What’s happening in Gambia right now ? Gogle News, Twitter, thousands of others… How do I cook this ? Google. It’s becoming really hard to find something that doesn’t already have an app for that.

The technology is making my life simpler, yet I keep wondering if this is a good thing : Every time I find myself without an internet connection or a mobile device, I realize that I’ve lost some autonomous abilities: Driving to unknown places without Google Maps is more stressful, finding a place to stay in an unknown city feels impossible, my social life requires more planning ahead of time and I do not have the phone number of most of my contacts, I won’t know how to find a specific store in the city, the list goes on, but I think it’s safe to say : THE SMARTER THE TECHNOLOGY, THE DUMBER THE USER.

Google has become really intelligent over the years, but can we say the same about us (looking at you, US of Trump) ? Technology enables access to quasi-infinite knowledge, but it changes my attitude towards this knowledge : instead of retaining it as much as possible, I just consume it when I need it, and pretty much forget it right after I’m done consuming it. My brain knows it’s there, so it’s not flexing the memory muscle. Whenever I need something, I “Google it”, so why memorize anything at all ?

einstein technology generation idiots

Thus knowledge is not in my possession anymore, it’s in the hands of technology (but it was in other hands before too, so my point is not that we’re going backwards), and I access it when I need it. In 10 years, Google managed to cloud my brain.

Google did to knowledge and the service industry what pharma companies did to health, what food companies did to cooking, what the fashion industry did to clothing, … They engineer everything, making my own knowledge unnecessary, unsollicited, thus deprecated. I don’t need to know anything anymore because it’s already manufactured to me.

Low-tech is not dumb

On the first mobile OSs, the app market was essential to fill the gaps. There was always a developer that had thought of an app to patch a missing feature. With today’s latest versions of Android and iOS, all the must-have features are native, making my need for other apps and the app market less important.

I realize today that I do not need to do the following on my phone (some people do) :

  • I do not need to do mobile banking on the go, I can do it on my laptop
  • I do not need to watch a Netflix movie on the go, there’s books and other ways to entertain myself
  • I do not need to be informed in real time of everything that is going on, even if it concerns me, I want to access that information when I am mentally available for it
  • I do not need to be connected to everyone I know permanently : with LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, I’m directly connected to thousands of other people, do I need to know everything they’re up to in real time ?

While I can clearly see that I do not need those services on the go, thus on a mobile phone, I can anticipate that it will be the case for everyone pretty soon. With connected homes and screens, a lot of things we do on mobile will make much more sense at home on a big screen. Apps will be the same, but they will go through your home network, not your mobile. Google’s Instant Apps confirms that trend towards deconstructing the apps’ environment to clear the user’s horizon.

want smart need dumb phone

I think the true value of mobile phones are :

  • GPS-related features for enhanced traveling capabilities
  • Network-related features for enhanced human interactions

Over time, any app that does not evolve around those two axis will be removed from a mobile because it won’t be the best device to process those requests. Mobile devices fit in a pocket and can connect to local networks outside the house, and that’s as low-tech as mobile should be. All other features the internet has to offer should not go through a mobile device, because it pollutes with unnecessary airwave usage, requires complex hardware (critical pollution and economic factor), turns signals into noise (what’s your average number of push notifs in a day?), generates threats to your personal security (breach/interception and data theft), and the brain permanently outsources its problem-solving issues to the machine, making it dumber by the minute.

dumb phone smart people 1

While I was born in a non-digital world, I can still figure out what to do if the internet goes down. But new generations are doomed : if the web goes down, how much knowledge will there be left in their brains to survive? Today, all you need to know to survive is how to turn on your phone and keep it charged.

Getting the people back on local networks as a zero waste strategy

local community

The zero waste approach seeks to eradicate the heavy-polluting processes and habits around the consumption of goods in general. Relying on local supplies and production is key to minimize the local communities’ reliance on external industrial systems. Developing tools to favor communication within local communities is key to helping the zero waste movement reach its goal. No local communication vehicle = no local shares, no local trades.

A few websites/apps already exist to fulfill that need. Most of them are apps for neighbors, enabling members of a neighborhood to interact through online networks. While they all bring some value to this seeding sector, they’re all replicas of Facebook in their own ways, and they all fail to invent a dominant geocentric paradigm to social networking. Other location-based social networks cater to social events. There’s a lot of apps in that arena, all being really creative to become the next game breaker for public venues. But when it’s last call and venues close for the night, so does those apps that only enable local networking during ephemeral gatherings.

In my life experience, I’ve often been drawn to the issue of zero waste and local communication tools. Moving from country to country teaches you that you don’t need that much “stuff” to live. It teaches you it is way cleaner to consume locally than to import all of your favorite products. It makes you realize that you don’t need to personally own something to use it, that it is clever if most home appliances belong and remain within the community (and not just in your garage or kitchen). But to integrate local processes, I need a tool to get in touch with the local community I live in. From experience, living in a neighborhood doesn’t mean that you feel like a member of a community. I rarely befriend my neighbors, not that I don’t want to, but geographical vicinity doesn’t mean social vicinity, and that’s particularly true if you are a shy foreigner in the country. There needs to be a medium for locals to be connected and share information on a practical level, otherwise sustainable local communities will remain an utopia forever.

Empowering local communities with a dedicated communication vehicle is key to unleash the advent of a global location-based economy. Since no such tool dominates the market, and since the global economy crushed local economies as a whole, everything has to be built from the start. That means the first versions of the product need to provide a very simple yet friendly service to get the people back on local networks.