Thursday, October 25, 2012

No Hope for the Future

I spend a lot of my time just thinking, mostly about ways I could improve the world, though sometimes I'll admit I get a bit selfish and worry about my own needs. However, most times when I reason out different problems with the world as a whole, there are some very important reasons why things really aren't going to get much better than they are now.

Generally speaking, when I talk about being able to vastly improve life, I am referring to potentially paradigm-shifting technological advancements. Almost all of the advancements in technology over the last 15 years have been huge improvements to communication technologies. Facebook, Google, Twitter, the Internet itself, cell phones, all of these things are really great tools for advancing society and permitting the advancement of ideas through shared intellect. However, many of the most useful changes which have or are being implemented right now will never be as powerful generators of change as they rightly should be. Here are just a few examples:

1. Facebook (and other social networks like Google+, Twitter, and innumerable others) all enable pretty seamless connections between people wherever they are on the planet. Twitter doesn't have video chatting, Google+ has separate mobile and PC chat clients, and Facebook, the behemoth social network, has too many privacy issues to work as a professional network, and doesn't allow voice calls between users. All of these networks and services have problems with them which mean that no matter how much you commit yourself to the platform, you will inevitably have to fall back on something else.

2. There will always be a certain paranoia involved with technology, especially from those who don't really understand it. From the inherent "creepiness" of Apple's Find My Friends application, to Facebook's automatic facial recognition on photo uploads, it seems like we have reason to be afraid of these new technologies, even if they are completely innocuous and benign, or in fact very useful.

3. No matter how good technology gets, we will all be terrible at it. Especially when it comes to social aspects of technology, humans are notoriously bad at social etiquette when not faced with an actual physical interaction. Ignoring the fact that we are capable, and sometimes very adept at lying, computers are very bad at conveying nuanced cues and tics associated with human communication. Whether it comes out in Facebook events where a list of 300+ people are invited blindly to a gathering with no real social contract being offered or accepted, or in a simple text message whose context or meaning is misconstrued because of the mechanical emotionlessness of technology. Technology companies are scrambling to identify how and why people make decisions they do, and what they can do to keep people engaged as long and as often as possible.

4. The social companies are in it to make money. In this case, money generally comes from advertising, at least once the company is mature enough that investors are ready to make some money. This means not only that you become a social commodity, but it also means that most of these companies (Facebook, Google, Apple) have no real impetus to innovate or deliver a lot of new features all at once. This is a very selfish principle, but it will never change. If Apple suddenly made hundreds of very obvious tweaks and changes to their software and hardware, naturally people would quickly become accustomed to those changes and continue to demand more. It makes much more sense for these companies to add features one or two at a time, claiming at the time that it is a brand new way of doing things. One obvious example of this is that outside of Google Voice (which is in the US) and Rogers One Number (only in Canada), I'm not aware of any business which allows you to send and receive messages and make and receive calls both on your phone and on your computer. This is such an obvious feature which would spell out the downfall of cell phone carriers in terms of their massive profit margins, that it is certain it will be a long time until it can be done on a large scale or for cheap. Apple has recently allowed proprietary video calls to be made over cellular networks, but no such feature exists to use data to make voice calls directly to a telephone number from another telephone number. This feature existing on any one carrier would quickly make it the norm, and would result in much higher competition in the telecommunications industry.

As you can see, things are pretty incredible right now, but since big companies have seen what can happen when technology bubbles burst, they are doing their absolute most to make sure that we keep advancing as slowly as possible, or they will no longer be able to keep making their massive profits. All I can do for the time being is keep hoping that the next little thing that comes out ends up being important to me. If anyone needs me I'll just be waiting here for the future.