Archive for July, 2018

People are Dumb: Part 4 – Apple

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

A few weeks after moving to the country house for the summer, I was in a car accident. To be clear, I wasn’t in it. Two other cars were in it, and I was jogging by. But, the sound of the crash and the geometry of the scenario caused me to do something that either looked heroic or dad-bod-pathetic, depending on how I executed it. I heard the noise, saw a car sliding towards me, and dramatically jumped out of the way, over a guardrail, into a small depression of grass and raspberry bushes.

Of course, jumping over a three foot barrier in running shorts into thorny bushes was likely more dangerous than just standing there, particularly considering that the cars never came close to me. But I stand by my move. I’m like a jogging ninja, only with several more cuts and bruises than I had before.

When the screeching had domino-d back through traffic and the last of the horns stopped, there was enough quiet for me to do the first intelligent thing of the morning – call for help. Of course, I was in a bramble, and in a bit of pain. So, I held the button on my headphones and told Siri what I needed.

Siri, call 911.

Siri, who sometimes thought my friend Shivani was my way of asking for the Chobanistand, or that my daughter Brianna was “Mama” has been hit or miss, but 9-11 isn’t a name but a number, and one of the most important ones a phone can know. Which is why I was shocked twice a second later. Once because I realized I was bleeding, and then a second later, when I heard,

Sorry, I didn’t get that, do you want me to try local businesses by that name?

Or something like that – at this point I realized I’d landed on my knee and I was wondering it it wouldn’t have been better to just jump in front of the car. No big deal, though – I had full LTE and I couldn’t hear anyone nearby on the phone, so it seemed reasonable to try again.

Call 9. 1. 1. I said with the patience and measured slowness I usually reserve for toddlers and auditors. And for a second time, Siri didn’t know what I meant.

After a third time, a third attempt to get even the most basic functionality out of an $1,100 piece of coddled technology, I gave up. I nearly threw the cursed thing at the road, but realized both the futility of the gesture, and an even sadder truth.

Apple sucks, but I can’t stand any other devices.

***

I never realized how bad Siri was until I started filling my house with Alexas. The first one was basically a give-away, and the second two just made the kitchen and bedroom more useful, but now I there is no room in my house that isn’t waiting patiently – maybe even maniacally – for me to ask, Computer, what’s the weather?

Because I don’t know how windows work, it seems.

The thing is, Alexa always knows the weather. She knows when I ask her to turn the living room lights to 5%. She’s on it when I want to watch Eureka, season 2, episode four. In fact, she even – recently – gets it when I start to ask her something, then forget, then remember again in the same command.

Computer, turn on the… turn on… fu@#, oh, right, front lights.

And yet, when I’m literally in a ditch, I can’t get my iPhone to call for help. I could have died, you overpriced piece of

***

Fortunately, my ego and right knee were the only ones injured in the accident. The woman who was hit was not stoked and the kid who hit her was probably thanking the very gods that we live in a world of fancy metal super-structures and crumple-zones and enough airbags to turn your Jetta into a damn boat.

I think that’s where Tim Cook is, right now. He is running a company that’s so big and has so much great stuff under its belt that it’s like being in a ridiculously safe Volkswagen – even if you bang it up, you’ll be fine.

That’s where I come in. I’ve been in love with Apple since 1999, and it never once occurred to me to try another product until… well, until Amazon started throwing Alexas at me like it’s goddam personal assistant Mardi Gras.

Brand loyalty makes us dumb. But it’s not just me buying, seven…

SEVEN….

Seven Magsafe power adaptors over three years because they kept melting.

Or the fact that my iPhone, which again cost more than many people’s computers, drops calls as regularly as Liam Neeson throat punches foreigners. Or, the various little ridiculous things that you forget until you don’t – like the Time Machine backups that stopped working for no explicable reason. Or the fact that when you start up your Mac, it asks if you’d like to previous items. Which it also asked when you shut it down. Meaning that if you just want to restart your computer, you’re hit twice with the same question – regardless of how you answer the first one, and you can’t do either unattended.

***

But that’s inside baseball for the Mac users amongst us. In this last in the first half of my People are Dumb series, I want to make clear first of all, that I’m dumb. I’m the first to admit it, and yet when I was talking about Seatbelts or Bitcoin or Sticky Accelerators, I wasn’t really making that clear. So I wanted to end the dumb part on the dumbest guy of all – the one who will dedicate four articles just to talking about dumb stuff.

The second thing I want to make clear, though, is that we do irrational things even when it hurts us. This makes sense because of a concept called confirmation bias. This is simply the idea that we process our experience in a way that conforms to what we expect it to be. Here’s an example. As I’ve indicated, my phone drops off on calls so frequently that I truncate my speech into medium-length chunks so that I can make sure I’m not talking to dead air. But I spent over a grand on my phone, so I just take that to be the cell service. Even though my friends with Samsungs don’t have this issue.

The information is, my phone doesn’t work well. There are several choices as to why this is, but the most reasonable explanation is that my phone is garbage. A normal human person would come to this pretty quickly. But I had to bleed first. Had to stare at my screen and the little Siri voice wave and just curse at her until I could admit that the cause wasn’t something else, wasn’t the uniqueness of my kids’ names, or some errant AT&T tower. It was my phone, which isn’t that great because schmucks like me keep buying them and Tim Cook’s Volkswagen hasn’t crashed into its own ditch yet, so he doesn’t get what’s happened to Apple.

I’m his airbag.

Well, not just me. Thirty million people, according to Canalys, bought a phone that can barely make a phone call. And even more into an ecosystem that’s barreling into an AI-based future with a base AI tech that’s vastly inferior to the $29 hockey puck that tells me when Home Depot closes.

We can be really dumb sometimes. In fact, so dumb that we actually hurt the people we love.

Sorry, Tim.

Of course, the natural question is, how do we solve this? How do we get out of these ruts that make us dumb? That’s where I’m really excited to go – and I hope you’ll join me shortly.