So Long, Facebook

Out of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, if one had to disappear, I think it would most likely be Facebook. Google, Amazon, and Apple are – in and of themselves – unique services that have dominated to such a degree that they face little competition.

Google dominates the search engine market with 64.5% of the US market share. In contrast, Bing (and Yahoo – powered by Bing), comes in at only 32.6%. While the debate between Google and Bing users is strong, there is no denying that Google, for whatever reasons (popularity, design, verbage, etc), is the primary search engine used by most individuals. Add all of Google’s branches, including branded tools such as Google Drive, or sites Google is parent to such as YouTube, and Google probably isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Likewise, Amazon has dominated the online shopping market. With over 65 million Prime members worldwide (not counting other non-Prime members who use the site), there are few better places to get good deals and fast delivery, even if there are arguments against Amazon highlighting its own products on the results page. It is now the “largest e-commerce company by revenue in the United States, as of 2017.” While traditional brick-and-mortar stores like Walmart or Target have online shopping and delivery options, they do not have the same impression of being a one-stop-shopping center the way that Amazon does, especially in the US where food and grocery delivery is an option. While the success and longevity of Amazon’s new ‘cashier-free’ brick-and-mortar store remains to be seen, Amazon itself is probably also not going anywhere any time soon.

Now, quick! Think of a phone. What brand was it? Chances are good it was an iPhone. Like Google vs. Bing, the battle between Apple and Android / Apple and PC loyalists rages on. Google may be imitating Apple with Play Store and Play Music’s ever expanding collections of apps, music, and podcasts, but Apple still reigns supreme in the hardware department. With steady market growth over the last five years, Apple has made both marketing and planned obsolescence work in their favour. With new phones coming out every year (from all companies), Apple rarely has to worry about users diverging from the brand.

“A new report from Verto Analytics claims that a huge swath of the PC market is eager to switch to a Mac PC (desktop or laptop), with 21 percent of laptop owners and 25 percent of desktop owners supposedly willing to make the jump. At the same time, Verto claims that 98 percent of current Mac owners are happy with their systems, with just 2 percent planning to switch to a Microsoft-based PC over the same time frame.

So, Apple probably isn’t going anywhere either.

Which leaves us with Facebook. Let me first point out that Facebook has some tricky data to interpret. According to Statistia, “As of…2017, Facebook had 2.07 billion monthly active users…logged in to Facebook during the last 30 days.”  This number does not take into account duplicate or fake accounts, or abandoned accounts linked to non-Facebook sites where users simply use Facebook as a login tool (e.g. Goodreads). Facebook is notorious for making actually deleting an account incredibly difficult. During a 14 day time period after requesting account deletion, users must take care to delete all Facebook apps on their phone, not “like” any post on any website that links through Facebook, or log on to any site that uses Facebook Connect. If any of these actions take place, the request to delete will be declined. All this to say, it is difficult to truly believe if those “2.07 billion monthly active users” is truly an accurate number.

Many people who do use Facebook now use it as a way to stay connected with business networks, upcoming events (as a meetup tool), and, let’s be honest, memes. Sites like LinkedIn, Meetup, or Google Hangouts are beginning to, or have the capacity to develop ways in which Facebook is no longer necessary for those uses. As online privacy becomes more and more of a grey area (with Facebook often being in the spotlight), fewer and fewer people will want to mix business with their personal lives online, as it’s so easy to do with Facebook. While Facebook does have the “Messenger” app going for it, there is no shortage of other apps that may take its place. WhatsApp is growing in popularity as a free messaging service, and with apps like Voxer which allows options for real-time voice recording, message saving, and group chats (as well as all the traditional text messaging options), Messenger just can’t hold its own if Facebook declines.

It will probably be some time before Facebook does officially decline. Old habits die hard, and Facebook is just that: a habit. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was not already an app (probably from Apple or Google, that you could probably one day purchase on Amazon) that allows users to log into most sites without Facebook Connect. Many sites already even have Google as a login option. It may sound harsh, but unless Facebook wants to go the way of MySpace, it better start offering something that no other site/company/operation has.

 

 

Jesse Savage

 

Long Live the Independent Bookstore

In 2014 France passed a bill that forced Amazon to stop offering free shipping to customers. This piece of legislation was to update an already existing law that dictates all retailers cannot discount books more than 5% of the publisher’s listed price. It is little surprise that in a country where the government is dedicated to prevent large corporations from using prices that other companies cannot compete with is also a country that has a thriving independent bookstore market. While many countries that Amazon actively sells into have experienced an epidemic of bookstores closing, France’s bookstore market has remained relatively untouched. A future in which Amazon’s control of the sale of books declines will likely brought about by similar legislation in other countries.

Independent bookstores are able to offer many things that Amazon is not, such as a knowledgeable staff, events and book launches, and shelves upon shelves that you can wander through and discover books. While Amazon has a very sophisticated algorithm to aid you in your next book purchase the e-retail giant lacks a level of discoverability for new and unknown titles. These services come at a cost to the bookstore but do not translate into a direct monetary value for the customer. Given our society’s current capitalistic culture these services are currently not highly valued­­–possibly because people try to take advantage of these services without paying the higher retail price on books. If Amazon were to wipe out all Independent Bookstores from the market customers may come to realise that they miss the services that brick and mortar stores have to offer, however it is unlikely that this would damage Amazon’s sales because they will have become the only viable option for book sales.

Throughout my time working in an independent bookstore I was confronted with the reality that a large percentage of book buyers would buy their books at the cheapest location available. I have lost count of the number of times a customer would ask me if we would price match Amazon’s listed price, or asking me to write down the titles I had spent time recommending because they’d rather buy them off of Amazon because they wanted to save money. A local independent bookstore cannot hope to price competitively with a giant corporation such as Amazon and for the customers who are looking to find the best deal possible, Amazon was nearly always the answer. If governments made an effort to limit the monopoly that Amazon holds by outlawing predatory pricing it would destabilize Amazon as one of the “big four”.

Apple: The First to Fall?

After much deliberation and moderate amounts of research, I have selected Apple as the first to fall.

Compared to the other three tech giants (Google, Amazon, and Facebook), Apple, while still exceptionally innovative, is not as ahead of the curve as they used to be. Once known for boundary-pushing products consumers didn’t know they needed, they now maintain the status quo by releasing new iPhones and Macs every year. Compared to the other major tech companies, they are much more stagnant.

Apple is valued at $869bn and was founded in 1976 (a full 18 years before Amazon, valued at $566bn), and so their early starter position has been of benefit to them, notably in terms of value of their company (the richest in the world) and in consumer loyalty. So while they have some advantages that will sustain them if business begins to falter, I believe that they are still very susceptible to changes brought about by the more innovative competition and changing consumer behaviours.

The Competition
Unlike Amazon (the e-commerce company), Google (the knowledge internet company), and Facebook (the social internet company), Apple does not have a monopoly on the smartphone or computer industry. Phone brands, such as Samsung and Nexus, or laptop brands, such as Lenovo and Dell, are catching up to Apple in terms of product quality and still have a significant share of the markets (while Apple has stuck to their corner of the market doing what they do best). With Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple was didn’t just make the best products, they made products no one had ever seen before. In recent years, it could be argued that they are no longer the visionary company they once were. Instead, they make small tweaks to their products to make them even more exclusive to the Apple brand, such as different jacks for chargers and headphones.

Meanwhile, Google, Amazon, and Facebook are doing everything they can to stay at the forefront of innovation. Google has all sorts of projects going on, from self-driving cars to artificial intelligence. Amazon plans on piloting cashier-less stores and drone home delivery. And Facebook buys up the competition—including the very popular Instagram and WhatsApp companies. Instagram is more popular than the original Facebook platform with Gen Z, and WhatsApp is popular in countries outside of North America. By acquiring the competition, Facebook is not only eliminating the competition but also capitalizing on multiple growing markets.

And similarly, Amazon is also slowly encroaching on Apple’s products. As Scott Galloway said in an article about how he expects all of the four companies will disappear within 50 years, “The most innovative tech hardware of 2016, it wasn’t the Apple Watch or it wasn’t the Apple Pods, it was the Amazon Echo. If you look at where they are competing against Apple in voice, Siri versus Alexa, Alexa is putting a serious beat on Siri.”

The Customers
Younger generations, namely Gen Z and Millennials, are known for valuing personalized experiences over products. Amazon, Google, and Facebook offer exceptionally personalized services, and so long as there is not a dramatic change in consumer values, there is a good chance they will win out over Apple. Their products offer a portal to the personalized services the other companies offer, but are not personalized in themselves.

As much as Apple has cultivated a very loyal customer base (who is growing older), they have done so through their consistently reliable products—not their exceptional knowledge of their customers (rather, they tell people what they want and need). Additionally, younger generations are more price sensitive, as they struggle to balance the increased cost of living alongside jobs with little security. If there is a cheap, comparable, and unique product on the market, it will not be hard to sell to Gen Z and the Millennials (who now make up 50% of the population).

Apple is no longer doing what they do best, nor are they innovating or catering to their customers. In today’s cutthroat tech industry, there is only so long they can rely on their bank account and their loyal customers before they begin to fall.

Concept-Hopper

In his article “The Information: How the Internet Gets Inside of Us,” staff writer for The New Yorker Adam Gopnik reflects on the development of “the Internet” and categorizes books on this topic into three parts: The Never-Betters (those who think it bringer of utopia), the Better- Nevers (should have never happened) and Ever-Wasers (this modernizing thing is actually repeating). Reflecting on these categories and the question posed, meaning to define myself via one of these, I realized that I concept-hop a lot. I have never been a big fan of extremism and always think, in the privacy and freedom of my home, how astonishing it is that people can devote themselves so blindly to one belief or another.

For example, I am a Canadian… but the sort born elsewhere. I read a few years back a book entitled The Power of Why by Amanda Lang, a book that discusses and analyzes innovation. Lang explains that people that have terms of comparison (have lived in a few places or speak a few languages) tend also to be more innovative. You see, in my case, immigration was the closest to time-travel one can come to [– for now! Who knows what the future will bring?]

While 2001 was for North America, and the Vancouver IT industry in particular, the culminating year of the dot-com bubble (and ensuing crisis), I had left Romania as one of the few children in my class privileged to have a computer in the home. Yes, the modem made those weird sounds and yes, you stared at the basic graphics of the transporting envelope, but in those moments, I was surely one of the Never-Betters. At the time, I was immensely mesmerized by Microsoft’s Encarta Encyclopedia as well, and I mean the CD-ROM version, not the online one. This was October of 2001. Then in November of 2001, I was all of a sudden under the pressure of adapting very quickly to my peers’ speedy fingers. In Vancouver, schools already had computers and by the end of high school and beginning of university, the expectation was that all my research would involve an online reading/research component.

Now that I nanny to keep myself fed as a student, I see how the Internet really is inside children. You must truly reflect on this, I read it myself in an article and it stopped me in my tracks: we are the last generation to know life both with and without computers and “the Internet.” Some children I watch over have habits that definitely make me roll my eyes and think of myself as a Better-Never, mostly revolving around the concept of videogames. I have recently learned games are not even built with multiple consoles anymore, since the dawn of the age of “network playing.” Before, you played outside or played a videogame – at least you played together. Now, if you want to play with a friend, you must geographically separate in order to each take on a digital persona. This is not the worst of it, as far as I am concerned – to me, the most disturbing aspect is that children watch YouTube videos of o-t-h-e-r people playing videogames. The level of detachment is completely beyond me.

Overall, however, I look at each wave of technology brought upon us, and I realize that from an eagle-eye view, the reality of the matter is that to me, the most sensible thing is to admit the facts, and I thus ultimately admit defeat to the Ever-Wasers group. Who knows, with virtual reality, perhaps the next wave of children will indeed sit around in empty spaces but mentally exposed to rich, colourful worlds. I just deeply hope the real world around us does not end up looking like the universe of WALL•E, though.

Anna Stefanovici

Thinking about Progress

The description that Gopnik provides in his article that “Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others—that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment,” regarding the three types of books about the Internet. Initially his description of Ever-Wasers stood out to me as the one that made the most sense out of the three. The Never-Better and Better-Never opinions were both too narrowminded. However, as Gopnik went on to add his commentary about the current digital landscape about “the age of the inverted self,” and “social networks” is where he loses me.

During one of my undergraduate history courses, we learned the philosophy of looking at history as progress. Historian E.H. Carr defines: “history in its essence is change, movement or progress.” If you believe history as progress, then the Ever-Waser description shares elements of that idea. That there is something coming along that can be distinguishable as significant regarding “the new way”, and the relationship between facts and values that reflects our view of society regarding that it can then be “thrilling to some and chilling to others.”

However, the Ever-Wasers description fails to encompass that there is progress going on. Rather, Gopnik points to “something like this” as a moment in modernity that is the sum of it all. The advancements of information technologies, the internet, machines, etc. can also viewed as progress, and not suspended in a single place and time. To answer, in the end I do not define or want to prescribe myself to any of the three classes that Gopnik describes. Instead, I would rather have my classmates consider the question: what progress means to you, and what is your definition of it? As for me, I think that history can be regarded as records of progress because the idea that things are getting better is what I believe is uncontested.

As a society, we are evidently living in the best era. No longer is life expectancy at the low age of 35, or that there is still a prominence of women dying during childbirth. The list of improvements humanity has made to sustain its life is all around us. I argue that Gopnik leans too heavily on seeing the Internet as harmful or an unprogressive force. While the internet does have the potential, and creates outlets for malice, like from some examples of internet commenting, it also provides greater opportunities to connect and engage with others in a positive way. I do not believe that how societies across the world being more connected is something not to be grateful for. I also want to add that progress in history is not continuous without its regressions or deviation, nor is there a finite goal of progress to not align this to the Better-Never category. But more to the idea that: if we are coming from somewhere, we are going somewhere as well.

 

 

 

Conspiracy Theories and the ability to adapt to Change

I like conspiracy theories, some of them at least. I do not believe in the majority of them though,  but they help me dimension the amount of change (or stagnation) we had experienced as society. “The man never landed in the moon” some say, yet others state firmly that “a scientific calculator of our days has more processing capacity than the computers that guided man during this epic voyage”. Still, a cautious third group asks: “Then why there are not already cities over the surface of the moon?” Fair question too.

Changes that had taken place in technology, economics and society during the last hundred years have been so rushed that our conception of “change” seems to have been warped; we forget our own limits as a species to adapt to new standards. It is difficult to conceive so many generations living together and trying to survive tide after tide of market pressures, fashions or work/living styles literally throwing new technologies, methods, laws, foods, etc. With the Internet is the same, we have learned to operate it, access it, and navigate it, yet, for all its power, we, as society, still do not know how to use it.

For ages, mankind survived using simple tools and complex technologies. It is hard to conceive people writing on Papyrus over millennia, carefully choosing (editing) the words that would be written in the treasured substrate. In an internet-connected world, such a task is no more wonder, information abounds and our new problem is how to distill it in order to get what we really need, even if that means ceding our privileges to AIs or mega-corporations to lead our thinking and behavior.

In The New Yorker’s “How the Internet gets inside us”, Adam Gopnik defines three types of change adopters: the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers and the Ever-Wasers. At first it seems comfortable to be able to identify within (just) one of these schools, when reality is far more complex as Gopnik himself elaborates in his essay (he later revealed later to be switching among these “moods” in an interview published in the Montreal Gazette two months after the first article was published). So the whole subject would not be as which ideology appeals to one but rather how we can assimilate change or how much do we really need this change to happen as individuals and how much we are demanded to implement it in our society.

Some nations, like the Chinese, tended to have an historical perspective where change effects occur along centuries, while western civilizations have spent the last 500 years rushing towards an unknown and uncertain future nobody knows where it leads but everyone is certain we must rush forward as fast as we can.

And this is where those conspiracy theories come into play, they rebel against the prodigious wonders claimed by the Never-Bettters (must be Aliens!), the memory of a perfect world of the Better-Nevers (Kennedy!), and the apparent wisdom and neutrality of the Ever-Wasers. These theories remind us there are voices, that still pinpoint the map of the ever changing internet world, whatever it is, whatever the masses ascertain to be true. Flat earth can be refuted easily, the reply: Photoshop! What an ingenious answer!

Sometimes I really wish there was an Ice wall at the end of the world, at others I just see the pictures taken by the Hubble telescope, millions of years into the past. If the Universe were actually a Hologram, I could not care less, everything out there seems so far as to ever reach it or conceive it anyway. Mythology has not abandoned us, we are recreating it through the web, the internet has just not found time to settle in, after all, we are humans.

OW

Willingly, unwillingly, or unwittingly?

I read Gopnik’s article . . . a few times to be honest, just to get a better understanding of the categories—Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, Ever-Wasers. It all seemed convoluted until I identified the underlying thread running through it. After much deliberation, I simplified the essence of these categories into fearless-optimists, cautious-pessimists and wary-pragmatists.

The interaction between man and technology is complex, to say the least. When it comes to technology, we all engage with it willingly, unwillingly, or unwittingly on daily basis. Depending on our age, education, experience, involvement and inquisitiveness, we can move from one category to another during different phases of our lives.

Gopnik says, “Yet surely having something wrapped right around your mind is different from having your mind wrapped tightly around something. What we live in is not the age of the extended mind but the age of the inverted self.” I agree with Gopnik here. I remember the thrill of sending my first e-mail. How readily I had accepted this gift of internet and have embraced everything that has come my way so far. But I no longer find myself wrapped tightly around technology; rather, I would describe it as a friendly-hug. I understand technology and what it does for me. I also understand the blurring lines of consent, as far as my conscious participation is concerned.  I am clearly an Ever-Waser.

Change is inevitable, both inside and outside of us. We can’t stop it, resist it or control it. But we can be aware of it. We’re a minute part of this virtual socio-economic platform. But it is we, who make the internet what it is. By way of our social media interaction, buying or selling patterns, search prompts, personal opinions and other virtual footprints, we contribute to the collective database that drives the virtual network. Somewhat similar to how our society has been evolving over thousands of years. Ultimately, our society is a product of our collective consciousness.

I am increasingly aware of how technology is impacting me. Even as I get pulled deeper into the web, I am developing a filter to keep the arms of technology at bay. For now, I am navigating through technology, as opposed to simply flowing with it. But I am not discounting a day when I would likely seek my non-existent grandchildren, to explain a certain piece of technology to me, or to warn them against the malice of virtual world, or to simply regale the experience of living through an era that is re-defining the scope of learning and how we learn it.

Anumeha Gokhale

 

 

A Never-Better with a Conscience: The Benefits of Being Warily Idealistic

Gopnik’s “The Information: How the Internet gets Inside Us” raises some pretty solid points about the benefits and pitfalls of each of the mindsets that one could have when faced with the state of technology today. Weighing the relative risks with the rewards, I would tend to call myself a Never-Better.

 

I concede to the author’s point that media and technology have been developing continuously since the creation of the written language itself, but the strides that technology has taken in the last few decades have had an impact that not even the Gutenberg printing press could outpace. Exploring what can be done with the web alone is like sending a probe into outer space with no earthly idea what is out there to be observed and acted upon. The author is correct, though; just because technology is powerful doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. The world has begun to create a social infrastructure so innately tied to technology that at a certain point one’s opinions on technology are arbitrary. Your money comes on plastic card with embedded data. Your rent and utilities are automatically deducted from your bank account without you having to give permission manually more than once. You take an unmanned, remotely controlled commuter train everyday to work or class. Disliking technology does not prevent your dependence on it. To take that even further, it’s detrimental for society to not have a sense of optimism moving forward. If we’re not at least a little idealistic about the boundlessness of technology, then no good can come from it. It’s as the old adage dictates: whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

 

But beyond the obvious, the social infrastructure that the internet made possible has carved pathways that make it easier than ever to connect with your fellow human. The past few decades may have seen the fall of the bowling league, but they also saw the rise 5,000,000-member nationwide women’s march following the US Presidential inauguration of 2017, the immense crowdfunding that was the Ice Bucket Challenge (which raised $115 million by mid-2016 and helped scientists make a huge breakthrough toward curing ALS), and the creation of the kinds of communities and platforms that have the potential to completely change the way scholarly and educational texts are created and distributed. The downfalls of the internet are in its monetization, but luckily humanity tends to prevail against its own greed often enough for communities to build and become machines of social good. The benefits of the modern technology are in its ability to enhance what is already a basic instinct of the human being and multiply its potential across the world: human connection.

 

With that being said, it’s important to be cautious as well. I believe the most dangerous facet of technology is the tendency for people to view innovation as inherently good. As Katz explores in “The Ethic of Expediency,” the ethics of a people can be easily manipulated by authority, which in our age would be tech oligopolies like Google and Amazon. Monetization is, again, the catalyst, and we’ve already been normalized to the idea of planned obsolescence. If we refuse to see the Newest Thing as anything but Good, then we tend to forget about everything else, like the fact that automation, a natural effect of innovation in technology, costs real human jobs and sometimes even real human lives.

 

The moral of the story: while we forge forth with our exploration of tech and the internet, it’s important to occasionally ask oneself — is it needed? Is it helpful? Does it do more harm than good?

The newest media monopoly

Back in 2001, I was a wide-eyed journalism student. Our professor was an award-winning journalist who kept us hanging onto his every word for the entire duration of his hour-long lectures. He introduced the concept of media monopoly to us, through the work of author Ben Bagdikian who wrote about it in a book by the same name. (And later an updated version called ‘The New Media Monopoly’). The media, Bagdikian maintained, was controlled by just five corporations: Disney, News Corporation, Time Warner, Viacom, and Bertelsmann. And because “media power [was] political power”, these companies were basically ruling the world. The world suddenly seemed a dreary place to us. And then 9/11 happened. It wasn’t difficult at the time to think that the world was on the brink of a collapse and perhaps we would all be the better for it rather than face what was coming.

The world, of course, didn’t collapse (or did it?), but it was perhaps that experience that cemented me as a Better-Never-Ever-Waser. I do believe that there’s a cyclical nature to the way things happen. The five giants of Bagdikian’s time have been replaced by the five of ours: Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon. These are our media now and they have exerted enough power to topple governments and establish dubious ones. It’s monopoly 101, just that, whereas the previous companies threatened our freedom of expression, their counterparts today offer it to us on a platter, albeit with disclaimers and privacy agreements no one reads. Who wants to read the fine print and miss out on the party, eh? Indeed, for Apple and their ilk it has never been better; never have people had these many avenues to express themselves; never before have people been able to connect with others from far-flung corners of the world. Through the rose-tinted glasses all the tech giants want us to wear, the world is a wondrous place full of fluffy cats and one-pot dinners. Perhaps we deserve the imperialism that we live under, because it is we that have accorded so much more power to the companies that rule us now. We have become so used to the conveniences, we don’t want to extend ourselves, even if to protect our privacy and our right to lead a life on our own terms. But even as I say this, I’m not sure what the solution is. Should I, like my siblings, consciously refuse to be on any social media platform? Should I stubbornly stick to buying printed books from local bookstores as opposed to Amazon? Should I, like my mother, believe in face-time instead of FaceTime? I’m not sure whether these are the answers. But, perhaps, we need a lot of such small acts of rebellion. They might not stem the tide, but they might keep it in check.

A New Something – Gopnik’s Never-Better-Wasers

I wish that I could call myself a Never-Better. I do not deny that there have been leaps in information technology in recent history. While I believe we are on the brink of something, I can not confidently declare that that something is a “new utopia,” as Gopnik describes. Unless an awful lot changes, I do not think it is realistic to assume that all information will be free (although I admit I am still holding out for those cookies that bake themselves…). There is currently an ocean of free resources online (whether or not they have been put out there legally), but that ocean may not always be as fruitful. If a Google/Facebook/Amazon regime is truly in our future, it seems unlikely that anything would be free at that point.

However, I don’t know that I am a Better-Never, either. I am glad the internet happened. I am glad that I am able to watch movies and listen to music from my phone. I am glad that I can research options for the best daycare for my dog, and read real user testimonials that inform my decision. I grew up during the dawn of Google. I remember when I had to (or perhaps, got to) look things up at the library, or in an encyclopedia, and I remember that for all their use and glory, sometimes those resources just didn’t provide what I was looking for. Imagine how different university would be without Google, or YouTube, or Thesaurus.com. Both teachers and students have, in a way, become habitually reliant on the internet for free resources. Social media may often times be distracting, but sites like Facebook can also provide networking opportunities to assist in research, job searches, etc. Despite the potential nostalgia “simpler times” my bring, there are so many more ways to learn and connect with people now that the internet as an information and communication platform exists and has developed to what it is today, with whatever faults it may include.

Maybe all that means I’m an Ever-Waser. Every age has its technological leap. From architecture, to medicine, to how things are made, something big is always happening on what ends up being a global scale. For better or worse, the world of technology is always evolving, and now seems to be the Internet’s turn. No one can say where it will end up for certain, or what collateral damage might occur in the crossfire. Whether it’s a “new utopia” or something far more dark and unpropitious, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who things that we are not on the brink of another technological revolution.

 

 

— Jesse Savage

Ageism in Gopnik’s Technologist Labels

I read Adam Gopnik’s article, “The Information: How the Internet gets inside us”, multiple times before I was able to, I think, fully understand the concept of the Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, and Ever-Wasers. I’m not sure if it was his made-up labels that confused me, the concepts themselves, or if I was just so stuck in my own thinking that I assumed it was the correct way of thinking or that everybody of course thought that way.

I asked my significant other to read the article so we could talk about it and discuss the differences between the three types of people Gopnik talks about, and in this conversation we discussed the ageism of his labels. The Never-Better is the young, hip 20-something to 40-something that understands and uses technology on a daily basis. They believe that technology and communication is the best it has ever been, and “how did people even get by without all these modern conveniences?” Whereas the Better-Never is the elderly person that doesn’t like modern technology because they don’t understand it and are stuck in the ways of their youth—they prefer the technology they grew up with when they were in their Never-Better phase of life.

A recent example came to mind. Last week, I was having dinner with my grandparents and my 60-something grandma mentioned that she got a new cell phone, another relative’s old smart phone they didn’t use anymore. I told my grandma how excited I was by this, because now we could text and I can check in on her via text whenever I want, quickly. The look on her face was a combination of bafflement and disgust. “If you want to talk to me, you can call me,” she says. I went on to explain to her the advantages of sending a “quick text message” as opposed to calling someone—it’s quicker, easier, and more convenient for both parties because they can respond when they’re available and don’t have to stop what they’re doing to answer the phone in that moment. Grandma was having no part of it and told me that if I ever texted her, she would simply respond, “call me.”

My grandma is clearly a Better-Never. She understands the use of a phone as only meant for verbal communication, because that’s what it was used for when she was growing up.

According to this ageism theory, I would then be a Better-Never, as I am a 20-something that uses new technology every day to communicate with a large number of people from around the world—I am especially thankful for the international editors groups on Facebook. However, the ageism theory does not account for the Ever-Waser.

An Ever-Waser can be of any age and use any type or generation of technology. The Ever-Waser is not pigeon-holed into always wanting to update to the newest technology because of course new is better, or refuting all new technology and insisting on doing things “the old way.” The Ever-Waser has the ability to pick and choose what technology works for them, and ignore some pieces of new technology because it doesn’t suit their lifestyle. The Ever-Waser admits that a lot of new technology is useful for people in many different ways, but also accepts that new is not always better. An Ever-Waser knows that people were scared radio would kill the newspaper, TV would kill radio, the internet would kill magazines, and the eBook would kill print books. And the Ever-Waser knows that all of these technologies still exist today and work to complement each other, not kill.

In our discussion about this article, my significant other insisted that he is a Never-Better. He works in a tech-focused industry (video games) and every new advancement in technology means his job is easier and the products he can produce are better. I sat there and listened to his argument and acknowledged that everything he said is true and applicable, but I couldn’t help but disagree with the general premise that the Never-Better believes—new is always better. Only after discussing and agreeing with the details of a Never-Better, but rejecting the principle as a whole, did I realize that I am the ageless Ever-Waser.

Humanity will continue to develop new technology and new ways of doing things. Some of these advancements are purely for convenience, and some are necessary for the longevity of humanity as a race on Earth. But I’ll never replace my print books with eBooks. I will continue to buy and play CDs in my car, and listen to my parents’ vinyl records at home. I’ll use my laptop for work and school, and be thankful for the convenience of having a super computer in my pocket (my phone) and in my bag (my laptop) at all times. As an Ever-Waser, I will take each new technological advancement with a grain of salt and determine if that advancement will improve my life, or if it is just a new version of something that already works perfectly in my life. Reviewing this article and Gopnik’s theory of Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, and Ever-Wasers has made me adopt more closely a saying that I’ve always admired—don’t fix what ain’t broke.

The Fluidity of Never-Betters and Better-Nevers

In his article “The Information: How the Internet gets inside us“, Adam Gopnik defines three groups of people that describe how society interacts with and thinks about technology. The three groups are the “Never-Betters”, the “Better-Nevers”, and the “Ever-Wasers”. Gopnik’s main argument is that some people are overly optimistic about technology (the Never-Betters), some people are overly pessimistic about technology (the Better-Nevers), and finally that some people have what Gopnik views as a rational and well adjusted view of technology (the Ever-Wasers). The key to being an Ever-Waser is to not fear or demonize the technology but to also believe that the technology will not miraculously solve all of society’s problems and that new technology will often recreate similar structures that already exist.

The defining feature of Never-Betters is that every new technological development is met with optimism that it will somehow change the world for the better. For example the ideology that the web will remove barriers so that everyone’s voice can be heard is a very positive message that Never-Betters would use to explain the potential for positive social change. However it ignores the fact that it also provides a platform for voices that spread hateful messages. Similarly people point to the Arab Spring and how through social media large groups of people were able to come together and remove oppressive governments from positions of power; what it ignores is that these same social media platforms can also be used by radical hate groups to stage violent protests such as the white supremacists that gathered in Charlottesville. The Never-Betters by definition are looking towards a hopeful future and that technology is a potential key to progress.

Conversely the Better-Nevers view technology as an unknown and potentially dangerous change. The Better-Nevers look at the past as the definition of what is good and that has society makes changes that distance itself from the past those changes are detrimental; if the Never-Betters look to the future with rose coloured glasses than the Better-Nevers look to the past in this way. They see how new technology changes society, view it as for the worst, and ignore how other technology that they grew up around did very comparable things. For example Better-Nevers will point to how people don’t socialize as much anymore because they are busy using their phones but they don’t necessarily have a problem with people watching television for hours. One form of technology is viewed as isolating people and the other brings people together when in actuality both involve spending time with a screen. The defining feature of the Better-Nevers is that every new technological development (outside of technology that already existed) should be met with fear or suspicion.

These are obviously simplifications of groups of people that paint Never-Betters as naive and Better-Nevers are stuck in the past. I do not believe that people fit neatly within either category and that people’s interactions with technology is far more fluid. A Never-Better may be resistant to change and when YouTube makes large changes to their interface they may respond with anger and fear that the website will never be the same. Each individual exists on a spectrum and their position on the spectrum is ever changing.

The rise of the Internet hybrid: Better-Waser?

In How the Internet gets inside us, Gopnik attempts to neatly categorise people based on their reactions towards the Internet. The categories are as follows: 1) The “Never-Betters” also known as the optimists who believe that the Internet is the greatest light 2) The “Better-Nevers” are the nostalgic ones who yearn for the meditation and thinking that books and magazines alone brought human beings whilst the 3) “Ever-Wasers” are those who are resolved to deal with technology as it comes. The latter believe that we will always find a new technology to blame for our “failings” as a society and that at this moment it just happens to be the Internet.

So, where do I fit in in this conversation? I am an avid reader whose loyalty has for the most part been to print books. I would be lying if I said that I have never romanticised print and occasionally labelled the Internet a mere distraction. That being said, I do not feel comfortable categorizing myself as a “Better-Never” based on this alone. For example, due to how hectic my current schedule is, I find solace not only in the pages of the books I love but in the apps the Internet has given me. And more often than not I will glance at my Instagram during the middle of a long book chapter. Therefore, I acknowledge the value of print but very much accept that I am also a child of the Internet age. Therefore, I am not a “Better-Never” or an “Ever-Waser” but rather a mixture of both. A “Better-Waser”. I believe that it is possible like William Powers in “The Shallows” to recognise that the Youtube app has made my family conversations a bit thinner but that that same Internet has given me the Skype app which helps me keep in touch with them when I am in a different country. A double-edged sword it is.

I feel like the question posed and Gopnik’s article in particular talks of “society” from a Western perspective. Nothing wrong with this but having lived in a third world country (Zimbabwe), where electricity is not a given or a constant resource has proven that not everyone can be neatly categorized under Gopnik’s three labels. For example, Zimbabwe is a country where television and DVDs are still the main source of entertainment and this is because wireless Internet is not as widely accessible throughout the country as it is here in the West. Would it be right to classify Zimbabweans as “Better-Nevers” in this case when their reactions to the Internet are for the most part based on the economic situation in their country? As the age-old cliché goes, we human beings are much more complex than we tend to think and require more than a simple classification method. Which leads me to my final point, that feelings towards Internet use are personal. One can find solace in the use of certain apps just like one can detest everything about them. At the end of the day, we determine our own “categories” and on that note I am nothing but an Internet hybrid.

 

These are all it ever was

We all see how technology is changing and it can be quite scary. It touches all grounds possible, from lifestyle to business. And most certainly publishing. The traditional publishing industry was segmented into newspaper, book and magazine. However, due to the rising of technological era, we now have e-book, online newspaper and online magazine. The arrival of those three certainly shifts the market, affecting the consumer behavior, thus changing the economic growth and society in general.

The way the society think of this change differs. Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker’s 2011 article titled “How The Internet Gets Inside Us” perfectly captures how we, as society, perceive this technological change, especially towards the internet. First and foremost, I would classify myself as one of the Ever-Wasers. I think that the internet is simply the latest revolution in a long line of information technologies that people imagine will transform who we are, how we think and how we live our life, for either good or bad. It is not a new thing and it has been happening from century to century, time to time and it is not as revolutionary as it first seems.

I would like to touch base on how this apply to the Publishing industry. Ronte (2000) stated that technology has had and still has a “dramatic” effect on the publishing industry. As you all may know, technology, especially internet, have eliminated most boundaries in our life, from time to distance. Essentialy, we now can publish, market and sell our publications anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. Although it’s true that the making of digital publication requires great amount of investment , the speed of digital distribution and lowers marginal cost for electronic copies can add more value to the customers and will be beneficial for the publisher in the long run, especially to the next generation who use technologies more often.

And now let’s talk about the economic measure. The law of supply and demand rules books as tangible product. Changes in demand or supply will lead to an increase or decrease in the market equilibrium of price and quantity. These changes happen through a change in price of  complements or substitutes goods, a change in income level and customers’ purchasing power, as well as a change in preference. As you all know, the demand of traditionally printed books, magazines and newspapers are decreasing gradually due to the introduction of new technologies such as e-books, online magazines and online newspapers. The question is : can we say that e-books, online magazines and online newspapers are substitutes to traditionally printed books, magazines and newspapers? Or is it simply a complementary to the old technology that already exists? Is it just another new “improvement” to the long line that we already establish as “technology” itself?

Substitution effect happens when there’s “a change in the quantity demanded that results because buyers switch to substitutes when the price of the good changes” (McDowell, Thom, Frank & Bernanke, 2009, p.67). If we translate this to the industry, it is said that when the price of e-publications increases, the demand of printed publications increases, and vice versa. Fortunately, this is not the case in the publishing industry. “The publishing industry treats the e-book just as another format, releasing the same titles in hardcover, book-on-tape, and e-book at the same time” (Gall, 2005, p.27). “Children’s books, for example, will always remain paper-based, as young children are unlikely to handle computers” (Ronte, 2000, p.19). In the article ‘Dispelling Five Myths about E-books’, Gall (2005, p.27) notes that “the e-book will be an electronic savior of text, replacing the printed word in the same way as the printed word replaced oral traditions”. It’s true, remembering that fact that most readers still prefer printed book for many reasons like the feel of the weight, the texture of the paper, or simply the smell of it. In your books, Better-Nevers!

Now let’s get back to Gopnik. Although all these changes seem revolutionary, we also have to keep in mind that Elon Musk is taking us to Mars, commercially. Is that something revolutionary? Perhaps. But has it been done before? Yes. We had landed on the moon, and Mars is just another sphere which happens to be located much further away. The point is, we DID land on a strange territory before, thus if we are doing the same thing but better, it is not something revolutionary, but much more to what we should expect to be happening along the line, especially with technology.

So where do we stand here? I simply do not know. I have friends whom I would like to classify as the Never-Better because the enjoy the democracy of information the internet provides. Very few are the Better-nevers, and much to my liking, a lot of them are Ever-Wasers. Although I would like to say that changes are bound to happen, either for the good or the bad, and there will always be consequences from it. It all comes back to how society perceive, learn and adapt. It depends on how they process the information and how they put it into use.

Never-Ever-Better-Wasers

In the New Yorker article The information: How the Internet Gets Inside Us, Gopnik discusses how all people fall into three classes when it comes to new technologies: the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers, meaning ‘fully embracing new technology,’ ‘actively against new technology,’ and ‘somewhere in between, recognizing there will be good and bad with each new technology, and that new technologies creating a divided reaction has always been going on,’ in that order.

As with all sets of terms that attempt to divide humanity up into neat little boxes, I think these three terms are pretty reductive. Where people fall would be a spectrum where the Never-Betters represent the polar positive, the Better-Nevers represent the polar negative, and the Ever-Wasers are everything in between. According to these definitions. (I would also like propose that the Ever-Wasers seem like a bit of a side step to the whole categorization here for including the recognition of the societal condition of constant split opinions to new technologies. That recognition should instead be another layer, a yes or no, for all three labels, along the entire spectrum).

There are always going to be portions of society that love the way things are and are resistant to change/developing technologies, and likewise there will always be those who welcome and invite innovation and newness in technologies. But, for the most part, I think society has come to see how often technology gets revolutionized and has come to expect thorough redesigns of how things work as a consequence.

Every time a smartphone, Apple or Android, releases a radical OS/iOS update that completely changes look, feel, maybe even layout and functionality, people gripe about it, because there is a stutter in convenience while they relearn how to use their phone. But then they get used to it, and to revert back to the old OS would seem almost as alien as a new OS. The speed at which OS’s are updated and replaced has created an anxiety of sorts, an almost-constant expectation that, soon, everything will change. The speed at which we, in developed cities in North America, not a global we, experience these constant updates and changes, I think has numbed us to the idea of technological change as we have experienced in our lives, not just researched in history, revolution after revolution of technology.

Therefore Ever-Wasers, being the broadest option, I believe captures who we are as a society more than the other two terms.

Never-Betters Need to Calm Down

As Gopnik says, “One’s hopes rest with the Never-Betters; one’s head with the Ever-Wasers; and one’s heart? Well, twenty or so books in, one’s heart tends to move toward the Better-Nevers, and then bounce back toward someplace that looks more like home.” By definition, “hope” is that feeling we get that everything is going to turn out for the best, and therefore I think we are all, at least aspirationally, Never-Betters. We are always excited to read of new discoveries being made and progress in dark places. And what a wonderful world it would be if we could sustain ourselves on these utopian thoughts forever. Unfortunately for everyone who cannot stand by and let ignorance be bliss, we all inevitably fall to the Never-Betters’ side where we second guess new development. I was getting by just fine before this new thing, why do I have to change? It is easy to point out flaws in something that is new, and equally as easy to find others who share such an opinion. This is how innovation gets interrupted and change is abated. Before it happens we are excited Never-Betters, when it happens we are outraged Better-Nevers, and down the road, when it has settled comfortably into society and, we are contented Ever-Wasers. Our heads win out in the end.

http://www.todayonline.com/technology-0/tech-throwback-weird-things-we-used-do-msn-messenger

My personal example is MSN Messenger. This service was a constant in my elementary and early highschool days. Every day I would leave my friends after school and go home, only to strike up a new conversation with them immediately upon reaching my computer. Technologies change, and I used MSN Messenger less and less. When Microsoft announced in 2012 that it would be discontinuing the service, I was shocked and outraged. How were kids of the next generation going to keep in touch with their friends? How would they tell their crush they liked them only to say “sry that was my friend” when the crush didn’t reply? How would they nonchalantly let everyone know how edgy and sexy their lives were if not by setting their screen names to alternative rock lyrics? How could Microsoft do this to today’s youth? This was anarchy! Sure, I no longer used the service myself, but it was still anarchy! Time moved on, and apparently so did I (although a Google search to find the picture I posted along with this post brought up some emotional memories) and I have come out the other side relatively unscathed.

The lesson here is that the Never-Betters would be better off giving up their backlashing tendencies. Change is going to happen, whether we like it or not. It is up to us to decide how it will affect us. I am going to feel personally attacked every time Apple decides to release a new iOS update, but if past experience is anything to go by, we will make it through with little to no casualties. If only we could move gracefully between being Never-Betters and Ever-Wasers, perhaps change would progress a little more easily, and society would be a little better off because of it.