Technology

Merlin's early days of digital photography (RL260)

Merlin bought a lot of digital cameras over time and when he first met John, he was just getting into this whole stack from the digital camera all the way up to Flickr, which was a really fun community and a great site! Merlin was also an early adopter of LiveJournal and the stuff he took with his first digital camera in 1999 together with his now-wife is hilarious! Those pictures are just a colorful smudge. Even photos taken during his daughter’s lifetime have a huge difference in quality! Apart from that, Merlin hasn’t been an early adopter of that many things. He did many Charles Peterson-style things with his camera and ruined a lot of photos with filters long before they even existed. There is a photo of John in San Francisco with chopsticks holding up some kind of bean and Merlin has digitally smeared it with light, which is very cool! John has a picture of him and Madeleine (Merlin’s wife). Merlin got a lot of pictures of John’s mom and Josh and Emilie when they did their little Inside Seattle mini-tour for ”Putting the days to bed”. He got some photos of John’s dad from the time when he had lots of high-quality hang-time with him during a Death Cab show they had played at. The first digital camera John ever saw was at the restaurant in Seattle where he used to go to get late night Stroganoff.

John wonders if Flickr is still available and asks why they are not the future, because they had been the present. It is a long story. They got bought up by the Yahoo and everything was fine for a while, but then they got under- and de-resourced. Merlin had actually visited them after the acquisition and they were still so game and so hot! There was no wood behind the arrow once they became part of the big company which sucks because it was a great site and it was so fun to use and it really was a little community. It was one of those rare things at the beginning of the web 2.0 era that was actually useful and fun and you would meet people through it. Like LiveJournal, which was very web 1.0.

User-hostile technology and phone trees (RL153)

John proposes for businesses to hire a "normal squad", a group of people who do the final testing, but are kept totally in the dark about the product and how it is made. They will be there to advocate for the busy and confused person. For 90% of the things John interacts with during the day, he just wants to get it over with and wants them to be as simple as possible. On the contrary, all current products seem to be designed with all kinds of annoyances, like for example a microwave that will scroll "Enjoy your meal" when it is done or an ATM that is trying to start a conversation. The nicest thing that these designers could do is to make those things invisible and not assert themselves. Nobody goes to the ATM machine because they look forward to it, they just want to get done with it. Every multi-function printer that John has bought during the last years - many more than he probably should have needed to buy - is a loss leader pyramide scheme, made to sell overpriced cartridges. Half the printers John bought were necessary because he threw their predecessor out of a window. Just entering the WiFi password with an up-and-down-arrow and not being able to see what you already entered! And what are people going to do anyways when they know your printer password? Print stuff out all day?

The business model of the internet (RL153)

Interacting with his iPhone as much as John does, he notices how much the business model of the Internet right now is based on the same kind of coercion. "Are you really excited to watch this YouTube video? Why don't we take 15 seconds and talk about your car insurance?" His latest hack (besides never upgrading his operating system) is to turn off cellular data on all his games, which prohibits the games to download video advertisements. Of course, Apple made sure that there will be a popup screen every time he opens something that has cellular data disabled, like they punish him by saying "This thing that you know you have done: we want to let you know that we know you've done it!" John also does what he can to not have his photos tagged, particularly when he is in bed at night, sending naked texts to his friends in Europe, and so he turns off his location services, but then when he then clicks on the Maps program, a thing pops up and tells him to go back to settings. Why can't he turn on his location services directly from there and why don't they assume that he wants location services if he opens the Maps program? John doesn't flip through atlases anymore like he used to do his whole life. Merlin explains how John can set his location services more granular in the privacy settings, because if he wouldn't mention it, John Siracusa would start screaming at him.

The promise of the early computers and the Internet (RL159)

When John was in college in the early 1990s, a wave of comprehension about the promise of the Internet went over him. The Information Superhighway, the connectedness and availability of everything, and the vision that we would all be connected all day portended an amazing change that still felt like Science Fiction at the time. It seemed like it was going to be about education, scholarship and innovation in science and democracy. Because any new technology since the information age generally gained a foothold through games and porn, our vision for the future was constrained by what had happened in the past. It had never occurred to John that even in a world of completely shared information, he wouldn’t still sit down and listen to a record on a stereo.

In the mid 1990s somebody showed him a hard drive full of music, like an iPod before the iPod, and he imagined it as something with all the music in the world on it that you could put in your car. The place we are at right now is still not on the other side of the upcoming big leap into VR and AI and decentralized power. The way that people in the future, even his daughter, are going to receive information and interact with the world is going to be so different that it will effectively be an evolutionary leap. Science Fiction people have been saying it for years, but now even John feels like being on the cusp of this big change and the Internet we have been experiencing until now has just been the Beta version for testing the platform.

John is astonished every time he goes on Twitter, first that he is still going there, and second that so many millions of people are still going there. The serotonin rewards of Twitter from 5 years ago are gone! Twitter is no longer a place of reward, but it is often a place of pure punishment. Still, John and millions of other people keep going contributing to it. It is clearly a Beta version of something that we don’t quite have the interconnectivity to accomplish yet and we don't quite have the vision to even see what it is going to look like. Still, our toes are already over the line!

It is virtually impossible to know when and where something will stop being impossible. That is the nature of innovation and developments of all kinds. Tesla is kind of about cars, but they are really about batteries. Once they will be able to make batteries in the way they want to, you don’t even know what all is going to change. The iPhone started out as a solution for how you hated your phone, but now it transformed the way we live our lives, mostly for the positive. Merlin can’t imagine anymore not being able to find out where his family is or not being able to be in touch with people day to day.

Who expected in 1999 that music would be what it is now? 1999 was the single biggest year of sales for CDs and it was merely 16 years ago. Both John and Merlin were raised in an era with the cultural surge of the 1960s. Within the space of less than 2 years, the United States almost completely fell apart from civil unrest and they also put somebody on the moon. Almost everything that happened in the 1960s happened in 1968, including John being born! Their textbooks from Elementary School up to Junior High were all based more or less on the idea that they needed to beat the Soviets to the moon. Sure, Columbus discovered America, but the future was coming! Pan Am was still going to be an airline, but they would also be flying to space! Out vision of the future was never more than a jump and a half away from what we already understood. There was a reason why in the 1950s everything looks like a television, and in the 1960s everything looks like a rocket. You can’t really do three steps ahead of where you are.

When personal computers first arrived on the scene in 1979/1980, John could not mentally connect them to rockets, hovering games or the future. They just seemed like expensive typewriters that were colonized by teachers as things you needed to learn. They were dull and you needed to do your reports on them. Still, while John was in 8th grade, people sat down at computers and some people never stood up again. John monkeyed around with them and didn’t think that they would be the future. Instead, computers were literally the worst. Castle Wolfenstein was not fun enough. Trying to learn Basic was appealing to some people, but for both Merlin and John it felt like eating their vegetables. John’s sister found it lame, too. The appeal was to be able to balance your checking account, which meant doing a thing you hate on a machine you hate.

We tend to look at a new technology in terms of ”this plus that”, but some people will determine earlier than others that it could also mean ”this times that”. There is a way for a computer to be more than a checkbook plus a typewriter. Merlin really liked video games back then, like Arcade games he couldn’t afford. It would have been great if he had learned typing in Basic, but it just had zero appeal to him.

2017-April: Trouble with the iPad after buying a drum machine app (RL243)

After having not used his iPad for a long time, John bought a $4,99 drum machine app that had been recommended to him down at the music store. He had asked about vintage Roland 808:s and the tech dudes said they didn't know anything about them, because they just do it on the computer now. The machines they had were only there for the grey beards, the old nerds who want to fondle something from their childhood. John was very happy to spend $5 on an app instead of $1500 for a MC Blowfish 808.

As soon as he plugged his iPad in, John was asked to perform an OS upgrade, a thing that he normally is opposed to, but which he regretfully agreed to this one time. After the tablet had churned away for over an hour, half the apps crashed on launch and the ones that do run think for a second every time John touches anything. Furthermore, all his music is gone from the iPad, because it had synced with his new laptop instead of his old 2004 desktop, the computer that holds his only copy of his life's collection of 50.000 songs. Afterwards he only had a free U2 album and "Spearhead" by Michael Franti to listen to, which prevents him from playing music on his Sonos as he used to. Now that he had paid for a drum machine app, his iPad has to think about every beat and you know that "You don't want to think about every beat".

The iPad was also lamenting about syncing to iCloud, but he only has the free 5 GB plan which is already full, so he surely can't sync 50.000 songs to it. He can increase the storage to 50 GB by paying $0,99 a month, but he is not going to put another eel on his bottom (as he calls all forms of subscription services)! It's like the Cosa Nostra, going by his shop, saying "It would be a shame if anything happened to this shop".

To make things even worse, his computer doesn't let him send messages anymore, because he had to change his password in the process. It turns out he had agreed to use Two Factor Authentication, which is like locking his car keys into a second set of car keys.

2017-May: Having to pay for parking with an app (RL246)

The day before memorial day, Merlin and his family went down to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk or get ripped off by some rides, play games and have a little short fun famliy day. Because it was the day before memorial day the place was mobbed. The area was never built for such a massive audience and it takes you 45 minutes to find a place to park your car. There was a parking meter that didn't take credit cards, nobody had quarters and all the other meters also said "expired", so the way to pay for parking was by using an app called Parkmobile. Merlin had never used it, but he wants it to die in a fire several times over. The process was:

  • Create an account,
  • Configure your account,
  • Put in your license plate number,
  • Enter your payment information by taking a photo of the credit card, which took Merlin 5 tries,
  • Enter the zone you were parked in by scanning the QR code.

During all that, you'd give the app permission to use the microphone, the camera and to send you notifications. Merlin had to pee so badly because they were driving down without stopping for 2 hours. The process took easily 15 minutes while his daughter was looking at the rides from far away, wondering why they were still standing in the parking lot. John is filled with sympathetic rage. If you do not have a smartphone, the solution would be to go to the next bodega store where they would sell you prepaid parking cards.

Amazon Prime and Amazon Alexa (RL250, RW83)

In the beginning of 2017, John joined Amazon Prime. He flopped down and did that sigh that his dad used to do when the decision had been made and the game was afoot. (RL250) His mom is a big fan of Alexa and talks to her all the time. She wants to know a lot of things from her that John doesn’t want to know, like what the weather is and what band wrote the song Bad Company. She is such a good friend of Alexa that she bought like 9 of them, one for everybody in her life. John didn’t know what it was, but she knew he would want it. John’s Alexa sat in the box in the corner of the kitchen table for 9 months until his mom came by to set it up. At 83 years old, it didn’t just take 3 minutes, but she figured it out. Alexa sat on the bar in the kitchen (RW83) and John kept forgetting she was there. He is talking to the wall, he is talking to the plants, he is running things by, and now Alexa was listening! (RL250)

John just ignored Alexa at first, but periodically he would walk by seeing her sitting there and would ask her to play Iron Man which she did and that was cool! John also has a Sonos and he wasn’t 100% clear how to set up Alexa to play through the Sonos. Alexa remained on his bar in the kitchen and was listening to all his conversations, although he has not spoken to her directly for months. The last time was when he asked her to play Iron Man. (RW83) John is sure that he is not using Amazon Prime to it's best advantage because all he is doing is watching McHale's Navy for free. He could even watch Man in the High Castle, the Philip K Dick novel about what would have happened if they had lost WWII. John has not yet done the thing that Merlin apparently does, like if he needs a Kleenex, he will just beep-boop and then there will be a guy holding a Kleenex at his door. (RL250)

Merlin suggests John to go to alexa.amazon.com where he will be able to see a history of what he has asked her. He mostly asked her about the weather and there are a lot of things on that list that John has no recollection of because there are other people in his house. Merlin ensures him that it will take some time until John gets comfortable with the whole stack, but it will eventually happen. There is also a thing called Prime Now that is sending stuff for 2 hour delivery, but they don't have what John is looking to buy, like vintage navy uniforms. The other day John was looking for some Red Wing boots for a friend with size 15, which is a size that is not easy to come by. Amazon does not have them for 2 hour delivery either. Paper towels, coffee, butter and socks are never the things that John finds himself needing. What he looks for on the Internet in the middle of the night is some really weird stuff that he desperately feels like he needs delivered in 24 hours. He needs as many Descente pullover windbreakers as he can get. "What is your bottom price? Get them here asap!" He usually orders them en masse and sits there every day on his chair and looks down the road for the truck to arrive. Merlin och John continue to go throught the possibilities of Amazon Prime Now, but don't find anything that John likes to order. (RL250)

John sharing his calendar (RL253)

At one point John shared his calendar with his mother and other members of his family, because they kept being confused when trying to arrange things with him, but they didn't know he was out of town. The problem is that if you share your calendar, you can't put things on there that you don't want everybody to see, like "Going to the bathhouse with a bunch of guys from the Third army to go over our invasion plan" On the other side, things would show up in his calendar and he didn't know where they were coming from, things like Tuesday June 29th: "Drive car off cliff into ocean". John's calendar has become very confusing.

iPhone Location Services (RL253)

Merlin shows John the function on the iPhone under

Settings -> Privacy ->Location Services -> System Services -> Frequent Locations.

The city of Bremerton appears among John's most visted places, but John has only been there once since June 25th of 2017. It is also showing a number of locations where John has not been.

2017-September: John broke his phone (RW81, RW82, RW83, RL259)

In September of 2017, John broke his phone and this time he broke it hard. He had been at the dump and had greasy dump floor on the bottom of his boots. He was standing 10 feet off the ground on a dumper when all of a sudden his feet slipped out under him and he was completely airborne. If he had hit the ground from that altitude, he would have landed right on his tailbone and would have gone to the hospital, totally messed up. Luckily he landed on the fender of the trailer which was made out of pretty thick, low gauge steel. The fender got bent by absorbing a lot of John’s kinetic energy and it made him slide to the ground across that greasy floor, landing back on his feet without really hurting himself. He was fine! Had he just missed that fender or landed on it badly, he would absolutely be in traction right now. As part of the absorbtion process of the kinetic energy, his phone had not just a shattered screen but was bent like a taco in the shape of John's tail-bone. It deserved a Viking funeral because it broke and protected John from breaking! (RW81)

John was not planning to replace his phone for a month and a half until the iPhone X would come online. Instead, he answered his emails and his texts at the end of the day on his computer. People who needed to get to him urgently were returned to a state that they were in up until 5 years earlier. There were only two reasons he would need to be instantly reachable: His daughter needed something at school, but he was going to check in there during the day, maybe he would pop in like his dad used to do, or his mom needed him, but before he would leave the house, he would send out an email (RW81) to the people he cared about, which turned out to be a small group, telling them to call the receptionist at the place he was going to and leave a message for him. (RW82)

John turned his bed back into a temple where he wouldn’t sit and look at his phone. He got some deluxe sheets and created a crystal palace, his temple of silence. John planned on getting some blackout curtains, some darkness and some calm. He returned to a place where the hole the phone had left in his brain was going to dissipate and he was going to be a fully human person once again, rather than a virus-infected cyborg. By becoming more and more obsessed with his phone, John had been squandering the best part of his time in bed. He was staring at this thing and it was creeping into his brain like black mold, ruining not only his bed time, but his everything time. It was just ruining him! There is no question anymore whether or not this is positive or negative, because it is straight up negative! (RW81)

When the iPhone X finally came out, John was not really excited about it. It was beautiful and did all those new things, but he felt underwhelmed. Not being able to text people or receive texts turned out to be an inconvenience for John, but every other thing that somehow made John stare at his phone for 6 hours a day was not that hard to just not have. After he made a little list of what his phone did for him, he felt disgusted that it actually wasn't that much, at least not enough to absorb his full attention for that amount of time. For 5 of the tasks on his list, the phone is useful and amazing, but the other 5 had increasingly become awful. John had spent a lot of time on social media before, but that whole world was just drying up for him. He kept thinking he might step back into it with a different approach, but the whole idea of being out socializing with thousands of people on an hour-to-hour basis had colonized his mind to ill effect. The fact that he was loving it for 5 years did not mean that it would ever going to be lovely again. (RW82)

Everything else on the phone like all the games are just mind numbers. The ability to connect to an airline to manage a trip is not as much of a convenience as it seems because it is not any better than just doing it from your laptop. The only difference is that it pings you if your flight gets cancelled while you are standing at the airport, but taken together, all those opportunities for companies to ping you don’t really add up to a necessity. One by one, every little incremental thing tries to prove the necessity of the whole, but knowing the weather in St. Louis is not really a necessity. (RW82) At any time, 10% of his head was in his phone, even when he was not looking at it. Any time he had a moment, he would look at his phone. When he came back to his house after a tough day and his daughter would go get a book he would look at his phone. (RL259)

John came out the other side of that experiment committed to the idea that he was going to become a granddad and get a flip phone with really big buttons, texting his friends with no punctuation. (RL259) People would still be able to text him and call him and he had gotten really good at T9, the predictive texting back in the days. At one time he was hired by the College Music Journal (CMJ) to go to the Bonnaroo music festival and write a series of reports. He was good enough at T9 that he could write full reviews on his flip phone and send them off to get published. He also wrote an article for Magnet Magazine with two thumbs on his flip phone that later got published in Rolling Stone online. John likes to text and he understands how T9 works and the best flip phones had good enough cameras with 6 Megapixels. Dan applauded John’s decision. If you had told John about this two years ago, he would have rolled his eyes on you and called you a hipster, but smartphones started to create mental health issues for him. For all the flippidy-jobbidy that is on the new iPhone X and for the $1500 it costs, it is still just a portal to social media. The super-users with their 10.000 apps live different lives than John’s. (RW82)

When you are first without your phone, you have to fight your mind for some time, because you miss fidgeting with your thing and getting that serotonin drip. What are you supposed to do with your hands? It is the same as quitting to smoke! You pull up to a stop light and while you are waiting for the light to change you light a cigarette. John’s dad once said that every time the phone rang he lit a cigarette. A lot of times he would look down and see a cigarette already burning in the ash tray that he only lit a moment prior, but when the phone rang again he just reached in and lit a another cigarette. You have to rewire your reflexes and you need to evaluate what that thing is actually doing for you. How much is it helping versus the amount of time that you are spending at it? It is a simple value-to-cost equation. If your time is worth X across the board, whatever this thing is doing for you in all of its many functions, how much time are you devoting to it? If you are devoting hours a day to a thing it should truly be revolutionizing your experience of life! John has years of understanding what to expect from life and he knows that there is no secret that will just blow the roof off and all of a sudden life is in Technicolor. It is not true that all you need is find the right app or the right style of Buddhism. Staring at the wall for those 6 hours seems more productive in the end. Sitting and playing a game, refreshing Instagram over and over, or fighting with somebody on Twitter about the 1% of a thing you disagree on: None of that is better than staring out the window. (RW82)

John got his first cellphone in 2001 when he was 32 years old. Dan got his first cellphone in his mid-20s when those things were for emergencies only. The cost of having one, let alone actually using it was so high that you would pay through the nose for it. Smartphones only exist since 2007 when the iPhone came out and Dan and John already had an adult life before that. When John was touring, their drummer, who had two Blackberries, one personal and one for work, got an iPhone and everybody looked at it. Having been adults before all this stuff and having spent enough time without it affects how John and Dan feel about living with it. They find it cool and they love it, but they have a different perspective than people who came into their awareness with those things already present. Dan’s kids are good examples. They grew up in a world where everyone has a cellphone, an iPad and a computer. There are a lot of younger people who couldn’t exist without a smartphone, because everything in their world happens within SnapChat or via text. In 2017 Apple even made a watch that allows you to make calls if you - God forbid - might be away from your iPhone. They understand the pain of being away from your phone for more than an hour while you are at the gym or - even worse - at the beach or - even worse - paddle-boating on a lake. How horrible would it be to paddle-boat on a lake without cellular connectivity to communicate with people and receive calls? You cannot dare to enjoy nature or look at a human being’s face or go into the water without being strapped to this kind of technology. Don’t think about walking down a city street with your eyes forward! You just have to be able to make that call or get that call or see that text or be reminded to stand up! (RW82)

Many listeners were very excited about the prospect of John getting a flip phone (RW83), but being without a phone turned out to be harder than John thought, because he would be in transit several times during the day and nobody could get in touch with him. He had lived his whole life like that, but now it had become an impossible problem for people. John started to get texts from people including Merlin asking if he was okay. He also got Instagram messages from people who had noticed he hadn’t posted i a while, but John was totally fine with that, because he didn’t have this monkey on his back anymore. He went cold turkey on it! Like when you are really sick and you can’t drink coffee or smoke and afterwards you just don’t start anymore, because you have already been through the worst of it. When John took his daughter to Washington D.C. in September of 2017, her mother told him that he can’t go there without a phone. She gave him an old iPhone 6 out of her drawer and John only switched SIM-cards without doing anything else, (RL259) because it had 5 months worth of pictures on it that she hadn’t synced to her computer. The phone worked as a kind of Frankenstein and Dan urged him to get those pictures off there and then reset the phone so it will be all new. (RW83)

John had her old address book and stuff, but you could call him on his number, about 20% of his texts came through and he could go on the Internet. Those were the 3 things it allowed him to do. For 2 weeks, John didn’t have a smartphone and he didn’t post to anything. (RL259) He could go on Safari and look things up, but it did not have his email, his Instagram, his Twitter or his Facebook accounts and was working as a text and telephone device that could still google the grandsons of Genghis Khan, which in a weird way is like a flip phone. (RW83) John would sit down at his laptop at the end of the day to conduct whatever small amount of business had come in through email. (RL259) He also went on Twitter from his laptop and posted a couple of things which was very exciting. It is nice to be on your laptop because you can live in one corner of Twitter and don’t have to go into the big room. If Twitter would be Versailles, then John was walking around the working rooms like the kitchen and the stables, but he did not go into the Hall of Mirrors. (RW83)

Having this hole in his life that used to be filled by his cellphone also made him immediately go back on 4Chan which had changed a lot since he had been there in 2010. 4Chan is mostly porn now and people mostly ask for naked pictures of other people’s girlfriends. There is also a new thing called ”rate my dick” where people take a picture of their dick and other people offer encouraging remarks. Because it is anonymous, people also talk about their small dicks. There are about 14 of these threads every day. What used to be gore threads are now rekt threads and John knows enough from his personal experience with gore threads that he doesn’t want anything to do with them or look at them at all. He doesn’t want to see people die! Not having his social media stuff right at hand, John went back to this weird bunghole of the Internet where people from all walks of life are still creeping around. John is one of those lurkers and has never posted anything on there, neither does he want to put his dick up there. He doesn’t need any input and feels comfortable with himself. Men are fragile and women have somehow learned at an early age not to compare them with ex-boyfriends and not to offer any other feedback than ”You are the best, honey!” (RL259)

John has not abandoned his plans for a flip-phone yet, because he just wants email, text and phone in one little device that doesn’t distract him. (RW83)

Sudoku and Minesweeper (RW83)

In September of 2017, John showed his daughter how to play Sudoku on the back of a magazine and she got it really quickly. Then he tried to download an app for easy Sudoku to his phone and although there must be a million people who want easy Sudoku, for some it is just like raking the gravel in their Japanese gardens, it turned out the game he had found did not have an easy level and he couldn’t let her play it. He left it on his phone for a day and a half and it injected itself into his own day. At the time when he didn’t have anything like that on his phone, he would just stare out the window and watch people go by every time he had to wait for 15 minutes, but as soon as the Sudoku was there, he would pull it out and would start playing.

After waking up in the morning, John can spend an hour and a half going through his phone responsibilities, like checking all his social media, answering emails and replying to texts. That day when he had Sudoku on his phone, he played a little game afterwards, which is the dumbest thing, even if it is great for keeping his brain flexible, but he is susceptible to retreating into this game for a little while. He didn’t have those other four games anymore that really plagued him before, old people games like Mahjongg, Sudoku, Spider Solitaire and that gem diamond game (probably Bejeweled). Those are games for old people and for really young people who have just gotten their first computer.

For years, John’s favorite game was Minesweeper that was bundled with all the PCs. When he got an Apple round about 2001, there was still an active PC in the house to play Minesweeper, which he would sometimes do from 1am to 9am. People in John’s life thought that Minesweeper was some kind of opiate that was doing real damage to his life and his relationships. He didn’t get enough sleep and he wasn’t responsive because he was thinking about Minesweeper all the time, a game that somebody probably programmed for a High School science fair. There are surely a lot of listeners who had the same kind of problem. The same is true for Tetris. You can still play Minesweeper online! Back when John was conducting a lot of business over the phone, he felt he was more engaged in the conversation if he was playing Minesweeper at the same time and it made long meetings tolerable. Casual gaming like Minesweeper or Sudoku are the only kind of games that John ever played after he had grown up. He never turned on a game console saying ”Now I am going to play”.

Sonos and John’s music in milk crates on his iPad (RW83)

A long time ago John had a friend who was one of the early Twitter people and then started working at Sonos. He asked John if he wanted a Sonos, but John didn’t even know what it was. His friend was sure he would figure it out and after that conversation, a bunch of Sonos arrived. John has a big house, but he does not want a Sonos in every bathroom, so he gave some to his mom, some to his daughter’s mother and some to his sister. They all hooked them up in their homes and got good at using them. They even came out to John and set up his Sonos a way that was almost useful to him. The Sonos app is bad and un-intuitive. For a long time John had music on his iPad, but at one time he plugged it into a computer without understanding the syntax of the question that came up and when he finally gave in the music was gone. The iPad had been the only place where that music was and now it is only on some drive somewhere and John is at a loss. He used to play the music that was stored in milk crates full of records on this iPad through his Sonos, but not only is his music gone by now, but updating the software on this iPad bricked it and made it useless.

John managed to isolate the Sonos that is in his daughter’s room from the other ones in the house. When he has to get up at 06:00am in the morning to get her to school, he will turn that speaker on and play some music from his iPhone. Her mother has set up some playlists on Spotify or Pandora or Napster or something. John cut a little path through the woods and when he puts his thumb here and here, music starts playing in her room. Then John makes her a peanut butter sandwich and an egg in a cup and packs her little bag while she is listening to Grandmaster Flash at a low volume in her room. When he finally gets in there, she is not 7000 leagues under the sea, but has come up to a place where she is wakeupable.

At present that is the extend to which John is using the Sonos. At the time when he had it all going and the house resonated like a Cello, it was wonderful, but he doesn’t do that very often anymore. Now it is just a daughter-waking device. Somewhere John feels he still has a milk carton full of 10.000 records on a disc, but who knows whether Apple thinks he is still authorized to own it because he hasn’t transferred it in a timely fashion. This is the thing that bounces him out of the utopia that those companies think they are producing: John wants to own the vinyl or the disc for his music precisely for that reason! Apple says that once you buy it on iTunes, it is yours and you can transfer it to all your other devices, but then you can only transfer it to so many devices which includes ones that don’t exist anymore and now John is out of devices.

Custom Sex Dolls (RL260)

Nowadays, people can make sex dolls for themselves based on whatever they want. China has gotten into the game and the whole industry has exploded! You can get any model that looks like Anny or the lady from Lost and you can 3D-print different faces on it. People in the 3D-printing world however keep telling John that 3D-printing is not as good as we all want it to be yet, but it is still kind of a teaser.

VR and AR (RL260)

Seattle has a big VR community and John recently visited one of the VR startups, tried their apparatus on and felt like he was at the IMAX at the Air and Space Museum in 1979. Merlin gets excited when any kind of technology is moving forward, even when the tip of the iceberg that we current see is still kind of silly, because it is going to have a lot of knock-on effects. Merlin has no desire for VR, but he finds it amazing how his mind can be tricked into thinking that he is falling at Universal City on a Harry Potter ride and he is a little bit impressed by that. AR is where John is excited, because until VR cannot engage your whole body, it is always going to be a demo. If you can’t touch things with your fingers and if you cannot walk around in the environment, you are just sitting in a chair, watching a thing. No matter how realistic it is and no matter how much you are playing Myst, you will never get across that uncanny valley, while AR really thrills him. Merlin and John continue to talk about several examples of VR and AR applications.

Merlin and John talk more about the future of AR when they cover the topic of Time Geography in Episode 253.

SnapChat (RW82)

John shared the suspicion that people who grew up with a certain technology cannot live without it, but he wondered if that was really true. The interesting thing about SnapChat was the idea that up until that point the preservation of emails, texts and photographs was a foregone conclusion. People wanted those things to be preserved and archived! They wanted to keep every single outtake photograph stored somewhere. SnapChat was a revelation: A generation growing up with technology that could record, post and store every single moment of their lives was looking for a way to interact with each other through their phones without storing their conversations. That seemed crazy to John! He was trying to find out what the appeal of SnapChat was and why people would voluntarily create this amazing content and throw it to the wind to never see it again. It changed how he felt about the Millennial generation’s relationship to technology enough that he started to wonder whether they might seek relief from technology, even if they had never experienced life any other way. It might be more difficult for them because there is such a cultural patrimony of carrying this stuff around all the time and the idea of living without it probably seems even more monastic to them than it does to John. Still, they seem willing to try other things. The desire to be free from this Wrath of Khan style ear insect should appeal to people of all ages, even if they had never been untethered. (RW82)

The launch of the SnapChat Spectacles (RL260)

John's millennial girlfriend was a SnapChat employee and during his SnapChat years prior to the release of the SnapChat Spectacles, John was in a very privileged position. Because time passages, he was no longer under SnapChat-NDA by October of 2017 and felt that he could talk about some of the details. The glasses were rare as hens’ teeth and even Matt Haughey had asked him what he would have to do to get a pair. Nobody at SnapChat could talk about it in public, but little by little things trickled down to John. All of a sudden, his girlfriend got a pair and they were playing with them a long time before it could be talked about. John was very excited, because he had assumed that they would be the beginning of really useful AR and they would put SnapChat filters on people in real-time. Merlin previously thought it would be cool to always record everything he sees and be able to go back and double-check things. When Google Glass came out, John’s friend Dave Meinert who owns the 5 Point Bar in Seattle, put up a very conspicuous sign not allowing any Google Glass in the bar and the story even got into the New York Times.

As it came closer and closer to release, it turned out that the SnapChat Spectacles were just a tiny camera in the corner of some sunglasses and couldn’t do anything besides take 30 second snaps. It couldn’t even take a selfie, which was the number one thing that made SnapChat interesting to people. John actually went to New York City with his girlfriend for the big roll-out and where SnapChat had built a popup store right next to the Apple Store across from Central Park. It was all secret and covered in scaffolding. The night before they went into this big cold empty room and at the very end of this room there was this little vending machine that looked like a Pokémon with a computer screen that could see you. Everything about the glasses was beautiful, they just didn’t do anything.

On release day there was a line down the block and even Kanye’s manager was there. The glasses went for $1500 a pair on the internet. Tons of SnapChat employees were there looking very casual with extremely expensive clothes, it was very tech up down cool, and everybody had a headset on with little earpieces. John and his girlfriend were offered to get into the line themselves to get their own spectacles, because everything was embargoed and not even employees were able to get a pair for free. As they walked up to the machine, all eyes were on them, because people had been waiting all day and they just cut ahead in the line. As they were interacting with the machine they came to the conclusion that neither of them wanted any pair for themselves and they didn’t want to sell them on the Internet really quickly either. They had already tried them out during the three days leading up to the event, wearing them in Manhattan until some young person would look at them and was about to ask.

It was a tech moment for John where he at first was super-excited about what a thing could be, but as it came closer to real, it became clear that it would not be cool at all. It would merely lay the groundwork for someone else to come along and do the thing that we all know will be coming, which is to make a Google Glass that looks cool. The Google Glass was dorky and a bit ahead of its time. The SnapChat spectacles look super-duper-cool, but they did zilch. We are still waiting for someone to come out with cool looking glasses that can also do things.

Merlin's problem is: Why would you buy round glasses with a little camera on it? The real technology should be a Sci-Fi contact lens type situation where you can take whatever glasses you already have, fix this impossibly tiny dingus to them and get the functionality without needing dorky glasses with a camera built into them. Still, you have to go through these stages of awkwardness and you have to learn what doesn’t work. Merlin is always skeptical of the first version of anything, not because it is a bad idea, but because there is so much stuff out there that is only fun for around 90 minutes. This is a gadget, but it is not part of his life yet. For a long time people were hoping Apple would make a real TV set, which is a possibility on an infinite timescale, but do you really want that? Merlin wants fewer of the things that only can do this one thing. Your phone went from a flip phones with buttons and Snake on it to something you could put apps on to do lots of stuff.

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