5 Ways Tech Companies Let You Know They Think You're Dumb
As we've already mentioned, Cracked.com recently decided to send a small group of writers to the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. You'd think that, as a bunch of doofy suckers with no knowledge of how technology works and a profound fascination with pretty lights and bright colors, we'd be utterly captivated by the expensive display of the latest and greatest consumer tech. Instead, we sold all Cracked's camera equipment for gambling money, and I'm writing this on my phone from the inside of a Las Vegas prison cell. I'm kidding, but no, we weren't very impressed.
The problem is that the purveyors of the credit-score-ruining gadgets of tomorrow seem less like Tony Stark-esque mad-geniuses and more like Professor Marvel from The Wizard of Oz, if Professor Marvel from The Wizard of Oz stank of corrosive aftershave and smugness. Basically, I was really upset to discover that ...
The Hottest Innovations Don't Mean Anything
"Hey, remember when the word 'innovation' used to mean something?" is the kind of thing a really, really old person would say, because the word "innovation" hasn't meant anything since 1983. Did you know curved cellphones exist?
For once, a word means exactly what you expect.
Wanna know why? Me too! And so do the people who make them. "The curved screen gives a more immersive experience," is what LG's exhibitor told me, which as far as I can tell is code for, "This does nothing." The obvious design flaw for a curved phone is that if you sit on it it's going to crack, because that's how physics works. The LG guy told me that the phone is flexible and will flatten rather than break, but he also told me he wasn't able to demonstrate that ability because the phone might break, which didn't exactly inflate my "confidence balloon" to bursting.
No, my confidence balloon was quite flaccid.
I also tested an LG smartwatch that had such a counterintuitive design that it needed two presenters: one to tell us how we should use the watch, and another to reach over our shoulder and use the watch for us. But, whatever, I got a free pair of headphones.
The smartwatch needed to be connected to a smartphone to work, but instead of connecting it to an LG G Flex 2, it was connected to the LG G3 -- last year's flagship phone. You'd think if they were confident the Flex was going to take off they'd be putting it at the forefront, but no, they basically just stuck it on a table, told us it was the future, warned us that we couldn't test it or it would break, then tried to distract us with smartwatches and -- oh, for fuck's sake -- curved TVs.
I mean, I'm still probably gonna buy a curved phone because man does it look weird and man am I a sucker for stuff that looks weird and man-oh-man am I irresponsible with money. But the point is, the overwhelming majority of innovations at CES were stupid, mainly because ...
They Make Insane Promises
For reasons already explained, I'm not really the target demographic for consumer tech. But more importantly, I couldn't figure out who the hell the target demo is. The companies make such weird assumptions about people and their habits and desires to own products that do the things these products do.
For example, this is iHealth:
It's a kit of various products that monitor your health and well-being and report them to your smartphone, which gives you an update on how your body is functioning. Do ... do other people live in a world where that would work? My smartphone promised to keep track of how many calories I burned every day, and then promptly congratulated me for hitting my daily mark after I jogged down the highway at 65 mph for 45 minutes. Then it decided I had teleported to Kentucky when the WiFi went down. Sorry, no, I don't feel comfortable entrusting my cardiovascular health to a product that can't even tell me why it's curved.
But creepier than the iHealth is the iBaby.
"A lidless eye whose gaze pierces cloud, shadow, earth, and flesh."
It's a baby monitor that works on your WiFi but wasn't working when I visited the booth, because the WiFi at CES wasn't terribly reliable. But don't worry, I'm sure your baby's bedroom will have better Internet reliability than an international convention built around using and celebrating Internet-dependent products. The fact that the iBaby looks just like GLaDOS is coincidental!
And, honestly, I couldn't even bring myself to investigate what iLuv was.
Wireless contraception? Let's pretend yes. Let's pretend yes.
They Just Bombard You With Shit
How do you feel about seeing the same goddamn thing over and over again for five days? No matter how you answered, you'll hate CES, because the human body is not designed to handle this much crushing redundancy. The endless Bluetooth speakers fell upon me like the darkest winter storms.
The HD TVs pummeled my senses like a war party of Northmen ...
... and, shamefully, I was felled by the onslaught.
I'm not saying that I'm surprised there were a lot of products. Clearly there were a lot of products. I'm saying, why are they all the same product? Bluetooth speakers aren't like cars, where pretty much everybody has to own one and there are a thousand and a half different specialty niches to pick from; they're just fucking speakers. The guy who listens to Bluetooth music while skydiving with trained bears can use the same one that you balance on the dashboard of your Prius. If you're a business that makes tech accessories, then everyone's going to assume you make one, so why put it front and center?
It's painfully obvious that pomp and circumstance and flash are the main purpose for the show -- practical usability of the products isn't just secondary, it's not even fucking considered. Robert Evans spent the show asking if he could test the durability of the "tough" products that were designed to be dropped, and each person reacted by saying that he was the only tech journalist there that had even bothered. I spent five days parsing my way through roughly a bajillion dollars in advertising for every hot piece of tech to be released in the next year; 90 percent of the objects on the floor were useless without Internet, and the WiFi didn't fucking work.
My point is, I didn't exactly get a "we respect your intelligence" vibe from the whole thing. Especially because ...
There Is Good Stuff (but You Have to Find It)
Right now I'm probably creating the impression that there's nothing useful or interesting or un-evil about CES. And, I mean, yeah, I kinda had that impression too. But then something happened to change my life forever (or at least my mind, about this one thing).
I was passing by yet another set of fucking Bluetooth speakers. These were waterproof and submersible up to a meter, meaning I can play with them in my bathtub or whatever. These particular speakers were being presented by a woman dressed as what can only be described as an anime water nymph: blue hair, spiky battle-bra, flowing light blue gown. I guess I'd be more familiar with this type of woman if I had waterproof speakers. She explained that I could listen to them underwater, and in response I could only smile, because what?
I was about to abandon the booth and go find some other, more dildo-shaped Bluetooth speakers to toy with, when this guy (who I later learned was this company's inventor) approached me and started explaining his company's other product -- the Kiitag. The Kiitag is the coolest fucking thing I saw at CES.
It's a tiny black Bluetooth key that you stick on your keychain that helps you find your phone if you lose it. It has one button, and if you hit it, your phone starts ringing. Meanwhile, if you lose your keys, you can locate them using the Kiitag app on your phone: it tells you where it "last saw" them on the GPS, and as you approach them, it tells you how close you are until it finally goes off. My only complaint is that there isn't a setting to make it work like the motion detector from Aliens, but that's my complaint about everything, so fuck you, me.
My point is that I only noticed it because my bafflement at how stupid the waterproof speakers are kept me around longer than usual. What other products did I miss? What other awesome innovations were buried under the onslaught of curved TVs and curved cellphones and Bluetooth everything that filled up CES? I'll never know.
They Want You Dead
I've now established that I'm not hopelessly cynical about everything that CES does, right? And that I haven't been driven crazy by days of bright lights and loud noises and nights of gambling and strip clubs. Hopefully I've proven that I'm a rational, un-crazy person. Now, let me tell you why Intel is trying to kill you.
"Listen, we all know texting and driving is dangerous," the Intel spokesman said to me, gesturing toward the eye-detectors installed in the bright orange sports car. "But people are going to do it. I do it. So why not make it safer? Volvo wants zero fatalities in its vehicles in 2020."
The product he's talking about is a complex system of computers and sensors installed in a car that keep track of where you're looking and how close other cars are to your vehicle. If it sees that you're checking Twitter while a semi slows down in front of you, your car will buzz to alert you or even apply "soft-braking" to get you slowing down even sooner. The idea is that it takes responsibility off the driver, so he or she can focus more on texting. Sorry to be pedantic, but that's not what safety is.
You may think I'm being cynical again, so let me clarify: self-driving cars are a great idea. Cars that communicate with each other and navigate the roads and take drivers completely out of the equation are great for all the reasons the advertisements say: driver error accounts for 90 percent of all accidents and people are stupid and robots are better. I'm fine with that. Bring on the automotive Skynet, today if tomorrow isn't possible.
But this hybrid thing -- where humans are mostly in control but still told not to worry because the robots will back them up -- like, that's clearly a terrible idea, right? Cracked has told you before that safety measures just make you behave more recklessly: anti-lock brake systems result in more accidents and bike helmets make drivers more likely to hit you. The hypothesized reason is that people automatically compensate for any added safety by taking more risks, and it extends beyond cars: deaths from skydiving have remained constant since the sport began, because more safety equipment allows for riskier moves. Skiers who wear helmets get in more accidents too. So Intel's system isn't going to make things safer for the driver, particularly since they're explicitly designed to encourage risky behavior -- but you know what? The driver isn't even the person I'm worried about, because cars have one big difference from skydiving, biking, or skiing. These guys:
Maybe I'm overly sensitive to the plight of the un-wheeled because I still don't own a damn car, but this product kinda scares the fucking shit hell cocks out of me. The alarming buzz and "soft-braking" system won't keep you from popping person-balloons with your Pontiac while you check movie times, right? And how many drivers are going to decide it's safe to get drunk before hitting the road because their robo-car will protect them? Will it be all of them? I think it'll be all of them. And a lot of good the soft-braking will do you when your veins are 99 percent Natty Ice.
"The official "beer" of douchebags who drink and drive.
My point is that CES is a festering pustule of capitalist arrogance and technological irresponsibility, and it needs to be swiftly and mercifully wiped from the Earth, before it takes malignant hold. I'm probably not going to get invited to these types of things anymore.
For more from Sarge, check out 5 Movie Ratings That Would Actually Be Helpful and 5 'Inspirational' Ads with Secretly Horrible Messages.
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