10 Things That Still Don’t Work Heading Into 2021
I know everyone is ready to give 2020 the boot, but the reality is that things aren’t going to magically stop being terrible just because the Judeo-Christian calendar is arbitrarily approaching a new big number. But I get it, we are tired of thinking about all the horrible things we had to deal with this year. So here are some new horrible things to think about that were around before 2020, and will still be with us in 2021. Maybe we fix some of these? Nah….
Consumer Wi-Fi is about 24 years old at this point and it still suuuuuuucks. In a home of four people, I still have to regularly reset the router just to get decent video on a Zoom call. The “Free Wi-Fi” signs on restaurants and coffee shops is aspirational at best, and often comparable to psychological torture as you decide to suffer through it so you can finish your drink or if you should bail before your next meeting.
For a technology we use every day, almost non-stop, you would think the free market would have evolved into a reliable technology. Especially since we all gave up those wonderfully reliable Ethernet cables that served us so well. (Google it, children)
Thank God, Logitech still sells 2.4ghz mice with their own wireless receivers! Even with nothing but a single Bluetooth mouse connected to my computer, it will still decide to “lose” the mouse right before I can land the perfect shot in an online game. But connect more than one Bluetooth gadget and it’s a complete breakdown, like the computer has to keep the connections going like spinning plates.
For those of us who remember what music used to sound like with actual wired headphones, Bluetooth audio is terrible. Not only does it “compress” about half the sound, but it cuts out every time you turn your head a little to make sure you’re not so blissfully unaware of your surroundings as to get hit by a car or way-to-serious “death before slowing down” cyclist. So yeah, forget the headphone jack, it’s more “courageous” (see: Apple) to go without it.
What. The. Fuck. Is up with printers. Printers have been around longer than fax machines, but I’d still put money on my parent’s 30-year-old fax actually printing my email over my brand new all-in-one “convenient” office scanner, copy machine, potato peeler, and sometimes-printer working on the first try. Oh, you need more ink? How much is that? Holy Shit! I might as well just by a new printer.
Whatever your political party, let’s all agree that HP and Canon are sent here from the Devil.
“Hey, what’s the problem? The meeting is tomorrow and you still haven’t reviewed the proposal I sent you.”
“I never got it. When did you sent it?”
“Two days ago. Did you check your spam?”
“No, that’s why it’s called ‘Spam.’ One second…. Oh yeah, there it is. I think it went to spam because you forgot to include a subject.”
“Oh geez, whatever. You good now?”
“There is nothing attached.”
“Oh shit, I forgot to attach the file. OK, here you go, just sent it again. Did you get it?”
5. Online Ads
Online ads are the festering mold on the rotting corpse of the original dream of the Internet. They even grow like mold, slowly eating away more and more of the screen of your favorite website till you are batting away ads like a swarm of flies on the hamburger you left out for one minute, and now you don’t even know if you want to eat it anymore or just leave the flies to fight over it.
They don’t even work very well for actual marketing. It’s just a bunch of crap made by bots, being clicked on by other bots, to show reports, also made by bots, to tell you have much “traffic” your ads got. Who’s even paying for all this crap?
Seriously, ads don’t work the way you think they do. Listen to this great episode of Freakonomics to learn more: Does Advertising Actually Work? (Part 2: Digital) (Ep. 441) — Freakonomics Freakonomics
6. The Word “The”
Hey, Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, Hulu, Apple, Steam, and anyone else wanting me to have a “digital library,” “the” is not a search term! Every librarian knows you NEVER alphabetize anything according to having “the” in the title. I don’t scroll down looking for “The Lord of the Rings,” I scroll down expecting to find “Lord of the Rings” under L. Having every movie, book, or album that starts with “the” grouped together is madness.
Just ask any librarian and they would smack you across the head (but quietly) for sorting anything by the word “The.” Of course, librarians also know that authors come first… but then titles, and those titles a sorted by what comes after “the.”
Do you guys even use your own stuff? My MP3 player from 2003 with a whopping ONE gigabyte of memory knows not to sort my albums by the word “the.” If Creative Labs can figure this out, you and your economy-eating multi-billion dollar programming sweat-shops can.
7. Caller ID/Robo-Call Filtering
We have shrunk down an entire personal computer into a small slab the size of coaster, but we can’t stop random bots from filling our days with the constant anxiety of “should I answer this?” The game we play the most on our phones isn’t Candy Crush, it’s “Is this my doctor returning my call, or is some random person in the Ukraine is trying to scam me into giving them my credit card number?”
I am convinced this is a vast conspiracy designed to see how much we can be fooled into having the illusion of control. It’s not “68F” in my house, WATER DOESN’T FREEZE AT 68° F!
…OK, let’s try 72° F….
Oh great, the curtains are melting.
9. Progress Bars
Still loading… 99% complete….
Just a few more seconds….
Is it frozen?
…I’ll just give it a few more minutes…
…OK, I think it’s frozen. Better hold down the power button…
Oh shit! It’s done, no wait!
10. Anything “Smart”
I’ve saved the worst for last. I am sick of anything “smart” or “AI.” Never has auto-correct made my text message better. For the few times I want it to fix a typo, it doesn’t know what I was even trying to type. I have never had Amazon recommend a product to me I wanted with the whole, “People who bought that also bought this..” I mean, what does my milk-frother have to do with Astro-Glide? Never mind, don’t tell me.
(For the record, Microsoft Word is telling me I just misspelled “frother.” No, I didn’t. And I don’t mean “frothier” — that just means “more frothy.”)
I don’t want a “smart” toothbrush, or “smart” refrigerator. All that does is give me more tech to fix just so it can tell me the obvious, “You aren’t really hungry, you just want food to fill the void of loneliness in your life.” I know fridge, I know. Also, no, I’m not updating your software.
“Smart cars” are the worst. I don’t want Microsoft Windows in my car. I know how it works outside my car. This wonderful combination allows for the new insurance claim: “My car crashed, and then I hit the tree.” You can’t do “Have to tried turning it off and restarting it?” while you are stuck on the interstate.
The Good Days are Behind Us.
My favorite thing I bought this year is a really nice radio. That’s right. A radio. No Bluetooth, no “streaming,” no playlists, no updates, nothing. It even has a nice manual dial, an actual switch for power, and it works great. It is the most comforting device in my home, helped in no small part, of course, by the fact that it is set to NPR (WFYI locally).
Consumer technology has gone insane since the iPhone, assuming we need everything to do everything. Well, you know what happens when something does everything? It does nothing well. I hope the next decade brings us a fresh wave of tech that uses modern innovation to improve upon simplicity, instead of shitting on it.
As I end this cynical rant, let me defer to the brilliance of Bill Waterson to close us out: