The Comfortably Dumb

The most recent issue of my weekend newsletter, in which I conveyed my disinterest in engaging with products equipped with surveillance-type technologies, elicited quite a reaction from the readers. I was personally shocked by the number of people who were in agreement with my desire to have devices that eschew the add-ons from big technology companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon. Honestly, I was expecting to be tarred and run out of town by people screaming, “Luddite!” 

Instead, the sentiment seems to have struck a chord, especially with many in my generation, which suggests that it is raising a question that should have been asked a long time ago. One long-time reader put it this way: “I’ve been toiling in this industry my entire adult life — what hell hath we wrought?” 

Whether it is a television, a speaker, or a camera, it is hard to get a device that doesn’t have some sort of embedded technology from the big tech players. Even household items that, in the past, would have been comfortably dumb are now coming equipped with software that connects to the big-tech giants’ backends. While many did write to me extolling the virtues of voice assistants, most correspondents expressed a growing mistrust of these massive companies. “Products are being created under the umbrella of ‘easy to use/makes your digital life easier’ that expose a personal attack surface that I find worrisome,” one reader said. 

One of my big takeaways from this feedback is that, in these days when the potential — not to mention the existing ability — for big technology to abuse our personal data is the subject of much debate, it is prudent for companies like Bose and Sonos to hedge their bets and offer options that are more (for lack of a better word) “organic.” Organic means products not modified through the use of additives and spurious technologies. While the addition of Amazon Alexa or Google Home might make for good marketing opportunities, and may even be an attractive feature to some consumers, these companies need to be aware of the long-term impact of including such technology. FWIW. Sonos, chief executive emailed let me know that he is cognizant of the consumer desire to have more pure & organics offerings.

July 18, 2019, San Francisco

A letter from Om

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