THE FUTURE IS HERE, AND IT SUCKS

Honesty time: aside from my regular "I can't believe how much free advertising the media give every new product from Apple under the guise of newsworthiness" comment I don't really care about their gadgetry enough to learn the nuts and bolts. The user-end complaints – coverage, providers, bugs, software, "apps", etc. – are irrelevant to me and I cannot claim to be knowledgeable about them. I look at each new shiny doo-dad they release and, through a combination of meager income and technological misanthropy, decide that I don't need it. But the iPad is worth looking at a little more thoroughly.

Apple immodestly bills all of its products as market- and life-changing windows into the future. With the iPod, they were right. In a good way. It fits a stack of 1000 CDs in the footprint of a deck of cards. That's awesome. Good show, Apple. Kudos. With the iPhone, they were right in a not-so-good way. The device portends a future in which everyone can mindlessly kill time on the internet during those few moments each day when we are not parked in front of a real computer. I don't go out with other humans a lot, and I find myself wanting to do it even less now that it is socially acceptable (and damn common) for one to whip out a spacephone and start tapping away in the middle of a conversation. A real conversation, that is. But why talk to people when you can stare at Facebook? The iPhone and its non-Apple equivalents are ushering in a future dominated by the fake cyber world that Americans, especially the younger ones, increasingly inhabit to the exclusion of reality. Life is just a bunch of inconvenient crap you have to do so that you can photograph it and post the pics on Facebook.

What is the iPad? I mean, beyond all the hype and the technical specs, what is it? It's a fancy multimedia device. It's a vehicle for digital music, video/movies/TV, go-anywhere internet access, eBooks, and so on. I will leave to better thinkers the arguments about Apple's creepy obsession with top-down control of its technology, what with the computers that can't be opened and tinkered with and the very pointed (albeit not terribly successful) efforts to sell you music and movies in formats that are useless on non-Apple hardware. The more important question is what this thing says about us and our vision of progress. The iPad is the device you've been waiting for your entire life…as long as all you want to do is stare at the internet and buy shit unceasingly.

Let's not kid ourselves; its allure, if any, lies in the fact that the screen is much bigger than an iPhone. No more eyestrain or furrowing one's brow to watch videos on that tiny screen. Bigger touch-screen buttons for our fat American fingers. The last obstacle between you and never having to interact with or look at your surroundings again – the physical limitations imposed by the iPhone – are gone. That's the big achievement. That is the future. It is a future in which we are constantly staring at YouTube videos, episodes of 30 Rock, or the latest bestselling pap. We will plow through it so that we may buy more crap from Apple and plow through that as well. We will pause only to Tweet our mind-numbingly inane thoughts about standing in line at the grocery store or the latest Vince Vaughn "comedy."

This is the future, alright. We can rationalize our iPads the same way we rationalized our iPhones – "It'll be useful if I need to look up directions, or something! Totally worth it!" – but the end result will be no different. We will use this device to further distance ourselves from reality and from one another. We will use it to buy lots of shit in furtherance of that goal. The future is here, and the future is an expensive synthesis of Americans' two favorite activities: staring at lit screens and incurring credit card debt. Today's "World of Tomorrow" has no flying cars or moon bases. It's just a bunch of fat fuckers with no social skills staring at a screen and paying dearly for the privilege.

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31 Responses to “THE FUTURE IS HERE, AND IT SUCKS”

  1. Scott Says:

    You've essentially just outlined the plot of Wall-E in this post, minus the heartwarming robot…

    I absolutely refuse to buy anything associated with Apple. I own an offbrand mp3 player which does not require iTunes and I have a non-Apple smartphone (which I use for the limited intended purposes you described above). I'm always perplexed why everyone wants to get sucked into the iUniverse. From what I understand, those proprietary programs are really buggy and there are open-source equivalents that are just as good, if not better, and free. Are people that lazy that they can't research other alternatives or do they not want to be seen without the latest iCrap?

  2. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    You speak to my heart on this one Ed. I'm an "unemployed urban planner," that is I have a Masters in Planning and I'm waiting to find some great government to give me a shot at working in the planning field. The upshot of this is I spend hours every day looking at job websites (planning.org, state APA websites, planetizen.org, local government job boards, etc.). I try to apply for a job (or more) every day.

    One benefit of the internet is I can see jobs from here to Timbuktu and apply for them. On the other hand it becomes frustrating because I write cover letters and send resumes never to get responses for my time. I don't hate the internet, email is quite a useful vehicle to express ideas and thoughts without horrible telephone conversations, however, I prefer to be face to face with someone and talk to them when I actually have something of substance to say. I am worried because I may have lost my capacity of concentration for more than about fifteen minutes (which is why I post comments on websites like this). Additionally, I have gained a little weight and have a disappointingly small social life.

    All in all, does the internet benefit man-kind or is it just junk? I think its a mixed bag. It makes me nervous when Tom Friedman talks about how a billion people in India and China all need to access the Internet, does he really want to embrace the environmental consequences of building 2 billion more computers in the world? What about the crummy places in Asia where "used" computers go to get "recycled"? It may be that too many people already have these tools. If the Chinese and Indians can afford computers then where in the world will they be built, if we have learned one thing from globalization its that lazy middle class young people like me don't want to work on a factory line! On the other hand – who can blame Chinese if they want to sit on their butts and drink Mountain Dew like us?

    One last thought about technology and the future. One of my favorite authors (James Howard Kunstler) thinks that a concept called "peak oil" will end much of this technology because the globe is rapidly running out of the energy resources that built the last 50 years of economic super-growth. Kunstler says that soon we will have to accept living with much less and being forced to learn about things we think are primitive, like gardening, river transportation, building things; generally all the products of the industrial life won't be as readily available and we won't be able to drive to wal-mart for cheese doodles whenever we want to anymore. He thinks in 20 years people will look back at this crazy globalization and think we were trying to bite off more than we could chew, we won't have the energy (petroleum based products) to make it work.

    Good post Ed, keep up the good work. Check out kunstler.com for Jim's awesome blog he calls, "clusterfuck nation."

  3. Desargues Says:

    This makes me think that you have seen the future, and it is Republican. Less interaction with your peers and fellow Americans, less occasions to give a shit about their plight — or have them care about yours. More time being together alone on the internet, more susceptible to the mantra of "personal responsibility," the "undeserving, lazy poor" and "personal freedom" — all euphemisms for "fuck you, I got mine," the reigning zeitgeist in the twilight of American empire.

  4. Gabi Says:

    Strong post. Nothing new of course, but strong anyway. But, the lazy & fat will always be replaced by the lean and mean. So, this future is just the near one. The distant one will replace the lazy and fat. This a fact of nature.

  5. superwench Says:

    Droid!

  6. ts46064 Says:

    I'm proud to say that I am 19 years old, I don't text, my phone doesn't have internet, and I never bring a laptop when I leave the house. I associate with the people I'm with instead of texting or dicking around on facebook.
    Call me old fashioned.

  7. Graham Says:

    This is called alienation. It is not new, but is now reaching pathological proportions.

  8. hillwomp Says:

    warts and all, apple is a consisently fine alternative to microsof and the rest

  9. hillwomp Says:

    sent from my iPhone no less. otherwise I wouldn't be able to access your site

  10. hillwomp Says:

    the concept that everybody in the world uses the web like you do is inoperative.

  11. grendelkhan Says:

    I agree completely here–the habit of passive consumption of ideas and media is too mighty to be broken by mere devices. But I wonder if you've thought about another aspect of the switch to iProducts as opposed to computers. Dealing with the permanently broken nature of modern computers is an eternal pain in the ass. The theoretical ability to use the device as you see fit is thin consolation. Hence, the future of computing is an appliance, a toaster, a TV with a better remote control on it.

    Some people seem happy about this, but I'm not feeling it. It's just kind of sad.

  12. Brandon Says:

    Once again, Ed speaks to me. Every time I go to happy hour with co-workers (and I mean EVERY time), there is invariably a point at which I am the only one that isn't checking email, responding to a text or looking at something on the web.

  13. John Says:

    In the beginning, man had tasks to accomplish. So man did these tasks, and it was painstaking and laborious.

    Then, man decided that he wanted to do these tasks faster. So man invented the computer. Now these tasks were not painstaking and laborious, in fact now man could complete many tasks simultaneously and very quickly, for the small investment of a bit of his time learning how to use this computer.

    Then man realized that this was work, and decided he hated work. So then man created a new computer which lacked any of the useful features of his original computer — but at least he did not have to spend his time learning how to use this computer.

    And so man did his tasks, and they were painstaking and laborious. But at least there was an Apple logo around them.

  14. culturedbutter Says:

    Ed, did you see the PBS Frontline episode last week? it's called Digital Nation, and it can be viewed here at the PBS website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/view/?utm_campaign=homepage&utm_medium=top5&utm_source=top5 It's about, as they put it, "life on the digital frontier," and it touches on what you're ranting about. it's got lots of ridiculous technology apologists who try to distort the sad state you're describing in this post into some kind of wonderful new opportunity for growth, like our next evolutionary step that we must embrace by raising ridiculously tech-savy kids..blah blah. crazy stuff, these people speaking in glowing terms about the learning potential of computer games.. then there's this hardass, Todd Oppenheimer, who says it like it is. it's great to hear him tearing down the facade of "progress" drawn up by folks at Apple or whatever other technology corporation. like the 19 year old above, I'm only 22 and already "old fashioned" when it comes to tech shit, albeit quite willingly. more time looking at a screen is less time doing other more healthy and productive things. we're being trained as a nation of consumers, not producers.. useless. also, like urban planning noted above.. peak oil!! wtf are we thinking!?

  15. Pan Sapiens Says:

    1) Agree that Apple, despite their careful marketing as a bunch of hipster doofuses, is a Nazi control-freak. Or, to paraphrase Neal Stephenson from 'In the Beginning Was The Command Line': "The PC is a Family Truxter. Sure, it breaks down a lot. But it's usually easy to get going again. An Apple is, by comparison, a BMW…with the hood welded shut".
    2) Tom Friedman is a fuckin' idiot. In fact all futurists are overpaid bullshitters. Anyone who thinks otherwise can attend my seminars for $1000 a pop and I will tell them all about their future.
    3) per 2) James Howard Kunstler should probably just shut the fuck up. Futurist predict the Age of Scarcity to occur in the 2020s, now bumping it up to Now. The whole peak oil concept is a joke and a scam, like biofuels. As long as the price goes up, the extraction cost goes down, coupled with the fact that there are very few places on Earth where you simply can't help but strike oil, means we are more likely to run out of fossil oxygen long before we run out of fossil fuels. Hey, a new crisis to worry about!
    4) pre 3) What is really more worrisome is the Age of Post-Scarcity. (Your whole Mr. Fusion/Wall-E/quantum brains the size of sugar cubes/elfin robots/replicators clouds/personality uploads/machine of loving grace/sensory I- (formerly e-)remediation scenario). The one thing I am very, very happy about was the the Cold Fusion Farce of the early 90s was exactly that. Can you imagine what you could do with a million cold-fusion powered chain saws? The Chinese of Hell of Plenty.
    5) Yeah, I don't do that personal technology stuff. I don't have tats or piercing either. Call me a prude, or an old fuck. I care not.

  16. ladiesbane Says:

    Not to sound the complete Luddite, but I'm worried about e-books. We need durable paper and fast inks for things to last. Anything committed to a doomed medium will not outlast its obsolescence.

    I'm all Appled up, thanks to a boyfriend who drank the Kool-aid ("Do you like these candles? We make them right here at the compound") and who wanted to give me something to do when he checks Facebook during dinner. (My cold fury is met with "What? It's no big deal.")

    Incontinent terriers check trees less often that some people check Facebook, which is the current equivalent of cell phone and call waiting abuse (i.e., rude as hell.) And I still want my dome house on the moon, space plane, meal-in-a-pill, and cancer/AIDS/age inoculation, thankyouverymuch.

  17. Julie Says:

    I have an iphone (for more reasons than I have time to explain in a comment) but I agree with most of the sentiments in this post. My phone is extremely useful but it takes a lot of self-control to not become a slave of it. I wrote a post about this recently for those interested (although, not nearly as well-written as any of ed's posts):

    http://calinazaret.net/death-in-the-wired

  18. ben Says:

    but I like 30 Rock

  19. Bill Says:

    Is this a bad time to mention that I receive your blog's rss feed on my Blackberry everyday so I can read it on the bus on my way to class…?

    P.S. I'm writing this from my phone while in the room with another person.

  20. Mark Says:

    Why does Apple, a tech company with a relatively small market share, get so much media coverage? This is simple enough to answer: They used masterful marketing and product development secrecy in combination with design style and appeal to become one of the most profitable companies in the world. And they did it continuously for the last decade. They built a fanbase of excited consumers willing to speculate about "the next big thing." The iPod destroyed the competition for portable music players, iPhone has a sizable share of smartphone users and iTunes (very successfully) marketed copyright protected music for legal sale to become the largest music retailer in the world. There are no other companies like that out there right now, like it or not. Above all, Americans tune-in or read about it all! That's why they get the media coverage. Google might be following in their footsteps….

    Personally, I have been very happy with my Apple products – but then again, I don't define Human Progress by what comes out of the consumer electronics industry. I recognize personal computers, iPhones, iPads, etc. for what they are: products/tools. No product is flawless, but they allow me to accomplish the tasks that complete my mission at work. They do this better than their competition. No matter what Apple says, their products are developed by a private company to make money. I have no problems putting them away when I don't need them.

    If people choose to use consumer tech to make their mundane lives even more mundane, that's their choice. It might not be a good one in our opinions. And I'm not so sure that the people you reference – the ones who whip out their smartphones in the middle of a conversation or browse the internet all day long – are really all that interesting to listen to in the first place. Their manners certainly leave something to be desired. Maybe it's time to rethink who you choose to spend your free time with… think hard about that.

  21. Zebbidie Says:

    @hillwomp and like Bill.

    I'm writing this comment and reading this site on Opera Mini on a Nokia E71.

    Try and run Apple software on anything outside their carefully fenced little sandbox, and then you will appreciate just how good Windows is, Not as nice as Mac but then they are working at an intensely difficult problem, not simply limiting variables until their software works.

  22. Entomologista Says:

    Every day I deal with the consequences of people who have grown up without technology. I work in a lab and I'm the only person in the lab who has grown up with computers, due to age and circumstance. That means when something breaks in the lab, I fix it. When a Luddite's computer breaks, who does he whine to? The person who has embraced technology and therefore knows how to use it properly, that's who.

  23. jazzbumpa Says:

    Fossil oxygen?!?!

    From the title of this post, I thought it would be about the impending option ARM meltdown – the next sad step in the decline of the U.S. economy.

    Perhaps Apple can save us. Did wonders for Eve, back in the day.

    WASF,
    JzB

  24. Ed Says:

    Apple has a longstanding policy of inundating journalism schools with their products (well below cost) so that the entirety of the mainstream media become devotees. It's smart, and it does wonders to generate the embarrassing, slobbering free coverage we see here.

  25. Mrs. Chili Says:

    I was going to say what Scott said, but he got to it first; this is the plot of Wall-E.

    My husband is a Mac guy and, as a consequence, we get all the gizmos in their first generations. We think we're going to sit this one out, though; I'd rather replace my laptop.

  26. Maren Says:

    Julie said: My phone is extremely useful but it takes a lot of self-control to not become a slave of it.

    Yeah, this exactly. I got a Motorola Cliq a few weeks back, after wanting a smartphone for a long time but being fearful of the monthly bill and also what it would do to my social life, and as someone who's been borderline internet-addicted for ten years, I'm having to work very hard not to let it consume all my attention. The trick, I have found, is that Andoid doesn't support Flash, and many of the sites I visit regularly on my laptop are picture-heavy and load slowly on my phone, so my impatience with the load times often overrules my desire to zone out with mindless entertainment.

    The damn thing is interfaced completely with Facebook, though, and I'm just thankful I'm not on Twitter and that most of my FB friends either aren't or don't use Tweetdeck. I already struggle not to update my status constantly. But is it useful? Hell yes. The Google Maps and Yelp apps alone make it worth it, not to mention integrated Google Calendar and that one freaky barcode scanner app that tells you the price of an item both online and at local stores. But I've made a command decision just to not download any games or RSS apps onto it, and to put it the hell away in company, otherwise I'd never surface in the real world.

  27. Julie Says:

    @maren

    Yes, smartphones are useful but I did have an extremely retarded moment once with my iphone. I was at the grocery store around thanksgiving and after seeing a display for canned pumpkin I thought I'd try to make pumpkin pie for the first time. I pulled out my phone to do a google search for a recipe because I wasn't sure how many cans to buy. So I'm standing there for a few minutes browsing the web to find a good recipe, then emailing it to myself, checking to make sure I got the email and I can read it correctly, only to discover that the cans of pumpkin I've been standing in front of have a recipes on the back. D'oh!

    As far as not getting lost in your device, I set aside time where I just don't use it at all, like when I go on dates with my husband. That sometimes helps.

  28. Maren Says:

    Julie, my favorite smartphone moment ever was a morning back in 2007 or 2008 when an overnight guest whipped out his shiny new iPhone as we were all getting up and said "Hm, looks like it's about 58 degrees out." I said, "Did you seriously just look at your phone instead of taking three steps from the couch and opening the door?" It heralded the beginning of the end of civilization.

  29. Julie Says:

    Haha! Nice one.

  30. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Jesus, I'm no Apple fan, by any means, but holy shit are you in "Get off my lawn, you damn kids" territory here. The same sorts of silliness was echoed about the television, or even books (if you go back far enough). Yet, humanity somehow survived the apocolypse of never again talking face to face.

    There will be those with addictive personalities that abuse this, as there are alcoholics, gambling addicts, and porn addicts. If it wasn't one, it will be another. That's life. But I think the future (and now!) kicks major ass. I feel no shame that I can do whatever the fuck I want on the internet at any time by using a pocket-sized device. That fucking rocks hard!

    The iPad doesn't fail because it's making it less likely to socialize (seriously an argument?!). It fails because Apple is providing a solution to a problem nobody has. Yes, that's their business model, I know. They solve a problem you didn't know you had, then you go holy shit how did I live without my entire music library in my pocket! (or whatever) But that doesn't always work. Sometimes the problem you didn't know you had doesn't seem so important. I might be wrong, but I just don't see the iPad selling well long run. I suppose it will have a niche, like the Mac. But I foresee more of a Newton future to the iPad.

    I'd love to make a bet with some of these techno-doomsdayers. Twenty years, $20. If the kids turn out reasonably well like every other generation (uncontrollable economic factors notwithstanding) and not reclusive, unemployed, unintelligent, useless blobs of flesh, I win. I think they'll be smarter, faster, and better, as nearly every generation is compared to the last. And the technogadgets will be no more or less harmful to their psyche than books, teevee, CDs, the telephone, and cars were to previous generations.

    Bring on the future. I love it!

  31. Samual Baumgarten Says:

    Wow dual core cpu in smartphones by next year? Do we even have dual core netbooks yet? I think Android phones are really encroaching on the netbook space. Do many netbooks have HDMI output? These new smartphone do already…