Follow or Face My Wrath

Sunday, June 12, 2016

It's The Future, Get With The Program

I love Google Products. I often hashtag social media posts with #PraiseGoogle, #Google4Life and #MayGoogleBeWithYou just to get a rise out of people. I'm downright annoying about it. I just got a Chromebook, and it's the zoop-zopp-zibbity-best damn decision I've made in the last few months. My entire 50,000 song (and counting) music library is on Google Play Music. All of my personal files are backed up on Google Drive--I don't even use local storage anymore. In my writing and editing work, I exclusively use Google Docs, and hound everyone I work with to do the same. I constantly badger my poor wife about trading in her iPhone for an Android. If I download an app, then find out Google makes something similar, I'll replace it with the Google version--even if the Google version is WORSE.

Why the fanatical devotion? Because it's the future, and Google is one of the companies that really gets it. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, all of these companies are redefining the way we live. We're basically living in a sci fi novel now. My wildest childhood fantasies have been surpassed by orders of magnitude. Web 2.0 and the Internet of Things done changed the game. People better get on board, or by the time they realize how awesome the future is, the learning curve will be too steep for them to catch up, and the future will have passed them by.

But, unfortunately, most people are reluctant to embrace new technology, even when it's obviously better. This has probably been true since some caveman said this newfangled "wheel" thing was just a fad.

One of the ways people show their reluctance today is the popular phobia of being tracked online by companies. I'll be the first to admit that some of the capabilities companies have are pretty startling. And of course, anyone who values their privacy a great deal should have the right to it. But this fear of being watched by entities like Google is bogus, for two reasons:

First off, you have more control than you realize. Yes, it takes time to go through the byzantine privacy settings of sites like Facebook and Google, but it can be done. And if you can't get the privacy you want, you can always opt out. You'll be missing out on life-altering functionality, but if your privacy is more important to you, then so be it.

Second, people need to realize that Google doesn't watch you the way a stalker watches you. They aren't a bunch of crooks casing you. Google watches you the way a waiter watches you in a restaurant. They're watching to see if you need anything. They're trying to anticipate your needs and fulfill them before you become aware of them. This is how they make money. That's the beauty of capitalism: companies can only get rich by filling a need (okay, the system is frequently abused, and not all needs have genuine, real-world merit, but this article is about technology, not economics).

When I worked at the JW Marriott, we were actually trained to do this. It was part of our job to unobtrusively watch all of our customers, and try to see what they needed before they did. The result? Happy customers who paid us lots of money. It's when we stopped watching that the customers got mad.

Google isn't Big Brother. They're the world's butler. 

You've already experienced evidence of this. You've looked for something online, and suddenly your Facebook feed is showing you ads for that very thing. Sometimes I swear Google can actually read my mind; I'll think of something, type 1-2 letters into google, and it will suggest the exact thing I'm looking for. You can't get that type of concierge service without letting them watch you. But shit, I'm glad they do it. I'm glad that Google Search suggestions aren't like Wikipedia search suggestions. When you type two letters into the Wikipedia app, it suggests the first article that fits alphabetically, even if it's some obscure topic that nobody cares about. I'd rather have the thing I want front and center. Why people complain about this, I can't fathom.

Ads are another bone of contention. Everyone hates ads. But the truth is, you don't really want to live an ad-free life. I sure don't. I buy stuff. If there's newer, better stuff, I'd like to know. What you really want is ads that don't suck. Ads that aren't for something stupid you don't care about. Again, the only way to get this is to let them watch you. I've even gone as far as proactively engaging with advertisers through survey apps. When the opportunity arises to give feedback, I usually do. I see ads everywhere, and that will never change. They might as well be ads for stuff I actually want! Before Google et al. started watching me, I'd say I was genuinely interested in maybe 1% of the ads I saw in an average day. Now I'd guess it's closer to 40%. In my opinion, that's an improvement. Instead of feeling inundated with crap I don't care about, I feel like the stuff I want is always close at hand. Why people complain about this, I can't fathom.

Maybe I'm wacko for feeling this way. But here's the thing: Google, ads, the internet...these things aren't going away. As my dad would say, "Find something you like about it." The future will happen in spite of your whining.

And the future is good! It's easier!

I get frustrated when people can't see this. It comes up a lot in my work. As a Google Drive/Docs fanatic, I constantly butt heads with writers who can't walk away from their local hard drives and their Microsoft Word (ick!). They'd rather send copy after copy after copy back and forth via email than simply share it on the cloud and come and go as they please. They'd rather send feedback in long-winded, bullet-pointed emails than simple, flexible comments that stay where they're needed--in the doc. They'd rather store their life's work on a local hard drive than a cloud.

I've been through six--SIX--catastrophic hard drive crashes in my life. I've lost everything SIX FUCKING TIMES. There was a time when a strong thunderstorm could destroy my data. Now it would literally take an act of terrorism. Someone would have to bomb Google's data centers to destroy my data. As a person who has lost everything so many times I need two hands to count them, that's a good feeling.

I've also been riddled with hardware problems my entire life. As a matter of fact, every electronic or mechanical device I've ever owned has suffered some kind of damage or mysterious breakdown. It's so reliable, I actually believe it's some form of curse. But with the advent of cloud computing, hardware deterioration is no longer inevitable. With web apps, most of the processing happens somewhere besides your device, and this means simpler computers. The simpler the device, the less can go wrong.

Local storage is dead. Local processing is dead. Pretty soon, computers won't even come with hard drives anymore. The need for them is disappearing faster than the need for landlines and pocket calculators.

Your data is no longer a thing which you store inside your computer. Your data is a place, and your apps and devices are just a means of getting there. All your devices can see the same data. If you make a change on one device, that change is visible on all your devices immediately.

Within your lifetime, the internet will be everywhere. Anything that uses electricity can and should be connected to the internet. And the internet will be connected to you. We may never use cybernetic implants, but you'll be wearing the internet soon, if you aren't already. I am as I write this. And the waearable internet is only getting stronger. Augmented reality will happen. You will be reading emails in your glasses while your driverless car uses Google Maps to take you to work.

Being connected to the internet 24/7 sounds scary to some people. They think it somehow hinders or supplants human interaction. They forget that the internet is a place where people go. I hardly heave my house, and I communicate with people all day long, because I'm on the internet. And there are people there. 

I think I know why some people don't understand this. As recently as ten years ago, it wasn't this way. The internet was a giant book. But that was Web 1.0. Web 2.0 is all about human interaction. Today, the internet is much more than a book; it's a bustling city filled with people you can talk to, stories you can experience, stuff you can buy, things you can learn, and things you can look at and enjoy.

Being online 24/7 is going to save the world. We're going to microtask the future. Companies--even governments--will crowdsource their problems. While you're waiting in line at the coffee shop, you can solve a math problem, or edit a snippet of text, or write a line of code, or some perform some other miniscule part of a bigger project, and you'll get paid a few cents for your time. This kind of human computing is going to make the technological singularity obsolete before it even occurs. Putting our brains together via the internet is going to give us the power to solve huge problems like climate change, space travel, and the theory of everything.

It's a sci-fi nerd's dream. And we're barely scraping the surface of the possibilities.

Maybe you're not a sci-fi nerd. Maybe this dream sounds like a nightmare to you because you don't like the idea that someone has to know what you're doing online to make it happen. But it doesn't matter what you think. The future will happen without you.


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