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Fearless Predictions, 2016

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When does a tradition become obsolete? For those of you looking for a change in my January column topic, the answer is, “Not yet.”

You can keep hoping, but what else do you have to look forward to in 2016?

Getting Sillier

For those who don’t actually own a movie theater, you can simulate your own with Vizio’s 120-inch Ultra-HD TV, which should adequately take care of that empty wall in your ski chalet. The price is $129,999.99.

Do they really think the penny off will fool people into thinking it’s a bargain? Apple obviously doesn’t think so; its rose gold Apple Watch, with a rose gray “modern buckle” (read: plastic) comes in at an even $17,000.

Getting Worse

A recent article in The Economist, that wonderful British news magazine, on wages and the economy, mentioned (almost in passing) the reduced rate of productivity caused by changes in technology. I noted that productivity growth had been 3.2% from 2000–05, 1.9% from 2005–10, but only 0.5% during the last five years. Several Federal Reserve economists documented that it had started way before the recent economic crisis; in their words, “as big gains from information technology (IT) during the 1990s and early 2000s dried up.” They warn that a relatively slow pace is the best guess for the future.

So, has IT stopped being a help in productivity? Putting aside the amount of bandwidth consumed by watching March Madness (estimated as high as 40% in many offices) and people checking their e-mail for new jokes, have there been any offsetting new breakthroughs recently that actually have made offices and factories more efficient? I don’t think so.

First, look at how much time you spend weeding out spam. I’ve had the same e-mail address for decades, with it published on my business web site, so the web crawlers found it long ago. The result, despite my best efforts at erecting filters in the firewalls, is hundreds of crap messages daily telling me why the Chinese don’t lose their hair or why the Amish have perfect hearing or offering Asian (or Russian, African-American, or South American — but interestingly, no Eskimo) dating opportunities.

Clean it out of Outlook, purge it off the server and then off the phone, and you’ve wasted at least an hour. Repeat daily. No productivity gain there.

Looking to change my cable service, I went on Bombast Cable’s site to check out plans. First off, it was deliberately confusing — a direct descendant of the old phone company idea that making it hard to navigate means people give up and end up in overpriced old plans forever. But following its link, in its own web site for crying out loud, of “click here for more information” led to the dreaded “404 – Page Not Found” message.

Eventually, I look forward to (in the same way I look forward to having burning bamboo shoved under my fingernails) having to speak with a “customer service representative,” whose job it is to guide me to the most expensive options on the planet. No productivity gain there.

I‘m sure you have your own stories, but enough gloom and doom. Let’s see

if …

It Gets Better

Online shopping saved my butt this Christmas, and probably yours as well. Getting “wish lists” for grandkids on Amazon, having two-day shipping and the ability to do online ordering was wonderful. Even Target offered online ordering and store pickup in two hours, a magnificent alternative to searching the aisles (tip: don’t try this on Friday evenings or Saturday). And Amazon even has a “purchased this elsewhere” feature on their wish lists so you can mark it as gotten to avoid duplication.

Judging by the usual circling the parking lot at the mall, this hasn’t wrecked the old-style shopping, which I also did. But for people with distant relatives, not having to UPS last-minute packages is great. UPS didn’t suffer, either; who else delivers all that online stuff?

Antonin Scalia rules that the Internet is “too elite,” demands return to quill and parchment because “That’s what the founding fathers used.”

Who can argue with that?

Getting Sillier, Part 2

The Leica M Monochrom camera will run you $7,450 (body only, lenses extra). In case the name didn’t tip you off, this digital beauty shoots only in black and white. It does have a sapphire-glass LCD in the back, so that must explain it. You can probably look at the pictures on that 120-inch TV, while listening to mood music on Bower & Wilkins Diamond speakers, which are only $22,000 per pair. The well-worn phrase “A fool and his money” never seemed so appropriate.

So, lots to look forward to in 2016, no? Oh, and there might be an election, so if you haven’t had an adequate supply of bad news already, there will be lots of people willing to supply it for you.

Thankfully, we can all pour ourselves something bracing, sit down with actual people that we like and tell it all where to go. Happy New Year.

Cliff Feldwick owns Riverside Computing and does computer troubleshooting, data retrieval and other techno-wienie things, when not trying to set up filters on every electronic device he owns to screen out election predictions. He can be reached at 410-880-0171 or at cliff@feldwick.com. Older columns are online at http://feldwick.com.