Time to Stand Up for Dumb

The New York Times today gives an extremely cautious and narrow defense of traditional, now denigrated as “dumb” devices: In an Era of ‘Smart’ Things, Sometimes Dumb Stuff Is Better. It listed a grand total of five examples:

A wristwatch vs. Apple Watch

A car mount vs. a smart car console

An alarm clock vs. Amazon Echo Spot

A kitchen timer vs. Amazon Echo

A piece of paper vs. a tablet

Mind you, these aren’t even “smart” versus “dumb”. The car mount versus smart car console are different implementations of smart devices.

Let’s start out with a smart device undershoot that seldom gets mentioned: e-books. E-book sales fell in 2015 and fell even more in 2017 as both paperback and hardback sales rose. Why? Readers can probably chime in, but print is still easier to read and navigate. You recall what you read better in print than in e-book form. And personally, I despised that my reader determined the e-book format. I found that I remember what I read where visually, and having all of the social science books I read appear in the same format meant that if I read several books on related issues, I could not recall which one was where I had picked up a particular factoid.

And today, both Bill B and Chuck L sent a story that will confirm the prior of any dumbphone user: The Feds Can Now (Probably) Unlock Every iPhone Model In Existence. NC readers had probably assumed the NSA had back doors to smart phones; this sort of thing makes that idea a smidge more official (the fact that the surveillance types can presumably obtain access isn’t the same as being able to get at it in a legal-looking manner, like unlocking it with a search warrant).

Some other areas where yours truly is a proud Luddite:

GPS. Not only do I refuse to carry a device which uses GPS, I don’t like using GPS while driving. It makes people stupider and less familiar with their environs. In addition, I’ve seen some major GPS fails. For instance, just last week, I was in a cab going from an airport to a hotel about 40 minutes away. The driver punched up the GPS directions. He decided he preferred going on the freeway (and I had seen per Google Maps earlier that that was the preferred route) even though the GPS was giving him a route via the streets. So he went to the freeway with Ms. GPS talking to him.

She refused to adjust her directions to the fact that he was taking a different route. She didn’t even try to tell him how to get from where he was on the freeway to her preferred path. She kept calling out her directions as if he had gone her way at an assumed driving speed. It became so comical we both laughed at it. At one point, on the freeway, she told him to take a U-turn. The driver joked, “She wants to kill me!”

Smart homes. As with GPS, I do not want my home spying on me. As many people have noted, IoT is terribly hackable, and on top of that, getting involved with a smart home provider makes you vulnerable to any software hiccups or worse, them going out of business.

Plus what happens in the event of a power failure? If you have your old fashioned thermostat set at a particular temperature, you have a high degree of confidence that when the power comes back on, it will come back on at its same old setting. With all of the weird interdependencies in these home systems, I would be concerned they would go haywire after an outage. And even if they didn’t, the worry factor would offset any convenience advantage.

Fit devices. Yours truly is a fitness enthusiast despite having no sports ability whatsoever save being predisposed to being strong. You could not pay me enough to get me to use one of those devices. First, even though there is research that shows that people who write down their weight training programs and record each workout get the best results, I like the mental discipline of remembering my program and what I did in my last workout (reps and weights). Second, no way would I ever let anyone get health data like my pulse rate and frequency of exercise, which is what you are allowing with these devices (I also go to some lengths to restrict my insurer’s access to my medical information by paying my bills myself and submitting for reimbursement). But third and probably most important, this level of self-monitoring makes people neurotic.

More generally, the branding of “Internet dependent” as “smart” strikes me as disempowering. This video parodies how we old farts look at this sort of thing:

But it is another manifestation of the sort of top 10% preening that Thomas Frank called out in Listen, Liberal, the fetishization of new, data driven techniques even when they aren’t necessarily well validated. That sort of thing gave us Robby Mook confidently dismissing the pleas of operatives on the ground in Michigan and Wisconsin that the Clinton campaign was in trouble and she needed to spend more time and money in those states. We know how that movie ended.

Similarly, the fetishization of big data has cooled a bit (but not enough for my taste) as more and more users recognize that they can easily turn out to be means for institutionalizing prejudice or simply bad decision rules thanks to less than stellar problem framing and choice of data sets. As Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction, pointed out, “Algorithms are just opinions expressed in math.”

Finally, and far from least important, using smart devices puts you at the mercy of providers who are very good at forcing obsolescence or overt price increases upon you

To return to the main thread, yours truly is so resistant to the marketing push to get us all to surrender to being surveilled even more in the name of “smartness” that there are no doubt many smart thingies that have their fans and detractors. What dumb devices do you prefer and why? And if you are keen on some “smart” tools, how do you regard the cost of loss of privacy and dependence?

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  1. Ignacio

    Yep. A dumb thermostat in a (or every) radiator is better than a fancy smartphone-connected thermostate. It’s muuuuch cheaper and you don’t need to divert your attention to the stupid smartphone.

    1. Arizona Slim

      I have a dumb thermostat and a GPS-powered bicycle computer. But, not to worry, I still record my miles on a spreadsheet.

      Call me a Luddite.

      1. ambrit

        Luddite Sainthood!
        My exercise ‘spreadsheet’ consists of notches on a twig.
        I do not dare to call knots on a string “dumb.”

        I’d love to see an updated version of the (in)famous english comedy sketch done as “The Four Deplorables.”
        “When I were a lad, we had to wind alarm clock afore goin t bed!”

        1. Shiraz

          You’re lucky to have a twig! I tattoo my achievements into my arms, and not in Arabic numerals either (stunts a mans brain to use that level of abstraction) but in Roman Numerals!

          1. ambrit

            Och! Ye call that ‘dumb!?’
            We are so backward we resort to carving Sumerian cuneiform numbers on our bums when the twigs are needed for soup! We call it stylus-ite!

      2. jrs

        I don’t have a thermostat, most apartment heating and cooling that I have seen is really not that fancy, it is either on or off, may not be optimal for energy conservation as setting a temperature, but thems the breaks.

    2. Amfortas the Hippie

      can’t get dumber than a wood fire in a metal box. I have 3, and if all 3 are roaring, it’s really cold.(i guess “dumb” as in requiring no electricity and having no automata aside from thermal dynamics…it takes no small amount of skill to manage these things…especially as 2 of them are rather old, and have been rigged for safety and efficiency)
      as far as thermostats:
      when I was in high school, in a newly built campus, in East Texas in the late 80’s…if it was cold in Atlanta(some thousands of miles east), the heaters in Magnolia, Texas would be going full blast. Our thermostats were in Georgia, in the name of efficiency.

      1. Doug

        Exactly, Amfortas. My thermostat is whether I feel cold enough to put another log on the fire. Plus, there are many woods (at least here in Oregon) that have a very nice aroma when burning.

        And I’ve never figured out how GPS is in any way preferable to a map. Maps are great!

        1. subgenius

          Maps require much folding and creasing if they are to be successfully thrown, whereas a GPS usually can be made to cover many tens of yards in it’s naturally-occurring form..

          1. earthling1

            GPS does not work in in PacificN/W forests with heavy canopy.
            And I prefer roll up windows in my car over power windows.

          2. JBird

            The Thomas Brothers’ map books were excellent. Sturdy, well designed, detailed, and regularly updated. Also heavy enough to be thrown yards.

            I loved them and bought updated copies of wherever in California I was driving. Then Rand-McNally bought the company, fired the staff (cartographers first), and stopped making most of the maps. Just f@@@@@@ fabulous.

            I have not been able to find anything nearly as good or practical since.

        2. Amfortas the Hippie

          I allege that there’s also a pretty powerful psychological benefit to sitting by a fire…even one in a box.
          somebody should do a paper.
          However, I understand that–like so many things— this behaviour prolly can’t be universalised.
          We went this way because it was cheaper than propane or electricity(the other choices, out here)…and if need be, I could obtain fuel from the side of the highway.

    3. Minnie Mouse

      When I had a new furnace installed I refused a WI FI thermostat. I was instantly horrified by the thought of my furnace globally networked to North Korea. Any hardware control device that can perform its function just fine without IP networking should simply not be networked, period.

      1. Old Bear

        We got a new furnace a couple seasons ago. Since he is retired already, my partner handled most of the arrangements and contact with the furnace company. It just sort of came with a WI FI, Bluetooth thermostat. “We can access it with our cell phones and change the temperature, etc.” “But why,” I asked, “you are home all day, and other than me going to work, we hardly ever go anywhere anyway.” (don’t feel bad; it’s how we like it). But I figured OK, that’s how it comes so go ahead.

        The damn thing never has worked. He kept calling the guys back and they tried everything, tried putting in a new one, brought someone from the factory. He and they were determined. I was all never mind, we don’t need it. Everyone finally threw in the towel. The hi-efficiency furnace is great though; the gas bills are pretty low.

  2. funemployed

    I’ll take a filing cabinet over any e-anything when it comes to archiving and record keeping.

    I have more reasons than I can enumerate at the moment, but to use one example, I know a lot of researchers who cross their hearts and hope to die that their subjects’ identities and data will be kept super secure, then they store all their research in the clouds.

    1. nycTerrierist

      Same here.
      I’ve had endless grief from obsolete software, laptops etc.
      and sweet relief from my old manila folder system in filing cabinets.
      Discovered the hard way: the safest, and least aggravating way to save texts is to keep hard copies.


      1. bold'un

        I’m a ‘both-and-er’: digital photos printed out on paper; e-and print editions of same book (+audio too!). Map and GPS in car. As for records, we have soooo much paper in the loft, good luck finding a specific item. But if records are electronic, it is important to choose media and format with a view to obsolescence. So keep papers but barcode and scan them as well!

    2. flora

      Fit devices: For continuous real time medical monitoring of people with serious health problems – say something like heart failure or pace makers or insulin requirements – digital monitors like a medical Fit band could be very useful. That’s the one time I’d wear something like a Fit device.

      Smart thermostats: The real world is analog. No need for a smart thermostat; particularly one that is under remote control by the manufacturer (or hacker, or botnet).

      GPS: They have their place as a navigation aid, but not as a complete replacement for real map reading ability (and real compass (not a compass app) reading ability for hikers). The real world is still analog.

      These are just tools. The old joke about the right tool for the job comes to mind.

      Thanks for this post.

      1. Ignacio

        A trial is being done in a hospital in Madrid with real-time monitoring to treat migraines since it is well-known that certain migraines can be treated effectively only when the pain-killer is admnistered early, before the pain starts. I hope it works.

        1. Bill

          Forgive me for using the NK comments section as a bulletin board … but, Ignacio, you aren’t the long-lost friend who went by that name with whom I spent New Year’s 2000 on the Boston waterfront, are you??

          1. Ignacio

            No Bill. In 2000 I was back in Madrid. I´ve been only once in Boston for summer holidays but too long ago. In the 80s.

      2. Jeremy Grimm

        I sometimes wonder how well our military might operate if the GPS systems were knocked out. I’m not convinced soldiers are as well-trained in map reading as they once were. I think electronic maps have supplanted many of the old paper maps in a soldier’s kit and reading a map on a display without a GPS guide might be a more difficult task than spreading out a clumsy paper map.

        1. Stephen Gardner

          I’ve wondered that myself. On the bright side: the empire of death may be defeated rather peacefully. ;-) Without a GPS the 19 y.o. troops will mill around like ants in a destroyed hive.

      3. jrs

        I suspect that getting lost in an area you don’t know is a major cause of auto accidents (just the sheer being distracted factor), so GPS may have it’s uses.

      4. drumlin woodchuckles

        The dwelling units in the co-op I live in all had analog thermostats. I was happy with my analog thermostat which always worked thanks to conforming to some basic laws of analog physics.

        Then the co-op decided to replace all our thermostats with digital thermostats. They require a battery to keep them running. The two times already in the last few years that my digital thermostat battery has died have both been in deep winter. My dwelling unit was growing rapidly colder. Luckily I was able to get a battery from the co-op office which kept a bunch of batteries on hand for just that reason.

      1. Synoia

        I throw everything away, under the belief if it is important the sender will resend it.

        Excepting paper money & cheques paid to me.

        1. John Zelnicker

          February 27, 2018 at 2:26 pm
          I don’t know if you’re in the US, but if you are, there are a few things you should keep as paper copies. If you file tax returns, you should keep a paper copy and the supporting documents for at least seven years, just in case the IRS or your state revenue department loses their minds (or their computers) and decides to come after you for something. Seven years is the statute of limitations for claims for taxes except criminal fraud.

          (I’m a tax accountant.)

  3. PS

    Another problem with all these so-called “smart” devices like thermostats, light switches, security cameras, etc. is that they generally don’t receive security updates the way smart phones and computers do. As a result they have been used as part of DDOS and malware botnets unbeknownst to the owners.

  4. JohnnyGL

    I have an ancient ‘smart’ phone that just isn’t very smart. One of the first android devices. It has outlasted many other smart phones of my friends/family. I can’t update the browser and it doesn’t work for most websites and can’t load the ads. Every time a website gets updated/overhauled, I usually lose the ability to load it.

    You know what still works quite smoothly? Nakedcap and other primarily text-based sites. I’m just fine with that.

    I recently visited the home of an in-law that had Alexa. The guy who was smitten with it used it to turn on the TV and lights with some properly phrased questions at sufficient volume. Background noise, accents, slurred speech, or odd sentence construction confused Alexa quite a bit. It often took a few tries. Beyond that, the guy used it to play songs he was thinking of. It was like riding in the car with someone who was constantly flipping radio stations. I found myself unimpressed with his new toy. Alexa’s skill level was roughly at that of someone who’s been learning a new language part time for a few months.

    This morning, I spoke to someone who told me that Siri got the weather wrong. I suspect Siri was a few hours behind, much like my un-smart phone that uses accuweather.com which comes on most android smart phones (or used to).

  5. Carolinian

    Of course to each his own but complaints about technology tend to assume that still developing tech will stay constant in the same way that mature technologies like printed books or other items do. The reality is that many electronic items like e-books or cameras are constantly improving to the point where their adoption is inevitable. As an avid photographer I can say that each of my digital cameras has been better than the last and the most recent definitely gives 35mm film a run for its money while retaining the huge advantages digital has over developing with messy chemicals. Most professional photographers now use digital. In movie terms digital cameras have almost completely replaced film cameras for big screen films. This is not a perverse choice by filmmakers because the cameras are constantly getting better.

    As for e-books, I’d say the low power, low resolution early devices have given many a bad taste. There’s no reason why that too can’t change.

    To be sure there’s plenty of stupid tech but it’s an area where–long term–the practical and the useful rises to the top. One wishes the same could be said about many of our social ideas which seem stuck in past centuries.

    1. grayslady

      I love my digital camera, but I don’t consider it to be a “smart” tool, since it may rely on computers to view and correct photos, but the computer doesn’t have to be connected to the internet. I have numerous electronic “tools” that I use because they provide a definite benefit that typically exceeds their costs, and none require “updating” or maintenance.

      I generally prefer writing to typing because of how my thoughts are connected to the physical process of writing;but if I need to study and remember material, I prefer the presentation to be typewritten. Otherwise, I have plenty of tools that are capable of being “smart,” but only because I, personally, program them to be smart: CAD program for design, setback thermostat, physical call blocking device, all my kitchen appliances–even my digital camera.

      1. Carolinian

        One rationale for the personal computer or PC was that it gave everyone the power of computer use. Many of the earlier computers were networked, time share devices. Since smartphones almost by definition require connection to he internet and “the cloud” it’s in some ways as though we’re going backwards–using this new tool to take away our autonomy. But that would be an indictment of big business, not computers themselves.

        Some might say that Steve Jobs’ cult of the “beautiful machine” was the opposite of “practical and useful.” Smartphones could be a passing fad.

      2. Anon

        That CAD design software may be “smarter” than you realize. Many CAD programs (AutoCad, SketchUp, etc.) can identify you through the MAC address of your computer and download/upload a work activity/history when you go online. Some software (SketchUp) explicitly explains that it works “best” when connected online. Autocad software accesses the unique identifier code (MAC) of YOUR computer so it learns how you are using their product.

        1. Skip Intro

          This is ‘smart’ in the worst sense, meaning that it is smart business for software developers to move from producing and selling a product you could basically own (unenforceable EULA notwithstanding), to selling ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) and collecting rent from their former customers. This locks the customer into paying a recurring fee to do their jobs and even access their old projects. It also frees the developer from the need to innovate or improve, since the users are basically locked in. This can work well for a product with sufficient market dominance.

    2. Fraibert

      Digital cameras (still and video) are an example of an area where an upgrade to significantly new technology was seamless.

      Camera makers didn’t reinvent the wheel in the digital transition. They kept concepts, operating techniques, and even important accessories (e.g., lenses) the same. For example, we don’t have a different “digital ISO” for image sensor sensitivity versus the old film standard–it’s supposed to be about the same on each, and if I wanted to use a 1995-era lens on my brand new Canon digital SLR, that’s just fine.

      The difference in many other areas is that tech, in my view, gets in the way. It requires operating differently but not in any way better. It is not better in my view to compromise privacy, or risk unexpected issues due to software bugs, etc.

      1. a different chris

        >They kept concepts, operating techniques,

        Well they also kept a little too much: the mechanical parts of the computer interfaces (I’m talking buttons, et ct) are placed as simple per manufacturing as possible, meaning that buttons are all over the (family blog)ing place and you can’t figure out where what is and if you are going to bump it or not.

        Just needed to vent on that.

    3. CanCyn

      You’re talking about improving existing technologies rather than ‘smart vs. dumb’ technologies. I agree that what has happened with digital camera technology is amazing. We just bought a new, ‘dumb’ washer and dryer set. Our old ones were over 20 years old, the new ones have some great new features and infinite options and I like them alot but they’re still just a washer and dryer.
      My husband loves the GPS and uses Siri a fair amount, but I’m not sold. I’ve mapped out routes that were better, faster and safer than where the GPS takes us and Siri says, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand” an awful lot – and she really is just automation, setting a timer or alarm or searching for an address or phone number – that’s just convenience (although I’d argue that I can get to some things faster than she does), like the move from standing up and going to the tv to change the channel to doing it from the couch with a clicker. Not truly ‘new’ technology. I look at maps before I go anywhere new & have a paper map in the car and I much prefer to do the searching myself – I love the serendipitous finds and discoveries that come my way. I kinda see it as a mild form of rebellion, not caving to coporate interests. Small and not changing the world, but it feels good to think for myself and use my own brain. I have recently starting weigh training and plan to use Yves ‘remember what you did last time” approach from now on – thanks for the tip Yves.
      I don’t know if it is true or not but I read somewhere that Einstein painted his front door red so that he wouldn’t have to remember his address … now there was a man who used his freed up brain power for some amazing things. Not so sure that us mere mortals are using our brains for better when we let the algo’s ‘think’ for us. Mathbabe’s “Algorithms are just opinions expressed in math.” gets a +++ from me!

      1. Lord Koos

        The GPS on my iphone 5 is the main thing that keeps me using it. When in unfamiliar places (Thailand, Malaysia) the directions have been very useful, especially when walking or cycling when it’s awkward to use or carry a map. But otherwise, I’m not fond of the smart phone. I’d be better off with a dumb phone and a separate GPS thingy which I could use with bike and car, although it means owning two devices instead of one, I wouldn’t have to carry the GPS all the time. Other than rarely checking the weather and traffic, I never surf the web with my phone, and I don’t use it for email. I like my laptop with a VPN. The average smart phone user touches their phone something like 2600 times a day — I probably touch mine less than a dozen times unless I’m texting back and forth with someone, which doesn’t happen that often. Apple creeps me out and when this phone dies I will probably get a text-n-talk flip phone instead.

      2. Amfortas the Hippie

        I like maps, too. Probably due to Natgeo when I was a kid(got dad’s and grandpa’s, too, along with all those maps)
        a week ago, we went 100 or so miles to a basketball game in Round Rock(the Mason Cowgirls are going to State, btw).
        everywhere we needed to go was along I-35, which is in a state of perpetual construction/chaos.
        Given that chaos, my maps/memory were/was of little use.
        Wife insisted on Siri….who was of even less use than me just blundering my way there.
        Me: “I don’t need no Cylon Girl to tell me how to get lost”
        My dad likes Siri, et al, as does my brother(live in Houston)…I suppose it would be ok for finding a store in unfamiliar territory, since that was never on maps, any way.
        Our coaches use it, too…to take the team to other places…but I’ve noticed that Siri will habitually direct you to…say…go THROUGH Austin to get to the other side, when there are perfectly good country highways that go around, with less traffic/hassle/cops…and that get you there quicker, too.
        another observation from our Round Rock adventure…nobody knows where they live any more.
        I asked for directions to the high school a few times, at a few places, and even of a guy in a truck next to us at a stop light.
        No one knew, and all indicated that they live there.
        That’s strange, to me.

        1. Bukko Boomeranger

          It’s not always bad to have GPS direct you to go THROUGH a place. (Maybe not one as large as Austin, though.) The ex and I used to take long road trips through France and Italy in hire cars. We had a stand-alone Garmin GPS, not part of a smartphone system, so it didn’t leave any trace of our travels connected with our names. (Not that we were doing anything wrong, except for the souvenirs from Amsterdam, but we place a high value on being off the radar.) We’d often put the settings on “avoid toll roads” so we could stay off the Autostradas, etc. and see more of the countryside. The GPS would plot courses that would send us busting through all sorts of little villages, down narrow streets that I was SURE must have been footpaths, but they always turned out to be legitimate roads. It was an amazing way to get a look at how people live off the major routes. I feel as though I know those countries better as a result.

          I relied on maps for decades while driving. I can read ’em well and have an innate sense of direction. (Must be pigeon genes in me somewhere!) But I’ll take a GPS over a map any day, even though it has spoilt my ability to navigate without one. Because now when I drive through a new area, I can do so with confidence, instead of the hesitance and anxiety of “Is the turn coming up? Was that our exit? Familybloggit!!!”

          My only worry is that my GPS unit, which we bought in 2005, is going to stop being supported by the software that allows it to link with satellites. The maps on it are way old, which makes navigation interesting in areas with rapid growth and new roads. A minor inconvenience, though, compared to fumbling with fold-out maps. I WILL say that I’ll never get aGPS unit that’s connected to the ‘Net, because fark using something that leaves a trail for the SSurveillance SState.

      3. Oregoncharles

        Some of our paper maps have elaborate notations on them for places we’ve found, usually by accident.

        In particular, there’s a creek in the Cascades we’ve explored from end to end, finding some truly spectacular places along it. We like to hike IN the creek, wearing water shoes. It’s very slow, compared to dry hiking, and you acquire a few bruises, but you quickly get away from other people (the place is surprisingly busy) and find things, like a waterfall that is not on the Forest Service map.

        We marked that on the map.

    4. Jeremy Grimm

      Digital cameras are indeed a nice invention already in earlier comments and I’d rather comment on e-books. I’m not clear what makes a device ‘smart’. I don’t view e-books as especially smart but I do have a very low opinion of the currently available e-books to the point that I believe ‘true’ e-books have not as yet been invented. What are called e-books are proprietary platforms created to sell books in a proprietary electronic format ideally locking e-book readers to e-book format. Book publishers, one in particular, want to eliminate all the costs of printing and binding paper books and capture all those saved costs for their profit. That is to say I have the impression that authors receive little or no increase in their portion of these profits over ordinary book sales and readers receive little savings from their purchase of e-books in place of a paperback. Small publishers without an e-book platform of their own face bleak options. The proliferation of e-book platforms and readers creates added complexity to preparing a book for publication. In the end you could say I believe the intent which guided e-book design resulted in an item I loathe to call an e-book.

      Allowing my imagination to fly about, might it be possible to design a reliable low power electrophoretic screen with a decent switching rate and a driver for displaying TEX’s dvi format? Might the device also have a powerful Postscript interface? Electronic memories are fast and cheap but less durable than acid rich paperback paper. Is there some external memory technology for my library which might offer the durability of a stone inscription possibly an image based technology using old school optical means for reading the information — something like a quartz or stainless metal based microfiche? Might a digital compatible format accompany the page images to enable my e-book to format the display to fit my weakening eyes, or read to me with a human-like voice and inflection? Might the book present braille if my eyes might fail? If I wanted to follow a derivation of Planck’s explanation of black-body radiation might my e-book provide an animated flow showing the end-to-end of the derivation. The wings of my imagination continue their flights but I think enough is captured for now.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        It’s even worse, but I am not sure how much Amazon is to blame versus e-books. Mid-list books, the ones that sell 5,000 to say 30,000 copies, were the bread and butter of a publisher’s business. They’d do mid list books all day with the hope and expectation (not unrealistic) that some would become bestsellers.

        No more. Advances to mid-list books have collapsed. I got a terrible advance on my first book and won’t write a second one because the advance would be no good. And don’t tell me to do an e-book. No way would I make enough to justify the time commitment, plus I’d have to lay out costs (like an editor, copyreader, and indexer)

        1. UserFriendly

          The only reason I prefer ebooks is because I am a horribly slow reader with bad ADD. I have an impossibly hard time getting anywhere with real books. I’m usually off thinking about my day while my eyes keep going through the motions after the 2nd paragraph. Usually I don’t even notice until I’ve gone another 2 pages or so. Text to Speech has totally changed my life. I can set the speed so fast that most people have no idea what is going on as well as multi task. I don’t know what I’d do without it.

        2. charles 2

          And don’t tell me to do an e-book. No way would I make enough to justify the time commitment, plus I’d have to lay out costs (like an editor, copyreader, and indexer)

          Never considered crowdfunding for an e-book ? You already have a brand, a committed readership ; that could work… I would chip in, definitely.

    5. Mark Alexander

      I’ll agree that not having to deal with the film and chemicals is a huge improvement. But I still miss my two old non-digital cameras, and don’t see anything like them in the digital world.

      The first was a Nikon FM. It was totally manual, but it did have a spot meter that was pretty nice: I’d adjust the exposure while pointing the spot (center of viewfinder) at something middle gray, then reframe the shot and fire the shutter. Plus the manual controls were super-easy to learn and I could operate them without looking at them. Plus the camera had a depth-of-field preview that was handy. Plus if the battery (only used for the spot meter) wore out, the camera would still work.

      The second was 4×5 field view camera. I didn’t have a darkroom so I used Polaroid sheet film. The pictures were wonderful, as were the shift and tilt controls.

      I have been hoping that digital equivalents of these two old cameras would someday become available for a reasonable price, but so far no luck

        1. Mark Alexander

          Thanks for the correction. It’s been a couple of decades since I had my hands on that old FM, so I’d forgotten some details, obviously.

          I really miss some of the old photo technology. Those wonderful landscapes by Adams, Weston, Bullock, et. al, were all done with view cameras and huge negatives.

  6. Livius Drusus

    I think that much of the mania over smart devices is really a product of their use as status symbols over any really functionality or need for smart devices over dumb ones. To use an anecdote, a friend of mine didn’t have a smartphone until several months ago. He doesn’t need a smartphone for work and got along fine with his “dumb” flip phone. One night we were having dinner with some mutual friends and one of them told my buddy that his flip phone made him “look poor.” Those were his exact words and he said it in all seriousness. You could tell by the look on my friend’s face that those words upset him. The next time I saw my friend he had an expensive smartphone. Owning “smart” stuff today is what owning Louis Vuitton handbags/wallets and other designer clothes and accessories were in the 1990s.

    As for my favorite dumb devices, I find writing in a daily planner to be much easier than operating an e-calendar. I feel that it forces me to keep track of deadlines, appointments and other things that I have to do more than just entering them into a device where they become forgotten among the many other apps and things to play with.

    1. marieann

      I’d be taking this as a complement…..I don’t even have a dumb phone, I don’t even have a cordless phone ours are 30 years old and attached to the wall.

      Luddite and proud of it.

      I do use GPS but only after I checked it out with a map, for years I would double check my calculator by doing the math.

    2. jrs

      maybe not only look poor but look *OLD* as in out of date etc.. Not really an impression one wants to give, and even less so if one actually is over 40 in a culture as youth obsessed as the U.S., not as long as they still have to sell themselves out there in the world.

    3. audrey jr

      Smart phones as a status symbol is a trend I have long noted as well.
      Members of my own extended family seem to be buying into this nonsense.
      Glad they don’t live anywhere near me.
      It’s bad enough that they refuse to put these devices down when I visit and insist on bringing them to the dinner table.
      These “smart devices” also appear to me to be killing people instinct to survive.
      If you won’t look up in rapt attention while attempting to cross a busy street, well, that could be a problem.

    4. Duke of Prunes

      I can’t find the link, but I read an article relating the dominance of Google/Facebook/Apple to satisfying human’s most basic need for Knowledge/Community/Love. That is, Google = Knowledge, Facebook = Community and Apple = Love.

      How does Apple satisfy our need for Love? It’s all about showing off to the opposite sex – an Apple product demonstrates that you have “means” and, hence, are a good potential mate.

      I’m pretty sure the article was written by a psychologist or possibly a sociologist. Not just somebody’s opinion piece (although with the softer sciences sometimes it is hard to tell).

    5. TastySharkSnack

      Yes, I think I’m the last of my friends to still hold on to my old flip phone, which is funny since I work for a mobile game company. Although I occasionally get some old school cred for it.

  7. Martin Finnucane

    Flip phone. Cheap, durable, compact, and does about 99% of anything useful that I would want to do on a smart phone – i.e., send calls, receive calls, store contacts, send text, receive text.

    Ledger-style calendar. I keep my appointments in a bound appointment book. I used to use Google-whatever, but actually found scribbling in to-dos and ticklers more convenient.

    Real books. Library card and intra-library loan makes so much available, and as the research suggests real books are so much better to read. Sometimes I browse books on Amazon, then check out the same at my local library. I get the little ones involved too, so literacy is a family affair in a way I don’t think it could be with over-the-internet e-book thingy delivery.

  8. TG

    My favorite dumb device is a light switch.

    Costs like 49 cents. Lasts nearly a lifetime (sometimes a lot more, depending on your lifetime). Immune to software glitches, can’t be disabled remotely, no need for upgrades or remotes or apps. Won’t fry with a lighting strike (well, anything except an extreme direct hit). Recalls the last setting after a power failure. Essentially 100% energy efficient. No ‘vampire’ current drain when off. If one does break, can be easily replaced with an exact model that you can get anywhere that is 100% compatible. No EULA. Works instantly (well, within a nanosecond, give or take).

    1. Randy

      I agree but my wife doesn’t seem to realize a switch is a binary device. She turns them on but doesn’t turn them off. I follow her around the house turning off what she has turned on and forgotten about as soon as she leaves the room. LOL.

  9. Eureka Springs

    I can attest to Siri making people stupid. It’s a frustrating wonder sitting in a vehicle with a very smart person (on most things) who now cedes all decision making over to that voice, even when it’s clearly a poor decision. And yet I could do little because the map siri provides allows for pitiful self navigation. I would have to monitor a google map page simultaneously which is difficult in tight traffic conditions. As an iphone owner I was also alarmed to learn apple, in order to activate siri on your own phone, requires establishment of your voice print, which I will never allow. Oddly once that is done it seems to recognize any voice so it’s not some sort of safety feature.

    1. Carolinian

      A friend of mine was driving me around Atlanta and using Siri to try to find non trivial items like the new Braves stadium. Siri’s responses were ridiculously inept.

      By contrast I use a Garmin GPS on long car trips and it never steers me wrong unless I’m on a road that is new and not in its database in which case it does indeed wig out.

    2. cocomaan

      Apple Maps once drove me right toward the rear entrance to a prison in State College, PA. I slammed on the brakes when I read the sign saying that trespassers could be dealt with using lethal force if they went beyond that point.

      Suffice to say, I was screaming at my phone while reversing.

      It then spent a long time trying to get me to turn around and go back into the prison. It’s a really awful maps system.

      More recently, yesterday, Google led me to believe a store was open when it was not. These systems aren’t getting any better.

      1. CanCyn

        It would help immensely if you could preview a route or choose some options while looking at the maps instead of pre-filters like highways/tollroads, etc. Not to mention that I have to configure & choose routes with the engine running – whatever happened to ‘no idling”??
        A GPS system once took me into a back service entrance at the airport and wanted me to drive through a fence and cross a runway. My Subaru GPS has tried to take me down one way streets the wrong way on more than one occasion. It once turned me down a narrow laneway into a dead end parking lot that was the exact opposite direction of where I was actually going. I don’t use it anymore. I check google maps before I go, memorize my route, check highway information sites for construction and traffic news before I leave and have a paper map back up in the car in case I get lost.

        1. Carolinian

          I can only speak about the Garmin device I have but you do have the option of selecting your own preferred route using waypoints and then have the unit usefully tell you when to turn. One reason I started using GPS is that in the paper map era it was easy to miss turns if you didn’t have a handy navigator in the next seat telling you when. With the Garmin if you do miss your turn it will recalculate the next best turn.

          Map books are still good for giving an overview and planning routes in advance. I also have detailed–down to the street number–maps of the entire US on my laptop. Map books for this would fill the entire back seat.

          And most of these maps were free via Open Street Maps which covers the entire planet and not just the US. I’ve found these maps to be highly accurate and up to date.

    3. jrs

      But you point out the advantage of GPS tech, looking at a map while driving in traffic can be distracting, although actually if one plans one’s route ahead of time it tends to work out.

      1. bob

        The ‘hands-free’ voice directions via a dedicated gps unit are a big accident saver. You can keep your eyes in the road and your hands on the wheel.

        Yes, they’re wrong a lot.

  10. Laughingsong

    Dumb phone. Dumb TV. Thomas Bros. maps. The thermostat is “smart” I guess (we were not given a choice when we had to replace the heat pump) but we refuse to pair it with the wireless, which we restrict to manually entered MAC addresses only. Books. Why would I want to be in the middle of a great read when my battery dies? Why do I want everything I own to require power or batteries? Last time I needed to replace a broken oral thermometer I had to go to 4 stores to find a regular old non-battery-operated kind. Seriously.

    And at this point, although I know that the technology involved is always changing, I don’t necessarily think that it will change for the better. Too much crapification.

  11. Annieb

    Have to say that I am not a big fan of car GPS and I always have a backup map, usually Directions from a maps app but sometimes an actual paper map!
    I am with those of you who are suspicious of Alexa, I never use Siri, have a dumb but programmable thermostat, no smart appliances, and have a 10 year old TV that is only smart enough to stream movies. Yes, even though I am old, I am plenty smart enough to use the technology that I choose. I just choose NOT.

  12. Duck1

    What about the inability to access old formats? I have a set of snapshots on a WD external drive copied from an iMac , I believe an early 00’s vintage machine. Unable to view with newer macs or easily figure out how to translate to Windows format. Smart.

      1. Dan

        As an archaeologist this question cubes me much grief. There is going to be a huge gap in historical records starting around 2000, since so much communication has moved from US mail to an infinity of ephemeral formats: email, text, AOL messenger, Facebook, MySpace, WhatsApp, etc. the fact that several of these platforms are defunct in less than a decade. My kids will be able to read all their great – grandparents’ letters, since we have the physical media, but we’ll they be able to read my Facebook posts? i doubt it very much.

        1. c_heale

          But does this matter. I think this obsession with storing all information is counterproductive. Information is not knowledge. The danger is that digital technology is causing us to lose our ability to do things, navigate, commuicate with a group of people etc. For example, in the future, growing crops without artificial fertilisers or pesticides may be of supreme importance.

        2. pricklyone

          Your kids (if they are young enough)will not read great-grandparents letters. They are not being taught cursive writing, now. My nephew, 12 yo couldn’t read historical documents in their original state. (Let the ramifications of that set in)!
          Anyhow, they are being propagandized that “the old” have nothing to say to the young, anyway.

    1. lyle

      If the drive still works then there exist services that for a fee that will transfer them to newer media. This is actually a some what booming market, Services exist that will transfer old physical movies to dvd (avoiding the long term fading problem) as well as old photos (not that a lot of color prints from the 1960s have now had serious color fade. Depending on the format of the digital files photoshop may be able to convert them, or the services may have software. In general a lot of the horror stories about lost data apply to the older bespoke government systems that only a few systems were made that did them. And further if you happen to still have the discs that the software came on in particular in the windows environment you can use an emulator to run windows 95 on a modern pc.

      1. pricklyone

        This is a drive problem, really. A JPEG or GIF, or TIFF is identical cross platform. The problem is from the constant push to fit more bytes on physical media, and the desire of Apple to be different than the competition.

  13. Greg Taylor

    My Verizon dumbphone got too expensive last summer for the little bit that I was using it so I took a Android 5.1 device that had been cast aside and connected it to a $10/mo plan (500 talk min, 500 texts, 500MB data) that uses the AT&T network. It provides more than enough capacity for my needs and the plan limitations help ensure I don’t become overly dependent. Not sure why but it also sends and delivers text messages a bit more reliably than my dumbphone.

    Buses only run every 30 min to an hour in my small city so the app that tracks them by GPS has been very useful. I don’t use GPS for navigation while driving. However, accessing maps and email when traveling has been useful.

    It is easy to inadvertently allow apps to scrape your contacts and invade your privacy on a smartphone. Found out the hard way and now minimize the number of apps loaded on the device. That’s a bigger issue for me than government surveillance.

    I’m saving maybe a couple of hundred dollars a year connecting via smartphone, getting a few useful features that I value and losing privacy. In the end, my privacy wasn’t worth the cost and loss of those features. If I could have hooked up the dumbphone for $10/mo, I’d have kept the service.

    1. audrey jr

      Tracfone was my service for years as I don’t use my dumbphone for much of anything other than when I travel to see family, etc.
      I never spent more than $10.00 monthly with them and always bought the 29.99 – had triple minutes – so the $30 I would spend would last around 3 months or more.
      Maybe Tracfone still has these same prepaid cards. They sure saved me lots of money.

      1. Greg Taylor

        I can’t find a dumbphone for sale on the Tracphone site anymore. They won’t / can’t use my old Verizon dumbphone either. It’s getting hard and expensive to start new dumbphone service.

        1. flora

          Probably because the US turned off its 2G networks in favor of 3G and 4G networks. AT&T turned off 2G a year ago. 3G and 4G networks are both for web enabled devices. So the older, really dumb phones, like the Nokia 3310 2G, which is available in India and Africa, won’t work in the US. (Nokia may release a 3G version of the 3310 in the US, but you’ll be able to browse the web on it if you purchase a web service plan, so not entirely a dumb phone.)

          What I call my “dumb phone” is a 3G phone I haven’t added a web service plan to. I just have call/text service enabled. My great old real dumb phone was a 2G phone and no longer works on any plan in the US.

  14. ambrit

    Since this is an economics blog first and foremost, let me mention the obvious ‘dumb’ thing, money, aka Cash.
    We use a debit card because most payment streams use cards only now. But we always keep enough physical fiat on hand to tide us over those embarrassing electricityless periods. Plus the anonymizing function of cash. There are just some things that you do not want anyone else knowing about.
    We’re so Luddite bound that we do not have central air or heat. Somehow, yelling “Open the window Alexa!” doesn’t sound quite right.
    Strangely enough, the embedded video presentation did not stir much empathy in me for either protagonist. The young lady was too, too self assured. The old geezer was too nice to be like any of the bosses I have had over the years. Most youngsters approaching an interview that I observed were very much more fear based in their attitudes. the bosses, or all age groups, had more of a ‘hard edged’ way with them.

    1. cocomaan

      We’re so Luddite bound that we do not have central air or heat.

      We have oil heat/water, but no AC. Most of the heat in the winter is from our wood burning stove.

      When people hear that you have no AC, they are shocked. But my philosophy is that unless you’re uncomfortable, you don’t know how to be comfortable.

      1. jrs

        I think it’s presumptuous to judge people with A/C mostly as it depends on climate (there are climates in the U.S. where no A/C is no problem and those where it is a living nightmare, it’s like bragging about having no heating in southern california – ok but climate change or not it can get cold but only within limits). But it also depends on building design, a house with a giant shade tree and overhead porches, can’t be compared to the top floor (heat rises) of some badly designed apartment building. The house will be 10 degrees cooler all summer long without any AC, maybe cooler than the badly designed apartment gets even with it’s ratty old window box AC unit.

    2. E Connaughton

      Yep, three cheers for cash. It’s not just for gangsters and old farmers to hoard. I do feel for anyone who sincerely believes that it is somehow retrograde to not be dependent on debit cards

      1. paintedjaguar

        Enjoy it while you can. As of this month, my local electric co. is no longer accepting any sort of payment at their offices. If you want to pay in cash you must now use a third party location like a Western Union kiosk, and it will cost you an extra $1.50 fee for the privilege of paying your bill.

        Debit & credit card payments are even worse – $2.25 in extra fees. Clearly the intent is to force you to use a bank account and preferably give the electric company automatic access to it. This is the future.

  15. sharonsj

    When I saw the headline I immediately thought “dumb” meant our electorate.

    And though I may have a computer and use Google maps to find locations, I carry plenty of paper maps in the car because Google is often wrong. Plus, I refuse to have a GPS. It’s like having a backseat driver.

  16. DoNCoyote

    Growing up, I still remember “touring” the US with my family in a VW camper. The glove compartment was always overflowing with paper fold-out maps of various states/regions.

    I still like MapQuest as my replacement for those maps–I can print out the region(s) I plan to visit at the detail level that I want. Definitely better than a GPS device or phone for directions.

    Someone else mentioned digital vs traditional cameras. I still remember my dad carrying around bags with 50 rolls of film on trips. Digital memory is better than film, and digital cameras are now almost as good as manual. My dad, as official photographer for my daughter’s wedding last week, shot the entire wedding on his digital camera.

    Critical thinking is still important–the latest is not always the greatest, and there are very few improvements that are better in every respect than what they are replacing. As with self-driving cars–we may not get there, but some of the technology developed toward that end will probably prove useful for most driving.

  17. Stupendous Man - Defender of Liberty, Foe of Tyranny


    The first practical radar system was produced in 1935. WWII caused rapid improvements, and deployment, of the new technology. Prior to that there was a large number of people on the planet that had a working knowledge of navigation by the stars. Not everyone had skills developed to the fine edge needed by a captain at sea, but lots of folks had at least some basic skills. Since WWII the number has been in decline.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Navigation by the stars is fine for latitude but how were they at longitude? I thought that was a little more complicated.

      1. Synoia

        Requires an accurate clock. Today’s wrist watch works well.

        However the Polynesians succeeded in ways we have yet to understand.

  18. Ed Miller

    This may be old news to people here but GPS-based directions have actually killed people in Oregon. The problem is probably fixed for this case (because it was big in local news). People have/had been given driving instructions for reaching Gold Beach, Oregon which directed them to take the shortest route which is from Grants Pass over the mountains on forest service roads. Those not familiar with those particular roads are easily lost. In one case a family visiting from California got lost in the winter, stuck in the snow. The driver tried to walk out and didn’t make it (leaving out very unpleasant details).

    Trust your brain, not your device.

    1. Oregoncharles

      Thanks, I was going to mention this.

      OTOH, even maps can be misleading in the woods; we’ve driven for miles only to be stopped by a gate – which didn’t show on the map.

  19. nihil obstet

    I can’t speak to this very much because I’ve had virtually no smart devices. I have a flip phone, which works for what I need.

    I don’t have GPS, but occasionally consider getting it, because when I’m going somewhere I don’t know in moderate or heavy traffic, slowing down to check the names of cross streets can be almost dangerous. If I need to check the directions again, I have to find a place to pull over and then to get back in traffic. I wouldn’t care if the GPS sent me the best route or not, just let me concentrate on the driving. Also, cabs can find my house now with GPS. I used to have a real problem getting a cab at a given time, because I’d keep calling the cab company which would tell me that the cab was driving around looking for me (I live on a short street in a central city). Got to some medical appointments late that way, and nearly missed a plane.

    I have a Nook ebook. I much much much prefer reading most things on dead organic matter. However, it’s handy to take to places where carrying a few books might be a pain, and it’s not much worse than a cheap paperback. I read the entire war poetry of Siegfried Sassoon on my ebook in doctors’ waiting and examination rooms. And got a good start on Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. (I’m really pretty healthy despite the comments I’m making here.)

    I have a smart TV which I don’t allow near the internet. I’m not sure if any of the features I use are “smart” or not.

    I totally depend on my electronic calendar. It’s a lot more convenient than paper — I can check it in the morning at the same time as email. I can search it (how long has it been since I . . . .?) It can include lots of information that I probably wouldn’t put in a paper scheduling book (location with address, phone #, instructions on what to take, etc.)

    Filing — I do the paper files for important stuff, but I prefer electronic files. Ever try to remember whether you replaced the roof on your house more or less than 20 years ago for the sake of getting insurance quotes? Pawing through paper files to find the year is a time-consuming pain. I suppose relying on electronics weakens my memory, but schedules and times are not the memory strengthening exercises I would choose.

    1. Martin Finnucane

      Go to a Cricket store. They’ll sell you a flip phone for about $25. The unlimited plan (month-to-month, btw) in my area is $25. I’d assumed that every carrier has an option like that, but maybe not. Your best bet may be to go to places you find in the Mall, next to hair supply places, etc.

    2. lyman alpha blob

      Never had any mobile phone myself but when the kid gets older, I may need one if I still want to talk to her and would only purchase a flip phone. I will never own a ‘smart’ phone.

      Question: considering the link in the article about every phone being hackable, can we really be sure that newly minted flip phones don’t have some nasty software in them that will still allow you to be tracked, our record your voice, etc?

      I may get one some day, but not if it’s fill of spook-ware.

      1. Anon

        You can be “tracked” even with a dumb phone. Not as accurately as GPS. And not as easily as using “nosey” apps. But I assure you, a search warrant will force your service provider to give up cell tower data that will place you geographically in a relatively small area. (And at very specific time of day.)

    3. hunkerdown

      The Chinese make some interesting and strange novel dumbphones for domestic consumption, although by and large they haven’t caught up to modern networks and might or might not work on any given carrier. Aliexpress wouldn’t be the worst place to start.

  20. Tim

    I prefer reading on paper. But ebooks (the novel type) on the phone are more convenient to carry. Since I always have my phone with me, I tend to read more ebooks than paper.

  21. rd

    I have never used Siri. My wife is baffled by this.

    I use Google Maps for directions in a car or walking but only after first using a paper map to understand the road patterns and the final details of getting to the location. Google Earth photos are useful to actually see the physical layout and Streetview is also useful to actually see the location before you get there.

    Casio calculators, a pad of paper, and a pencil for first run engineering calculations. They let you play with things to figure out how a problem works. The spreadsheet comes later when you need to do do multiple iterations changing parameters.

    I like both books and my Samsung 7″ tablet. I can get good books from the library on my tablet with ease and they take up no space when travelling. Paper books are still the best for anything like a reference book or textbook.

    I use DVD players hooked up to the internet for streaming. I am avoiding a “Smart TV” like the plague. However, we do end up with a lot of remotes that many people in my family struggle to use. You have to understand the logic train of what connects up to what and what drives what. Most people don’t want to think logically and simply want everything to turn on simultaneously. The same people also struggle to hang pictures or troubleshoot anything with a car or bicycle.

    I use a Polar heart rate monitor, especially on gym equipment. It is useful for making sure I am in the right zone for the type of exercise I am doing but I don’t bother with the electronic logbooks. My iPhone with the location settings off will still count my steps to monitor overall level of activity during the day.

    A simple Casio G-Shock watch will survive everything and keep accurate time.

    The last thing in the world I want is any sort of appliance, furnace, water heater etc. hooked up to the internet. I want reliable stand-alone appliances. Why would I want bored teenagers controlling my furnace or my fridge communicating with the store? Light switches are simple to operate.

    I like the modern safety equipment on cars, like back-up cameras, side mirror cameras or sensors, electronic stability control etc. I am not interested in my car having a social life on the internet though.

  22. Wukchumni

    We never use a GPS, either in the backcountry, or on the roads.

    We’ve been using good old 7 1/2 & 15 minute paper topo maps forever in the High Sierra, and they are so simple, yet concise. The lay of the land is all about contour lines and how close to one another they are.

    I still walk dumb miles outside, as luckily, high technology offered no fancy alternative to old school skills of placing one leg in front of the other and so on…

    …and I never cared for wearing a watch, and something that timed me or told me how many steps i’d traipsed, er no thanks.

    We were at my sister’s house and she has Alexa as a permanent house guestapo, and it was fun having it do whatever we asked, but very D-I-Y Stasi, we felt. And if it came down to your word against Alexa’s…

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      my heart rate monitor is my index finger. works like a charm, in any weather.
      as for “home entertainment”…except for jury rigged netflix capability, using whatever video game consoles, laptops or whatever we come across…it’s mostly hooked up to ancient tv’s that we inherited from somewhere…one is quite old, kept around b/c it has likely the last VCR machine in existence as an integral part of it.
      Outside, my whole little compound turns into a beer joint at the flip of an analog A/B switch…speakers of varying provenance strung through the trees, sometimes in weatherproof cabinets made from scrap, and wired with old extension cords, salvaged from the dump.
      Sourcing for music is laptop, atm…but I have dvd and even Vinyl options, too. Barring that, a few acoustic guitars, a fiddle and a variety of weird drums and things will serve if the grid goes down.
      never throw anything away, has been my motto for years,lol.

    2. Carolinian

      All those legacy USGS topo maps are available for pdf download now. I have the local ones on my cheapie 7 inch tablet. Don’t have to fold them up. Do have to keep the battery charged.

      And yes those old topo maps in multiple colors and hand written notations are quite beautiful. The newer ones from USGS are made by computer and are quite ugly.

  23. a different chris

    >Algorithms are just opinions expressed in math

    Heaven forbid anybody thinks I *normally* think that I am worthy of correcting the inestimable Dr. O’Neill, but as a computer programmer I know:

    Algorithms are just badly expressed opinions via a very approximated math model plus bugs!

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      I’m a big fan of Cathy O’Neill, but her aphorism would have stronger if she’d written, “Algorithms are just opinions and interests expressed in math.’

  24. Jeremy Grimm

    I tend to think of ‘smart’ as a marketing word with about as much meaning as the phrase ‘new and improved’. Rather than contrasting smart with dumb I think it were more useful to view each new item as the Amish might. “The Amish seek to master technology rather than become its slave.” [https://groups.etown.edu/amishstudies/cultural-practices/technology/]

  25. Damson

    Agree especially with point no. 2.

    Virgin are currently doing the rounds in neighborhood, offering exactly this total ‘package’.

    I said no thanks, I don’t want one service provider in control of all my communication devices.

    I use a prepay smartphone, accessing wifi as well as networks.

    Recently tried to find a second hand washing machine to replace current model without computer components.

    Sadly, they’ve gone the way of the dodo.

    I do think there is a tech backlash, with more and more actively seeking mechanically – operated white goods, and rejecting the whole smart integration package.

    Maybe HAL has more of a battle ahead of ‘him’ than the tech overlords expected…

    The resurgence of interest in vinyl is a good indicator.

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      Aye. the washer we got for a wedding present, 18 years ago, finally bit the dust(at the end, there, I was afraid to go near it when it was running)…so we’ve been going next door to use mom’s.
      both of her machines sing and ask questions and even scold you.
      and they both run on Football Time…it might say “15 minutes”…but it means””maybe another hour, maybe 30 minutes, who can say?…”
      Kenmore still makes the frill-less stupid kind…I ordered one yesterday. about $300…

      and if your really into luddism:
      I have all the parts and pieces for one of these gathered in one place…awaiting sufficient big wire to run to the welder’s corner in the shop

  26. RUKidding

    My boss laughs at me, but then who does she call when one of her numerous digital devices fails? Moi, of course.

    I keep a variety of info in such “dumb” tools as address books, or a notebook that I started to keeping when I first started working here. The latter lists a number of important things that I continue to look up now (after more than a decade on the job).

    While I do rely on our work electronic calendaring system, I also keep an analog date book on my desk. It better helps me to organize my day, make personal notes, and so forth. And it will never fail me if the power goes out or the LAN goes down.

    I do keep my passwords in a locked (yeah, it can be broken) Excel spreadsheet, but it’s on my desktop PC only, and I constantly print off new spreadsheets to use. Yeah, these could potentially get lost and get in the wrong hands, but it’s not that likely. I’d rather do it this way than keep my “secret” data in a cloud.

    I have a dumb thermostat at home that I refuse to program for day/time. I turn it on & off when needed.

    I certainly have NO “smart” devices spying on me. Most of my appliances are older anyway.

    I don’t like GPS’s for the reasons stated in the post. I’ve had far too many bogus encounters with other people’s GPS devices being either completely wrong (as in: steering you in the opposite direction from where you should be going) or trying to take you on a dumb route. I do check my phone once in a while for directions, but I prefer paper maps. Some of my friends laugh at me, but hey: they never fail or run out of batteries.

    I refuse to use exercise devices, as I don’t want to be tracked in the cloud. I gave away a free fitbit to a friend of mine. I work out all the time, anyway, and don’t need a fitbit for motivation. If that helps someone to get off their butts and move, then that’s a good thing. But not for me.

    I would never have an apple watch. No thanks. I have some dumb watches, and my alarm clock is batterly operated.

    Keep it simple, stupid.

  27. Craig H.

    iphone 6 in use daily but nowhere near constantly. The lowest battery level I can recall ever seeing on it is 64%. The other day I was watching James Corbett being interviewed on the subject of the surveillance infrastructure surrounding us and he called the smart cell phone a fondle-slab. Urban Dictionary has a 2010 usage for this idiom but that was the first time I had heard it.

    Tower of Power, What is Hip? is from 1973

  28. dbk

    I have to replace both my stove and my refrigerator soon, both are 20 years old and have done good service.

    I told a friend “I want a dumb stove and dumb refrigerator,” and he confused “dumb” with “cheap.”

    Am looking for four burners and an oven, period. And a refrigerator with a single “smart” feature, automatic defrosting. That’s it.

    I’m almost afraid to start looking for replacements.

    1. Wukchumni

      The dumbest stove I have is this Rube Goldberg-like metal contraption called a Pocket Cooker that collapses down into a 6 x 4 inch padded bag. When unfolded into it’s intended purpose, it’s 8 inches wide at the bottom and 4 inches wide and tall, with a little side door that opens easily to continually add little sticks and tinder to keep the fire going within, on which your pot is sitting on top of. Just $12.95


    2. Oregoncharles

      Our stove must have been 20 years old when we BOUGHT it. It was cheap, but it’s an Amana. We had to replace a burner at the time and find another oven rack; there’s another burner I should replace – they just plug in, new ones are about $20. And sometimes we have to oil the hinges.

      Washers are a little different, because they have bearings and belts that wear out. We have a good repair business in town; not everybody would. When I called them about our dishwasher (also bought used), they told me it would cost more to repair than to replace. Eventually our son figured out the quirk – we have personalities, why shouldn’t it? So we’ll get another couple of years out of it.

      Again, it’s mainly because we’re cheap; but the more I hear about “smart” appliances, the more I want t avid them.

  29. Arthur J

    I have many hi-tech things, being a computer geek even at my age. I use a GPS in the car, because it can be useful for going places I haven’t been before. I do also however carry a relatively comprehensive map book for my area and the Mrs. will usually flip through it to find a more scenic route to get to the city we want, and just use the GPS to navigate the last few miles of unfamiliar city streets.

    I much prefer my vast (~5500 items) book collection for reading as opposed to e-readers. There is one small category that I use my iPad for, which is IBM technical reference manuals. These can run to well over 1200 pages (looking at you z/Architecture Principle of Operations) and the ability to quickly jump around via the table of contents or bookmarks far outweighs the feel factor of actual paper.

    My TV and video appliances are not connected to the internet and I would never consider for a minute buying things like a Nest or anything else that requires an internet connection to function. If I can’t do it on my computer which I control, then I don’t need it.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I depend on my GPS when I attempt driving to a new location. I often can’t read the road signs with street names — that is if I can find them. Large intersection often don’t have road signs or place them on the far side of the cross street at an angle making them difficult to read. The signs for street names on smaller streets are often too faded and too small to read. The signage on our freeways does little to help you know what lane to be in soon enough to make a difference in traffic. Without my GPS voice telling me what lane and where to make the next turn I’d spend every trip re-tracing back to missed turns. The U-Turn laws here make any re-tracing extremely difficult and time consuming — as in traveling a mile or so on some state business highways before reaching a jug-handle with a turn-about and the jug-handle is usually full with cars.

  30. lyman alpha blob

    Dumb car.

    At the risk of someone stealing my brilliant idea, I’ve been wanted a less electronic-dependent car since about the days of the electric lock. I’m thinking early 80’s era Escort-type car where if you have a basic knowledge of auto mechanics, you can fix a lot of things yourself.

    With so many people having a hard time making ends meet, there would seem to be a demand for a cheap car with no electronics. I need a car to get me from place to place, not to be an entertainment center or an internet portal. I can back up just fine without all the cameras etc. My current car is 10 years old and I’m worried I won’t be able to get a car that isn’t filled with a bunch of electronic crap I don’t want when I go to buy a new one.

    1. Arthur J

      I can thoroughly recommend a 1978 Chrysler New Yorker. Large, comfy sofa style seating, plenty of legroom and trunk space for luggage. Apart from the radio, no electronics of any kind. Somewhat increased thirst compared to say a Toyota Echo, but not insurmountable. Relatively inexpensive to purchase these days, with almost mint vehicles to be had for $3500 or so.

      One difficulty is locating qualified mechanics. Most shop techs tend tend to scratch their heads and ask me “Where’s the OBD port ? If I can’t get the computer to tell me what’s wrong, I can’t fix it”. LOL

    2. Knifecatcher

      I’m a pretty serious car nut and agree 100% that cars shouldn’t be talking to the internet for any reason. But if you remove all electronics from your car you’re now talking about points based ignitions and carburetors instead of fuel injection. No thanks.

      Electronic ignition and fuel injection are legitimate technological improvements that have vastly improved reliability and horsepower while decreasing emissions and fuel consumption. Add in a catalytic converter while you’re at it. I love cars, but I also love breathing.

  31. polecat

    We own a chiming pendulum clock .. handed down from grand parents, to parents, and lastly to yours truly. I don’t know who’s dumber … it, for having to be wound-up every few days … or me, for feeling compelled to wind it as needed.
    The one thing we both have, is a close, synchronous relationship .. with no outside interference ! ‘;]

  32. Brooklin Bridge

    When you buy a new car these days, don’t you automatically get GPS, like it or not, and are you not tracked and recorded in some cloud for every inch you drive? (never mind all the stuff tracking you from outside your vehicle). Just turning the car on is an agreement to the “we value your privacy” conditions of the vehicle maker, no? And I imagine there will be fine elegant excuses for all electric vehicles to be even more intrusive with no opt-out other than to walk or ride a bike (unless you have public transportation handy but then you are monitored just the same).

    My understanding is that you can no longer even find, never mind buy a TV that doesn’t listen to everything you say, record every channel you watch, how long, probably record your eye movements and facial expressions to boot, and so on, and send it all back to the mother ship for further analysis and storage.

    My concern is that dumb, or unconnected, non data collecting, non spy devices are simply going to disappear. Enter a door by grabbing the handle, (and you agreed to it legally by turning the handle) an analysis of your hand firmness, perspiration content, heart rate, and so on, is sent to the cloud. There does, however, seem to be some islands of hope. From an NC commentariat response to that lament of a few days ago (sorry to have forgotten his/her handle): https://itsfoss.com/librem-linux-phone/

    I love gadgets and I love programming which simply makes me sad and angry that both are being so horribly misused. As Fastball above pointed out, rigged smart voting machines are an excellent example of such misuse.

  33. Pick that Smart Apart

    If you can repair it yourself, it is a good thing.
    If not, it is ”smart”.
    Cars, books, washing machines, tractors, toothbrush, juice blenders etc.

  34. jonhoops

    What a bunch of old curmudgeons :-) GPS is great. Smartphones are great, especially for texting, web surfing and taking pictures/videos. Siri currently is a bit of a bust, but I still use her for setting timers and alarms.

    I like that my watch reminds me to get up from the computer.

    Digital cameras are on the cusp of another sea change. Point and Shoots have already been obliterated by the smartphone cameras. Coming advances in computational photography will soon make DSLR’s obsolete. It will be nice not to have to lug all that gear around to take great pictures.

    While not perfect I like ebooks just for the ability to carry an entire library in my pocket. My moving man will love the fact that I got rid of all my physical books, videos and music.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Some of us regard minimizing being surveilled and geolocated as important.

      And I am on the computer almost all day. When I leave the computer, I don’t want the Internet following me around.

    2. jrs

      there’s a difference between very basic technology like GPS (which still isn’t an absolute necessity mind you) and the breathless wonder with which any kind of new technical whatever gets promoted no matter how mostly useless it often is. The later with start up culture etc. is satire worthy.

    3. Oregoncharles

      Let’s hope your players survive – though the same is true of, for instance, CD’s, or even LPs.

      This is a real consideration; our heritage can be lost because we don’t have the machines to read it.

      1. ambrit

        I am in the middle of ‘fixing’ my twentyfive year old carousel type CD player. The offending parts, believe it or not, are thick rubber bands used as drive trains for rotation. They have stretched beyond their rated tensions. Otherwise, a great tool.

      2. The Rev Kev

        You have no idea how spot on you were with that comment. Back in the 1980s there was what was called the BBC Domesday Project (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Domesday_Project) which was to recreate an updated version of the 1086 Domesday Book. It was supposed to last a thousand years but after only 15 it was entirely unreadable because of changing formats and devices. They had a major project a few years ago to retrieve all this info so that it would never be lost again. Fortunately, this time they succeeded.

  35. Michael Fiorillo

    It’s also important to point out that, while the riff-raff is being herded into digital corrals, the Overclass is buying up/enclosing/taking over every square inch of the analog world.

  36. Oregoncharles

    Personally, I don’t want a phone that’s smarter than I am (don’t agree TOO vociferously). Even my flip phone is a surveillance device.

    Granted, we make considerable use of our son’s or grandson’s smart phones, for GPS, as well as for looking stuff up on the fly. So I can see the usefulness. But personally, I prefer paper maps, despite the handling issues – I have a bit of a fetish about maps. One issue with the GPS, especially on the phone, is that you see only a part of the map; it’s harder, or at least less convenient, to see the whole context.

    Realistically, the real reason we don’t go in for “smart” equipment is that we’re cheap. Why pay extra for a TV or a thermostat that puts your private life on the Internet? Our TV is over 20 years old; they don’t make that kind anymore and won’t try to sell them at the thrift store, but it works just fine (except that the switch to digital cheated us out of most channels). And my wife won’t even use the scheduling feature on our electronic thermostat – puts it on “Hold” and changes the setting when she gets up or goes to bed. But this is partly because our lives aren’t that regular any more..

    Fundamentally, there’s a price to pay for added complexity. You have to decide whether it’s worth it.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      A perfect companion to Eric Schmidt’s classic, “If you have something you don’t want people to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

    2. Summer

      But it’s not about “fear” and “hiding” as much as it is about TRUST.

      Neither Goebbels or Schmidt would be someone I would just “trust” on their word.
      My life depends on me questioning those kinds of people.

      1. Waking Up

        In addition to “Trust”, a large aspect is having CONTROL over our own lives. Danah Boyd addressed this in an article titled, “What is Privacy?”.

        “When powerful actors, be they companies or governmental agencies, use the excuse of something being “public” to defend their right to look, they systematically assert control over people in a way that fundamentally disenfranchises them. This is the very essence of power and the core of why concepts like “surveillance” matter. Surveillance isn’t simply the all-being all-looking eye. It’s a mechanism by which systems of power assert their power. And it is why people grow angry and distrustful. Why they throw fits over being experimented on. Why they cry privacy foul even when the content being discussed is, for all intents and purposes, public.”

        How much of the “smart” technology is taking control of peoples lives?

  37. Pogonip

    Hi Brooklin Bridge, when I got my car new, a 2013 Honda Accord, the saleslady apologized for its not having GPS, so there are some out there if you don’t mind buying used.

    About 25 years ago a colleague and I were printing out form letters, where nothing changes but the name and address (an example of a task for which using a computer does make sense). Then it came time to address the envelopes. The System did not want to print the addresses on the sticky labels, it wanted to print them half on and half off each label. No problem, says I, I’ll just type them up. Nope. Can’t do that. She wants to print the labels on The System. SIX HOURS LATER, she finally gets it to do what I could have done in 20 minutes.

    The problem is not so much computers, as idiots who want computers to do everything, rather than only tasks for which they are suited. And the idiots are in charge.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      And the idiots are in charge. :-)

      Your colleague sounds like a programmer; willing to spend inordinate amounts of time to save a tiny bit of time (but on each iteration). It can be a bad habit.

      2013 does seem to have been a transition point. I know that’s true for the Chevy trucks. You are right, you can still find dumb rides (soon to be clunkers). Because it’s getting so much harder to even understand many things on cars, never mind fix them, I am leery of second hand unless it’s almost new and/or has very low millage. That attitude is not fully justified as cars last a lot longer now than they used to.

      There also seems to be a little push back on some of the creepier aspects of inter-connectivity (like hooking your furnace up to the utility companies computer only to find they over-ride your instructions about what temperature you want when they determine you – and they – would be better off with a different temperature). But as with our response to global warming being slow to change, the trend still seems decidedly tilted towards “your privacy (even your damned genetic make-up) is now belongs to me”

      1. jrs

        some of the newer car feature might be creepy but are really useful at the same time, backup cameras, blindspot cameras etc.. I don’t doubt that they do prevent accidents and it is interesting to see that car safety has moved beyond just minimizing the danger of accidents to trying to prevent them (of course they don’t prevent all user error, it is still best to engage brain before driving).

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          Absolutely, (I love the backup feature and the blindspot one almost as much) my concern is that someone will or can collect that data. Agree spot on when you say it is a mixed bag.

      2. Jen

        It may depend on the car. I seem to recall being able to find a 2017 Subaru – the most basic model – that wasn’t “smart,” but it’s possible I’m just not on to all the ways my car could spy on me.

        I have a good mechanic and intend to keep my current dumb as far as I know car (2008 Honda CRV with 200K miles) until he gives me the DNR. However if I want to keep driving dumb cars, I may decide to upgrade to a less used car sooner rather than later.

        As to back up cameras and the like, I’m not a fan, but they’ve been a boon to my 85 year old father. He’s a much better driver with the car preventing him from tailgating and drifting into other lanes.

    2. polecat

      “High there .. “Our corporation has just invented the SmartHive, constructed of the most questionable quality Chinese recycled materials, that come standard equipped with not one, not two, but THREE 3-D printers … each one containing a proprietary mix of questionable, and exceedingly expensive chemicals .. producing what we hope are propolis, pollen and nectar …. so the bees never have to expend the energy of foraging ! Imagine that ! Your bees … NEVER, EVER having to leave their home !
      And .. if you order NOW, you will receive 1 freed package of what we think we’ve designed as varroa mite-destroying nano-slaughtbots* ! ISN’T • THAT • AWESOME !!!
      We will also throw in a wasp-control drone with every purchase …. be advised however, that it may not be able to distinguish between a wasp, a honey bee, or any avian life within a 5 mile radius.
      Operations is standing by … ”

      *design trials have been rather limited, due to lack of venture capital ..

    3. Duke De Guise

      I have a 2014 Subaru Impreza hatchback.

      All wheel drive, a wide wheelbase for stability, excellent pick-up, good gas mileage and a simple, dashboard with no Internet connections. I receive frequent solicitations from the dealer to trade it in for a new one, since the demand for used Subarus is so high. Could some of that demand be comprised of people looking for a simpler, non-line vehicle?

      The car should last me at least ten more years, and I’m already nervous at the prospect of not finding it or something like it. Same with my forty-year old GE stove…

  38. LawyerCat

    The problem is that the chips are becoming trivially cheap to put into every speaker, TV, light bulb, and kitchen appliance. Everything is going to get chipped, so maybe the better advice is not to connect all that shit to your networks/the internet.

  39. Summer

    As Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction, pointed out, “Algorithms are just opinions expressed in math.”

    Love it.

  40. Summer

    Here’s the thing: ALL of the “smart” household and transport technology all of the time would be great if I:
    1) Lose my sight or hearing
    2) Lose a limb
    3) Lose my brain

    But if I use ALL of the “smart” tech all of the time now, I fear I will lose the strength of:
    1) My sight or hearing
    2) Limbs
    3) My brain

  41. audrey jr

    I am a language fan. I speak French, Italian and Spanish. I learned Spanish in college but the other two I learned on my own with help from free online courses. Am currently studying Russian.
    I learn quickly and most of the real work is still done by me, manually, utilizing old fashioned notebooks with physical writing of the words I’ve learned being written down in these notebooks.
    The act of writing the words down means that they – their meanings – stay in my mind much more clearly simply through the act of writing down the word and its meaning right next to the new word being learned. If I use just the computer in my lessons I find I do not retain the new information as thoroughly as when I also physically write it down.
    This also allows me to quickly reference written notes while studying thus allowing me to progress at a relatively high rate of speed.
    Hope this makes sense.
    And thank you to Yves for yet another most important post and observation.

    1. WobblyTelomeres

      Repetition is the key to learning. Repetition is the key to learning. Repetition …,

      By physically forming letters with your hands by writing down what you are learning, you are reinforcing the knowledge by creating a parallel knowledge construct, or memory, in your brain. This parallel construct overlays and enhances the memories formed by the words recognized by your visual cortext, sounded out in your throat (even if you don’t actually speak the words, it is the same to your brain), and all the other meanings associated with the word memories in your life history. You are building a very complex knowledge structure when you are reading to learn. Your writing your notes adds yet another dimension to the construct, the muscle memories of scratching out the letters.

      Repetition, through multiple variants of the same base thought. Always worked for me!

      1. blennylips

        By physically forming letters with your hands by writing down what you are learning, you are reinforcing the knowledge by creating a parallel knowledge construct, or memory, in your brain.

        Right you are. So, this from the Gaurdian a few days ago

        Children struggle to hold pencils due to too much tech, doctors say

        Children need opportunities to develop hand strength and dexterity needed to hold pencils

        is very troubling.

  42. NoOneInParticular

    Dumb old things I prefer:

    -Film cameras, especially as learning tools — no digital camera exists that limits a student to the essential elements of photography
    -Analog audio amplification (especially from the vacuum tube era)
    -Analog radio (especially from the too-brief era of AM stereo, the failure of which is a study in deregulatory destructiveness)
    -Wired telephones, one of the most robust technologies ever invented

    Yet I appreciate the results of the successor technologies to most of these. Color digital photos are a thousand times better than their small format film equivalents; digital audio recording and storage is unbeatable compared to the analog equivalents; smartphones’ long distance abilities are fantastic. But far too much technology exists now simply because it’s possible, not because it’s better, or even useful.

  43. Elizabeth

    I’m a real Luddite. I have an old manual thermostat, no smart appliances, a dumb flip phone, a 21 year old car (which runs perfectly), a digital tv (so no need for cable), a desktop computer (which I do a lot of reading and e-mail on), and lots of books (no e-books) which I get at the local bookstore. Frankly, I find most technology frustrating and annoying. Also, I want to stay off the “grid” as much as I can to minimize the surveillance state. A couple of my friends have been mad at me because when they call me on my cell phone, it’s always off. I only use it for emergencies, and tell them to use my land line to call me. Landlines are becoming scarce these days, but in case of cell towers outage, landlines still work. Also, I use paper checks and use snail-mail to send them. I don’t trust on-line bill paying

    I do have an atomic clock, which I got for my late mother so she could tell the date and time – but other than that, I’m happy with the simple life, and I like being in control as much as I can.

  44. Peter VE

    I go one step further back. I ditched the electric coffee grinder for a ROC manual, and most of the time I use my “cordless” tools (handsaw, hand drill, Yankee screwdriver, etc.) I’m dreading the death of our 25 year old refrigerator.

    1. Old Bear

      .Some of those sites, I put in my Des Moines zip code and the first page is giving me places in, say, North Carolina.

  45. Pogonip

    Here’s one I forgot. If you use the CVS pharmacy, you sometimes get “extra bucks” (dollar-off coupons). I had a fistful of those last time I went. CVS’s computer would no longer accept THE COMPANY’S OWN COUPONS. Seems the Numbers Didn’t Match. The clerks used to be able to override that sort of foolishness but the company took that ability away from them. The clerk said I probably had 2 cards. Not that I was aware of, although I allowed it was possible that sometime in the last 25 years they may have mistakenly issued an extra; be that as it may, I continued, rather cheekily, to insist that it was not my responsibility to sort out CVS’s computer problems. CVS is literally right around the corner from us so we’d run in there to pick up milk or whatever, often enough that we’d get 25% off everything coupons in the mail, every three months or so. But the Numbers no longer Match, so CVS has thrown away a 25-year frequent customer because the Numbers Don’t Match. (Without those coupons they’re the most expensive store in town, so if CVS won’t accept CVS coupons there is no reason to go there.)

    Even by American standards, does this make any sense to anybody?

    1. Oregoncharles

      Not germane to this topic, but I ditched an insurance company because they wouldn’t talk to me and I no longer trusted their agent.

      Yes, companies will stand by their rules, or their IT, at the cost of losing customers.

  46. Stephen Gardner

    The video was really inspired. It not only chided those who have to be on the latest software platform or application but it also made light of this trend toward needing to “feel safe” in all situations. Some spaces will never be “safe” and to think otherwise just gives ammunition to the alt-right people who want to call everyone on the left a “snowflake”.

    You have to wonder what the poor dear had on her resume that made him even want to interview her. She didn’t seem to have any of the skills he was looking for. Didn’t he even read her resume. I must say that I am gratified that she reacted the way she did to Facebook. People are finally beginning to acknowledge that Facebook has a shelf-life. I never saw it as fundamentally different from any other digital fad (kind of like MySpace) and I just couldn’t imagine why the movers and shakers of Disney and Goldman Sachs made such a fetish out of fakebook (I mean facebook). What was it about a geeky guy in a hoody that made these power suit wearing satans invest so much in him? Disney and ABC flogged the living daylights out of “The Social Network” and I think it only helped make Fakebook a force to be (temporarily) reckoned with. In the final analysis this too shall pass.

    My only criticism of the clip is that since it was clearly an interview, when the girl asked if he was firing her, he should have said: “Heavens NO. I’m not firing you, I’m just not hiring you. Ask Siri she’ll tell you the difference”. ;-)

  47. charles 2

    Alarm clock : definitely Apple Watch, only alarm clock I know which can wake me up without waking up my wife (through haptic engine)…
    Kitchen timer, remote control for music and video, voice recorder, … : there is an old saying that the best photo camera is the one one has at hand. Smart phone and watch tick that box for all of the above.
    eBooks : Definitely. Most of us don’t remember that we have actually been trained to use paper books efficiently in school, which is why they just feel cognitively superior. To get the same benefit from eBooks, one must undergo the same training. For instance :
    – use different readers for different usage : reading while standing in the train will be suited for a touch oriented smartphone reader, reading for studying on a desk will be suited for a pen oriented reader, “reading” while doing low intensity aerobic exercise call for an audio reader,
    – Use a non proprietary reader as a hub for storage and retrieval of ebooks. I use Calibre for that.
    – Design a system for organising understanding and ideas (like storing links to relevant passage in reading notes)
    – implement a unified index (for instance, I use a plug-in for spotlight indexing of ePub files. Requesting indexes from book authors is wasting their time)

    Last but not least, while it is true that the privacy loss is real with connected devices, one frequently overlooks the benefits of it in terms of exculpatory evidence. For instance, it is technically possible today to make a connected smartwatch that will reliably pinpoint a specific individual with its heart rate to a place and time and sound recording. It can the ultimate alibi machine, but only if the data is held by a trusted party which ensures non tampering and non repudiability. I would pay for such a service, provided I have reasonable trust that they will deliver my data only to my local law enforcement institutions using due process (so far, I haven’t found, but I don’t loose hope)
    To give you an example, Yves mentioned in an earlier post about sexual harassment an executive she knew about who would never stay alone in the same room with a female colleague for fear of potential liability. Unless someone tells me a way to perform a rape silently with raising the rapist’s heart rate, such a device would address that risk.

  48. duffolonious

    With the unfortunate inevitability (my educated guess) of smartphones and related the best we can hope for is some digital bill of rights.

    I seriously don’t see a future where you aren’t _practically_ required to have a smartphone in 20 years, maybe sooner. As always, look at the kids – can you be socially acceptable as a teenager in the US?

    As for IoT – admittedly I do get excited with open hardware devices – https://distrinet.cs.kuleuven.be/software/sancus/publications/tops17.pdf

    Because Can You Trust Your Computer?

    Also, yeah, I don’t know why everything needs to go to the cloud, although if it isn’t then you are just a regular hardware/software company so no big whale investors.

    1. Pogonip

      There was an article in our local paper yesterday about what to do if your teenager or tweenager is addicted to her smartphone; seems it’s pretty much agreed in the child-psychology biz that smartphones are addictive for kids. (What you do, at least per that article, is cold-turkey the smartphone and expect several days to a week of hysterics, and then the kid’s behavior should improve dramatically. The article did not say whether de-smartphoning is worth risking her running away, but if it was my daughter, I’d want her under close 24/7 supervision before I tried it.)

      Re Facebook: the same women who, 5 or 6 years ago, were telling me it’s impossible to live without Myspace and pestering me to sign up, are now using the exact same words about Facebook.

      I would only use Facebook if I were running a business, I think it’s impossible to avoid in that event.

  49. The Rev Kev

    So my daughter goes to get into her car a coupla days ago but finds herself locked out. When a friend/mechanic comes to check it out finds that the problem is a dead battery. But that is not the real problem. When the car died it left everything locked. You can only unlock the front bonnet from inside the car. The same place the battery is installed. See the problem? You have to break into your car to open the bonnet to replace the battery which will let you unlock your car. This is modern design.
    Had to laugh at some of the stories of car’s GPS device’s instructions too. Not that long ago a bunch of tourists followed their car’s instructions which took them down to a beach and actually into the surf. And I believe that there actually a cause of death called “death by GPS” in America’s death valley through people following GPS instructions to their deaths. The US Navy has finally woken up to the idea of their whole fleet at sea with a failed GPS and totally lost so they are now teaching their officers the traditional navigational arts. But why did they stop in the first place?
    As a Luddite, I leave my “smart” phone ( a hand-me-down) at home unless I plan to use it. Mud maps are good for finding new places after looking them up on the computer too. In thinking it over, I believe that the large failing of modern technology is that of design. And I am not talking about the god-awful interfaces that I have seen that makes things five times as difficult to accomplish work with.
    In a recent comment I mentioned how sociologist got a shock when they went with their standard tests into the real world and that they did not work. It took a while to realize that all their tests were based on data using college kids as subjects as they were easy to procure for a college. i.e.Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic society’s children had become the standard for those tests and papers. Thus I believe that the design of technology is what the denizens of Silicon Valley thinks is a good idea. If they are not sure, they just ask another techbro what he thinks but never any of the mopes that will have to actually use it. Thus we we end up with is a sort of technological Procrustean bed that fails at fundamental levels and no end of marketing will solve this problem. The dogs won’t eat the dog food offered.
    People’s desires have become disengaged with what technology is being offered and they are waking up to the fact that they are paying top dollar to be spied upon to be sold out at each each and ever opportunity. The number of fails is starting to stack up and it is only a matter of time that people will not run out lemming like to buy, say, the latest iPhone but give it a miss. I think that before long there will be a technological reckoning and it will not be good news for Silicon Valley’s tech billionaires.

    1. Pogonip

      Rev, I hope you’re right! It is so tine-consuming and difficult to get even simple things done these days, and sometimes, e.g. if you wish to use CVS coupons to shop at CVS, it’s impossible.

    2. Irrational

      Am behind on reading NC, so speeding through! Some excellent comments and in the spirit of what Rev Kev wrote I would say manual key to the house rather than a digital gizmo. Seem to recall that one model went online itself to upgrade its software, the upgrade failed and people could not get into their houses!

  50. Ook

    Early adopter of a hi-res tablet so that I could read magazines in Zinio properly formatted. Even here, retention (and reading enjoyment) is significantly lower, to the point where I’ll pay extra for the paper magazines.
    Even with my first cell phone (a dumb-phone), there was the feeling of missing my heroin fix because I was no longer able to send texts to my wife if I left it at home. Most people I know are creeped out when they first look at Google Maps Timeline and see plainly, in front of them, that Google has a detailed record of their lives, even without some malware turning on the mic or camera without their permission. But then they keep using.

  51. California Bob

    I’ve always used the simplest ‘technology’ that will get the job done (and I was in ‘tech’ for over 30 years). But, some things do add value: my garage door opener is wireless-ly connected to the ‘net and to an app in my phone that tells me if the door was lowered (and when). If you’ve ever headed off to work, gotten a few miles and stoplights down the road and wondered ‘Did I put the garage door down?’ you know what I mean.

  52. George Phillies

    Your comment on ebook sales appears to be the report from major publishers, who price ebooks as though they were hardbacks, perhaps on sale. Ebook sales total are soaring.

    What on god’s earth is a “car mount”? Yes, you can locate my phones. They are attached to the walls with cables. You can try to hack into my router with a wireless unit. Lots of luck. It’s attached to points with ethernet cables. I drive by using maps. If I am in doubt, despite having memorized the route, I find a place to *park*. *Then* I look at the map. I have dumb thermostats. They go up and down when I want them to, not on some crazy schedule. I have a variety of clocks. Some have batteries. The good one has a windup key.

    I was somewhat embarrassed when my new blueray player tried to hack into my neighbor’s internet system, without asking me.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Haha, you reject information that conflicts with your priors!

      No, these were MSM reports. For instance:

      Ebook sales continue to fall as younger generations drive appetite for print: Nielsen survey finds UK ebook sales declined by 4% in 2016, the second consecutive year digital has shrunk


      7 Reasons Why Ebook Sales Are Falling–and Print Book Sales Are Rising Again: Traditional print books look great, they smell good, and they last a really long time.


      1. Ray Blaak

        Is no one properly defending ebooks? I feel compelled to chime in from the pro side.

        I love my Kobo, can’t live without it. It single handedly restored my reading activity, which had declined over previous years (too much work, stress, videos, internet).

        Yves’ criticisms of E-Readers are fair, I think. I hate doing serious reading on computers or phones. I like only the E-Ink versions (pretty much like paper to the eyes), and only for novels. E-Readers are terrible for anything else.

        But for novels, I am completely converted: I have hundreds of books in one place (no more fighting for shelf space for new books), the battery lasts weeks, I can connect to the book store from the device itself, I can read in the dark with its backlight.

        Mostly though, I find the reading experience just superior, again just for novels. One only needs to remember stories, not pages. The E-Reader is lighter, easier to hold, no more thumb cramps holding open paperbacks, no more breaking spines. The letters are always sharp, unlike the fading pages of my shitty 80s and 90s novels, and I can expand the size when my eyes are tired.

        It’s even gotten to the point where if I want to re-read one of my older books, I tend to buy the ebook instead of reading the physical paperback.

        Also, the whole ecosystem around ebooks is changing everything, traditional publishers are in trouble. The barrier for authors to get self-published is now lower than ever, with sites like smashwords.com, or even Amazon. Authors can now keep the bulk of the money, instead of a tiny fraction.

        I can’t imagine going back.

        I have to admit I am conflicted about the loss of bookstores, though, even if I don’t actually really go to them any more.

  53. paul

    Here we go:
    nokia phone purchased 2003, new battery early this year
    pros: can make phone calls and texts
    cons:can receive phone calls and texts
    sandisk mp3 player died after 6 years; replaced by
    riuzu mp3 player
    pros: listen to podcasts
    cons: FA
    samsung smart tv without microphone or camera which prevented the cloud being cluttered with arguments about why the telly is not big enough.
    pros: record telly you have a small chance of getting around to watch,skipping ads
    cons: a nosy guest you’re not sure will ever leave
    E readers
    At least five amazon devices,2 still working
    pros: compact, invisible if the reading matter is good enough. gutenberg.org
    cons: useless for anything non linear
    Access to the world wide interweb
    pros: there is actually some nice people out there who can inform my hapless incarnation
    cons: there is actually some malign people out there who can sell my hapless incarnation

  54. Edward

    I think my biggest gripe with this type of thing is computer software. Software often has features you don’t want that start up when the computer boots. Given all the computer security and privacy issues this is the last thing you want. I disable as much as I can on my browser. If I were designing an OS I would probably adopt an “Amish” attitude and make it as simple as possible so the user can more easily control what is or is not happening on the computer.

    Another example of dubious “progress” is genetically modified food.

  55. SteveB

    I may have all of you “Luddites” beat……..

    I still use a rolodex to store contact information… Although I must admit my on-board processor (aka brain)
    still has great capacity and quick recall… negating it’s every day use..

    Flip phone, no ATM card, still carry cash and get out of my car, walk into my bank, say hello to the employees ( who know me by name) and cash a paper check to receive the proceeds in dead Presidents.

    Also have “poor mans EZ-Pass” for toll roads ( a container of quarters in my console).

  56. Bukko Boomeranger

    Don’t lose sight of the fact that all this “smart” one day too shall pass. The Tainter “Collapse of Complex Societies” dynamic awaits in our future. Complexity equals fragility. A machine with 1,000 moving parts will fail faster than one with 100 parts. Even if they’re NOT designed for planned obsolescence. And our current paradigm of civilisation depends on millions of things working perfectly 100% of the time. Peak Oil, the end of cheap energy to power all this frippery, cascading cross-defaults, etc. will make discussions like this seem quaint one of these years. Except nobody will be able to look back at this when the server farms have gone cold and dark…

  57. Dave

    Good and bad. My wife and I published an online comic for about 4 years. We always saved the (extensive) work, but counted on the online published format for order. Then the owner of the site died and it just went black. Web presence and following lost. No organized backup until I went through old computer disks and rebuilt a couple of years later. The backups were becoming outdated and failing too. All on cd now, but hard copy is probably a good idea (but haven’t done it yet).

    I like hard copy books, and since we own a home on a busy street, their mass helps cut the noise. I love the information access of the web, but depth is hard to come by and can’t be matched by books. Besides, books are so disfavored now that good used ones are extremely cheap and cheap to ship via usps media mail.

    My new TV is just WOW! $15 internet plus $10 Netflix on a Roku set is amazing! I already get 36 broadcast channels off the air and free dvds from the library, so the entertainment options are overwhelming. The tv definition is awesome, web integrated viewing without casting. I didn’t like the high def algos from a few years ago, but the modern stuff is just magic! I just had NO IDEA how good new tvs have become until I recently upgraded to a good smart tv!

    Computers, hmmm. The cpu speeds haven’t increased much, and don’t now matter much to me. So I can get older computers I like cheap. One huge windfall is software prices are being jacked up for old win OSes making the hardware obsolete for businesses. That means decent rigs running Win 7 Pro for about $100. :) LOL!

    So, I just adapt and go with the flow. Any real choices besides that one?

  58. petal

    I have a ’98 Subaru. It is so dumb it has a cassette player, and no key fob to unlock it! I am hoping to get quite a few more years out of the car. I rode in a friend’s new Subie last month and there’s a huge screen in the center dash that pretty much controls everything. I thought to myself I would not have bought this car because of it(what problems would it cause if this screen crapped out? Plus it’s mega distracting), and I’m concerned about being able to find a dumb car in the future to replace my ’98. Someone correct me if I’m wrong-don’t all of the new cars now have a black box that keeps track of speed, etc? There are paper maps and an atlas stuffed in the door pockets, no GPS for me. Have seen too many people that are completely reliant on GPS and then find themselves in a pickle. Phone is a Motorola v120 circa 2001-2(it’s always off and only for emergencies these days but still works quite well). I get weird looks from people when I reply that I don’t use a mobile phone. All of my books are of the paper variety. Can’t imagine reading on a screen for pleasure. Holding a real book in my hand…is like holding gold. I don’t have much, but I have books, and they are precious to me. I haven’t owned a TV in 8 years, and can’t imagine ever getting one now due to the connectivity/spying built into the new TVs and then there’s the issue of the digital switchover. Also have a paper datebook, I go into the local credit union, send handwritten thank you cards, I write cheques for my bills. I try to keep things simple, and also try to see the beauty in it. I see what my friends/coworkers go through when they have all sorts of problems with their smart phones, automatic bill pay, newer cars, etc, and I have no desire to join the club. A lot of them have become brainless automatons due to their devices. Skills and the ability to think are lost. Instant gratification is also a must for them. It’s scary-they are unable to function in the most basic ways. Sometimes I think “What if all of this went down tomorrow? How on earth would these folks get by?” I get to avoid those problems and it’s great.

  59. Knute Rife

    I see know lie in that movie. She is truly what passes for “tech savvy.” The cut-and-pasters who call themselves programmers aren’t even a joke; they’re a threat to the proper functioning of infrastructure. That’s why they had to call in the fossils to fix Y2K: The “hot coders” who had been snapping up every job for the prior 10 years had none of the required programming skills. And it’s only gotten worse since.


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