Exploring the impact of broadband and technology on our lives, our businesses, and our communities.

Technology is making us stupid: Part II--We don't know how to use the phone

I've written about this before, but had two recent instances where someone needed something from me on short notice (i.e. within a couple of hours) and emailed me instead of picking up the phone. In both cases, they were confused and disoriented when I explained that I had been in meetings and do not check my email in meetings.

If they had called and left a voice mail (or spoken with our receptionist), I would have been able to get them what they needed.

I get so much spam that I rarely check email on my phone--deleting spam on an iPhone is painful. And yes, we have spam filters running on our mail server, but about 3-5% gets through, and that's several hundred spam emails a day.

Technology News:

Is the end of the FCC near?

The Washington Post reports that the incoming Trump administration may be considering abolishing the FCC. The FCC was originally created to manage the allocation of a scarce resource (at the time)--frequency spectrum. Advances in radio technology and the rise of the Internet have led to questions about what the FCC should be doing these days.

As the article notes, much of what the FCC does these days could be handled by other Federal agencies and/or pushed down to state regulatory agencies. The FCC has had a difficult job over the past couple of decades as it tries to manage the regulation of the now largely irrelevant legacy cable TV and telephone companies. I don't think the world would end if the FCC were broken up, and it could open the door for both more start up private sector telecom investment and increased opportunities for communities to build and manage their own telecom infrastructure.

Death of TV: Part LXXVI: Who needs a TV anymore?

The CW network has released an app for Apple TV that allows you to watch all of the channel's content for free--no cable TV subscription required.

This is another crack in the wall being defended by both the content owners (broadcast channels, cable channels) and the cable TV networks. It's a drip drip drip change, but OTT (Over The Top) offerings like CW are growing. Even if we all end up with several video subscriptions (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu) the cost of video content is going to be much less in the long run, and we are going to be able to pick and choose exactly what we want to watch, rather than being forced to buy 100+ channels just to get a half dozen we are interested in.

Technology News:

Knowledge Democracy:

Facial recognition: The end of privacy?

Facial recognition software is now in wide use by groups as disparate as Facebook, local police departments, Homeland Security, and the NSA. What it means is that whenever you post a picture of you, family, or friends anywhere online, someone can easily identify every single person in the picture, and very likely determine from the caption or comments where you have been and what you are doing.

That information, if scooped up by a private entity like Facebook or Google, is immediately sold to advertisers. Lately, I've noticed that the ads being served on Web sites I am browsing change within one or two minutes of doing a search on Amazon or some other shopping site. It used to take a day or two for me to see those changes.

We are trading privacy for convenience. It remains to be seen how this will all turn out, but Big Brother is really twins: Government Big Brother (all the local, state, and Federal agencies collecting and maintaining data on us) and Business Big Brother (all the large multi-national companies, like Google, Amazon, and Facebook that collecting and selling our personal information).

Technology News:

Knowledge Democracy:

Welcome your robot overlords

On the heels of accidents caused by self-driving cars, there is a report of a "security robot" accidentally running over a small child at a California shopping mall.

The 300 pound, five foot tall robot bumped into the child, who fell down, and the robot ran over the child's foot. The child was not seriously injured.

We are going to see a lot more of this, as "robots" of all kinds are rushed to market with poorly tested software.

Technology News:

Microsoft: The company that hates its customers

I had some hope that Microsoft, once Steve Ballmer departed, might become more customer friendly. And in the past couple of years, Microsoft has made steady improvements to products like the Surface tablet/laptop--I see a lot of them in my travels.

Here at the office, we've actually seriously discussed moving away from Apple for office productivity software because Apple, since Tim Scott took over, has apparently just decided quality software is not particularly important.

But my most recent Microsoft experience has me once again thoroughly soured me on the Redmond company. I have been using a perfectly adequate copy of Office 2011 for years, and dutifully install the frequent patches and upgrades. I've never had any problems with the software until the most recent upgrade, which installed a new splash screen that tries to get me to buy Office 360 (a never-ending software rental). To actually get Word or Excel running on my Mac, I have to click on a little button on the bottom of the splash screen labeled "Use Word for free." For free. Um, I bought and paid for this software, and now Microsoft, via the new unwanted splash screen, tries to tell me that they are "letting me" use their software "for free!"

How generous of them.

If this is not annoying enough, the upgrade deactivated Word and now it only operates in read only mode. So the software I paid for has been hijacked by Microsoft.

I called tech support, and of course they wanted the serial number off the box that I bought five years ago. I can't find it. And the nearly incomprehensible tech support people (very heavy accents reading from a script) really had no idea what I was talking about. I gave up.

So good job, Microsoft. You've hijacked the software of a long time customer and made it unusable. If you think this is the way to get me to buy Office 360, you're wrong.

WiFimobile is the new bookmobile

Google has helped to fund some middle school buses in Caldwell County, North Carolina with WiFi so that the kids can get some school work done while traveling back and forth to school.

While this is an interesting experiment, the reason behind it is the abysmal state of broadband access in rural America, where whole families have to drive to McDonalds or the local library so mom and pop can get their email and shop, and so the kids can do their homework.

Everywhere I go these days in rural areas, the number one complaint is coming from the mothers of K12 children. Mom is dead tired from trying to manage access to Internet for her children. Stop in a rural McDonalds after 3 PM, and I can almost guarantee you will spot some vans in the parking lot with mom in the drivers seat and two or three kids bent over laptops or tablets trying to get their homework done.

Rural libraries are groaning under the strain of demand for Internet access, and they have to strictly manage time limits on the use of library computers. As the school systems put more and more textbooks and resources online, the problem becomes more acute for families with poor Internet access.

Community news and projects:

The horror of ordering Internet service

I just spent 40 minutes trying to help a friend order Internet service for a new home in rural North Carolina. They knew that there was no cable service, but did not know who the telephone company was for the area.

I thought this would be easy.

I tried four different companies: Windstream, AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink. Verizon's site was the worst, as they make it very clear that they don't want to sell you any copper-based services. I spent many minutes clicking around on their site trying to figure out how to order DSL, without much luck. When you do finally find the DSL page, the only "order" button is for FiOS. No matter what page you land on on the Verizon site, it's all FiOS, all the time, along with lots of add-on services they want you to buy to fluff up your bill.

One thing that was interesting: on one of the pages I landed on trying to get to the DSL information, the first thing you see is a full page of information about cellular data plans. So Verizon wants to sell you a cellular data plan or FiOS, and anything else....not so much. I did eventually find the link to check an address for service, and of course, they had none for my friend's home.

The other three providers were pretty much the same. AT&T winds some sort of prize for the most obscure service names: You can order U-verse or Gigapower. Snap quiz: Which one is fiber and which one is DSL? Answer: Good luck figuring that out. Finally found the "check address" dialog, and of course, no service. But great news! AT&T is happy to sell you satellite TV and a cellular data plan.

When you go to Windstream, you get a really bad version of Yahoo! News as their front page. CenturyLink actually easily had the best site, with a well-designed front page that made it relatively easy to figure out what plans are available and their cost. But no service in my friend's area.

Despite record profits and high prices, all four companies seem determined to clutter up their own site with ads and "up sell" items, which are probably enormously profitable. But trying to order plain old telephone or Internet service is an exercise in frustration. If I have trouble, I can only imagine the teeth-grinding and keyboard pounding that a typical potential customer goes through to just get some very simple information.

Next step for my friend: She is going to contact some neighbors to find out who the telephone company is. So much for the power of the Internet.

Technology News:

Smombies and the decline of civilization

It has come to this: The city of Augsburg, Germany has begun to install traffic lights in the street...because so many people are looking down at their cellphones that they are ignoring traffic signals and being hit by oncoming traffic. This is just sad.

In China, the problem is so bad that in Chongqing, local officials have created two lane pedestrian crosswalks. One lane is for normal people who the sense to pay attention when crossing the street, and the other lane is for "smombies," or "smartphone zombies," who shuffle across the street so slowly that they are blocking other pedestrians.

Email is not a sychronous communications tool

Twice in the past week people have complained that I did not respond to their email. In the first case, they sent the missive to the wrong address, waited two weeks, and then wondered aloud to me if I was really busy and was unable to keep up with email. Well, yes to the really busy part, but no to the unable to keep up with email. I cannot respond to email that I have not received.

In the second case, the sender was upset because they had sent an email in the morning and I had not responded by mid-afternoon. It was a day when I was out of the office with a client, and had back to back meetings throughout the day. I was not checking my email.

The "always connected" Internet culture has created a false sense of connectivity for not just email, but also for things like texting. I travel in a lot of rural areas, where cell towers may be few and far between, so I don't necessarily receive texts a few seconds after someone sends it.

Email and texting are asynchronous services; you send the message, and it may or may not reach its destination in any given time. There seems to be a rising resistance to using the phone for business communications, even though the phone is a synchronous communications medium--if I answer the phone and are speaking to you, you know with certainty that I have received the message.

There is a certain irony at work in our culture when we all have "smart phones" but don't actually use the phone part.

Technology News:

Pages

Subscribe to Front page feed