Nihilism, and why the tech press can't admit to having nice things...

After taking down a rather daft article about 2013 being a disappointing year for tech, John Gruber put to words something I've been wrestling with for the latter part of this year. From Daring Fireball:

That which escapes the grasp of Sturgeon's Law and achieves genuine excellence deserves to be celebrated, not torn down through false equivalences and the sensational exaggeration of imperfections. Call the imperfections out, to be sure — the job of the press is not to whitewash or cheerlead, either — but keep them in perspective; write about them in proportion to their severity and actual prevalence and relevance. There is a profound difference between that which is crap and that which is merely flawed.There's a nihilistic streak in tech journalism that I just don't see in other fields. Sports, movies, cars, wristwatches, cameras, food — writers who cover these fields tend to celebrate, to relish, the best their fields have to offer. Technology, on the other hand, seems to attract enthusiasts with no actual enthusiasm.

It's why tech rumor sites are slammed in one breath and their reports rattled off in the next. It's why new product categories are called unimaginative at launch and breakthrough software is castigated right out of the gate. It's the 10 word answer.

It could just be that computer technology is still relatively new and tech journalists - and tech readers, we feed each other - lack the maturity of older, more established industries and pursuits. It could be that tech writers sometimes seem to care more about being perceived as cool than in being good.

The advent of the internet redefined what it meant to cover an industry, including and especially the internet and the technology that enabled it. Instead of rising up, in many cases it brought everything down. Once great papers of record became, at times, more inaccurate, manipulative, and pandering as the blogs they denigrated. And it's easy to see why - a lot of stupid gets a lot of attention resulting in ever-more stupid. It's a vicious cycle, and thus far a successful one. We are all of us, every one of us, to blame. Yet at the same time that empowers all of us, every one of us, to change it.

Pessimism is easy. Hit pieces are easy. Abusing facts to fit a thesis is easy. Manipulation is easy. Looking at the last year and claiming disappointment is easy. Missing constant, relentless evolution if all you're looking for is occasional revolution is easy. Yet the former can be even more important than the latter. Many leaps end in crash landings. Many innovations fall apart on the launch pad. Good ideas take a lot of little fixes to become truly great. And a lot of little ideas, given enough time and talent, can coalesce into pure magic.

Not being satisfied is a good thing. Demanding more of the industry - and ourselves - is good thing. But making the effort to understand what we've already gotten, the nuance and the ramifications, is the key to what's next.

Let's shelve our collective tech inferiority complex and cyncism masks for a moment and really consider how far we've come in the last year. The power of an iPhone 5s, the lightness of an iPad Air, the promise of iBeacon, the helpfulness of a Moto X, the sensation of Google Glass, the optics of Lumia 1020, the brute force of a Mac Pro, the magic of SONOS surround sound, the brilliance of Hue lighting, the immediacy of the Pebble, and dozens of other amazing, life-enhancing developments just in the space I cover over the last twelve odd months leap immediately, optimistically, to mind.

Amazing stuff from 2013, made better by how much it sets up for 2014.

Source: Daring Fireball

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • As always, well said Rene. I had just read John Gruber's post this morning and I couldn't agree more. Sometimes we need to be reminded to just sit back and enjoy what amazing things we have instead of it never being good enough. Love my 5s and I believe it is truly the future in my hands now. It puts me off when supposed "tech aficionados" condemn that assessment and refer to it as "just an incremental update". Can't see the forest for the trees...
  • Well said G4 & Rene. 'Incremental update' is such an ambiguous way to explain the 5s (fingerprint reader/& 64bit processing for heaven's sake---like a computer 64bit!). After reading his piece I threw up in my mouth a bit. Android is finally smokin along too...with the Note 3, Snapdragon 800/3GB RAM. I'm brand agnostic, though I do prefer OSx to Windows...each of my Macs also have Windows either via bootcamp or Parallels. The iPad has literally revolutionized my audio/video production business (we did 117 weddings this year, four high schools' dances and three dozen corporate holiday parties). It's actually an embarrassing read to me. Like by a 15 year old that's grown up with smartphones and tablets and mobile operating systems. Like you mention, smart watches....3D TV is out, 4k is in AND becoming affordable. Displays on smartphones have crossed the 400ppi mark. 1080p displays on a phone, reliability, speed, NFC and 'Beam' type payment systems...iOS 7, while definitely polarizing as well as a MAJOR design shift by Apple IMHO is an absolute home run. Maybe just inside the left field foul line....a bit late on the swing...but with several .0x updates, the OS is now extremely stable on the 5/5s and the 4s works fine. The iPhone 4S, remember....was released late. So we are complaining about almost a four year old phone not being adequate under the hood to run the latest OS? Ridiculous. Pre smart phone era, we ALL got a new phone every two years. Nokia. Motorola. Blackberry. Treo. Didn't matter...24 months, stop by....of you're cheap like I was then, gimme the free flip from Motorola. It's got a camera? WHY in the WORLD do I need a camera on my phone? (Circa 2005---less than a decade ago). Today I've got not only a camera on my 5s and Note 3...I've also got a MASSIVE amount of editing software for my stills and motion shots. As good or better than the point n shoots on the market ( sub $200 cams )...& an entire pocket computer, calculator, internet with LTE and faster speeds than my home ISP as well as calculators, games, books, mags, GPS and mapping with TOPO, a daily RSS newspaper ready for me in the morning (iPad) and now that Apple has gone with ubiquity across their tab/phone lineup with the A7 proc/A8 instruction need not choose power over size or speed over functionality. They all haul ASS, as does my GNote 3 recently graded from the Note original....two years art, night and day difference. There is absolutely NO comparison to Android today vs in 2010/11. iOS? Same thing. Funny, 2007 while now almost seven years ago....we are still 6.5 years away from the unveiling of the game changer. The iPhone. The next year, Android. The next year....Nokia, Motorola, and Blackberry market share began to erode. In 2008! Five years ago! We were begging for 3G, cut n paste, and BOOM! Up pops the App Store, closely followed by today's Google Play market and a half decade of a 180° turnaround in software development. Regardless of the OS you're happy with, every one of us this year now has access to over a MILLION apps/software on what would qualify as a super computer a decade OUR POCKET!
    The 'Sturgeon' principle, idea or whatever you'd call his illustrious wrap to tech '13 is a click bait article and thankfully The Grube & Rene have the balls to call him to the mat.
    Sorry to be long winded....but when I first read his analysis without any rebuttal I got PISSED!
    As G4 eloquently says....."can't see the forest through the trees". Or....maybe this would be the time we could turn that around, again 180°. Can't see the trees IN the forest. He's become entirely too spoiled, isn't very intelligent when it comes to evolutionary updates once a 'hit' has been reached. Not a whole lot you can do with a phone....or so we thought in 2003. At the end of 2013, a decade later....we're now to the point MANY in our population need ONLY a smartphone or tablet as their primary computer. Pretty. Amazing 'going on' seven years if you ask me. Moore's Law is no applicable to mobile without any sign of slowing down
  • Well said!
  • iMore follows Daring Fireball for me on Flipboard, so I read Rene's article immediately after reading Gruber's, and it fit perfectly. All technologies (not just computing tech) have been far more iterative in their progress after an initial revolutionary moment. Fundamentally, a 2014 Ferrari is similar to a Model T: internal combustion engine, drive train, steering wheel; with 100 years of iterative changes. Perhaps in 5 or 10 years we will stop expecting an iPhone moment every year.
  • Great headline. One key difference between, say, the auto enthusiast and the tech enthusiast, is that the auto enthusiast isn't shackled with recall notices every day. Software is much more iterative, and comes with the promise of free upgrades at the price of too-early releases, frequent bugs and constant patching. This makes it easy to focus on the negative. We as developers need to reexamine our tendency to ship today and patch tomorrow.
  • Great article. A lot of people seem to forget that no matter how disappointing this year for tech is for them that all the technology, no matter how little or big its impact is, is also just a stepping stone of bigger things for the years to come. It has always been this way. Every year, technology is evolving, it's improving with the help of the previous years' development.
  • My wife and I took a week-long course on raising adolescents. When one of the instructors was asked why many teenagers were so negative about things. His reply really struck me and I've found it useful for evaluating the attitudes of people of any age.
    He said, "Inexperienced, insecure, immature teenagers feign experience, security, and maturity through negativity and cynicism. Most of the time, it impresses their their peers, so they keep doing it because it works."
  • That's an excellent quote. Thanks, for sharing it!
  • Juxtapose that with Peter Pan Syndrome and that explains much Internet behavior.
  • And don't forget the Dunning–Kruger effect which plagues our society...–Kruger_effect
  • Great writeup, Rene. Honestly, enthusiastic cynicism seems to be a job requirement, for some of these tech sites. As you pointed out, we've gotten a lot of great tech advancements, this year. As time marches on, and as technology continues its break-neck speed of evolution, it's easy to forget everything introduced - and the impact of those things - that made this year great.
  • I've done research into attitudes/behaviours/values in the tech sector, and there is a tendency to be very negative, insecure and function-oriented (as opposed to vision-oriented). It's odd but true. There is a weird thing that function-oriented people respond to a sort of leadership from charismatic cynics. Anyway, you're right Rene, as is often the case. However, I think there is also a sense where the tech sector - or marketing people in it - have promised life-impacts from technology that have been ridiculously overpromised. For that reason as well as the tendency towards negativity and the teenage immaturity we've developed a global culture of tech cynicism...
  • Accessibility.
    That is the answer to your question.
    Sports, movies, music, books, etc... All the things societies love to treasure are beyond their personal world.
    Tech is in our pockets, at our finger tips, and at our beck-and-call whenever we want. That's why it's so easy to become so disenchanted with it. Sent from the iMore App
  • It seems to me the tech press has forgotten what the word innovation means. And they complain that a company is not innovative if said company isn't constantly reinventing the wheel. Take Touch ID for example. Anyone truly being objective and honest would have to say Touch ID is innovative and Apple did a pretty damn good job of implementing it. Plus the possibilities for how it can be used in future are quite intriguing. Yet because finger print technology isn't a new invention the tech press pooh-poohed Touch ID (and 64-bit) as nothing more than a gimmick and the 5s as an iterative update.
  • People forget that, in relative terms, "tech" is still relatively new. The majority of people could care less about a new car release because we're desensitized to it. In another 50 years, a new smart phone or iOS release will be so blasé that it will barely be mentioned on the average blog. When was the last time you heard about a new microwave being released? It's all headlines and eye balls. People write this shit because it's still new to readers and they want to read about it. As the years progress, your readership will decrease but become even more avid as tech becomes the norm. Car will always be a little bit more noticeable, simply because they are so expensive and still a major class differentiator. Computer and cell phones though, meh.
  • Man, you're going to feel like a sucker when Mobile Nations debuts their new blog Kytchn: An In-Depth Look at Microwaves, Blenders, and All Things Culinary.
  • haha
  • Considering the growth of the "internet of things" type devices - you may not actually be that far off the mark.
  • Great article, this was a good read and enlightening. Sent from the iMore App
  • Bravo! Well said and the perspective is spot on, Rene.
  • Nice article. Much more coherent than the drivel Gruber slings,
  • You do realise Rene is agreeing with Gruber's premise?
  • But you fail to notice the difference. One article is filled with hatred and insecurity while the other is filled with insightful commentary.
  • BUT ... But ... what about android?!!!! F*** ... anyone tries to say some positive reviews about an App designed only and ONLY for iOS is gonna get bombarded with stupid comments like that. NOW ... show me one and ONLY one comment somewhere .. anywhere on the Internet some iOS fanboy who has complained about missing iOS version! NONE! NONE! NONE! We, AKA Apple fanboys, did NOT start this mess! Google did. Eric Schmidt did. Larry Page did. Sergey Brin did. And, of course, The Einstein of Android, Andy Rubin, the big, arrogant f*** did. All said ... hey, journalists or so-called one ;) will be able to take care of their expenses ... make a living ... by this title: APPLE IS DOOMED! Oh YES! That little title alone is gonna drag my dead grand pa out of his grave to become AMUSED! It doesn't matter how shitty and stupid the actual article is. Nobody cares. As long as it brings visitors to shove lots of lots of google Ads right up their A$$. Damn. Where's that Tylenol ... Oh, PS: JOHN GRUBER... I'm a fan. ;)
  • Dude... calm the f**k down... Fanboyism is 90% of the problem and your post is a shining example.
  • In actuality, 99% (NOT 90%) of the problem is the fact that many freebie / bargain lovers bend over for whatever google shove their a$$ with lovely big smiles 'cause hey it's FREE / cheap!
  • "A lot of stupid gets a lot of attention resulting in ever-more stupid." That explains most of it. The convergence of marketing and "journalism" is nearly complete. A snarky title and story are all you need to generate page hits. And page hits = money. On the other hand, there are tech sites that put up posts that *don't* complain about crappy products. Because they're afraid of alienating current and future advertisers. Because they don't want to offend anybody in the Android camp by pointing out the Galaxy S4's cheesy plastickiness. And because they don't want to offend anybody in the Apple camp by complaining about iCloud's clunkiness and incompleteness. Because they want everyone to love them and give them page hits. And page hits = money. So maybe Sturgeon's law is still correct. 90% of everything really is crap in the tech "journalism" blogosphere. Whether it's "all tech sucks, there are no good tech products" or "all tech is wonderful, there are no bad tech products." It's all about the page hits, and when you go for page hits above all else, you're doing marketing, not "journalism."
  • Continuing that "90% of everything is crap" thought, it will be interesting to see what the manufacturers poop out for CES. 3D TV is long dead, so 4K TV will be the new high-end CES vaporware poster child. But, unlike 3D TV, 4K actually has a future. In 10 years it will be mainstream, because by then it will be cheap enough and there will be enough 4K content and we'll all have the internet bandwidth to stream that 4K content. But not before 10 years because current HDTV will be "good enough" for most people for quite a while. Ah yes. That brings us to the low end of the CES product spectrum. As always, there will be 194.6 million iPhone and iPad accessories. Because anybody and their grand-aunt can design iPhone and iPad cases, cut a deal with a random Chinese manufacturer, and make an instant profit. So yeah, Mobile Nations and everyone else in tech blogging will fly out to Vegas to "cover" as much of CES as possible. Not because they want to, but because it will be January. And they'll have to. Because the big holiday season is over, and WWDC and Google I/O won't even be on the rumor-horizon yet, and CES will be the only tech-related thing for months (except Macworld/iWorld, but that will only offer a small subset of the iPhone and iPad cases plus a few apps and iMovie how-to sessions). Have fun out there.
  • One of the most annoying things for me when talking to anyone about consumer technology is the appetite for change and the revulsion of iteration. Previously this was something limited to people who just liked to rag on Apple but I'm seeing it more and more out of my friends who are now turning on Samsung for greener pastures. The desire for constant stimulation through big change is irksome at best. The biggest changes can be great, yes, but it is the refinement through evolution that makes a product more valuable.