Each week, Ken Whittaker, Director of Engineering, and Neal Cook, Director of Support at Front Rush, review recent tech news, offering analysis and banter about changes in tech that affects college coaches.
Neal: Hello, Ken! I’m very excited to start our co-authored blog this week. Coaches have seen our blogs before, but never together, and you know what they say, one is the loneliest number!
Ken: Two can be as bad as one, but let’s give this a shot. In case our readers haven’t noticed we try to bring them some updates on the coolest news coming out of the tech world. It’s our job at Front Rush to bridge that gap and try to make technology seem less scary and throw in our opinions and hope people actually agree with us.
Neal: Ah, to add to the pessimism, technology can be quite scary with all the talks of robots taking over jobs and your smart machines listening to your every word, but let’s proceed!
Speaking of being scared, a subject that has always been close to my heart is smartphones. To be precise, how glued each and every one of us seems to be to our mobile phones. Adam Greenfield, from Radical Technologies, wrote a lengthy piece on “The Sociology of the Smartphone,” and when I say lengthy, I’m not kidding. Before you chime in, yes, I did force you to read this article, and I apologize for the excessive use of adjectives. But to sum it up, smartphones ARE TAKING OVER THE WORLD. They are the first thing we check in the morning, the last thing we check before bed. Even when we think we are safe in our homes, if we are connected to our phones, our data is still being gobbled up and sold by the apps and web services we use.
All humans want to feel connected. Interaction designers know this, that’s why we are quick to read a breaking news notification, smile when someone likes our photo, rush to open up a text message. But, Ken, have smartphones gone too far, or am I overreacting?
Ken: The (lengthy) article definitely started off by making a terrific point: smartphones are often the last thing we see before going to sleep and the first thing in the morning. As someone that develops mobile applications for a living, you might be surprised that I do agree that smartphones have gone a little far. It’s important to set boundaries so you can take a step back and appreciate things. I’m not going to get all sappy here, but it’s true. Think about the last time you went out to dinner. Did you play on your phone the whole time? How about check your email or respond to a text? For me – the answer is an absolute no. My wife and I decided years ago not to have phones during meals at home or out to eat, and I’ve got to say – I don’t miss it. How fun is it to talk to someone who’s head is down in their phone? While smartphones offer us everything we need at our fingertips, they can definitely take away from human to human interaction.
Neal: I can’t agree more. Though, I should, since we are supposed to be bantering. But, it’s safe to say, we both appreciate the convenience of a smartphone, but like everything in life, we need a balance. That’s why I never wake up and look immediately at my phone. Even if I’m eager to read my Bumble message, I make sure to get up, make some coffee and take some deep breaths before diving into the chaos.
On to our next piece of news. I’m sure you’ve heard about Amazon’s $13.7 billion takeover of Whole Foods. I don’t think anyone was prepared for that news. I certainly wasn’t. There’s been a lot of articles written about the acquisition since. And it’s fascinating to see how companies are taking the news. The stock price of many grocery stores went tumbling down, fearing Amazon would eventually disrupt the $800 billion grocery industry as it’s done with brick-and-mortar retail business.
One fear of those working at Whole Foods, and for fans of human connection, is that Whole Foods will eventually replace most of the workers with, you guessed it, robots. Stacy Torres, of the New York Times, writes that what’s good for business (reducing labor costs) is not always good for people (less opportunity to interact with others). I can’t agree more. I worked at grocery stores throughout my teenage years, and I’ll never forget the customers I helped, especially the elderly. Looking back now, it’s odd that the smiles and chit-chat with your cashiers could become a thing of the past. What do you think?
Ken: The idea of a robot taking over jobs is always a fear people have. Look how many movies are centered around this simple idea. I think the important takeaway here is that – this type of automated or “convenient” lifestyle is for some people. On the way home from work, if you want to stop by the grocery store and pick up fresh lettuce – sometimes it makes sense to grab it, pay, and go – so you can get home quicker. I think having the option to do a speedy checkout is nice to have, but I think it’s far from being able to replace humans. How many times have you used the self-checkout and heard “Unexpected item in bagging area. Please stand by, help is on the way” when you did exactly what was asked of you? I think it’s hard to say – people just need to be patient. Sometimes we do end up behind someone who is paying with quarters, and we just don’t have time to put up with that. Or what if the small chit-chat is actually offensive, or the employee is in a bad mood? This might sound dark, but sometimes those interactions put people in a worse mood. My point is, I think we are quite a ways away from robots “taking over” these jobs – but they might be pushed into our lives sooner than we’d like. I do agree that it is often too easy to get caught up in this sense of urgency and demand perfection.
Neal: Great point. I think you summed up both of the topics today: there is good and bad in everything in the world. Smartphones and robots do have the abilities to bring joy into our lives, but, left unchecked, they could also rewrite history as we know it.
Alas, we’ve come to an and. Have a groovy week!
Ken: See you next time!