Welcome, welcome, to day four of our no-punches-pulled gripe-a-thon, in which Doug, Graeme, Jared, Keith and I unfurl lists of longstanding disappointments, bellyaches and dependably tangential grievances (and hey, you may even find a few in the bunch tech-related). Let’s get this party started!
Public Relations: “We’ll Take One Post with a Side of Positive Spin on That, Please.”
Thank you, yes, I’ve heard about your “critically acclaimed,” “widely hailed,” “mind-blowing” new product, person-representing-company-X, but no thank you, the “chances we’d be able to post about that” are exactly zero. That’s not what we do here. This is Techland, not PR Newswire (or your company’s Facebook page). We’re not an extension of your company’s marketing department. We realize you get paid on the basis of (positive) coverage, but that’s not our problem. Our job’s to pass along unvarnished information about technology, ideally with a dash of original insight and/or analysis, not put bread on your table.
Some of you reading may be wondering what I’m talking about, and while this is inside baseball, it’s worth paying attention: I mean the relentless, ingratiating, labyrinthine public relations industry–more pervasive and intertwined with the “news” industry today than at any point in the history of the biz–and the daily pitch-onslaught it sometimes seems we spend half our day dodging. For the record, the question rightly suspicious readers ought to be asking isn’t whether the person who wrote the thing they’re perusing is on the take (chances are they’re not, because that’d be too obvious) but whether the story’s just a lazy press release scrape or paraphrase, in which case you’re reading the equivalent of a propaganda pamphlet.
“Experts” Available for “Expert Commentary”
While true experts do exist in this industry, they’re far and few between. Most of what you read from “analysts” at “strategic firms” you could figure out yourself–no one knows what startup X or CEO Y’s really planning, after all, so they fill space with obvious quotes and vague not-really-predictions. So to all you shopping around people to speak about Steve Jobs or the Sony PlayStation Network hack debacle or the (failed) AT&T-T-Mobile merger: We’re supposed to know what’s going on and why as well as anyone else. We don’t outsource just because someone’s written an e-book, or works for a consulting firm with “strategic” in its moniker, or who’s appeared a couple times on a show like Fox News. We do consult actual experts, no question about it, but see my last point about PR pitching–our job isn’t to promote so-and-so’s agenda, endowed chair, or latest book–then let us be the judge of what’s what (and take our lumps, like anyone else, where we judge poorly).
Craiglist’s Dirty Rotten Liars
What’s that johndoe1425loveslove? You want to pay me by check, don’t have question one about my $2,000-plus digital piano you’ve never seen or tested, and you can’t meet me in person because you’re on business traveling, so you’ll have your “shipper” pick my product up, all-expenses-paid? It’s not that you can’t write in complete sentences and that you don’t care much about typos (or, you know, general elisions) when you write, it’s the relentless way you (and your ilk) pop up, usually hours after I’ve posted or renewed my ad, then try to guilt me into selling under the above terms because really, it’s not me, but you “who should be paranoid,” since you’re sending the check and all (click here, see bullet point three). How about an X-Prize for an invention that, with the push of a button, back-traces these would-be swindlers, conjures a holographic trout, then slaps them on the face with it?
Look, we know you’re angry, anonymous commenter X, but here’s the thing: We don’t know why. We know it’s not because we said something you disagreed with. Not really. Sure, that’s what got you to sign up for an account, dash off a personal insult (“How are you even affiliated with Time?”), then vamoose, never to be seen round these parts again, but all we said was stuff like “Amazon’s ‘unlimited’ cloud music storage deal is partly bogus” or “Windows Phone 7.5 is Microsoft’s overachieving underdog.” If your spouse, child, sibling, parent, or best friend said something like that, would you really respond “You are acting like a snotty high-schooler trying desperately to prove a point,” or “You must have been born on a highway, because that’s where most accidents happen”? Sure, drive-by commenting’s an easy, lazy way to drop defamation-bombs, but that’s just a shortcut to being ignored–wouldn’t you rather persuade than insult (and alienate) someone?
Dragon Age II
I hate dumping on stuff people spent years of their lives working on, but what a truly abysmal roleplaying game and a major step backwards for BioWare, a company once celebrated for its storytelling smarts. This slick but shallow action romp sprawls but never comes alive. Prop scenery citizens stand around town gesticulating pointlessly, alleyways house inoperable doors, and your characters bounce off invisible barriers which showcase the game’s ubiquitous budget-cutting measures. Worst of all, most areas are copies of each other, meaning what’s new quickly wears out its welcome as assets duplicate and you fight the same battles in (literally) recycled caverns, pits and other perilous places. The simplistic hack-this, slash-that combat’s no help: Dispatching dozens of enemies takes half a minute, often less, then you auto-heal and repeat–it’s like golfing with a 20 (“bogey”) handicap. The net result: a not-entirely-terrible story crippled by tedious gameplay and soul-destroying do-that-again-10-times sequences. “If we had a giant rock to push uphill, this would perfectly sum up my life,” quipped an in-game companion at one point. The Sisyphean irony was lost on the game’s writer, it seems.
Five Good Things that Happened This Year
– Dark Souls. This may be the best game I’ve ever played. Not because it is, when I put my stands-back-objectively-hoodie-on, but because that’s been my gut reaction playing it since October. Yes, I love you too, Skyrim, but it’s Dark Souls I keep coming back to.
– Verizon and Sprint got the iPhone. And so did I, after waiting years to purchase an iPhone because I frequent areas in certain Midwestern states few cell providers (including AT&T) have ventured to. I’ve been over the moon about my iPhone 4 since February–actually, until about a week ago, when I laid hands on a friend’s lovely new Verizon Galaxy Nexus. Unless the iPhone 5 blows my mind (and I’m not expecting it to), I sense an Android-based mobile in my future.
– I bought a real piano. Okay, not real as in actual iron plates and metal strings and death-to-your-spinal-column when moving it, so here’s the tech angle: It’s a piano (a Yamaha AvantGrand N2) with a replica grand piano action that uses weights with sensors in lieu of hammers that strike strings. The sampled sounds are incredible (not as great through headphones, say, as Synthogy Ivory II, but better than the latter when they’re piped through Yamaha’s four inbuilt positionally accurate speakers), and easily realistic enough to haul from the digital piano room to be sold on the showroom floor beside the real thing.
– I’ll go with “What is social media?” Alex, same as my esteemed colleagues. Put millions of people together offline and you might wind up with a mob. Put them together online and, remarkably, productive stuff actually happens, be it in Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, Moldova or as an antidote to mob cruelty (as in the cleanup day-afters organized via social networks during the London riots).
– No more loud commercials. I know, some of you want to throw the government on a bonfire, douse them in rocket fuel then light them off with a nuke, but sometimes they get it right, as was the case when the FCC adopted the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, which will require that commercials maintain the same volume as the programs they’re sandwiched between. Take a bow, FCC, and cue slow clap.