Stop the (Boring) Fighting

Mat Honan, Wired:

Do you work for Apple? Do you work for Samsung? No? Then shut up.
Nobody cares what kind of smart phone you believe in. It’s not a religion. It’s not your local sports team even. Stop being a soldier. You are not a soldier. You are just wrong. Shut up. You there, with the blog, in the comments, in the pages of the newspaper or the magazine or on Twitter or Facebook. Whatever your opinion is, as soon as you employ it in partisan fashion, it’s deeply and profoundly wrong. Just by sharing it, you are wrong. And nobody cares. Except for the people who do. And they are wrong too. Myself included.

This week, as we edge ever close to the nadir of stupidity in the technology industry, Mat Honan has penned this utterly timely — and perennially important — article about the combative nature of technology enthusiasts.

In summary, for whatever reason, we've all taken it upon ourselves to become grossly over-protective, defensive, and arrogant about matters as inconsequential as our telephones. It's unbecoming and woefully unattractive behavior.

Moreover, it's also inane, trite, and indescribably boring.

Considering the volume of perceived intelligence in the technology sphere, it's amazing to watch as otherwise dignified people descend into blistering — and invariably pointless — polemics over technology firms.

You think Blackberry is dying? Good for you. You also think Google is lying and untrustworthy? I bet that's conducive to getting things done online, but fair enough. Oh, and you're also wary of Apple's approval methods? Well, it's good to have an opinion, I suppose.

But, at the end of the day, I couldn't care less. And I suspect that most — if not all — other people feel the same way, too.

Unless you're contributing something valuable about the socioeconomics and long-term viability of a company (or something equally interesting), there's no particular reason for you to be gleefully wringing your hands together as a company takes a misstep.

Think about the mechanics of that form of journalism for a moment.

Right now, people are literally watching the technology industry and waiting for something bad to occur for a company they've arbitrarily chosen to dislike. And when it happens, they'll pounce all over it, whilst mostly ignoring the overarching facts of the situation.

It's embarrassing.

If you think Apple is draconian or Microsoft is a dinosaur, then please take a breath and write a thoughtful piece about the ramifications of this corporate philosophy. Perhaps you might contribute something interesting to the collective discussion. Anything else with an inflammatory headline and a presumptive conclusion is irrational and will inevitably damage your credibility.

If you're reading this site, it's likely you have a vested interest in a competitive and innovative marketplace. Regardless of whether you buy Apple, Google, or Microsoft products, you ultimately care about the steady improvement of the technology in your life.

Such improvement cannot — and will not — occur without competition. Nor will it occur without mistakes.

In this environment, inane dialog back and forth between fans of one company versus another serves no purpose whatsoever. It's mood music surrounding companies doing business to take more of your money. And if you cannot see the importance of sustaining a balanced and reasonable viewpoint amidst one of the most volatile industries, then you're likely resigning yourself from enjoying the best products and services available.

So, stop taking everything so personally and start just appreciating the industry for what it provides.

Armchair Lawyers Surprisingly Proven Wrong?

Mat Honan, writing for Wired:

I think there’s a reasonable middle position. I believe Instagram should be able to make money. Facebook telegraphed that something like this was coming just last week, and my reaction at the time was “good.” I was happy that Instagram had a revenue model. It isn’t a charity. And companies that don’t make money are doomed to fail. Facebook paid a lot of damn money to buy Instagram, and it’s natural to want some return on that.
Yet I also believe it’s wrong to take people’s photos – out of context – for use in advertisements. With no way to opt out.

Yesterday afternoon, as our collective hyperventilation over Instagram reached its peak, a number of articles were published with what can be described, at best, as unfortunate timing. Mat Honan, for instance, sought to take advantage of the situation and lead an ethical stand against Instagram in a post entitled, 'Why I Quit Instagram.'

Perhaps if Wired had published the article a little earlier, the concluding statement — cited above — would've impacted with slightly more seriousness. Instead, Honan's article arrived just as the Internet's resident legal policeman, Nilay Patel, had unravelled much of the hyperbole surrounding Instagram's Terms of Use language.

Heaping further soil onto the fire, Kevin Systrom then wrote a formal response to the public outcry over its boilerplate legal language on the Instagram Blog.

Now, Honan obviously wasn't the only person to fully buy into this now-defunct crisis, but his article certainly demonstrates a point: people on the Internet need to understand that the nature of digital business is maturing. The Internet in its glory days was, contrary to popular belief, uncontrolled anarchy. Creating a successful business was not so much an art as it was simply throwing together a webpage and hoping people found it.

Today, in order to succeed — and to continue to succeed — there are inevitably going to be increasingly limiting and onerous implications upon privacy, amongst innumerable other factors. Such is the nature of legal diction when covering a variety of non-threatening matters in an ever-evolving sphere of innovation.

Rather than rushing to call your signature "bullshit" judgment (Oh, look at how controversial you are!) or incite a premature ethical response to something you fundamentally do not understand, perhaps it'd be best for all of us to collectively wait until someone with some pertinent experience might explain the situation.

Over this past week, amidst a slow news cycle, Twitter has become much more of an echo chamber than normal. Whether it's discussions of gun control, privacy policies, or mental health, virtually everyone seems to have come out of the woodwork with ill-informed and woefully self-righteous perspectives. Such is the nature of a highly-curated list of people you're willing to engage with.

Unlike the exponentially more serious issues of gun control and mental health, however, Instagram has proven to be a point of resounding embarrassment for an enormous portion of armchair professionals. Having spent the better part of 24 hours fetching pitchforks and flammable liquids, suddenly rationality and reason returned to the scene leaving countless commentators pale-faced and clamoring for excuses.

As of writing, the "Update" above Honan's post states in full:

Update: Instagram said they’re “listening”, stating that “The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement.” That question was raised because the terms of service language said very explicitly that photos could be used as part of anadvertisement. I appreciate the update, and Instagram’s willingness to communicate — and I’m listening. But the company still hasn’t really said anything. Without a clear commitment on its end, I’m not making a clear commitment either: In short, I still want options.

Although I appreciate that there is, indeed, further to go in the matter, Honan's update rings false to me. Simply put, Honan was swept up in the hype of a situation he didn't fully comprehend. Of course, he wasn't alone, but I think it serves as a glimmering endorsement of shutting up, getting out of the way, and reserving judgment until you have all the facts in hand.

The slow Holiday news cycle has been a repeated lesson in the pitfalls of hastened journalism and opinion-making. But, more than anything else, we've again witnessed just how fearful people can be of things they do not fully understand. Although I don't expect that to be rectified, it'd be nice if we might all begin to hold these writers accountable for inciting such outrage over matters they themselves do not grasp.

"Strong Passwords Can't Save Us"

Mat Honan, responding to the New York Times:

Yes, you are quite vulnerable to being hacked, and no matter what The New York Times tells you, passwords aren’t the solution; they are the very problem. The idea that you can devise passwords to keep hackers away is quaint and preposterous. It is an outdated, old-fashioned notion akin to protecting a city with a wall.

Following his awful hacking incident several months ago, Mat Honan has become the object of repeated journalistic scare tactics regarding online security. Harking upon tales of his loss of control and the importance of longer passwords, these articles all tend to overlook the contemporary problems facing online security as opposed to antiquated sentiments from the mid-nineties.

In his response, Honan highlights the true facts of online security. That is, there is simply no cure for hacking, aside from relying upon your own self-control to only use the most secure services.

Hacking and identity theft are, indeed, very serious problems. But perpetuating aging stereotypes about password length is going to do little to actually educate the public at large. In reality, the key is to simply be cautious in your usage of the Internet. Just as you wouldn't willfully share your personal information with strangers in an unfamiliar area of town, you mustn't do the same online.

Perhaps that sounds like an ill-fitting solution, but, sadly, until there is a drastic overhaul and rethinking of digital security, it's one of the only solutions we have.

"What to Expect at Apple’s Event Tomorrow"

Mat Honan:

So tomorrow, Apple will be heaving a dead goat off a truck for the vultures of the technology press to swoop in and feast on. And oh, how we will feast: ripping the meat from the bones with our sharp-witted beaks. Page views—and more importantly, unique visitors—will come rolling in, enough to fill our bellies and sate our appetites for the month.

Calling upon his familiarly dystopian tone, Honan does a fantastic job of skewering the nature of the media with regard to Apple events.