Tech, Criticism, and Innovation

November 12th 2014 in Blog, Technology

I really like innovation. I really like tech. I also really like Apple stuff. I’m not really an Apple fanboy though – I think the new watch looks cool, but I don’t need or even want one. I like having the newer iPhones because that’s something I use every day. But my barely used iPad 3 that I scored for $150 cuts it as far as a good tablet goes. I don’t ever feel that I need to buy the newest thing every six months.

What’s interesting to me is how viciously fickle critics have become of tech companies. And it’s not just that industry that gets heat. The internet seems to have given a whole new breed of armchair critics a place to hole up and throw rotten tomatoes at anyone who fails to create something that lives up to the high standards they’ve created in their heads. For a large part of the tech consumer market, it’s all or nothing. They demand radically new, all the time, no exceptions.

A few weeks ago, Apple released the iPad Mini 3. It’s exactly the same as the previous model, the iPad Mini with Retina Display, but with the added feature of the Touch ID fingerprint reader. Bloggers felt “betrayed” and completely unsurprised that Apple would pull this kind of crap again. Funny thing is, the fact that the previous model is now a hundred bucks less was mostly ignored. So if you really don’t want that Touch ID for the same price as the iPad already was, hey, you can save $100. But this attitude repeats itself over and over with every new product launch.

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Leaked photo of the iPad Mini 4.

There’s a couple of reasons for this attitude. One of them is just greed. Tech is a tool, and should be treated as such. A tool should be practical at the end of the day, and a practically made tool is something that doesn’t need to be replaced every 12 months. When you have a company like Apple that straddles the line between tech giant and iconic lifestyle brand, you have a lot of people who want to be seen with the newest cool thing. But the products, when well made, don’t necessitate that kind of fast turn around. I bought my first Apple laptop in 2006 when I was in high school and used it with no problems every day since then until a few months ago.

As we’ve discussed before, not every new iteration of a product can be or even should be a completely new and ground-breaking thing. So why do they keep coming out with barely updated versions for years after the initial product release? Any smart company is going to be tweaking their products as they move towards bigger and more important product releases. And you don’t need to buy them or even feel jealous every time a new version of your computer comes out. My MacBook (it was one of those sweet black ones) was great and never once did I wish that I had waited just a few more months or a year for the newest one. When you buy good tech and treat it well, it’ll last you a while. Seven and a half years of heavy use is above average for a laptop, and I definitely feel like I got my money’s worth.

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The disposable camera of the 21st century.

As we continue to explore tech criticism, we’re gonna change gears a little bit. The other reason for the highly critical attitude is an oddly high standard of perfection that people have when it comes to successful people. I won’t deny that Steve Jobs was often a jerk. Could he have used more tact and sensitivity when he dealt with people? Did he backstab and lie to manipulate others and get his way? Yeah, but everyone’s got problems. People aren’t perfect. I can be a jerk, and you probably have your moments too. That doesn’t make it acceptable behavior – it’s just what we have to deal with as people.

I’ve had conversations with people who try to convince me that a company like Apple is a fluke and isn’t actually that great because the guy who started it was mean sometimes. Quite the opposite, in fact. The very nature of a wildly successful person means that they are probably goofily eccentric and slightly narcissistic at the very least or a high functioning sociopath at the worst. So much so that in trying to understand where innovation comes from, researchers have retroactively labeled innovators of the past from Isaac Newton to Albert Einstein as autistic or something similarly clinical. The idea that a “normal person” could come up with something so “out there” or revolutionary both frustrates and scares people. But the guy who built a company that he started in his parents’ garage to be the most valuable brand in the world wasn’t a goober who accidentally tripped into success. He knew what he was doing; and he used other people to help him, whether they knew it or not.

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“Hmmm…I’ve got two murders penciled in after lunch, but I could probably invent something groundbreaking by dinner.”

This shouldn’t be taken as a defense of bad behavior. But if you want to know where innovation comes from, this is usually it. Think of it as a “meet your meat” moment. Still, to say that a smartphone is a bad product because the guy who made it happens to have a bad temper is a logical fallacy called ad hominem, which is a fancy way of saying “name-calling.” Many ubiquitous facets of modern life, from lightbulbs to Facebook, were mired in controversy because of the people who made them. But you use these products every day. And by putting down the small things that these innovators work hard to offer you, you become the jerk you claim to hate. By its very definition, innovation is something that goes against an established status quo. And for the most part, the only people willing to rock that boat will be, as Apple’s famous ad campaign declared, “the crazy ones.”