View profile

The long-awaited return of Technologizer

Hello! A tiny bit of introduction, since this is issue #1, which I'm sure will become a sought-after
Technologizer
The long-awaited return of Technologizer
By Harry McCracken • Issue #1 • View online
Hello! A tiny bit of introduction, since this is issue #1, which I’m sure will become a sought-after collectible. Almost ten years ago, I started a little website about personal technology called Technologizer. It later became part of Time.com and even had a print presence in dead-tree TIME. Since I joined Fast Company in 2014, however, it’s been largely dormant.
Recently, though, I decided to start a newsletter–and quickly realized that the one I envisioned was pretty much Technologizer in email form. I plan to use this venue to share stuff that won’t fit into a tweet but doesn’t feel like a full-blown article; recommend reads around the web (including items by me and me Fast Company compatriots); and generally take advantage of a medium that’s more intimate than the web at large. What the natural cadence of these missives will be, I’m not yet sure, but I’m shooting for several times a week.
If you received this issue, you already figured out that newsletter.technologizer.com includes my subscription form; it’s also where back issues will be archived. 188 of you signed up to get this sign unseen. I’m honored, and will try to earn my place in your inbox.

The news in Revue
I’ve been reading any enjoying Casey Newton’s newsletter The Interface for awhile. But it wasn’t until I edited a Fast Company story by JR Raphael that I learned about Revue, the Netherlands-based platform used by Casey and others to publish editorial-focused newsletters with a minimum of fuss. Here’s JR’s article, which inspired me to try Revue to put together the newsletter you’re reading now.
Email—yes, email—is the next great media platform
So far, Revue has been great–except for the fact that its newsletter-creation tools are not 100% iPad friendly, an issue the company told me it’s working on.
It's a Bird! It's a pain! It's everywhere!
In recent weeks, as the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco have  grown thick with electric scooters, it’s dawned on me that the companies responsible for them–Bird, Lime, and Spin–might be on the cusp of realizing the prophecy of city-changing personal transportation floated (but hardly fulfilled) by Dean Kamen’s Segway more than a decade and a half ago. Except that instead of involving a wildly new piece of transportation hardware, these startups’ vision is built around a mundane kid’s toy souped up with a motor and GPS. Just as with Uber and other on-demand services, the innovation is entirely software-based, and primarily logistical.
So far, I have neither been on one of the scooters (note to self: try one this week) nor come close to being struck by anyone tooling down Second St. on one. Still, it does feel like the companies involved are imposing a social experiment on cities such as San Francisco without permission.
Over at the Atlantic, Taylor Lorenz has a first-rate exploration of how Bird scooters get charged–by freelancers who round ‘em up, plug 'em in, and occasionally try to game the system. It’s the nuggets that make Lorenz’s story great:
Some vigilante Bird chargers who will stop at nothing to retrieve lost Birds and claim the $20 rewards have been known to falsely act as official representatives of the company. When they see a person hoarding a scooter or group of scooters in their garage via the app, they’ll show up at the offender’s house and demand they release the Birds into their care. “This only really works sometimes,” says one charger. “If the person knows what’s up they can say, ‘Actually you’re trespassing on private property.’"
Recode’s Johana Bhuiyan provides a less colorful–but still worthwhile– look at Lime’s logistics for accomplishing the same end result.
Electric Scooter Charger Culture Is Out of Control
Inside how a scooter-sharing startup navigates San Francisco - Recode
Duplex wasn't ready for a demo
Harry McCracken
Sundar Pichai w/obligatory self-aware intro: “We know the path ahead needs to be navigated carefully and deliberately. And we feel a deep sense of responsibility to get this right.” https://t.co/lgZ35M9ybC
7:10 AM - 8 May 2018
Confession time: At the I/O conference, when Google showed off Duplex–which will let the Google Assistant place phone calls and perform tasks, such as making appointments, using an uncannily human voice–I was so dazzled by its technical ingenuity that it took me 24 hours to be bothered by some of its implications. Since then, Duplex’s honeymoon has officially ended as coverage has raised troubling questions which Google has not exactly rushed to answer.
It’s entirely possible that there was nothing fundamentally deceptive about the demo and that Duplex, when widely deployed, will disclose its automated nature in a responsible fashion. But Google could have given Duplex a far better introduction if it had been rigorous about working through the ethical issues related to simulating a human phone call before springing it on the world in the I/O keynote. As AI increasingly allows technology companies to rewrite the rules of man-machine interaction, their presentations will need to demonstrate an understanding of the gravity of that responsibility that go beyond platitudes.
I wrote a bit more on this over at Fast Company.
Maybe introducing Google Duplex at I/O wasn’t such a hot idea
Time in a bottle
Certain aspects of writing for TIME magazine–which I did from 2010-2014–were spectacular. But it was the history and mystique that mattered as much as the day-to-day work, in part because Time Warner had pigeonholed the 21st-century Time Inc. as a print-media company in a way that was unhealthy for everyone involved. Though I never felt like I was employed by a concern that had figured out the internet, I loved working someplace that had mattered to so many people for so long. I’m just sorry that my TIME-obsessed Grandmother didn’t live to see my name on the masthead.
The company I worked at no longer exists; Meredith acquired it in January, instantly pulled down the Time Inc. sign at headquarters, and is now in the process of auctioning off Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and Money. But I still enjoy reading about the storied Time Inc. that I, as a tail-ender, never got to experience in the first place. And Sridhar Pappu and Jay Stone’s new oral history in the New York Times is a doozy full of details:
Early on, I recall a very formal luncheon inside the Time Inc building with Fidel Castro. I don’t think he ate a single bite of food or took one sip of water, but he told some amazing tales. Equally memorable, many years later, was a visit from Steve Jobs, when he handed us each an astonishing new device – the Ipad – which felt, that day, like a preview of our future. All of the titles had the power to draw attention from newsmakers, so you never knew who to expect.
I missed the era of Steve Jobs calling on TIME. But I did get to sit in on Tim Cook’s first visit. Like I said, working there could be spectacular.
The photos in the Times piece may be even better than the actual oral history–I got a little chill from the one depicting Henry Luce and JFK striding through the Time & Life Building in 1960.
The Last Days of Time Inc.
History department: The amazing Urbmobile
The self-driving revolution now seems close enough to reality that I’d be shocked if it doesn’t change the world within a decade or two. But it’s worth remembering that people have repeatedly gotten prematurely giddy about visions of autonomous vehicles that never went anywhere. 
Take, for instance, the Urbmobile, which Popular Science reported on in its October 1967 issue and said might be a fundamental part of urban infrastructure by 1985. It was to be an electric car, possibly to be provided to citizens as part of a transportation-as-a-system service rather than as something consumers would buy from car dealers. Those parts sound familiar.
But the Urbmobile’s defining feature was that you could drive one out of your garage, over surface streets, and onto an automated track, where it would drive itself with other Urbmobiles at a consistent 60 m.p.h. Once it had taken you to your office downtown, it would navigate its way to a parking lot on the outskirts of town;  at quitting time, you’d call a phone number on your landline and punch in a special code to summon it back.
PopSci’s story is a fascinating Mad Men-era artifact. It says that that the Urbmobile would be cheap to run and good for the environment, but is oddly disinterested in the possibility of the technology saving lives. And the cover illustration depicts a benefit of riding in a self-driving car which doesn’t come up much these days: It leaves a gentleman free to light a lady’s cigarette. 
I wrote about the Urbmobile and other proto-Waymos back in 2010. when Google had just announced its self-driving project and the world was still especially agog at the prospect.

								  Look Ma, No Hands! A Brief History of Self-Driving Cars
That’s it for this issue. Feel free to drop me a line if you have opinions on any of the above, or just want to say hi: harry@technologizer.com.
–Harry
Did you enjoy this issue?
Harry McCracken

A roundup of technology-related stuff I'm writing, reading, and remembering.

If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here
Powered by Revue
harry@technologizer.com