April 03, 2014

Episode Fifty One: Internet of Poor People; Re-introductions; Odds

0.0 Station Ident

It's a cool, cloudy day in the Pacific Northwest. I have copies of Hawkeye to catch up on and the Veronica Mars movie poster has just arrived at my desk. I am still thinking about VR. 

Projects wise, I need to pick up work on SULACO BLUE, which I kind of set aside for a couple of days. And there's another one that I'm (tentatively) excited about but won't hear back for a while, which I'm calling NOSTROMO BLACK. The more attentive amongst you might spot the pattern here.

1.0 Internet of Poor People

I am at massive risk of privilege-splaining here. I'm practically white, (upper?) middle class, live in a comfortable (rented) house wife a wife and a gorgeous baby. I have a creative director position at a stupendously well-regarded creative advertising agency and in terms of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the types of questions I need answers to are things like "where is the Apple Remote?" and "when is the replacement Apple Remote we ordered through Amazon Prime arriving?" or "what place are we eating out at tonight." So believe me when I say that I am writing this with as much self-awareness as I can.

The thing that pisses me off, that really, really, really pisses me off about a) America and b) a subset of the engineer mindset is the whole "I don't want to be advertised at, just give me all the information and I will research and buy the best product."

This rant is prompted in part because of a particularly middle-class problem in America, and it's one of healthcare. My primary care doctor (who let's just assume I have), recommended late last year that it was probably time I got some professional mental health care. I'd been seeing a therapist weekly in London before I moved to the US, but it had been nearly two years since I'd seen someone. 

What I needed to do, he said, was this:

1. Discreetly ask friends and co-workers if they had any recommendations as to good therapists
2. Call up my insurance provider to see who was in-network (if I didn't want to end up paying out of pocket up to $200/session)
3. Call up my insurance provider Employee Assistance Programme, who would also recommend in-network therapists
4. Look up some therapists
5. Call some therapists and speak to them, maybe set up a few appointments
6. See a bunch of therapists and see if I got on with them
7. Decide which one I wanted to see after I had "shopped around" a bit

I'm lucky to have the kind of job and the kind of employer where I can take the time out to do those things. In the UK, of course, we didn't have consumer choice and the way it worked was something like this: my GP would say "you need to see a therapist" and she would write a letter for a referral which would go in the Actual Mail and be printed out and everything, and then an interminable amount of time later I would be invited to an appointment. I didn't get a choice: I got a therapist and I was damn well grateful.

I don't understand how one is supposed to have the time to make an informed consumer choice in this case. For someone who's working minimum wage and doesn't have an understanding employer, how exactly are you supposed to sort out those multiple appointments? When are you supposed to do all of that research?

This is the paradox of choice for the lower-middle class and working class. There's zero-hour contract jobs, where not turning up for a shift can put your contract at risk of termination, and they don't even come with healthcare in the first place. The profusion of choice isn't just cognitively difficult to work with (so many options), but the practical aspect of it: of actually sitting down and having a clear enough head to assess the pros and cons is, in Californian Ideology terms, a *tax imposed on the consumer*.

It might not be an explicit tax, it might not even be an intentional tax, but it is one nonetheless. And in America, there appear to be some structural taxes: like - in the UK, insurance is pretty easy to buy without having to talk to a human being. There exist online options and also online comparison sites that actually compare amongst different providers. There's an entire business of them, and some of them are fairer than others and some even disclose the kickbacks that they get in terms of affiliate marketing. But, importantly, there's one place you can go to, and it's relatively easy to make your decision there. Here, I assume for states' rights reasons, it's difficult if not impossible to do that.

I mean, come on America. In the UK we have comparison sites for *grocery delivery*. I realise you're a big country and all and you have certain geographic realities to deal with, but it's amusing that there are some things that are easier to do in the UK.

But this is the thing for me: all this talk of startups that deliver freshly cooked local sustainable food to other startups aren't fucking changing the world. They're scribbling idiot notes in the margins. You want to change the world? Save time for people who don't have any, and make their actual lives better - and I mean *really* saving time, not shaving a couple hundred milliseconds off your laundry startup's rendering page. And see if you can get an empathy transplant in the meantime.

2.0 Re-introductions

I've had a bunch of new subscribers in the past couple of days (even more yesterday than the day before), so I want to make a few things clear for all you newbies. The great thing about this newsletter - for me - is that it's a personal project, something I started in January to practice my writing. I set myself a task: to write every weekday and send it out there. It's not on my blog, because there's something qualitatively different about the type of relationship and attention you get from newsletter subscribers. So: understand me when I say this - the newsletter is this way because I want it to be this way. I realise it's long. I ramble. It is, pretty much, a sort of unedited stream of conciousness straight from my head through my fingers into this browser TEXTAREA and then spurted into your mailbox. If you are a trendhunter or a forecaster or someone in advertising: this is unashamedly exactly what I say it is: things that interest me. 

I'm not writing for an audience, I'm writing for practice. Some people happen to have found that interesting, stimulating and/or useful. Which is great. And I've had some great conversations. All this is to say that when I see the subscriber numbers tick down (which I'm sure they will) I know why, and I'll be OK about it.

3.0 Odds

More odds and ends.

Amazon announced (and released) FireTV, because hey didn't you know the bill of materials you need to produce a streaming video device that plugs into HDMI are pretty much a commodity these days (and so, I imagine, is white-labelling a streaming video service). The only thing of note for me is: a) how easy is it to upgrade to Amazon Prime from the device and b) for what's in the box, it's curious that Amazon aren't being more aggressive with the price and undercutting the Apple TV. They obviously can't reach Chromecast levels, but the price (for now) is an interesting signal.

My friend Minkette is a game designer at Wieden+Kennedy (we used to work together at Six to Start) and is keeping a game diary: http://minkette.wordpress.com which, you know, interesting ephemera.

Barco, a display company, has this old demo of a multi-touch glass cockpit setup for planes. There's a great bit about halfway through where the guy demoing it answers the rhetorical question of "but how do you use a multi-touch display in turbulence?" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAITKeKdk7I (actually, it's not that great. I know about expectations and YouTube videos).

Brendan Eich stepped down as CEO of Mozilla because it turns out that your protected first amendment rights of free speech don't come with corresponding protection against the consequences of you exercising that free speech. And this C|net interview with him (http://www.cnet.com/news/mozilla-ceo-gay-marriage-firestorm-could-hurt-firefox-cause-q-a/) is just shocking in his conflation of the open web and inclusiveness means being inclusive of people of bigoted opinions. Sorry, Eich, but moral relativism appears not to have worked out for you.

If you know how to (and want to) explore Europa for less than a billion dollars, NASA wants to hear from you. http://1.usa.gov/1j6jJr2 Alternatively, if you believe that ALL THESE WORLDS ARE OURS APART FROM EUROPA ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE then, uh, I don't believe we have giant monolith outside context problem risk mitigation strategies in place, so good luck.


Okay, that's it! See you on Friday. As ever, hugs, kisses and please send notes.