But ubiquitous quality has given rise to a new problem: If everything just works, how are you supposed to choose what to buy?
My advice: Don’t just consider how well a product works, but look at who’s making it and how it is sold. Before you dive in to any new doodad, consider a company’s ethics, morals, branding and messaging. If you aren’t comfortable, look to alternatives (last year, for instance, I switched to Lyft from Uber and I’ve never looked back). Most important, when choosing tech, it’s wise to consider the business model — because it’s in the buying and the selling of a product, rather than in the using, that you can best figure out its dangers.
For instance: Even though Google’s Pixel line of phones is very good — a far more affordable option with some features that iPhone users might kill for — I stick with Apple’s phones because I appreciate the simplicity of the trade. I pay Apple a huge sum of money for the device, and it takes extraordinary care in protecting me from some of the worst digital scourges.
I don’t doubt Google’s capacity to make great devices. But because Google makes most of its money from ads, and because the internet ad business lies at the heart of just about every terrible thing online, I’d rather not fall deeper into that swamp.
Similarly, I found Facebook’s new video-chatting machine, Portal, to be very good, but I’ll never buy it. Besides Facebook’s dependence on targeted ads, the company has repeatedly breached its users’ trust, not to mention the casual disregard it has shown for larger ideas like democracy. Portal is nice, but it’s not that nice.
Avoid feeding the giants.
One thing that hasn’t changed in the last five years is who’s running the show. When I started writing this column, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft were tech’s biggest and most influential companies. Today, even with recent stock-market troubles, the same five giants sit at the top of the world.
I’ve railed against this sort of concentration again and again — the tech giants’ increasing domination ruins innovation, undermines consumer choice and generally makes a lot of the industry ungovernable. Lawmakers around the world are now taking notice, and it’s possible that in the next five years, we’ll see greater regulatory curbs to the behemoths’ size and scope.