At the time of this writing, Big Tech is very much in the news for selectively enforcing customer agreements in certain very high-profile cases. Whether you agree with the politics of those actions or not, they are stark reminders of how dependent we have become on our tech overlords. As one who has been part of the formation of the personal computing industry and its evolution to ubiquitous mobile apps, I remember when software was licensed under relatively simple LULA’s – Limited Use License Agreements – and have watched it evolve through many iterations including SaaS pricing, API’s, integrated payments, database privileges, and so much more. One now most often licenses a platform or a membership or subscription or other generator of recurring revenue as opposed to an off-the-shelf product which can be bought once and used until it’s obsolete.
I recently took a peek at a newly popular “free” blogging platform to see if I might be a candidate for that. In a rare case where I actually read the fine print, I discovered all the content belongs to that platform once published. There had to be a catch somewhere. Why would I write these valuable lessons for someone else to own outright? Would I have to license back my own original humor, such as it is?
Of course, I’m in the software business as currently defined and enjoy working with those in the overlord category. I’m not arguing for change. But, occasionally, all the dependencies weigh on me. My blog and my companion consulting work have a “tech stack” – custom WordPress, WP Engine hosting, Mailchimp, Google business, multiple Apple devices, Intuit, Quicken, Microsoft Office, Gmail, Zoom, Blue Jeans, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, ATT, Elijay Telephone Company, and more. My role at the ATDC adds Slack, Calendly, and all the University System of GA computing resources. To add to the excitement, my wife and I just moved our insurance on two of our autos to Liberty Mutual, where for 90 days we both have to use their RightTrack app that records every trip for each of us. I have to train it and confirm which of us is the driver for even a 1 mile trip for groceries. It keeps a very detailed record including a map; there’s zero privacy, but there is enough of a rate reduction to make it worthwhile as long as I can temper my wife’s street racing addiction.
All of these apps have to work without fail for me to accomplish my routine missions. And they all require periodic maintenance chores, even if just keeping credit card information current for my charges that drive the recurring revenue for my vendors. You know how often Apple updates its products, and many others do the same. Like you, I have an assortment of financial accounts that require tending; and keeping the books and tax records are in my job description as well. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t have a few surprise to-do items just to insure that my stack is functioning smoothly. Plus, since I’ve been WFH for nearly a year, I’m also often a participant in performing general home maintenance and wrangling the helpers who actually do some of that maintenance. I frequently call on trusted experts to help me with customer projects; they are valued parts of my “human stack” and require their own care and feeding.
As an aside, I hope my son knows what to do with the 300 passwords I shared with him for use upon my demise. Perhaps he can untangle my affairs, but hopefully that’s a distant future question.
Right now, I believe I’m operating as efficiently as possible; hiring admin help would just slow me down. Changing out any one element of my workflow would invoke switching costs in terms of dollars and time. Nothing I’m doing would benefit from a personal assistant, although I now often see business plans for automated assistants. Both our dogs occupy their assigned seats for every Zoom, are enjoyable company, and only bark if they see a dog on the screen. The work is getting done, so I am kvetching about my time-killing overhead even if I have no real basis for doing so. I sometimes recall fondly the days of slide rules and green ruled paper, but in truth I can get far more done with the modern stack. I even recently donated my extensive slide rule collection to the Computer Museum of America in Roswell, GA; check it out when you are next there.
Keep in mind that my own stack with its myriad internal dependencies is victim of many legacy systems in government entities, financial institutions, and just about every external app I use. I favor my iPad Pro, but I find many applications that work fine on a computer and often on a phone but never on a Pad. Check the corporate registration page for Georgia’s Secretary of State for a shining example. Look also at the number of sites that require Chrome. Note how often these legacy systems are down for extended maintenance. I can only imagine all the issues for parents and teachers trying to deliver meaningful education to home-bound school children; they are stuck with tools that predated the pandemic, had fairly limited adoption, and are now being pressed into heavy service across a variety of platforms and wide disparities in bandwidth.
This series of elections we have just suffered has brought many interdependencies to the fore in the ways that will be very difficult to address for the next cycle. Many states shifted heavily to paper mail-in ballots due to the pandemic and to fears of hackable Internet access. The mandate for one vote per verified person overshadows the easy but “leakier” alternatives like voting via phone apps. I live in a 55+ condo that actually skews somewhat older, and I see fine people aging into circumstances where absentee ballots are necessary. I suspect most will be dependent on family to provide and transmit photo ID’s along with those ballots. I signed up for Georgia absentee voting on the promise that the state would send me a ballot for every election henceforth, which is the standard rule that kicks in at age 65. I’d like to keep that privilege, but we all saw how much conflict has arisen from evolving absentee regulations and how many courts got drawn into that fray. I applaud our election officials who managed to navigate those minefields, but it’s going to take some genius to create a new set of regulations that answer to every one’s satisfaction the simple question of who wins or who loses.
Finally, no discussion of technology dependencies would be complete without mentioning Zoom, Teams, Blue Jeans, WebEX, Hopin or any of the other flavors of virtual meetings. Zoom itself has attained the enviable state of a being a one-word household brand – the Kleenix of virtual gatherings. I am a regular video member of Peachtree Presbyterian Church, at least until I finish my Pfizer vaccines and feel more comfortable showing up In person. This is a large church with considerable video expertise that predated the Pandemic, but there’s almost always a glitch. I witnessed one of our pastors actually pray over a balky Zoom for a Sunday School class, and it arose! I have his number in case anybody has a virtual meeting that absolutely must perform. Almost no business meeting gets executed without a hitch, particularly if the attendees are scattered far and wide. Sometimes the problems are at the video source, sometimes in the Internet connection, and often in operator error by sender and/or receiver. I’m glad you can’t mute a blog like this. Hear ye!
I resumed this blog this month and appreciate the many positive comments that came my way as a result. You all know how to reach me at the ATDC or otherwise, but I had to disable general comments. They were all from Russian actors as best I could tell. And, I kept having to install security patches to plug the leaks though such features.
Stay well. Let’s all make it to the second jab and dream of something approaching normalcy.
By the way, too much has happened in our nation in the two weeks since my previous post. Now I’m imagining Trump flying over DC when he departs on the 20th with an “I Won” banner in tow. About half my friends would cheer and half would gasp, so don’t read into that vision any political leaning of my own.