The 2021 Tech Trends Teardown
Sir Arthur C. Clarke, of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame, once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Indeed, to the layman, all the technology that surrounds us might just run on magic. How much closer has consumer technology come to the magic that science fiction and fantasy writers have dreamt up in the decades prior? This is a review of all the technology news from the last year, and well, you tell me if we’re any closer to flying brooms and time travel.
Silicon Shortage spurs Scalpers
Due to the ever-growing imbalance of supply and demand, the global silicon chip shortage that began in 2020 is still the primary cause for eye-watering price hikes across a range of products, from computer components to automobiles and even the latest generation of consoles. This is due to the increasing demand for chips for use in every other product coupled with severe supply chain problems resulting from the pandemic, and it was duly helped along by the US-China Trade War.
Of course, this provides the perfect opportunity for people to make some quick cash by scalping components and game consoles, selling them for nearly thrice their MSRP. This has prompted rising concerns over manufacturers utilizing this chance to further raise the prices of several consumer gadgets. This new year, let’s toast to even higher prices compounded by exorbitant import taxes!
Right to Repair – Don’t Use Once, Pay Twice
There is, however, one change that might save you money on tech – Right to Repair. I know you’re thinking, “We don’t even have the right to leave campus; what is this nonsense?” It’s actually very important. We review and talk about the latest gimmicky features and gadgets, but we never talk about the nine circles of customer care torment and the wads of cash we need to throw to get our fancy tech repaired. Ask your grandparents, and they’ll tell you how that fan’s been running flawlessly for 50 years and how they fixed it themselves, and unlike their other stories, this one is actually true!
Major tech and electronics companies make a significant proportion of their revenue from repairs and extended warranty sales, so they are motivated to make repairs expensive and more difficult or even impossible for the end-user to perform on their own. I understand, not everyone is a geek like me who wants to spend hours fixing their shattered phone screen, but where do we draw the line? Do we just buy a new phone every time there’s a small crack and add to the heap of e-waste that lines our planet’s landfills?
Right to Repair is all about making devices easier to repair and making the tools and parts publicly available so that the third-party repair shops can provide fair competition to the manufacturers. The good news is there are some bills in a few US States and the EU under consideration that will grant consumers more control and rights. Some major companies have also promised better repairability in the future, but we’ll see if the statements are just another PR campaign (I’m looking at you, Apple).
Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)
Non-fungible refers to an object that is unique and can’t be replaced with anything else. NFTs are just such units of data stored on a blockchain, a digital ledger. What is a blockchain again? It’s a type of digital database where information is stored in a decentralized manner on all computers on the network such that the information is visible but can’t be modified. This guarantees the fidelity and security of a record without the need for a trusted third party. This is how cryptocurrencies work, but they are fungible. One bitcoin is the same as any other bitcoin.
NFTs can be any digital data such as artwork, music, tweets, stickers, videos and so on. NFTs are touted to be the future of the art market, with NFTs simply serving as proof of ownership akin to a certificate of authenticity. And just like the physical art world, there exist copies of NFTs, and as they are digital files, a few clicks are all it takes for someone to download that painting someone else paid millions for. Why is this getting so much hype, you wonder?
It’s because NFTs are essentially like trading cards, even if they’re technically worthless, because they are one of a kind, and there’s a lot of demand and hype clouding them; people are willing to buy just about anything. In fact, a digital cat was just bought for $172,000 and a pet rock for $46,300. While I’m not quite sure how to react to this side of the NFT market, there are other issues to be addressed.
NFTs use the same network and technology as cryptocurrencies, and the verification process for transactions involves demanding computing work that consumes vast amounts of electricity, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. All so Logan Paul can sell a video clip for $20,000 available on YouTube. It is also much more difficult to regulate fraud, plagiarism and money laundering on crypto networks. And the majority of NFTs sell for under $100, and legitimate artists end up having to pay a significant cut towards network and transaction fees. Only time will tell if NFTs will actually work out for the sale of digital art or if it’s just another passing pyramid scheme.
Metaverse of Madness
No, it’s not the premise of the next superhero movie. It is just an umbrella term for a collection of digital technologies that will be linked together in a virtual, alternate reality. Oh, and it’s Facebook’s fancy rebranding strategy to cover up their over 500 million user data breach (yes, again) in 2021 and the global outage of Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp for nearly 6 hours due to an ‘internal error’. I thought my birthday present was early, and Facebook was finally shutting down. So the metaverse is basically a virtual, social and consistent (picks up where you left it) reality advertised with a myriad of buzzwords such as AR, VR, NFTs (yup, you guessed it), digital twins, avatars, etc. that leave the public intentionally confused.
So it’s basically a massive virtual edition of The Sims, only you can buy NFT Nike shoes (I’m not making this up, I swear) for your virtual avatar, naturally, for a pretty penny. What is the point of this? It’s yet another profit-driven ‘high tech’ initiative to blur the lines between the real and virtual worlds even more. While I get that social media is supposed to connect people, and it sort of works, why should we be working towards creating an alternate reality when there are enough problems to solve here? This is all spearheaded by Lord Zuckerberg, and eventually, we won’t be able to figure out which is reality, at which point the lizard people will take over our world and harvest our bodies for energy.
Windows 11 – A Shattering Change
Windows 11 is here! Yup, the one they said wouldn’t be released. What has changed? At the core, absolutely nothing. It’s the same old Windows 10 with a new UI that’s been ripped off.. Err… inspired by macOS. There are a few welcome changes though, the awful Microsoft Store is finally being revamped with a new look, and so far, the amount of useful software available seems promising, and the maze of settings menus and dialog boxes have been replaced with a more seamless settings app. There are useless inclusions such as the Teams integration and widgets, but what’s frustrating is the insistence of big software companies to infantilize users and dumb down the user interface. This just makes it frustrating to upgrade for every type of user and hampers productivity for superusers and enthusiasts who are being ignored yet again. If you’ve already upgraded, I extend my condolences in advance for all those bugs that will pop up right before the assignment’s deadline.
At the start of the year, Adobe discontinued support for the Adobe Flash Player, the source of endless hours of joy as a kid as you dove into an endless treasure trove of games that didn’t have microtransactions. Fortunately, the open-source community has got your back, and BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint is an attempt to preserve different web games and animations from over 30 different platforms. Give it a go if high ping and limited data packages are devouring your soul.
Flash isn’t the only victim this year; LG has shut down its smartphone business, much to the surprise and sorrow of many tech enthusiasts who still want a headphone jack on their new devices. Well, at least I can cheer myself up with the wonderfully coordinated dance videos performed by Boston Dynamics robots.
There can’t be an article about technology without our beloved content streaming platforms now, can there? Suspect number one is YouTube. Apparently, they’re taking a step towards improving content creators’ mental health. No, they’re not improving their copyright system; they’re hiding the dislike counts on all videos. How do I know if that 2 hour documentary on the history of Disney’s queue systems is any good? Eh, I’ll watch it anyway.
Seriously though, on a platform with so much content, an evaluation tool is necessary, and since thumbnails and titles are no longer remotely useful, the like-dislike ratio is about the only easy measure to decide if a video is useful. On a more celebratory note, Minecraft has 1 trillion views on YouTube, and Mark Rober and Mr. Beast are back again with another fundraiser, Team Seas, to combat the growing amounts of plastic waste in our oceans.
That’s about it, folks! Plenty of revolutionary advancements in computer hardware that are in shortage and plenty of fancy tech words thrown around by the biggest tech companies that not only don’t fix problems, but create new ones for their users to deal with. Maybe next year will be magical, but I wouldn’t bet my NFTs on it quite yet.