The Cost of Complacency

This is another cross post from my podcast Janie Rants. I will record this script later today and post it to that site as well.

Yesterday I, along with half of our nation, watched in growing horror as we saw the election results come in. Last year we laughed at the Republicans as they saw their establishment candidates knocked out one by one by an orange con man. We shook our heads in disbelief that any woman would vote for a man who was on tape talking about grabbing women by the pussy. He went on rants at 3:00 in the morning calling an ex-beauty queen a pig and an eating machine. Surely no one would trust this man with codes that could start a nuclear war?

I want to rewind everyone back a few weeks to October 27, 2016.

This feels like a lifetime ago, but this was when Apple announced their update to the new Retina MacBook Pro.

People like me have been waiting anxiously for an update to this line of computers. I have wanted to buy a new laptop for a while but I wanted to really max out the processor and the ram.

What did we get?

We got the same RAM. Close to the same processor. And a touch bar. Oh, and all of our ports are now gone and we have to spend an extra hundred bucks or two to buy all the dongles we need to plug our new iPhone 7s into our laptops.

A lot of people were really angry about this. Most people dismissed them because every time Apple announces something, everyone is angry. Everyone is angry that their pet thing didn’t get featured with an upgrade.

Most people who complained about the new Macbook Pro were chastised by the community. We’re told that Apple has a reason for doing what they’re doing and a lot of us didn’t like certain changes made to iOS but that after we got used to them we realized they had a purpose and Apple knew what it was doing, so we should have faith that there is a reason behind all of this too. Even if there isn’t a reason behind everything, what are you going to do about it? Apple is still the best choice even if it’s not as much better as it used to be.

I feel like those people who are telling us to stop complaining are like the establishment politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties.

People in the Apple community are upset. We remember ten years ago when we saw all these amazing innovations coming from Apple. I recently received a vintage blueberry iBook from someone to decorate my living room. When I saw the computer for the first time, I laughed out loud with delight. The design of the computer was like nothing I have seen in such a long time. It was different and unique. It made me smile.

Nothing Apple has produced over the last five years has made me smile.

I got an aluminum Mac Book in 2004 that was nice. It looked modern. It was well built. It had a neat track pad. It was light enough that I could carry it places. It felt like a modern machine.

When I look at every computer that has come out since that one, they’re all variations on the same tune. Same with the iPhone.

Every year the devices get thinner and more fragile. There are more bugs in the tools and the frameworks. There is less time to create innovative applications because by the time you learn the new ropes, the system changes. The changes people actually want to see never get done. But there is an assumption that people will just keep buying Apple products because we’re locked into an ecosystem and we’re obligated to do so.

I feel like this is similar to the attitude we saw from the Democratic party in regards to Hillary Clinton.

I want to say I like Hillary Clinton. I think she would have been a solid president and I am incredibly sad that she lost. I think that thirty years of gas lighting and fake scandals and constant investigations turning up nothing have tarnish her reputation and it saddens me that an orange troll can be on tape talking about grabby women by the pussy and be taken more seriously than a religious woman who has dedicated her life to public service.

That being said, this election was about change. The election in 2008 was about change too. The Great Recession hit and destroyed our economy. The Democrats rode to the White House on the shoulders of Barack Obama, the great hope of our generation. He promised to close Guantanamo Bay and to stop sending our soldiers to die in the Middle East. He promised to clean up the corruption that resulted in the Great Recession.

He didn’t do any of these things.

He passed the Affordable Care Act, which is a landmark piece of legislation. One of the only reasons I can be an independent consultant is because of the Affordable Care Act.

But no one went to jail over the corruption that caused the Great Recession. Gitmo is still up and running.

We can rightfully make the argument that Obama was hamstrung by Congress for the last six years, but the biggest reason that we wound up with the Tea Party just two years after Obama’s historic election is because people felt betrayed that he didn’t do what they thought he would do. He didn’t clean up corruption. He didn’t throw the bankers in jail. He created a giveaway to the insurance industry to allow them to have a blank check for health care. We rejected Hillary in 2008 because Obama promised us hope and change and we got more of the same.

The health insurance marketplace opened on November 1st. My health insurance went up nearly a hundred dollars a month. I saw classmates who work on family farms show that the cost of insuring their wife and child in the most bare bones package available was a thousand dollars a month with a twelve thousand dollar deductible. That’s completely bogus.

Obama continued to get advice from the same corporate people that crashed the economy in the first place. He didn’t enact the bold action people elected him for because he trusted the advice he got from the people with the same college education and background that he had. I used to think Hillary would have been different, but now I am not so sure.

There is an economics experiment called the Ultimatum Game. In this game, there are two players. One player is given ten dollars and is told that they can split it any way they want to, but the other player can either approve it or deny it. If the player approves, the money is split accordingly and each player takes their money and leaves. If the player denies it, then no one gets anything.

A common way most people split the money is to take nine dollars and offer one to the other player. If you think about this rationally, the second player should approve of this deal because it gives them a dollar they would not otherwise have. But we’re people and we don’t think rationally. We don’t think it’s fair for the first player to get nine dollars when we only get one just because they got to choose the split. They have more to lose than we do if we reject the offer and we feel better about denying the other person their nine dollars than we do about losing our one dollar.

For the last several decades the American political system has been an ultimatum game. The establishment politicians have used social issues like abortion and civil rights to try and bludgeon us into agreeing to their deal. We’re supposed to vote for Hillary to avoid a future dictated by people like Paul Ryan wanting to enact his Ayn Randian vision of America where he will destroy our safety nets and let everyone die in a state of unmitigated poverty.

People who are shocked by this are not familiar with the ultimatum game. They thought everyone would nicely go along with the status quo because the status quo is better for them than the probable hell the next four years are going to be. But they’re going to be a lot worse for us than they are for them. It’s going to be worst of all for our Muslim brothers and sisters out there.

I consistently see people earning ten dollars an hour fighting against a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage because they don’t think people working at McDonalds deserve fifteen dollars an hour when they’re only earning ten. They don’t care that they would increase their own wage by fifty percent by supporting a fifteen dollar and hour minimum wage, they just want to make sure that no one underneath them manages to get ahead of them. They want everyone to be brought down rather than being brought up.

A lot of anger and ill will right now at the Democratic party is reminiscent of a lot of the arguments I have been making about the tech industry. The party wanted Hillary because Hillary was a good culture fit. She would support their interests. They all met at the Christmas party and sent their kids to the same schools. They wanted someone they were comfortable and familiar with.

And that is exactly what everyone is angry about.

They don’t want to take their dollar while the banks get nine. They don’t like being told that they should be happy with their dollar because if Donald Trump is president then they won’t get any dollars.

Right now in the tech industry we have a massive glut of wealth that is going to a small group of people who are all in their early twenties who all went to Stanford or MIT who are all pitching the exact same shitty product that already exists in ten different forms somewhere else. Nothing innovative is happening because it’s a giant echo chamber where the same people are starting companies doing the same things and selling them off to the same other larger companies. No new ideas or people or perspectives can get in because they’re uncomfortable and we’re on the verge of a collapse because of it.

You can’t keep producing the same product over and over again that people aren’t interested in buying. You can skate by for some period of time on that apathy, but eventually a disruptive force will come and shake things up.

IBM didn’t take the PC market seriously. They didn’t think a small company like Apple could completely change the way we live our lives. Now Apple is falling into the same complacency trap that sucked up IBM and Xerox. They think everyone is locked into their ecosystem and that no one wants to buy Android phones because they’re inferior, so they aren’t listening to what we’re saying we actually want because they think we have no choice but to accept what they’re producing.

Let’s imagine that another company creates a fantastic competitor to the iPhone. It could be Google. It could be some upstart we’ve never heard of. Their products are innovative and exciting. You’re not trapped in a proprietary ecosystem where you must own an underpowered Mac to write applications for this new device. You can buy cheaper and better devices that are genuinely exciting and not just more of the same.

Or pretend that there is a customer rebellion and everyone refuses to buy iPhones. Some change is made and the customer base leaves out of spite.

It might not happen tomorrow, but it will happen. People don’t like being backed into a corner and told they have no choice. It happened to other companies and it is happening to Apple. Apple can listen to the rumblings of discontent coming from its user base and make a decision to embrace the things that made it great, but I don’t think they will. It’s easier to be complacent and keep doing the things your comfortable with that have always worked before, especially when you’re surrounded by people who all think the same way you do.

One of Steve Jobs’s favorite songs was “The Times, They Are A’Changing“ by Bob Dylan. I suggest that in the wake of this election we all take a deep look at our society and we stop blaming people who have been telling us for decades that they’re angry but were ignored because we assumed they would all just go away and die. The signs were there, but we didn’t want to see them. We didn’t want to fix things that were broken because they worked good enough, and now we’re facing a reckoning.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.