Category: Tech

On the pursuit of control

“For more than five hundred years, Western culture has been shaped by the dream of achieving control of an allegedly purposeless nature. But many contemporary thinkers believe that such confidence is waning. Secularized science displaced God in the hopes of achieving human control over all things. But what happens when those scientific systems (including scientific approaches to economic well-being) fail to achieve the levels of control we expect?
Some of our unbelieving contemporaries are beginning to realize that the modern project of comprehensive control may not be possible. Such a realization may drive them to despair, but only because they continue to assume that, if we aren’t in control in this chaotic cosmos, then everything is pointless and doomed. But creation is not meaningless, and we are not called to complete control. As Paul reminds us at the end of Romans 11, there is a purpose being worked out in creation and in history, a purpose that we are not able to comprehend fully. We should be grateful that many people have a dawning sense of losing control; it may be the first step toward personal and cultural repentance.” –Ken Myers


Making a business out of restraining people’s wants

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A couple of weeks ago, I had a good long chat with a friend who used to be a housemate and who is now engaged in his own business. I was encouraged by his stories of challenge and keeping the faith, as well as his interest in exploring technology to serve real needs, particularly around mobile apps, website development to support local services, and similar opportunities.

I hope this article from Fast Company would inspire him to continue looking for good ideas and have the resolve to turn them to reality. Here’s to you!

People need help saving themselves from themselves, and that presents a business opportunity. What if payroll companies offered “contingent paychecks,” dispersing your earnings only if you met the conditions you’d specified (e.g., taking four hours of Spanish lessons or watching Schindler’s List)? Or imagine that someone set up a national Opt Out of Fat registry, and if you signed up, restaurants would deny your requests for nachos and grocery stores would refuse to scan your Oreos. Might people pay for that?

We admit these ideas are a bit far-fetched and perhaps likely to end in bloodshed. But Milkman has offered more practical suggestions, such as cleverly bundling wants and shoulds. For instance, exercising is a should, so what if your gym offered to receive your magazine subscriptions? That way, to read the new Vanity Fair (a want), you’d have to drop by the gym. Or what if Blockbuster offered you a free tub of popcorn (a want) for every documentary (a should) that you rented?

It’s a compelling idea: Might the future of business lie in encouraging shoulds rather than indulging wants? Could corporations help us bring out our better selves? We hope so. But let’s face it — our wants are powerful and stubborn. Cheetos will not go quietly into the night.

Teaching Your Parent to Use a Smartphone

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First, the power switch, the volume rocker. The touch screen.
The front-facing camera, about which not enough cultural
commentary could be said. Then, apps. There’s one on
which you can read news, order food or a taxi, keep up
with the Joneses, or watch cat videos.

I know, you would say it’s the modern preoccupation
with distracting ourselves, as though “killing time”
doesn’t make assassins out of us. You’d say we don’t need
the luxury of a powerful pocket computer when there are
children out there who don’t have food.
And like you, I’d pick battery life and sunlight readability
over an abundance of bells and whistles any day.

But a gift is a gift, and wouldn’t it be a little unstewardly
to refuse it when providence has so placed you in a
segment of history where technology lets you talk
to your daughter and grandson halfway around the world,
digital face to digital face? It would be like refusing
to eat the vegetables that you said the farmers
worked so much for to bring to our table.

So I encourage you to explore the device and assure you
that you won’t break it—unless by break you mean making
it submit to you as its owner—because apart
from the fateful Reset button, which will give you fair warning
anyway, you won’t mistakenly press something that would
destroy it or render the memories you put into it
irretrievable, the same way you assured us (though perhaps
not in so many words) that we could never get off the
edge of your love for us.

But watch out for those clickbaits and pop-ups that
congratulate you for winning contests you do not recall joining.
They are the candy-dangling strangers you warned us about
when we were schoolchildren.

Moving on, the Back button, the stationary icon that says
return—one mark of our ability to connect to the
past, to undo, correct, revert, revisit; a reminder that
no matter how we may have mastered user interfaces, it is
still a jungle out there, and we are all still Hansels and
Gretels occasionally relying on the mercy of breadcrumbs.

And if all else fails, there is the Home button so that
whatever screen or however far down the menus you may find
(or lose) yourself in, there will always be a familiar place
that you can retreat to, with one tap. Just like home.


(Dec. 2015)

In Memory of the Drop Call, or Turning a Consumer Cheat into an Asset

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Remember the practice of drop calling? Back when flagship phones were the likes of Nokia 3310, we used to take advantage of drop calls–quick, walkie-talkie-like calls to exploit the fact that network companies did not not charge you for the first 5 seconds. Companies eventually learned about it and started the counter at the first second (to the surprise of customers who didn’t know soon enough). I was recently combing through FastCompany’s list of Most Innovative Companies 2014 and remembered this when I came upon a startup in India called ZipDial that allows customers to make orders, join promos, or get info from businesses by using their number but not actually calling them. Amazing. I’m excited for this to come to the Philippines.


By Saritha Ra

In India, friends intentionally call each other, let it ring once or twice, and hang up. That’s their way of sending a signal, like “I’m home safe,” without being charged for a call in a country with pricey telecommunications and limited Internet accessibility. California nativeValerie Wagoner moved to Bangalore, noticed the missed calls, and is now responsible for 416 million of them: That’s how many times people have used her company, ZipDial, to connect with brands including Gillette, Disney, Procter & Gamble, and IndiaInfoLine.

It works like this: She issues the brand a number, which it prints on its ads. Consumers call, hang up, and get a text or call in return—and thus are entered in contests, receive coupons, or place an order. In 2013, she expanded to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and is now setting up in Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines.

“Half the world’s population needs a better, more accessible mobile experience,” Wagoner says. She was once part of eBay’s international marketing team, but wanted to be truly involved in emerging markets—and knew she couldn’t do that from the Bay Area. “I was a rare entity, a foreigner and a woman running a startup,” she says of her early, rough start. “I didn’t know the right jokes in Hindi or come from somebody’s hometown, but I knew when to wear a sari.”

On the Things We Could Be Missing in Modern Life (excerpts from Albert Borgmann)

Why do 90 percent of all families or households watch television after dinner? Is it because they decided that that’s the best way to spend their time? No, something else must be going on. And what’s going on is that the culture around us—including work that is draining, food that’s easily available, and television shows made as attractive as some of the best minds in our country can make them—encourages us to plop down in front of the TV and spend two hours there.
. . .
Some of these failings are of a private and personal kind, problems an individual’s resolve could deal with, beginning tonight. But a person would do so in the teeth of the larger shape of society. To take the problem of health and physical fitness, there is helpful information, wholesome food, playing fields, running tracks, and enough time for people to eat well and exercise and even become good at tennis or softball. But all these promptings of the good life are swamped by the superabundance of fast and convenient food, by the easy affordability of television and the availability of alluring electronic entertainment right within one’s four walls. It was not my decision to build a Hamburger King five minutes from my house or to establish an automobile industry that makes a fine car for half of my year’s wages. I did not sponsor research on plasma screens, nor did I organize the writing and staging of witty and captivating television programs. But here I am, surrounded by a cornucopia of tempting food and ready entertainment. Rousing myself to cook dinner, calling my beloved to the table, putting on my coat after dinner to take them on a walk, all this seems forbidding and pointless, given the convenient alternatives.
—Albert Borgmann

Reflection on New Shoes

The new pair of sneakers I bought feels as comfortable and as suited to walking as the best of our craftsmanship and technology can make it. But wearing it to work almost every day, I know it will last only three years at best. When you buy shoes, clothes, gadgets, and other things, you’re really not just buying a product. You’re really buying time, and along with it the promise of usefulness. In some cases—in our best moments when we happen to exhibit wisdom in purchasing—it could be an awful lot of usefulness. A steal, as we would call it. But it’s a limited usefulness nonetheless, and we know deep down that these things, even if made of tougher material than our own organic bodies, will eventually let us down. Perhaps that’s why we assign sentimental value to them. We assume things (and more so, people) will always be there. And until they are finally made of better stuff—and not only physically or chemically—we will always be surprised that they won’t.