The passing onto to better things…faster and faster

As many of you know, Apple is doing away with the iPod Shuffle. One curious thing is that I’ve noticed several people buying these devices in the last week through my Amazon referrals. At $50 the price point isn’t high, but it does seem a bit much for an obsolete technology.

Which made me reflect on how quickly technologies become obsolete now. As the few people who read this blog and know me in real life are aware, between 2007 and 2014 I went everywhere with a Shuffle. I always had a backup Shuffle. This is not because I’m an audiophile. I’m not. I listened to podcasts.

Arguably the emergence of smartphones made the Shuffle redundant, but I found that the Shuffle was more portable than a smartphone. Ultimately what made me dump the Shuffle is that I went full d-bag and started doing the bluetooth thing. All of a sudden it didn’t matter where the phone was. I still have a Shuffle, but it’s in a drawer somewhere. Perhaps I have a backup too. I don’t recall.

I probably stuck with the Shuffle longer than most. As an old(er) person I’m reflecting now how fast “ubiquitous” technologies are getting obsolete. Faster and faster.

As a child of the 1980s VCRs were part and parcel of our technological furniture. By the early 2000s VCRs were in decline, with DVD rentals surpassing VHS in 2003. Cassettes were eclipsed by CDs in the early 1990s after a two decade reign, but CDs really didn’t master the space for more than ten years (at least in the USA). DVDs had a similarly short “moment.”

How much more can change though? Some of the transition occurred because smartphones, in particular the iPhone, swallowed up whole sectors (audio and photography). Other changes are due to the utilization of high speed internet for video. We got rid of our television in 2004, and for a while there I felt “out of the loop” on a lot of water cooler conversation. But now television has come to me, as binge watching on Netflix has become common.

What will change next?

23 thoughts on “The passing onto to better things…faster and faster

  1. Plus the bottom has fallen out of the fitness tracker market. Jawbone has gone bankrupt, and Fitbit’s sales this year are a small fraction of what they were last year. This despite them coming out with ever newer models that do more things. Last year they were the really hot thing and sales were huge. This year, they’re gone.

    I have read that people (people) are predicting that Virtual Reality will kill off the smart phone. I’m having trouble imagining how, until someone shows me a device that will do that.

  2. It’s funny. I remember when iPods seemed to become ubiquitous (to the point where it seemed like everyone in my school who had some money had one), but not when iPhones took off. Maybe the iPhone ultimately was more incrementalist, taking over in a period that already had widespread blackberries and palm pilots.

    Meanwhile, the broadband transition felt like it came out of nowhere. I can’t even remember when my family got it growing up, although I remember having Dial-Up Internet (oh, the days of playing Starcraft on Battlenet through Dial-Up, the jokes about latency, etc).

  3. Meanwhile, there has been something of a resurgence in vinyl, and in film cameras – aficionados need specialty shops where they can buy film and get exposed film developed. These can only remain small niche markets, and could easily disappear again.

    My daughter clings tenaciously to a collection of my old cassettes, but she has nothing she can play them on. Maybe they remind her of the me she knew as a little kid, playing Emmylou Harris songs to her on my long defunct cassette player.

    Polaroid or ‘instant’ cameras still exist in modified form, amazingly, but I can’t imagine why; I have seen them in shops, but don’t see anyone buying or using them.

    I cling tenaciously to my Nikon digital SLR camera and set of lenses which cost me a bomb at the time, but I won’t be shelling out lots more money for new equipment. When I’m on my game, I can still take much better photos with that than a phone can, but it means lugging around a bag full of heavy, clunky equipment that could be damaged easily, and increasingly I can’t be bothered, when my friends want the photos I have taken of them instantly. When I do take a really good portrait of one of them, they still appreciate and admire it, but if I didn’t do it, they wouldn’t miss it.

    Some professional photographers decry the democratisation of photography and the degradation of photography as an art form, with everyone carrying a ‘good enough’ camera in his pocket in the form of his phone. People have become much more tolerant of (or don’t even know about) poor composition, lousy exposure, etc. for the sake of being able to snap photos and video clips and post them instantly to social media, like “This is what I am doing right now. And now. And now. And this is what I’m eating for lunch.”

    When you had to use film and pay for every exposure, with a substantial time lag to get prints instead of the instant gratification available now, photographers took far more care about taking sharp, properly exposed, well composed photos. I’m not crying about it – photography needed to be digitised and democratised and everyone empowered to make use of it without having to pay a fortune to buy equipment that then needed detailed instruction and hours of practice to take good photos.

    I have a beautiful small German film camera inherited from my father with a superb lens which still works perfectly and takes beautifully crisp, sharp images, but you need to use it with a separate light meter to get the right exposure, which I also still have – I have used this gear to take some of the best photos I have ever taken, but I can’t summon the enthusiasm to track down a film shop so I can use it ever again. Some time when I have the time, I will probably find a collector to sell it to. Or not; it reminds me of my father.

  4. had to send the shuffle to the landfill a couple of years back. just no reason to have it, i guess.
    it may be a small change but UHD Blu Ray rental will be a normal thing within the next 5 years. everyone will get the 4K tv and be able to watch 3D and UHD movies streaming or renting. i’m a cinemaphile so i love this:))

  5. Robert, I fully realise that there is Nothing.Good.About.China (apart from all the good things about China, I mean – I guess you do know that the Chinese are laughing fit to bust at America now) but you will be a poorer man if you miss the occasional truly great film that comes out of China, and particularly some of the excellent collaborative efforts of Greater China (the Mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong) (yes, they do all work together seamlessly well).

    On the other hand, feel free to give the 2016 mega-financial-disaster The Great Wall a miss, and not because Matt Damon is whitewashing in it (he isn’t, and the screeching about it was stupid – the Real Chinese clearly have no problem with it). It has been a huge hit with the Chinese in China, and it is visually spectacular, until spectacular morphs into visually utterly ridiculous towards the end, but it’s a lousy film which has bombed completely everywhere else, and Zhang Yimou is well past his use-by date – early in his directing career he made some really good films, but he has obviously totally lost the plot now.

    I’m airing my frustration/irritation with Netflix – all the good stuff that you Americans get, I miss out on because I live in the wrong ‘geography’. I got around that with a VPN for a while, which is how I know about some of the good stuff you get, but they have blocked that now, and the content in my geography is mostly rubbish no one else wants, so much so that I’m considering scrapping my subscription. Cheap, but if there’s nothing worth watching available to me, what’s the point? Like, sell all the crap to the Asians, they don’t care what they watch. Not.

  6. The reason Polaroids are still around is for art reasons. You take the shot, then soak the photo to remove the photographic emulsion from the paper, then you do what you will with it (very carefully).

    I’m something of an analog photography buff. We’re living in great times for it, as digital photography has released us from the obligation to be “practical”, much in the way photography liberated painting from strict realism. Nowadays there’s probably more people doing tintype photography than there’s been in well over a hundred years, and various “dead ends” of photography that were never really explored because they weren’t as efficient or economic as the main forms of the era are getting used.

    It all makes me wish I were a trustafundian, because it’s a very expensive hobby, but one that nicely sits at the intersection of art, craft, and science.

  7. John, IMO you’re not missing much cuz most of Netflix is mass-produced trash! Don’t you have Amazon VOD where you are? I’d say Netflix streaming has maybe a few things per year I could recommend.

    Odoacer – i hear this a lot about 4K and i’m willing to think on it but i’m pretty sure i disagree. When you watch a movie like “Terra” on Netflix in 4K i would definitely disagree. yeah, 3D on my TV isn’t good but i’ve never tried a 3D dvd. not expecting it to be much better. you can rent #D and UHD dvds online, too!

  8. Spike, yes. I hadn’t got the point about Polaroids, so thanks for the elucidation.

    Being freed by digital from the tyranny of the photo print shops was initially a huge relief to me (I used to develop my own B&W in a dark room in my very early efforts, but never got to colour film developing, which was much too costly for me at the time), as was the freedom to take hugely more photos for essentially zero cost after the initial investment, not to mention the encouragement to experiment endlessly, but the end result of that is that now I have a massive and growing problem with curating my own and my wife’s and daughter’s excursions into photography, and don’t bother to print any of them any more, because it’s all too overwhelming.

    So my daughter has masses of albums full of photo prints that she loves to leaf through which document her life from virtually the instant of her birth (not the actual instant, out of deference to the privacy of my wife’s nether regions) up to early adulthood, but which just stop abruptly at a certain point. It’s not satisfactory and weighs on my conscience, but it has become just too large for me to grapple with. Best I can do is load all the digital files onto USB sticks and give them to her. How to preserve the longevity of the record will be her problem to solve.

    She also has albums of late 19th Century photos of her ancestors on my side of the family, which she is also fascinated by, and extracts a lot of real life info from by careful inspection – like she figured out that my one of my great grandmothers dressed really well but impractically compared to other women of that place and era, so can make informed inferences about her SES, taste, etc.

    I do get the analog thing to a point, and would indulge if more motivated, but life is full, busy and short, and it’s just one of the numerous things I know I would enjoy but that I’m not going to get to.

    It’s a pity you are not more financially endowed – I have a truly great little Voigtländer + light meter in mint condition that I could offer you for a very reasonable (ahem) price.

  9. Robert – Amazon VOD, nope. Same deal – if I order stuff online through Amazon, it’s Amazon America and the goods have to be shipped from America, and a lot of times they just say “Do not ship to Hong Kong”. Amazon has made no entry to HK and won’t, because HK people have no motivation at all to buy stuff online. And the VOD is the same old “not available in your geography”. It’s all about copyright and it ticks me off, but there’s nothing I can do about it. VPN was a work-around until it wasn’t. I can get eBooks, and have sometimes.

    But if I try to order stuff from Amazon via Razib’s thing, which I have tried, they just say “Not available in your…” yeah.

  10. Yep, seems to work. I need to create an account, but assuming I can do that (and being invited to do that in traditional Chinese characters suggests it will) it should work.

    Thanks for that.

    I’m pissed now, because I paid a rental fee to iTunes just last night to watch the 2017 movie “Gifted”, and I see it is currently being offered free on SolarMovie.

    At least hopefully I can take a crack at watching Wonder Woman for nothing, instead of having to wait endlessly for iTunes to make it available for a king’s ransom. It lists “China Hong Kong USA” at the bottom, which I presume refers to geographic availability. A lot of the other films just list USA, or USA Canada, so I’ll assume I can’t get those, until I try.

  11. Yeah, it says “we can only publish our content in a specific country”, so what I thought is right. And most of the films are not available to me in my specific country. But that’s OK – if I can just watch Wonder Woman right now for nothing, instead of for money some indefinite time later, that alone makes the effort of signing up worth it.

    And “Gifted” is not available to me in my specific country, so I’m not pissed about that any more.

  12. Razib:

    If you like listening to information/ideas, you might want to check out The Great Courses audio lectures. I listen to them while driving, shopping, doing chores, sitting on public transit etc. Podcasts are often more up-to-date, but I find this is an efficient way to get a broad self-education.

    You can get them very cheap on Audible, with a variety of subscription models, and they let you keep them forever. (Audible also usually gives you a free credit just to try their site out.) The Great Courses company itself has a monthly subscription, but I don’t think you get to keep your courses.

    You mentioned that you needed to go back and read more on Ancient Greece. You could start with Jeremy McInerney’s two excellent series on Greek history:

    Some of their lecture courses are better than others, but they have a high average.

  13. @Thursday i just finished “America’s Founding Fathers” and now i’m breaking to do “1491” and “1493” before i move on to use my next credit for “The Fall and Rise of China” (over 24hrs long!)
    i’ve gone through about 20 of these lectures in the past 3 months listening at 2x speed, of course. not sure if too broad/redundant for Razib but there are so many i’d think there’d be something for everyone.

  14. Portable music players are still useful, but the Apple products have not been competitive for many years. Just buy another brand. They are great.

  15. Robert – Yeah, that turned out to be a Fail; when I tried to sign up for free membership, they wanted credit card details, so I quit at that point.

    I looked at others, but they all want you to register first with at least an email address, and I think I’m not going to do that.

    I have concluded that what I should really do is exercise impulse control, and just wait until I can get WW from a source I have been using for years and trust from experience, and be prepared to pay a reasonable price for getting a good quality product. iTunes is not perfect and occasionally there is an error (films rented but not streaming fully, or whatever), but when I report it to them, it always gets fixed very fast, so I think I’ll keep going with what I know, and just be patient.

    I shouldn’t be too hard on Netflix, they do have some good movies in amongst the dross, but because of that, with rare exception, they are films I have already seen. A very high proportion of the series turn out to be junk, but there have been a couple I have enjoyed watching (including one I got via VPN before they shut that down). But on balance, the very large majority on offer is junk. One gem I did find, that I had missed at the time, was “There Will Be Blood” with the now retired Daniel Day-Lewis. That was a good ‘un. But increasingly I’m questioning whether Netflix is worth the subscription, given the restriction on content that I get for living in the wrong place (and no, I’m not going to watch an endless stream of Bollywood erm stuff), and concluding probably not.

  16. Robert, I don’t need to watch it, I’m living the reality. Suffice to say when I saw that Netflix were making a movie about him, I came very close to cancelling my subscription on the spot. I could tell you the reality about Joshua Wong and his family, but it’s not worth the oxygen I would consume while writing it, and you probably wouldn’t believe me anyway.

    But on the subject of Hong Kong, I watched the 2017 film “Ghost in the Shell”. I enjoyed it because the street scenes and cityscapes were all shot in Hong Kong (yeah, Scarlett Johansson was walking all around HK and I missed her – damn!), all places intimately familiar to me, but erm visually enhanced, so I saw all these places that I have been many times, but with a surreal overlay, which fascinated me, and I think it was well done. For anyone who watches the film and doesn’t know, yes, parts of urban HK do actually look exactly like that, but without the visual enhancement, which is obvious when you see the film. But the inner harbour is way too deep for anyone to stand up in – that bit was faked. It is, incidentally, the very reason the British chose to colonise HK – it’s natural deep water harbour that shelters ships from typhoons (west Pacific name for hurricanes – same meteorological phenomenon), and also it’s at the mouth of China’s third largest river, the Pearl, which makes it an important water-borne trade route to the Mainland hinterland and Guangzhou.

    It is not a good film. The storyline is just not interesting. Scarlett Johansson does an excellent acting job in the lead role of Major, who is basically a robot with an implanted human brain, and her performance is enjoyable to watch, but the film doesn’t live up to the level of her performance, or stunning appearance. I found myself getting bored with the story. I’m not into the genre (Japanese cult manga?) at all, and after watching this, I have absolutely no desire to see any more of it.

    All of the virtue-signalling and screeching that went on about how the lead role should have been given to an actress of Japanese ancestry was really not warranted. It’s a bloody robot, for crying out loud, it could look like anyone. You can’t whitewash a robot. Evidently, manga fan audiences in Japan whose opinion was polled really didn’t give a damn about that, they thought the casting was a normal thing to do and that Johansson’s appearance, or ancestry, or whatever, was “immaterial” – Japanese manga fans obviously get it, Major is a robot, a cyborg, whatever. Someone wrote that Japanese Americans find the casting of Johansson “distressing”. Well, what pathetic special little snowflakes they must be, if they feel “distressed” by something like that – and who was the democratically elected spokesperson who was authorised to say that on behalf of all Japanese American cult manga anime whatever fans anyway? It’s garbage.

    On the whole, although I enjoyed the visuals and Scarlett’s performance, I really can’t recommend the film. Watch it just out of curiosity if it won’t cost you much, fine, but it’s not a good film. But the street scenes and cityscapes without the visual enhancements is real genuine urban Hong Kong, as familiar to me as my own back yard, and for anyone interested to see that, that plus Scarlett’s performance, it’s just about worth it.

  17. Wong is a fraud?? do tell! or i’ll take a link. I have “Ghost…” on my Blu Ray list but there’s a wait so they sent me my 3 1/2 hour Caravaggio movie instead. No idea if that’ll be good but he’s my favorite painter.

  18. Robert, if it was worth my time, I would watch the film and deconstruct it for you, but it’s just not – there are already too many infinitely more interesting and useful things to do and too little time.

  19. “There Will Be Blood” with the now retired Daniel Day-Lewis.

    I am a big Daniel Day-Lewis mark (my favorite film of his is probably “The Boxer” although “The Last of the Mohicans” – the theatrical release, not the hacked up director’s version – is a guilty pleasure dark horse), but I found “There Will Be Blood” overwrought and nearly unwatchable.

    Hong Kong

    My favorite film on Hong Kong is Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s half of Wong Kar-Wai’s “Chungking Express.” It’s about the moodiest Hong Kong film there is.

    Overall, though, my favorite Sinophone film is probably Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution.”

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