New dogs and old tricks

Innovation regurgitation

Innovation regurgitation

Recently a man named Dan Sisco discovered TV antennas exist. Upon first discovery of this product he wasn’t sure if it was even legal.

Of course, they were just rabbit ears, nothing magical or disruptive. But over the past 10 years the concept of ‘free TV’ evaporated from the lexicon.

The physics of broadcast television is mostly ignored today. As a reminder, true broadcast TV is just radio waves on the 41 to 250 MHz in the VHF band. It’s freely available in the air all around us.

This makes my brain hurt

This is alien wizardry to a millennial who grew up in a post-analog world. It’s not something that Netflix wants you to know about.

This phenomenon of consumers losing a feel for how older tech functions is not new. It recurs when the services we use obscure underpinning technologies below layers of abstraction and polish.

Making our lives easier by eliminating dreck and drudgery is of course the point of services.

So what is the problem?

After all, it’s the manufacturer’s job to think through how a product works. Why should a consumer need to understand the technologies composing the services they use?

Reasons speckle the spectrum from trivial to existential. Presented here is the practical case: not blowing time and money on fake innovations.

Regurgitated innovations are everywhere

If you lose sight of what the services you are using really do, you are at risk of falling prey to innovation regurgitation.

There is a lot of money to be made in this process of millennializing older products and services. We crave a dashboard of buttons and chatbots that will do all of our bidding on our behalf.

We want a green buttons to wire money, buy stocks, order food, hitchhike, meditate, even to jog.

I love these sorts of services as much as the next millennial. They eliminate time killers from my life. That allows me to focus on activities I enjoy and am good at. Truly revolutionary services give the gift of leverage.

But, many products just drape beautiful UIs on old ideas that work just as well.

For example, there is no reason to pay money for a productivity website blocker app. I recently realized you can block websites using your computers host file really elegantly.

Producers of services don’t want you to do things like that, as it cuts them out of the picture. They will actively obfuscate. For example, Lyft is trying laughably hard in this press release to not use the word ‘bus:’

Oh my goodness please stop, this is a bus.

Now, they are not doing anything unethical here. They just want you to use their service. I’m sure it offers benefits over on the bus. Maybe it’s faster, maybe it’s a better user experience.

But, it’s still basically a bus. If the Lyft Shuttle was all you knew about, your mind would be totally blown by the humble city bus.

Wait, you mean it’s like a Lyft Shuttle, but it’s FREE?!?!?’ — your kids

In walks Juicero, the over-engineered a $400 juicing machine that works as well as your hands. They recently announced that they are shutting down their operations.

The $120m of cash they mostly burned up in this pointless effort has not vaporized. It’s been redistributed throughout the economy into the pockets of vendors, designers, engineers, and marketers.

But, we lost a good chunk of the human superorganism’s problem solving cycles when otherwise smart people spent time reinventing the common juicer.

Sheep buy products. People hire solutions.

This is the kind of blog post that will make my Dad say “I’ve been saying that for twenty years.” He’s skeptical of new. Me and my cohort of youngins are skeptical of old.

The truth, as always, is non-binary. Some innovations are actually disruptive. But consumers need to be more aware of the wool pulled over their eyes in the case of innovation regurgitation.

Just because something is new does not mean it is better.