2009 in Review

As many people have remarked, I have of late appeared to step back from what can only be called “the Internet industry” – something I see as a self-referencing oxymoron, since the Internet has now come to permeate all sorts of business and personal activities, and the most unbiased description I can provide right now is that of a sort of Singularity-like melting pot.

Before the Singularity nuts come crawling out of the woodwork, let me just say that it’s already happening – but it’s happening in the information plane alone, with technology evolving at human speeds and without the kind of disruption they would love to witness (what we’re seeing right now is not disruption, is a Darwinian mess as people scramble to find successful technology and business model niches). I would say that it’s happening in mostly the same way that the auto industry and the mobile industry progressively changed our world over the course of a standard human generation1, and no faster.

News For Nerds, Indeed

As it happens, I didn’t actually step back. I stepped further into the industry and simultaneously made a conscious attempt to let things go as far as the latest trend or gadget du jour is concerned. These days I try to let other folk carry the torches (and, occasionally, the pitchforks) of daily controversy, not because I wouldn’t enjoy doing the same, but because tech news coverage has become too much of a commercial matter (i.e., click whoring and banner views) to retain any creativity or interest to me.

There’s only so much time you can devote to keeping track of news and commenting on them, so I’ve been keeping track (publicly) of only three things that interest me:

  1. The mess that the “smartphone” definition has become
  2. The progressive shift towards services rather than hardware
  3. The Kindle and e-book frenzy2.

But if you came here looking for one industry topic to focus on during 2010, I’d go with the latter and watching the publishing industry closely. It’s going to be almost sadistically fun, and I fully intend to be there in the thick of it, somehow – mostly because I’ve been mulling for years becoming an independent writer, and this might be a good year to start.

On Culture

It would be remiss of me not to mention that I’ve been listening to tons of music lately. Truly hours upon hours, as my music library is rebuilt and re-tagged from scratch, in an endeavor not unlike Wowbagger’s as I try to listen through every single album as I re-tag and re-file it, with the great side effects of creating a bubble of peace and (relative) quiet in our open-space office and doing some further relaxing on the couch at home whenever possible.

It also bears mentioning, loud and clear, that I’ve ditched my iPhone as an MP3 player due to Apple’s asinine policy to not allow me to manually manage my music on whatever machine I please – I now use a Vodafone 360 H1 (16GB + 8GB SDHC crammed to the hilt with my music) and redirect my calls to it.

My attitude towards books remains one of voracious consumption, a tale I won’t bother you with (there’ve been enough posts on that throughout the year, and there are sure to be a lot more forthcoming). In terms of TV and movies, well… I have a kid.

Which means that I tend to watch mostly canned shows and DVDs whenever it’s feasible, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t watched BSG and (despite the rather sucky ending) mused about the profound changes it brought upon the perception of Sci-Fi – new series such as Stargate Universe have a much more gritty, “dirty” feel that is more in line with our current perception that science fiction isn’t all white and shiny, that it’s not all going to be orderly and whimsical and that there are (or at least ought to be) new angles to explore in terms of drama (although I fervently hope we’re not going down the “space soap opera” drainpipe…)

Maybe we’re finally realizing we have to create our own future, every step of the way, and that it’s going to hurt sometimes.

That said, I haven’t watched Avatar yet – I fully expect to be under-awed by the ‘Pocahontas in space’ theme, but the science seems solid, so I’m looking forward to forming my own opinion of it.

Heavy Cloud, No Rain

Just as 2008 was the year I shifted around most of my priorities as far as family and career were concerned, 2009 was the year I mostly focused on people rather than technology.

Even though it is rather funny to go through last year’s forecast and see that I was spot on about Android and most of the other topics, the truth is that at this particular time I could not care less about technology per se.

Yeah, I’ll still keep an eye on it, pounce on any interesting topics that come along (and isn’t just everyone already slavering over the unconfirmed prospect of an Apple tablet?) such as following the evolution of photographic technology (provided I can afford keeping up with it in terms of both time and money) and all the diaphanous cloud hype that’s floating about.

Cloud computing is of particular interesting to me because:

  1. I’ve been using it for years (thanks to Citrix).
  2. Web tech has made it extensible to whatever device you’re carrying (within reason).
  3. there’s too much money being thrown at the problem for it to be ignored (even if Google, for instance, is clearly going for improving its ad business).

That said, my personal opinion about “cloud consultants” is that they’re vacuous at best – most of them are just trying to sell their particular brand of Kool-aid and lack enough knowledge about the industry as a whole to actually figure out where it makes sense to apply the tech and to reap the benefits – and I don’t just mean the economical ones.

Stuff That Really Matters

But the real point here is that I’ll cherry-pick my news and the stuff I focus on from now on, in mostly the same way I do regarding friends.

Regarding those, I am happy to say I made a few new true friends in 2009 – people I would otherwise not have met at all had I not re-shuffled my priorities – and solidified friendships that have been growing strong since I decided to adopt the principle that there is no possible way one can achieve anything of significance on one’s own these days.

It’s not just because there’s too much to know, it’s because you can’t possibly do everything yourself (which is the hardest lesson to learn). But you can teach, and my brain rattles with the odds and ends of nearly two decades of technology and nearly four of the odd mishmash of world culture that accounts for my peculiar blend of cross-cultural wit and Portuguese tolerance.

I am fully aware that I will never (ever) have the time for mastering some subjects, but I think I got the fundamentals right – never stop learning, never take something as “good enough” and never, ever, underestimate other people – just give them a good nudge in the right direction.

Face-time, and use thereof

In general, it’s just that I need other things to fill my time, and as much as I enjoy using technology, it now mostly gets in the way of reaching other people or pares down the experience to a watered-down digital gruel that lacks all the flavor and seasoning of truly getting in touch with people.

Yeah, I know that’s another problem people are throwing money at. I happen to be in the thick of it. Still, it’s not enough. Facebook and similar stuff help when you’ve got friends all over the planet, but until we have full telepresence or surrogates, it’s like trying to eat a sandwich through an ad-sponsored wrapper.

Which reminds me, 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of my entering college (1990 was a troubled time, for more reasons than I care to mention right now), and even though I will be missing our alumni reunion, I intend to make up for it somewhat3.

And, of course, I expect that a few of the friendships and relationships I started during 2009 will grow to blossom during 2010 (hopefully in mostly the same enjoyable way as Hanami), but I expect both happy and challenging times at home and work.

I’m starting to care a lot more about milestones in my life, but all the ones I really plan for are increasingly revolving around people – I could fill a book with what I’ve learned and felt regarding people this year alone (starting with my kid, of course, but I’m trying to be unbiased here), and that is more than enough for me right now.

Maybe it’s the Tao. Maybe it’s just that the machine I’m typing this in (and the one you’re reading it on) have finally, irreversibly, become moot.

Or maybe it was just too much cheesecake – you be the judge.

1 And yes, the mobile industry is still only halfway through the changes it will perform in our industry, our culture and even our sense of identity, and it will adapt instead of disrupt – regardless of what most people would like to believe, landlines didn’t die off suddenly like the dinosaurs – a lot of them became ADSL bearers for TV, for instance. Bruce Sterling” had an interesting piece on that with more pragmatic view of things (flawed only by it missing out on there not being walled gardens anymore, but entertaining nonetheless).

2 Since I see that as being another opportunity for us to watch yet another industry go through exactly the same mistakes the music business has been doing for the past decade or so in a much shorter period of time. Which, by the way, is as close to the Singularity as most people are going to get within the next five years or so.

3 Truth be told that I’ve always preferred small, meaningful gatherings than huge parties (which is one of the reasons that, for instance, I half-skipped the company’s Xmas party this year and had few but truly excellent outings).