Episode 211 - #InternetFAIL
Published October 6, 2015
What happens when the Internet fails? When you're disconnected? First World Problem? Perhaps... but this is something that should be part of the way we design for the Internet... and for a lot of companies and products, it's not. Since Matt just experienced the full horror of this type of event, we thought we'd take the opportunity to talk about the utility of the 21st century again. Recorded 10/4/2015.
Mike & Matt's Recommended Reading:
Episode 200 - Fun With ARPU (8/27/2015)
Episode 119 - Neutral Net (11/4/2014)
More coming soon...
Alpha: Welcome to another episode of Robot Overlordz, episode #211. On the show we take a look at how society is changing, everything from pop culture reviews to political commentary, technology trends to social norms, all in about thirty minutes or less, every Tuesday and Thursday.
Mike Johnston: Greetings cyborgs, robots, and natural humans. I’m Mike Johnston.
Matt Bolton: And I’m Matt Bolton.
MJ: And today we’re going to do something a little different. So, just to sort of set the record straight: Matt, you have no idea what we’re about to talk about, right?
MB: [laughs] Honestly, I haven’t a clue, so this is…
MJ: I thought it would be kind of fun, actually, to talk about, since this just happened to you, the experience of suddenly having no internet.
MJ: [laughs] I think this is somewhat a teachable moment about why I think this is important and why I think the internet is a utility and all of that. So I thought it would be fun… I mean, we’ve talked about both of those things before, but right now you have very much, front and center, the experience of having had that and having it taken away, and I kind of wanted to a little bit bounce your thoughts on that and a little bit pitch in mine on why it kind of illustrates… I mean, I know there’s that 15% of people that don’t have the internet and apparently don’t want it, but I think that if you live in the modern age, it is a utility, and when you lose it suddenly and don’t have it, that really becomes clear to you.
MB: Yeah. I woke up on a saturday morning and went out for two hours and came back home, and not only was my internet down, but my TV, which I get my internet through cable, so I had no TV and no internet. So, that’s bad enough. I called Comcast and I said, “Hey, my internet doesn’t work,” and they said, “Well, we can’t get anybody out there until Tuesday.” That meant Saturday, Sunday, and Monday I was going to be without internet. You know, it doesn’t sound horrible. I’ve got an Apple TV and I’ve got a computer filled with TV shows and movies and things I can watch. No big deal. Well, except you can’t use your Apple TV if iTunes can’t phone home on the internet and sign in. So, that meant no Apple TV. You don’t realize at all how much you depend on the internet for literally everything at this point. I mean, it was just… I want to equate it to not being able to drive a car, or if somebody took away your phone and you couldn’t communicate. It was very weird. I think it would be a lot different—a few years ago, we went on that wedding cruise with some friends and you couldn’t use your phone. But I had prepared myself in my mind for, “You know what? This is a getaway. I’m going to not be using my phone for three or four days, so it’s not a huge deal.” This wasn’t like that. I wasn’t prepared for it, and I’m not out in the middle of the ocean. I’m here at home, I need my computer, I need the internet. It’s just such a weird experience, and, you know, how you can live without internet in this day and age I will never know.
MJ: Well, I think it’s interesting too—I mean, you mentioned the Apple TV—the way these cloud services, you don’t even really realize that they’re a cloud service. I mean, if you’re going to view content from your computer to your Apple TV, both devices you own, which are on your local network, the fact that it has to go to the internet, the fact that there’s a short timeout on that, that it would be affected by this… I mean, this is a couple day outage. It shouldn’t be that vulnerable to that. I mean, as much as I think Silicon Valley likes to think that we’re all living fully in the 21st century and constant connectivity and stuff, the reality is that the infrastructure in the States, particularly when you’re relying on these companies like Comcast and Verizon and AT&T, it’s not redundant infrastructure particularly. If it goes out, you’re kind of SOL.
MB: Yeah, and more and more devices are, you know—I mean, now we have internet-connected refrigerators and all these things. I mean, there’s even an internet-connected litter box for your cat and an internet-connected Crock-Pot… I mean, there’s all these devices that do all these things, and you just don’t think about them because 99% of the time they’re working and you’re just not thinking about it. But when stuff like that stops, then yeah, you’re right…Silicon Valley has some of the best internet connections on the entire planet. When you get outside of there… I mean, my parents live kind of out in the country and they have satellite internet, and it’s very slow and it doesn’t work all that well, and if it’s raining out it may not get any kind of connection. So yeah, it’s cool that all of these devices are connected, but I think there needs to be some kind of way that you can still use them just because you’re not connected to the internet, especially if it’s on your local network.
MJ: Yeah, I think they need more robust failure modes, so when it fails, when it fails to get its connection, it still works. You mentioned the internet-connected fridges and things like that. Personally, I’ll admit, I tried to start a smart home technology company. I love connection, I love the internet, personally; I rely on it all the time. But, exactly like when we were talking with the I am The Cavalry guys, I know they’re more focused on the things that actually endanger your life, but at the same time, their whole philosophy that they mentioned, the, “Does it need connectivity?”I don’t see the point of an internet-connected Crock-Pot. One of the Kickstarters I supported was a sort of a smart-tracking litter box, it’s actually a platform that you put your litter box on and then it runs these calculations for your cat’s health. And, you know, I have that same kind of thing for myself, I have the internet-connected scale. I see value in that because it’s giving me information about my health or my cat’s health. But I don’t want my fridge on the internet where it can get hacked, particularly. I don’t want for suddenly the temperature to go out of whack because Romanian hackers got into it and now all my food’s spoiled. I mean, that sounds like an unacceptable risk. If my scale doesn’t work, or if my scale stops working, or if this platform that my litter box for my cat is on, if that stops working, you can still use the litter box. I can still use my scale. And if they manage to break the scale, well, it’s only a scale, I can still live my life. Whereas if they break your refrigerator, that could actually impact your life in a more negative way, I think.
MB: Well that and I just haven’t come up with a—nobody has come up with a good reason why my refrigerator needs to be connected to the internet. I know there are reasons, but none of them are reasons where I’m like, “Oh, that’s a great idea. I should definitely have my refrigerator connected to the internet because of reasons A, B, and C.” Just because you can connect something to the internet, doesn’t mean you should. A couple years ago when Microsoft brought out the XBOX ONE, the original idea was that the thing had to have a constant internet connection any time it was turned on. There are a lot of problems with that. I mean, if you live in an area where there’s spotty internet, I know there are a lot of soldiers who are taking them over to areas like in Iraq and stuff, where they don’t have internet most of the time. So you’re talking about something that you literally can’t use unless it’s plugged in. And people went kind of ape shit about that and really got upset and Microsoft backtracked on it when they actually released the unit. The one thing that I think irritated me more than having my internet out was the fact that I couldn’t use my Apple TV even though it was on my local network. That really pissed me off, just because I own the content, it’s on my computer, all I’m doing is streaming it from my computer to my Apple TV, and yet I couldn’t do that because every 24 hours iTunes has to phone home to make sure that, I don’t know, I’m here and happy, or I have no idea why.
MJ: Well, and that’s I guess one of the core things that I’d like to kind of pull out of this and talk about, these cloud services. I mean, for home sharing, why is Apple’s servers in the mix at all on that? I mean, I get that they want to gather some data, and in general I think Apple has a pretty good record, as far as trustworthiness, as far as these companies go. They’re not actually really aggregating and selling your data. They’ve sort of made that part of their value to you as a customer. But at the same time, why does it have to check in every 24 hours when your internet could be out for three, four, five days, potentially? If some jackass runs his car into the box for your neighborhood, your whole neighborhood is going down. If you’ve only got a 24-hour window before that suddenly stops working… Like you said, you’re looking at stuff that really should be negotiated between your computer and your Apple TV. It shouldn’t leave your house. And why it has to do that—I think that this is one of those areas where these companies, their default mode is, “Well, you have to ask our permission.” And that’s what it is about it that kind of bothers me that they do this, because the infrastructure they’re relying on to grant you permission—first off, it’s not reliable the way they seem to think it is, and second off, the fact that they have that veto power on you is disturbing. It’s just disturbing.
MB: Yeah. Well, and we’ve talked about this before too, and another way is when you buy a movie online and you don’t really own that movie, because there was the case a few years ago where people who had bought a movie, they just basically disabled the movie from being able to play. I shouldn’t have to do that. You probably remember this several years, this is probably 15 years ago: remember DivX players?
MJ: Oh yeah.
MB: And we’re not talking about DivX the movie format, we’re talking DivX players, which if you’re not familiar, you would go to a store and you would buy a DVD, and they were usually cheap, like $3 or $4, and that would allow you to watch the movie one time when you got home on your DivX player. But then if you wanted to own the movie, then you had to pay another $10 or $15 in order to, and then it would unlock this movie. But your DivX player always had to be connected—I think it actually used a modem back then…
MJ: Yeah, it was a phone line.
MB: …But it had to be connected so that you could call in. Well then what happened was DivX went out of business, and so all these people who paid all this money to buy these movies and unlock them, they were basically just SOL.
MJ: It wasn’t that many people.
MB: No, it wasn’t.
MJ: But you’re right. That’s the principle of the thing. And what gets me is that Hollywood, they may have sort of on the surface been like, “Oh, well, that failed, so we won’t do that anymore.” But still, you can tell, if you follow the entertainment industry at all, that this is their wet dream. So, the other day I was listening to one of the new podcasts that just came out, “The Singularity Brothers,” they have a similar theme to what you and I talk about, in the future, and they’re a little bit more transhumanists/singularity-oriented. But anyway, they were talking about this whole concept of ownership and how it’s going away. This is why I’m absolutely opposed to that, and streaming—I sounded off on streaming sometimes. But as a customer, I don’t like not owning it, because you’re handing them sort of the remote control, and you have to ask every time. And when you’re connected all the time, it doesn’t seem like you’re asking. But really, you’re having to ask. It changes the relationship between you and your stuff when you constantly have to… It’d be like if your parents owned all of your stuff and you had to, every time you wanted to do anything with it, go and ask them. “Oh mommy, please, can I ride my bike today?” You know, it’s like being a little kid. I have a problem with that when you’re talking about big entertainment companies that don’t care about you, and they may just say, “You know what? Screw you. You’re not riding your bike today because you didn’t give me money.” I get very offended by that personally, because I like to collect stuff, I like to have an ownership relationship with my content, where if it’s a movie I like, like I just bought “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” I don’t want them to have a veto on when I can watch that.
MB: Yeah, no, I totally agree. Yeah, streaming services are fine for things like Hulu or Netflix, where you don’t necessarily want to own it. But I would never buy a movie that was… As a perfect example, I bought a Blu-ray and it had one of those stupid digital copies attached to it. So, I put it in, I got my digital copy. Well, a few months ago I upgraded my computer, and guess what, lo and behold, my digital copy was no longer there anymore. It may be somewhere, but… All the movies I own, I know where they are, they’re hanging around, I don’t have to worry about losing them, they’re backed up, they’re good. Whereas when you’re giving these studios the keys to the car, they can’t be trusted. We know that from past history that they can’t.
MJ: I 100% agree and actually I have an example. So, I used to buy “South Park” on iTunes. So, season 14 of “South Park,” there were two episodes where “South Park” actually went and sort of did Mohammed, and it was hugely controversial after they came out that Comedy Central pulled them. Well at the time, they did actually put them up on iTunes. I downloaded them. I know I did, because I remember the controversy when they’d pulled the episodes. So I had, it was episodes 5 and 6 of season 14 of “South Park,” so they were actually episodes 200 and 201. I was looking at my iTunes library, season 14 I only had 12 episodes, and I was like, “What the hell?” Because I had actually just bought season 14 on Blu-ray, so I was looking at what I had from iTunes and then what I was going to replace it with. The copy I ripped from Blu-ray, I had 14 episodes. The copy I had from iTunes, I had 12 episodes. I was like, “What the hell? I know I downloaded those episodes.” Sometime between when I bought them—and I think it was 2011, 2010, something like that—sometime between when I bought them and now, they disappeared from my computer. Because I had them; I know I did because I watched them at the time. And that infuriated me. This is why I buy Blu-rays and rip them, because you know what? The studio has no say over what I do with that ripped file. I don’t share it on the internet, I don’t give it to people. This is for me. Because you know what? I paid for the goddamn episode, and I wanted it. That’s why I paid for it. And the thing that gets me about this: ownership is going away. Exactly like you said, the studios, they cannot be trusted because they—I mean, to quote Joe Pesci about the drive-through, “They fuck you at the drive-through,” the studios fuck you in your house, even. I’m NOT cool with that. So, I hope streaming dies. I hope more people wake up to the fact that this is what they’re doing. I think most people have a very ephemeral relationship to their content, is that they watch it once and they don’t care. And I think this is something that affects mostly the people that collect things, of, you know, “Well, I wanted all of ‘Babylon 5,’” or, “I wanted all of the Marvel movies,” or, “I’m a fan of ‘Batman,’ and I want everything ‘Batman.’” Whatever it is, or “South Park,” whatever thing happens to float your fancy, if you collect it, you don’t want to be screwed with like this. I have a problem with that. I think when you get to smaller stuff that’s more digital, like when it’s a fan production, or when you’re maybe talking about a Kickstarter or something like that, they’re much friendlier. They kind of give you the unlocked digital version and they’re like, “Oh yeah, tell your friends about it. If you want to share it, just tell your friends to pay us,” because they’re much more grateful to have you as a customer.
MB: I’m into video games, and one of the things that always scared me was, especially with always-connected video game systems, is let’s say—obviously it’s not going to happen right now—but let’s say Microsoft went out of business and I have this Xbox that has to be connected to the internet. What’s going to happen to all of the stuff… Like, can I even play games that I own that I have the discs for if this thing can’t be connected? There are a lot of failed video game systems out there, and if I can’t play it once this company goes out of business… I have an old Intellivision that I’ve had since I was a little kid. And you know what? It still fires up and I can still play it. If I buy something, that should be how it should work. I shouldn’t have to basically dial into the company to get permission to be able to use that system. And it hasn’t gotten to that point yet, but I’m waiting for it to happen because it will at some point.
MJ: Well, they’re putting in the architecture of that control. I mean, take the Apple TV, for example. I mean, the fact that you have to get permission from Apple to have home sharing work—that’s not cool. That’s not cool at all. I mean, it’s MY home network. Why do you have a say of what goes on on my home network? This is somewhat why I don’t really trust Apple in the smart home space. I’m very interested in smart home technologies, but almost all of the major vendors are trying to get you to the point where you have the thing in your house but it connects out to the internet, and then you connect out to the internet to get the information from it. It doesn’t stay on your network. There’s some things that, like with my scale, I mentioned the cat litter box tray thing, I don’t so much mind about that because I can get some significant value out of having that information for me personally as far as, you know, going after personal goals and things. But when you’re talking about getting approval to do something… I mean, the information that my scale sends, I don’t need their approval to check it. I can also basically write it down myself, or I can export it, or I can make a copy of it for me. They don’t have any kind of veto on me using that health information, because I think they are sensitive to that. When you talk personal information, people get very protective of it. So, I think the companies in the health space are a little more sensitive to that. I don’t think the smart home companies, or the internet companies with the media streaming devices, that they really are sensitive to that.
MB: No, I don’t think they look that far into the future. They may, but customers don’t. They just look at it as, “Well, I can see it right now, and that’s all I care about.” But you don’t think about what happens 10 years down the road for something that you’ve paid for. If I told you, “Hey, I see you’re buying that new car. Ten years from now we’re going to determine that it’s obsolete and you can’t drive it anymore.” You probably wouldn’t buy that car, you’d find one where that wasn’t a possibility. But, you know, people do that with—it’s obviously much cheaper—but people do that with content all the time, where they just, “Well, it’s not going to work in the future? Well, whatever…”
MJ: Well, I think an experience like you just had really sort of crystallizes it and makes you see it in a way that you don’t. When you’re connected and this stuff sort of does work seamlessly, you don’t really think about it.
MB: Yeah, no, you don’t. Believe me, you do not.
A: That’s all for this episode of Robot Overlordz. Are you interested in the future and how society is changing? We’d love to have you join our community. Visit our website to learn more and to connect with others that share that interest. You can find us at RobotOverlordz.FM. The site includes all of the show’s old episodes along with complete transcripts, links to more information about the topics and guests in each episode, and our mailing list and forums. We’d also love to hear what you think about the show. You can review us on iTunes or email us.
A: We hope to see you again in the future…
MJ: Thanks everyone for listening.