Yes, it's that spooky time of year again, and our "fearless" editors have asked upon the ZDNet contributors to come up with "Scary Tech", the technologies that are so frightening, they'll make you evacuate from multiple "interfaces".
Halloween. All Hallows Eve. Dia de los Muertos. Whatever you call it in your culture, Halloween is a day that for many people evokes images of ghouls, the undead, vampires, witches, werewolves, ghosts and goblins -- creatures of fantasy that are meant to scare young children. Although I've often been emotionally compared to a child, none of these things frighten me.However, there are some things, at least in the world of technology, that really do scare the living crap out of me. While there isn't one particular item that makes me turn completely ice cold with fear this Halloween, there are a number of trends that definitely have been keeping me up at night lately.
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Clouds Without Proper IT ControlsIf the T-Mobile Chernobyl has taught us anything, it's that properly run SAAS products and cloud services need strict IT controls. No customer should ever have receive an email or read a web posting from the service provider that reads "Sorry, but due to unforeseen circumstances we've lost all of your data."
Following best practices for IT Service Management for rolling out patches, fixes and software upgrades and having a business continuity plan that includes a robust disaster recovery strategy for storage with multiple tiers of protection will ensure that clouds one day become as trustworthy as the public utilities that we take for granted. But until then, clouds will be perceived as frighteningly unreliable and as dangerous as 19th century railroads.
End Users Who Live for The PresentCloud and SAAS providers aren't the only ones who need to shore up their business continuity plans -- a frighteningly large amount of end-users go about their daily computing lives without making any kind of backups of their critical data whatsoever. Our own young Zack Whittaker learned the hard way about what happens when you play against the odds of Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) and accidental catastrophic data loss on a consumer-grade hard disk, and then losing. Everything.
Given the inexpensive cost of on-line data backup services such as Carbonite and external USB disk drives with the convenience of "one button" backup, there really is no excuse for not backing up your data. Don't let the data loss monster destroy you. Last year, I thought that this was important enough that it was my number one "Scary Tech" item. Zack Whittaker should have read it. Now I'm telling you to, right now.
Platform Lock-In and Tie-InLast year I joked that proprietary Lock-In mechanisms weren't worthy of a B-Movie let alone a world class horror flick like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Shining, but I've begun to change my tune about this a bit. While I would never go as far as to say that locked-in systems that tie software and services to hardware such as Macintosh, the iPod/iTunes/App Store and the Amazon Kindle are illegal or are even monopolistic, I do think they are highly undesirable and are a trend that device and systems manufacturers should avoid at all costs.
Open Source and the "Open Kimono/Open Format" strategy (One which has been recently embraced by SONY and Barnes & Noble for their ebook reader products that can use the EPUB format) in which manufacturers embrace a "Multiple Store/Multiple Devices" philosophy that relies on standardized data formats not only makes sense for the consumer and gives us more choice, but it makes more and more sense for the manufacturer as it opens up more potential customers than they otherwise would have had with an entirely locked down and controlled system. By all means build your own device, but open your store to everyone.
"Licensed" Software and Digital Rights ManagementYou know what's so increasingly great about having digital media players and mobile devices with "On Demand" content capability? You won't need to own the software and content that's downloaded or streamed to them. You know what sucks about those kinds of digital media players and mobile devices? You're going to pay for the content on them even though you won't own them.
Unless you downloaded something in an archival format that you have perpetual use of and can offload from the device itself, chances are you simply have an entitlement to USE it, specifically on that device or with that service. Don't believe me? Buy your e-books from Amazon or your smartphone applications from the Apple iPhone App Store. And when your e-books or applications and other content disappears without warning, or if you find out that you can't migrate your data or content from that manufacturer's device to another one, you'll remember the fond days that when you "bought" something that had actual tangibility.
IT Consolidation and Cost CuttingWith the lousy economy, corporations have now moved into the mindset of "Lean at all costs". For some, this may mean losing a few perks, such as company-paid cell phones, home office lines, company-paid broadband, being forced to change airline carriers and losing medallion status, no more company cars, reduced meal and travel expense compensation, and having to be under constant audit for even the most minor and legitimate expenses. That's if you're LUCKY. If you're unlucky, you get to lose your job. And that is a very scary prospect indeed.
It pains me that as a technologist who spent most of his career building things, the prime focus of what I now do is reducing. We in the services biz may call it "IT Optimization and Consolidation", but the reality of it all is that if you reduce facilities and you reduce infrastructure and you "outsource", that usually means that some people eventually down the line will to be losing their jobs.
I don't know about you guys, but once all this "optimization" is over I'd like to get back to building and expanding things again.
The Rise of the Virtual WorkplaceWith companies looking to lower costs any way they possibly can, one of the biggest casualties of the modern workplace is the loss of office culture -- the social interactions we have with our co-workers and having real human relationships that require in-face personal contact.
Call it hanging around the water cooler or grabbing a cup of coffee or eating in the office park cafeteria, all of these things that we used to take for granted are going the way of the dodo bird in favor of the "Virtual Workplace" or the "Virtual Team", where employees are spread throughout the country and often never get to meet each other in person, relying exclusively on electronic and voice communication to get the job done.
Someday, when our children and grandchildren are watching re-runs of The Office, they'll be asking you what it was like to have "Office Parties" and "Sensitivity Training" and having to commute to work, as if it was something that was quaint like the typewriter, the photocopier or the rotary phone.
I myself am a "Mobile Worker" and belong to a virtual team, and my company, along with all of the major technology firms that specialize in services, has shifted towards having more of its people be home-based and are deployed in the field when they are needed to be customer-facing. While more time spent at home with your family can be extremely positive and fulfilling, it also can be isolating and stressful to be stuck to your computer, telephone and home office all day, and to not have routine personal contact with your co-workers and having to engage in "Virtual Office Politics" has pitfalls of its own.
Mobile Device Dependency and 24-hour WorkdaysUntil I had to deactivate my BlackBerry earlier this month, I never really knew how dependent I truly was on my smartphone. The fact of the matter is many of us are stuck in a vicious cycle of instantaneous gratification and instant access to information at all times of the day anywhere and anytime, even long after one is considered to be "working".
Constantly dragging your smartphone everywhere and that constant anxious need to check and send emails and "Status Updates" not only raises your own blood pressure level but it also inconveniences and annoys others. Going to a movie or eating dinner out with friends? Put the smartphone away, or at least leave the twits and thumbscrolling to when you're away from the people you're actually supposed to be paying attention to.
The Perils of Social NetworkingTo make up for our loss of office culture and our ever-shrinking interpersonal relationships that have been brought about by the computer revolution and the Internet, we have brought in its place Social Networking. What is a "Friend"? Is it a series of status updates on Twitter or FaceBook? Has business networking been reduced to clicking "I Accept" on LinkedIn? Or is the concept of having lasting human contact with over lunches and dinners and telephone calls passe? Are we now required to spend multiple hours a week on these services in order to maintain our presence and to add comments to "Walls" in order to show people that we still care about them? Really? Is that what life and human interaction has been reduced to? Sending people virtual drinks and "gifts" and inviting them to "causes"?
And no, I don't want to play Farmville or Mafia Wars with you, Jackass.
Cyber BulliesAs if work isolation and the loss of real friendships over electronic ones didn't suck enough, we now have vile, awful human beings who's only pleasure in life is to harass people using any electronic means necessary to make your life miserable. Perhaps they lead completely unfulfilled lives. Perhaps they are jealous of you. Perhaps they hate you for some completely irrational reason, but they'll send you endless barrages of hateful emails, they'll troll on your blog, they'll try to impersonate you and also attempt to smear your reputation using the very services that we've designed to facilitate communication.
Cyber bullies suck, and the sad part of it all is that there is little most people can do about them unless they have been physically threatened. Professional cyber-bullies know how to skirt the line between what they would consider freedom of speech and what the interstate law enforcement agencies would classify as a crime. Only a few states have enacted cyber bullying laws and most professional cyber bullies attack across state lines, where there are no laws in place to stop people from doing so. It just isn't on the top list of things law enforcement is particularly concerned about, and that is indeed disturbing.
A World without Net NeutralityYou know that high speed broadband connection you're enjoying now from your Cable Modem, your DSL line, your FiOS or your 3G wireless on your smartphone? Do you like how you can connect any device to your home network to access the Internet? You know how you hate it when you get rate-capped or protocols may be blocked? If the telecommunications companies and network hardware vendors have their way, quality of service will be completely at their whim and they'll be able to dictate just how good a connection you'll get any time they want and they'll be able to impose all sorts of restrictions on what devices and protocols you can and cannot use.
While nightmare scenarios such as this recently published "worst case" chart of an Internet where everything is nickel and dimed with heavy and arbitrary restrictions imposed are probably unlikely, Network Neutrality is a very real concern and something that all netizens should be thinking about. We can hope that every user and every subscriber will have free and unfettered access to wherever they want to go and what services and protocols they can use on the 'Net, but at the end of the day it's up to our governments to make sure that the telecom companies that provide us the "plumbing and the water" can't just adjust our water pressure, when we can drink it and the quality of what we are drinking willy-nilly.
New MediaIn other news in the "Biting the hand that feeds you" department, as if my words on IT Cost Cutting weren't bitter enough, I must also lament and fear the destruction of traditional media by the hands of New Media. In all truthfulness, the death of newspapers and magazines has been a long time coming and the business has been rotting for a long time, but even though we might now prefer to read our articles online and for free, there is something to be said about the qualitative aspects that we are losing with "Blogging" and New Media publications.
I can't tell you how many times a month I get emails from the "Grammar Police" that I've misspelled something or used the wrong word or phrased something awkwardly. WELL GUESS WHAT PEEPLE, I AINT GOTS NO COPY EDITURZ. I EDITZ MY OWN COPY. I CHECKS MY 0WN FAKTZ. I ain't got no three month lead time to "polish" a piece. I have no "news desk" for someone to check things for me. Nobody "proofs" my stuff like I used to when I wrote for the dead-tree print publications. Nobody on staff picks "appropriate" illustrations to go with my words and we have no staff photographers. The loss of these luxuries are a casualty of the Old Media.
And at the same time we all get to enjoy New Media web site formats and the joy of interacting with people who often won't read past the first paragraph before shooting their mouth off. YES! YOU'VE FOUND ME OUT! I'M A SHILL FOR THE COMPANY/PRODUCT/INSTITUTION YOU HATE AND I REPRESENT EVERYTHING YOU DESPISE!
What other technology trends scare you? Talk Back and Let Me Know.
Disclaimer: The postings and opinions in this column are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.