Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

source-codesource codeauthorDavid PierceNEWSLETTER LayoutWant your finger on the pulse of everything that's happening in tech? Sign up to get David Pierce's daily newsletter.64fd3cbe9f
×

Get access to Protocol

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

The end of the online vs. offline debate

The end of the online vs. offline debate

Good morning! This Sunday, here's your five-minute guide to the week that was, and a preview of this week's Consumer Electronics Show.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day.)

The Big Story

Everything is IRL

If there's one tech-related takeaway from the last week, it's that the barriers between online and offline life have disappeared completely.

It likely happened a while ago, when we started hanging out with our friends inside of video games and sharing our lives on Instagram. But it became more obvious when we all started working and learning from home, when Zoom and Alexa became members of the family. And it was put on undeniable, hideous display when thousands of people, who had spent the last four years telling lies and stoking fear on social networks and in messaging apps, gathered in D.C. to storm the Capitol.

It's not enough to say what happens online affects the real world. They're the same thing, two parts of what it's like to be alive now. That changes the way we think about regulating the internet, because it is both a fundamentally different space and an equally important one. It changes how we use technology, too, and forces us to be more thoughtful about integrating it into our lives.

This week alone was full of examples:

  • Slack went down on Monday, making workers all over realize how much they rely on the app. At Protocol, we spent a long time just trying to figure out how to reach each other, as if we'd forgotten life before Slack.
  • Everything to do with the riots on the Capitol, from the way they were planned to the way rioters livestreamed, live-tweeted and generally shared (and monetized) the event, felt like an internet story made real.
  • When Twitter and other platforms banned Trump, it became clear that even if tech companies can't actually censor the president, they can sure make it harder for him to reach a mass audience. Even Twitter's rationale for banning Trump came down to the way his words online were being interpreted and turned into real-world actions.
  • Cities having trouble getting COVID vaccines administered are turning to companies like Eventbrite, having discovered how challenging it can be to build a tech system that works.

And then we have this week: CES, the annual gathering of people who make really big TVs, people who sell really big TVs and people who like to look at really big TVs. This year is going to be fascinating, and not just because a virtual CES is going to feel very different.

This year's CES, from what I've heard, is going to be lighter on gadget news and heavier on thoughtful discussions about what technology is supposed to mean in our lives. COVID-19 accelerated so many trends and integrated tech so much more deeply into everyday life that this year's show feels like a moment to take a deep breath and figure out what it means.

There will still be plenty of big TVs, of course, but we're also going to talk about what we want from our TVs. 2020 was a big one for TV sales, as millions of people upgraded the set they were suddenly looking at more often. What's a TV's job in a remote-work world? Or in family communication? Or in a smart home? We won't see all the products to answer those questions — manufacturing cycles are still long — but we'll get an idea about what's being planned.

Here at Protocol we'll be covering the show all week, with a special afternoon newsletter for all Source Code subscribers, and a live event on Thursday at 1 p.m. ET / 10 a.m. PT. (Mark your calendar and sign up!) As the show gets underway, here are the big themes we'll be looking at:

  • All pandemic everything. If I had a nickel for every company whose new product pitch started with "so much has changed in the pandemic, now you need to buy our new stuff," I'd be rich. (Not Elon rich, but rich nonetheless.) Also there are going to be so many masks for sale.
  • A lot of education. Whether it's kids home-schooling or adults looking to learn new skills, 2020 was the year we discovered that most digital education tools are terrible. This year we'll start learning how to make better ones.
  • Weird ideas about the future of work. Expect to see a lot of webcams and ergonomic office chairs, along with new ideas meant to make working from home more pleasant and productive.
  • Transportation of all stripes. The joke about CES for the last few years has been that it's not really a gadget show anymore, but a car show. That'll be true this year, too, though we're also going to hear about drones, delivery robots, scooters and buses. And regulation for all of them.
  • 5G! You know how 2020 was going to the year of 5G, and, uh, whoops on that one? Well, now everyone's saying 2021's the year. But I've been hearing a bit more skepticism from folks recently, who are eager to see 5G change the world but are waiting for someone to prove it's really coming soon.
  • The TikTok effect. Streaming is winning, there's no question about that. But streaming is also changing: It's becoming more interactive, more social, more personalized. Each streaming service and social app is asking itself what it should be borrowing, both in content and in product, from apps like TikTok.

The biggest question, though, is how all this is supposed to fit into our lives. That involves questions about privacy, moderation, user interfaces, corporate responsibility and so much more. This year's CES won't happen in person, but it might be the most human-centric one we've ever had.

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Micron

For Raj Hazra, who is senior vice president of corporate strategy and communications at Micron, there has never been a more thrilling time than this golden age of data. In this interview, Hazra describes how "we are now at the doorstep of taking things that we thought were science fiction and making them real, and it's only going to be exponentially faster going forward". Read more from Micron's Raj Hazra.

CES links

That said, here's some early gadget news! Lots more to come starting tomorrow.

  • Kohler debuted a $16,000 bathtub, with all sorts of smart and spa-like features.
  • It's going to be a CES full of Chromebooks. We've already seen new models from Samsung and Acer, with more to come.
  • Sony's new high-end TVs are really interesting: they have a "cognitive intelligence" chip that attempts to figure out which part of the screen you're likely to be looking at in order to optimize it in real time. Also, Sony's still betting big on Google TV.
  • Mercedes designed a 56-inch car dashboard that's just one long, wavy touchscreen. It looks incredible.
  • JBL is trying to out-AirPods the AirPods. (That's the overarching goal for seemingly every headphone maker right now, actually.) And it's betting on battery life and price to help it do so.
  • I'm a sucker for weird ideas about computer design, and Lenovo's full of them. Check out the AIO 7, which has a rotating screen for when you really need to watch TikTok in all 27 inches.

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Micron A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

For Raj Hazra, who is senior vice president of corporate strategy and communications at Micron, there has never been a more thrilling time than this golden age of data. In this interview, Hazra describes how "we are now at the doorstep of taking things that we thought were science fiction and making them real, and it's only going to be exponentially faster going forward". Read more from Micron's Raj Hazra.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.

Recent Issues