A very short list of pragmatic ideas I’d like to see in 2020.
Upgrade my ebook
I have a Kindle Voyager. I like it a lot. Ebook samples have changed the way I read for the better. Literally any book someone mentions to me in passing is worth pulling a sample for. Some aren’t for me. That’s okay, I’ve stumbled into things I’ve really liked that I never would have found because of it.
But ebooks have flaws. They’re dust in the wind, and there’s no guarantee your virtual library will live forever. You can’t lend them—not really, give them to a friend, or stick them on a bookshelf.
You may have noticed, in the golden age of digital widgets1 physical objects are cool. Hence why vinyl sales are a thing again. Does it sound better? No, it sounds different, but 3 months into being one of those people I don’t think that’s the point.
The new era of vinyl got something right: most records come with digital downloads. You get the physical thing, and the convenience of a copy for your phone.
What I want is an equivalent for books. Let me get a paper book that comes with a kindle edition that fits in my pocket, or better yet, let me upgrade my digital purpose to a print one when I decide I’m obsessed and want to own a copy.
Technically, this is trivial. If an indie bookstore wanted to play ball we could build the infrastructure in a week. The blocker is licensing.
Let’s skip the part about how your smartphone is ruining your life but you’re also not going to rid of it because, well, are you kidding me? That’s been written about to death.
One of the solvable problems of all these gadgets is they’re terrible at compartmentalization.
Here’s the rough idea: there’s a time and a place when you want to mess around on social media, a time and a place for work email/Slack, and a time and a place when you want it to all go away and only show you music and text messages.
iOS has no notion of this. Everything is an endless sea with no walls.
What if it wasn’t?
Suppose you could set modes for work, home, traveling, and “hide everything but texts, phone, and music” mode, have them switch automatically based on time or day or location, obey different notification settings, and add just enough friction to make it annoying to switch back and forth on auto pilot.
Would it help?
Probably. At the least it would block some autopiloted scrolling.
It goes without saying that public enemy number one for humanity is the global climate crisis. It’s so obviously I don’t even want to write about it, except for this:
We’re starting to see a radical argument that the answer to shame people for traveling and eating meat.
This is a great way to score points on twitter and a profoundly stupid may to make friends and influence people. I already agree that I’d rather not witness the end of the world, and yet, I can’t help but think, screw you, I like traveling, in response.
Shame doesn’t work. You can’t get anything done by screaming about bad things; you need to replace them with better things.
Every gain in energy efficiency, even small ones that you can multiply by 100 million people, is a win. And in most cases they’re a win we won’t even notice: LED lightbulbs, slightly more efficient planes, cows that fart less2 and cheap solar panels.
Take the wins.
And finally, some things we can skip:
Self-flying cars, internet-enabled cast iron skillets, targeted audio ads on the metro, more “sharing economy” (thank you for everything and please stop), AI therapists, meal replacements goos, VR podcasts to optimize your sleep cycle, anything that has to do with AMP, cryptocurrency-based real estate markets, wearable computers for babies and or pets, and quantified self for your personality.
If you’re working on one of these, I apologize for shitting on your creativity.