Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sometimes it's OK to be a Luddite (Shotwell's vs. Scoble)

Depending upon your point of view, you consider Luddites either as backward people who resist inevitable change, or forward-thinking people who cherish the reality of the old days. Sometimes you can hold both opinions at once - I'm sure that there are a lot of people who adopt the latest tech gadgets, but at the same time condemn Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, and the like for applying technical innovations in their fields. (If HGH were invented by Silicon Valley, the tech press would fall all over themselves promoting it.)

Well, over the last few days, a single message on Facebook has spawned an article in The Atlantic. The message, posted by the San Francisco bar Shotwell's, read as follows:

Last night around 9:45 two people walked into the bar. Looked me square in the eye, and acting as if everything was normal they ordered beers.. Oh did I mention they were wearing Google Glasses! In public! In A BAR!

Atlantic reporter Alexis Madrigal quoted Shotwell's co-owner Tom Madonna:

"When you buy a new phone, it's in your pocket, but this, you're wearing something on your face. Anyone that cares what they look like is not gonna wear Google glasses. That's my opinion," Madonna said. "If you are super nerdy and you like to show off that you're in tech and smart and all those things, I can see you probably wearing Google Glasses, but you are probably in a bubble or ... new. We've all heard all this stuff. Like, this guy moved to SF and he comes to the bar. He's from Scottsdale and he's using all these [tech] words. I had to stop him. I said, 'You sound interesting and different in Phoenix, but you sound boring here. You are cliche.'"...

"In Brooklyn, you don't see people put their phones on the tables. They have it in their pockets. That is the culture of San Franaciso. It's so pervasive, it just dones't seem weird. It seems *normal* to them to walk into a bar with Google Glasses, even though everyone's smirking at them," Madonna continued.

Everyone? "Ok, maybe a couple people were jealous," he admitted.

Enter Robert Scoble, who has commented on the original Facebook post and elsewhere, making two points. First, Shotwell's shouldn't be making fun of its clients. Second, Scoble will use his influence to steer people away from Shotwell's. Here's part of what Scoble said in a Quora thread:

[S]oon I'll be directed to the best bars by the Google Glass and if the bartender doesn't like me wearing them I'll change the review so that people get guided to go somewhere else!

So, if you are a bartender, you better watch out. Those of us who will be wearing Google Glass are often influencers, rich, and willing to change OUR behavior when it comes to spending our money, time, attention. Hint: I tip well and drink a lot of expensive Scotch (although I'm trying to cut down, which the Glass will help me with too).

Scoble did make other points about how we do need some common understanding about how such technologies are used. But it's safe to say that Shotwell's has dropped way down on his favorite list of bars.

But in a world in which 6 BILLION people are NOT on Facebook, is the Google Glasses-loving demographic truly that influential? Here's part of what I said (in response to Robert Scoble) in that same Quora thread:

Every business, whether physical or virtual, has a target market and caters to a particular clientele. And every business sets up rules. Shotwell's is clearly catering to a market that wants old-fashioned interaction, rather than people wearing Google Glasses....

One problem encountered by anyone (including me) who writes about tech is the assumption that everyone is just like us. And this also leads to the related view, that those people who are not like us are not as good as we are. For example, when Google+ was first introduced, there were a whole bunch of animated GIFs that showed Google+ beating Facebook up. Why? Because, in the eyes of the GIF creators, Facebook users were complete morons. And who knows what the GIF creators would think about the six billion people who don't use Facebook.

I'll cite another example; I can't remember if I've blogged about this before. Many people think of Footloose as a fictional movie from back in the 1980s. Well, if you come to the present day, in 2013, you can find Liberty Christian Academy in Guin, Alabama. Their policies include the following:

The school, therefore, requires each student...whether at home, school, or elsewhere...

1.to refrain from swearing, attendance at movie theaters, indecent language, smoking, drinking, alcoholic beverages, the abuse of drugs, gambling, dancing, involvement in rock music, touching or over familiarity with the opposite sex.

Yes, students at Liberty Christian Academy cannot dance. Not that they'd know about the movie Footloose, since they can't go to theaters either.

Now while I personally disagree with some aspects of Liberty's policies, including their policies on dancing, I recognize that there are a significant number of people in the United States who hold those views. And if parents want to send their kids there, I'm not going to run around and condemn them for it.

And similarly, I'm not going to condemn Shotwell's for laughing at people who wear Google Glasses.

Because at the end of the day, there are more Mark Maddoxes (Maddox is the pastor of the church that sponsors Liberty Christian Academy) than Robert Scobles.

P.S. Scoble replied to a comment that I made in the original Facebook thread:

John E. Bredehoft then make it an official policy "wearables not allowed here" kind of sign. Lots of businesses get ahead by making it clear who isn't welcome inside. But it sure doesn't seem like a good business strategy to me, especially in a city where so many tech elite live and spend money.
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