From Shitty Kickstarters to Normcore to thinkfluencers to peak Uber—let's talk about the most obnoxious things of 2014 so that we may forget them forever.
Hey there. We all seem to have made it at through to the other side, so congrats on that. With the train wreck that was 2014 safely smoldering in the rearview mirror (we do agree it was a bit of a mess, what with the Islamic State and Ebola and missing planes and hottest-year-on-record and the Sony fiasco, right?), let's take one quick last look and then avert our eyes, if only so that we might learn from the past so as to never, ever have to worry about this stuff again.
Not all of these originated in 2014. But they all seem to have thrived there, all those (couple of) days ago.
Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have given rise to some truly awesome products. The sites have also given an outlet for people who are, at best, utterly delusional, and at worst outright criminals to swindle money out of innocent people. The shitty Kickstarter was everywhere in 2014— whether it be the "Anonabox," the "Ring," or any number of thousands of less publicized projects created by people who have no idea what they are doing. Yes, lots of these make good entertainment fodder on /r/shittykickstarters, but they also complicate the process for people who want to invest in the actual good work being done on these sites.
Game consoles hawked by people with no hardware experience, Pokemon movie sequels pitched by people who have no film industry experience and lack the rights to make such a movie, and any number of farfetched apps, hardware, comic books, etc that have obscene funding goals (all of them are flex-funded, of course, meaning they get whatever is raised) and ridiculous or stupid incentives (pay $50 for a bumper sticker! pay $100 for a security app! pay $50 to get your name tweeted out by my account with 16 followers!) are hallmarks of the genre.
This will never happen, but let's make it a rule starting this year that, in order to create a crowd funding campaign for your startup idea, you must A) have a reasonable background and ability to deliver what you are doing; B) be clear about what you're delivering, and when; and C) offer incentives people want at reasonable price levels, rather than charging $62,000 for a trip to meet with you and your cofounders at your dorm room.
- Jason Koebler
The Uber of Everything
One tech journalism cliché that I was well-aware of long before I ever started at Motherboard is calling every new sharing economy platform "like Uber for X."
There's Uber for pizza, Uber for restaurants, Uber for tow trucks. You can even buy an "Uber for X" script to make an Uber-like app for anything you can dream up. Aside from being overused, the term is often an imperfect metaphor for the function of the new platform in question (it usually isn't very much like Uber and all) not to mention Uber was far from the first company to jump on the sharing economy bandwagon (AirBnB, for one, was around a good year before Uber popped up).
Besides, after all of the bad behavior of Uber's top brass and employees this year, the last thing they need is more publicity and praise. Fellow tech writers: please, please nix this turn of phrase in the new year and do a less-lazy job of describing new sharing economy platforms to your readers. We'll all be better off for it.
- Kaleigh Rogers
Thinkfluencing for the Sake of It
A quick series of caveats:
- A pundit's job is to comment on everything, I get that.
- I've probably been guilty of this at some point, and may be right now!
- It's never going away.
Okay, so with that out of the way, the thing that I'd like to see fade away is the tendency of some folks to make broad, black-and-white proclamations about anything and everything just because it feels so fucking good to do it. (I'm bathing in Twitter favs, and it smells like self-affirmation.) And hey, I like it when people share big thoughts! But when a tech or media or sports or whatever pundit starts veering into commenting outside their wheelhouse and you can tell their heart isn't in it, I can feel the hallowed halls of the Temple of Thoughts tarnish just a bit.
- Derek Mead
Encryption apps that make too many promises
Do you know what I'd really like to see in 2015? An encryption app that's super-easy to use, and that I can rely on to be secure. The problem is that even if I see it, I won't believe it. Over the past year or so there have been dozens of encryption apps and services that claim to fit these criteria—so many that it's simply impossible to know which to trust. Even Google and Yahoo are getting involved.
The reason I want something that's easy to use is because I'm no cryptography expert. But that also means it's beyond my abilities to check if these various apps actually live up to their claims of total security, and with even Snowden-endorsed tools experiencing difficulties, it's tough to make the leap of faith. It doesn't help that so many tout their wares with ridiculous hyperbole like "unhackable" or "NSA-proof." I don't need to be a codebreaker to realise that If I'm skeptical about your marketing materials, I should probably be wary about your product.
- Victoria Turk
The -gate suffix certainly wasn't new this year but boy was it everywhere. In 2014, a scandal wasn't a scandal unless it had a hashtag and a clumsy comparison to Watergate via the internet's favourite portmanteau structure.
Watergate referred to the Nixon administration's attempt to cover up its illegal activities. Somehow this has led to semantic references in everything from #Bendgate, as people complained that the iPhone 6 was too easily bent, to #Shirtgate, when controversy reigned over a scientist's choice of apparel. British readers will remember the furore of #Bingate, when Great British Bake Off contestant Iain Watters controversially threw out his melted baked Alaska amid accusations of bakery sabotage. And of course there was #Gamergate.
I'd say we've reached #PeakGate, but that's been said before and the social media outrage camp just keeps on giving.
- Victoria Turk
Comment Section Nostradamuses
"This comment section is going to suck when all the ______ show up." Fill in the blank with "MRAs" or "SJWs," or "Lebron haters" or whatever. What bugs me about this comment, frequently seen early in a comment section, is that it lays bare how quick the turn around is from "reading a think piece" to "defending your entire identity." Look, this is the internet. The stupid and the combative will get there soon enough, and starting things early doesn't put you above the fray. You're the first snowflakes of a pointless, stupid blizzard.
- Benjamin Richmond
The terms "Normcore" and "Basic"
If someone ventures into fashion, then I guess they're fair play, but if someone's style is characterized by not changing and not being interesting, then I'm not sure what we're even talking about. For that reason, I'm confident that normcore will go away on its own. But the "basic bitch/bro" trend? Look, I get that it's going to be hard to get that high-school-cafeteria-insult buzz from calling everyone "hipsters" in 2015, but it's time to find another way to assert your superiority over others. Sanctimonious list making, perhaps?
- Benjamin Richmond
And while we're killing words, can we just do away with "social justice warrior," please?
Maybe it's just me, but the culture wars sure did seem a lot nastier this year, didn't they? GamerGate didn't invent the term "social justice warrior," but its supporters sure enjoyed using it as a catch-all insult / defense / coverup for being mean to people.
What is a social justice warrior? Is it someone who wants others to treat women with respect? Who believes there's more to writing about video games than talking about frames per second or gameplay mechanics? Who believes that maybe we should have a talk about the lack of women in tech and science?
And perhaps if someone is fighting for social justice, well, maybe they have a perspective that's at least worth listening to?
And about GamerGate. The deal is this: Video games are art—most people agree by now. And, as art, they are subject to criticism much the same way every other piece of art is. Some of those critics might be uneasy with the idea of making a video game that glorifies acts of mass violence on innocent people. This type of criticism happens all the time with other works of art, and people who like movies don't completely lose their minds whenever the New York Times doesn't agree with them about a Johnny Depp flick.
So, if it's really all "about ethics in games journalism," well, let's acknowledge that it cuts both ways. Personal attacks (and I mean personal attacks—on journalists, on female game makers, on specific commenters or Twitter users) do nothing but cull free speech and make people feel really shitty. Let's be more civilized this year; let's treat each other nice; let's argue our points, yes, but let's not be jackasses to each other and scare people and try to silence those we don't agree with by harassing them.
Because, with fewer voices out there, with fewer perspectives, with less diversity, journalism—games or otherwise—ain't gonna get any better.
Let's just treat each other like humans and not punching bags?
- Jason Koebler
So, there you have it. That was quite cathartic, the digital equivalent of writing a note to your ex, crumpling it up, and burning it in a bonfire. May we start 2015 with a clean slate.