Dear Tech: A letter to the deadbeat teenage son at the end of a tough year

  • In 2017, America finally lost its fascination with the tech industry.
  • We feel lied to and manipulated, and the products no longer wow us.
  • It's time for tech to reset itself and focus on big problems.
Couch Potato
Steve Cole | Getty Images

Tech, son. Sit down. We need to talk.

Your mother and I have been discussing the situation, and I think we all agree that it's been a hard year for all of us. But more us than you.

We don't feel like we can trust you anymore.

First, there's this whole thing where you keep changing your story. Like that time Mark Zuckerberg said it was "crazy" to think Facebook helped the Russians influence the presidential election. Only later, Facebook said in fact 10 million people saw Russian-bought election ads on Facebook...or was it 126 million?

Or that time we found out that Apple was actually slowing down older iPhones, lending credence to one of the oldest conspiracy theories on the internet. Or that time when Google's home assistant gadget actually did turn out to be listening to random conversations even when people didn't wake it up? Or that whole thing with Meg Whitman absolutely not wanting to be the CEO of Uber...until they called at the last minute and asked her to reconsider, and she ended up meeting with Uber's board on the day they made their choice.

For somebody who talks about "transparency" all the time, you sure seem to have a lot of secrets.

We also feel like you're manipulating us.

All these former product designers like Tristan Harris keep coming forward explaining all the clever work you do to get us hooked on your products. Sean Parker, one of Facebook's first employees, now says the company built its product to exploit human "vulnerability" while another early exec, Chamath Palihapitiya, says it's "ripping apart the social fabric of how society works."

Meanwhile, Amazon has cities stumbling over each other to offer incentives and tax breaks for the privilege of becoming its second headquarters, even as CEO Jeff Bezos has become the world's richest man with a net worth right around $100 billion. Just for comparison, the entire annual operating budget for the city of Pittsburgh — one of the cities Amazon is reportedly considering — is less than $600 million.

There's also your other big problem, the one we never used to talk about? You know ... women. From Uber's toxic workplace, to reports of venture capitalists harassing female entrepreneurs, to that Google bro who posted that manifesto saying women tend to be more neurotic than men even as the company undergoes a federal investigation into whether it pays women less than men ... none of this is good. I know you say you're trying, and that it's not all men in the tech industry, that women need to "lean in" more, but come on — if a problem keeps coming up again and again and again, maybe the problem is you.

Plus, to be totally honest, you're coasting on old accomplishments. The iPhone is 10 years old now and there's only so many times you can impress us with bigger, brighter screens and better cameras and new apps. Don't get us wrong — we love our phones, but they're just not that sexy anymore.

Amazon Alexa and Google Home and all those other gizmos are kind of fun, but honestly it's a little bit creepy to know this thing is sitting in the corner just ... waiting for us to talk to it. That Joaquin Phoenix movie you had us watch — we thought that was a dystopia, a warning, like "Blade Runner" or "Brazil." We didn't realize you actually wanted one of these things and were going to build it.

Blockchain lemonade

Self-driving cars? Been hearing about those for almost 10 years. Let me know when we can actually get a ride in one.

A wristwatch to track whether I'm exercising enough? Thanks, I'll stick with my Rolex.

Bitcoin? Don't even get me started. I hear from your uncle every day with some crazy new bitcoin blockchain something-or-other. His latest is a blockchain-enabled lawnmower. Why does it use the blockchain? I have no worldly idea, and neither does he. By the way, your nephew's apparently a millionaire now, or at least he was the other day — I haven't checked the price today.

Are you thirsty? Grab yourself an iced tea. Your uncle sent us a case last week.

Anyway, to the point. It's time you grew up and took some responsibility for yourself. Connect to the outside world a little bit. Find a larger purpose.

Maybe you can apply some of your logistical expertise to help the thousands of people sleeping in tents in the cities where your most successful companies are headquartered. Or work on fixing that melting-ice-cap dying-polar-bear problem we've been talking about for decades now.

Regardless, we're turning the basement into a pottery studio for your mom and music rehearsal space for me and my old jam buddies. The contractors start on Jan. 15. We'll expect you out of here by then. I'm sure you have some rich friend with a couch you can crash on, right?

Just remember to leave that piece of paper with the Wi-Fi connection instructions in case we get disconnected, OK?