More than two years after Pandemic Times, technology is more popular, stronger and richer than before. Or is it?
This year — and especially the past few weeks — has complicated a fairly simple understanding of how most of the tech industry and America’s superstar digital companies have fared.
Over the past year, my colleagues and I have written repeatedly that technology was the undisputed winner of the eccentric pandemic economy. People and businesses needed what tech companies were selling, and that increased reliance allowed tech stars to grow faster and become far more profitable than Silicon Valley geeks could have imagined. Variegated dollars. a +.
Now I think that figure should be revised to an incomplete one. Some of the trends of 2020 and 2021 — including more work, shopping, product marketing, entertainment and socializing shifting online — are starting to backfire. In retrospect, it is now unclear how much of the digital wave of those years was a blip and how much was an acceleration of lasting technical transformations.
That uncertainty, along with inflation and weakening economies, makes it difficult to figure out what’s happening in technology today, or even assess the past few years. We may be on the cusp of a great time for technology or the beginning of a rough patch for their products and finances. Let me repeat what the mantra of 2022 should be: nobody knows anything.
Some tech executives exude confidence about their future, while others seep in a sweat of fear. It’s almost as if they live in two separate realities. And maybe they do.
In one empire is the land of Big Tech, with emperors like Microsoft, Google, Amazon (maybe), Apple (maybe) and a few others in fortresses looking down on us.
Revenues at Google and Microsoft continued to climb from what appeared to be their unsustainably huge sales of digital advertising and software in 2021. Both companies said this week they felt good about their prospects, but also warned of problems ahead.
On Tuesday, Google executives said the word “uncertainty” or a variant thereof 13 times in a conference call with investors. The company said it would become clear in 2023 that Google is slowing down hiring. Planning a spending diet so many months in advance is a sign that the company doesn’t expect to get past what could be a recession in the United States and other global problems.
Several winners of the scariest phase of the pandemic are also struggling, raising the question of whether their rambunctious days of 2020 were partly a mirage.
Netflix has already lost subscribers in the United States and Canada for two quarters. That has left some experts questioning whether online streaming in general can become as big, as fast and as lucrative as optimists thought. Snap, owner of the Snapchat app, saw its fortunes and usage soar in 2020 before returning to what it was: a not-so-successful company with an uncertain future.
Shopify, whose software helps companies set up online storefronts, said this week it believed the pandemic had no lasting effect on people moving from in-person shopping to the Internet. If Shopify is right, the whole idea that the pandemic has caused a massive change in shopping habits will implode. It must have been a temporary sugar high.
Amazon hasn’t been so direct, but the company has acknowledged that it has overestimated how quickly e-commerce sales would grow and is cutting back on spending. (Amazon and Apple will announce quarterly financial results later on Thursday.)
And Meta… phew. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a company switch from swagger to bumbling Mr Magoo so quickly.
The company’s revenues have fallen for the first time and the Instagram app has an identity crisis. But I can’t say whether this is the beginning of the end of Meta as a dominant digital power or a temporary lull due to a combination of inflation, Apple’s privacy changes and ugliness compared to the pandemic-related uptick in ad sales and profits it once saw. reported. Meta’s annual sales are almost double what it was at the moment in 2019. That is not (yet) a sign of a company in permanent decline.
With the United States and other major economies weakening, digital superstars may use this moment of uncertainty to enter new territories and expand their dominance. It’s also possible that even giants won’t be able to stay strong if their lucrative markets, including premium smartphones, online advertising, e-commerce and business software, slow or shrink in the coming years.
Is technology winning or not? Can I take a long vacation and revisit this question in 2023?
If you have not yet received this newsletter in your inbox, then sign up here.
Tip of the week
Useful changes for your gadgets
Brian X. Chenothe consumer technology columnist for The New York Times, published a handy list of: default settings we need to change for iPhones, the Facebook app and other technologies to reduce the data we share with digital companies. Brian is here with more of his favorite settings to make our devices more fun (or less annoying):
Maximize the video resolution on an iPhone: On iPhones, open Settings, select Camera and tap Record Video. Select one of the 4K options. (I’m going with 30 frames per second.) This ensures that your camera records video at the highest resolution. The downside is that your recordings will clog up more of the phone’s digital storage. But if you paid for a nice camera, why not use it?
Minimize distractions on your wrist: On the Apple Watch, I prefer to turn off the notifications for every app except messaging and workout apps. To do this, open the Watch app on your iPhone, tap Notifications and turn off the notifications for each app. (Also, I always keep watch sounds muted.)
Put your favorite features at your fingertips: On Android phones, you can customize the Quick Settings menu for shortcuts to features you use often. Swipe down from the top of the smartphone screen and swipe down again. By tapping the icon that resembles a pencil, you can choose to add tiles that will allow you to, for example, turn on your phone’s flashlight or go to airplane mode from your phone’s home screen. You can also rearrange the order of these feature shortcuts to suit your preferences.
Before we go…
Congress moves closer to financing American chip factories: The US government seems likely to be doing something relatively rare and using taxpayers’ money to subsidize an industry — in this case, it will pay computer chip manufacturers to make some products in the United States. My colleague Catie Edmondson reported that the purpose of this funding, which also includes a lot of money to support American scientific and technical research, is to counter China. There is also a long list of other missions, some of which are a bit messier.
From the opinion of the New York Times: The US supremacy in key tech areas like chips requires America to do more to create a pipeline of talent both in the United States and abroad.
Two historians found the medical records of people in the mental asylum for sale on eBay. Writing in Slate, they wrote that ecommerce sites should take more responsibility for what they sell, and they worry that the public sees mental illness and disabilities as entertainment.
A video game that is both an escape from and a reminder of illness: A writer for The Washington Post, Gene Park, was recently diagnosed with cancer and found himself addicted to “Cyberpunk 2077,” a video game about how to deal with terminal illness. “I’m not much closer to understanding my sudden fascination with this title given my current predicament,” Park wrote.
Hug for this
Look at these teeny baby jacana birds! (Jacanas are tropical wading birds with very long legs and toes.)
We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you want us to discover. You can reach us at ontech@CBNewz.
If you have not yet received this newsletter in your inbox, then sign up here. You can also read previous On Tech columns.