Outsized Credit for Tangential Association

Posted in Rant, Technology

I figured out the reason I find tech punditry – I guess punditry in general – distasteful.

I’m writing the first draft of this post in the afterglow of the Apple Watch event, as they announced bigger iPhones and Apple Pay. Of course, all of these announcements have been leaked: the manufacturing pipeline has long since gotten ahead of Apple announcements; a new smart watch[1] has been rumored for years; leaks of business talks as well as patents preceded their foray into payments. As Apple undoubtedly knows, genuine surprise is really hard when there’s so much attention paid to product launches.

Of course, after the announcements are made, the journalists who make their living chasing leaks are busy recalling past predictions and congratulating themselves for “predicting” the company’s product roadmap. As they spend an inordinate amount of time reading tea leaves on new products and the natural evolution of the existing lineup, it’s probably natural to leverage that work for further clout and pageviews. Speculation – even fun, somewhat baseless, and mostly inconsequential guesswork – can still be profitable personally and professionally.

The distasteful aspect is that these pundits are effectively monetizing predictions with partial, incomplete information, without having to worry about the difficulty in doing the actual work. That is, building products is an exercise in execution with a multitude of constraints: whether it’s the industry’s meta-climate, the teams and people and personalities, the timelines and investments, or just the technical execution of an idea, a product’s success or even launch is much more complicated than what the official marketing message is trying to deliver.

Even worse, it only takes a minuscule amount of this knowledge to establish added credibility. It may have taken John Gruber a few days to calculate probable new iPhone screen resolutions, but in reality, a cross-functional team likely spent years to agree and implement a specification which encompasses software, hardware, and design engineering tradeoffs. It’s certainly easier to conjure back-of-the-napkin numbers and simplify the work (and the people) involved, but that’s just another form of appropriating outsized credit for tangential association.

Admittedly, hard work alone does not guarantee success; product developers should be given credit for what they build, but the market determines whether that work pays off. And while pundits in general do very little of the work, they do invest their time in self-marketing and being more accessible. That people keep looking to pundits for commentary means that they provide some value; I just wish they weren’t given so much credit for providing simplified, inaccurate insight from the sidelines.

Footnotes    (↑ returns to text)

  1. And despite John Gruber’s best efforts to paint it as something beyond a smart watch, he often veers into hopeful speculation veiled as informed insight.
  • David

    Test comment.
    Great article.

  • David

    Hi Allen.
    Test comment worked finally!
    I am wondering.
    Did you write this GML good programming guide?
    http://www.wou.edu/las/cs/csclasses/cs125/tutorials/GMLProgramming.pdf
    If so thanks it is very helpful.
    And also if you don’t mind I have a question for you.

    Really enjoy your writing!
    Sincerely,
    David

    • Yes, but I literally wrote that over a decade ago.

      • David

        Well your main points are much more timely now Allen.
        The GameMaker community is plagued by bad programming practices.
        Is it okay for me to share your good programming guide?
        And also if you don’t mind I have a question for you.
        But what is the blog contact email address for me to write you at?
        There usually is one but I am unable to find it here.
        This article of yours points to that big unresolvable contradiction in our totally connected world where everybody gets a say be it true or false or in between and nobody is ultimately held accountable for anything said.
        It all brings to mind what Confucius said.
        三軍可奪師也匹夫不可奪志也.
        Some translate this to mean “You may rob the Three Armies of their commander-in-chief, but you cannot deprive the humblest peasant of his opinion.”
        I am just a humble video game maker so reading what a decent and important tech maker such as yourself says redoubles my determination to just tune out these damned pundits who can only be counted only for one thing and that is their ongoing striving toward doing and saying not much of anything and the unhappiness that that brings them whilst I happily make things and build things and create things that bring a few good people nearer to me in friendship.

        • Of course, feel free to share, although it may be wildly out of date.

          You can contact me personally at me@allenc.com.