What I did on my summer holidays
If you thought things were a little quiet around here last week there's a good reason for that. I was on holiday in the US (Honolulu to be precise) and did not take my devices with me for Obvious Reasons.
However, I did take serious note of several key IT issues I thought I'd share with the group.
Telecommunications in the US (or my small corner of it) are insanely complicated for no real reason. Actually, there are very good reasons for the complex nature of pricing, billing, offers, deals, phones, modems etc - confusion remains the number one marketing tool in the US and that's across the board, not just in telco-land.
Speeds are rarely as advertised, cellular coverage is a bit rubbish, acceptable use policies appear to be well entrenched and as nefarious as ever (just what is an 'acceptable" amount of use) but the price points are generally low and the race to TaaC (telecommunications as a commodity) continues with some pace.
That the US is late to the whole digital payments movement is not exactly breaking news but the lack of smarts even when technology is being deployed is remarkable to behold. (DISCLAIMER: I do some communications work for Paymark, which operates in this space)
EFTPOS is still something of a dream scenario for most US retailers and the nearest equivalent is a clumsy, clunky terminal that sometimes requires a signature (A SIGNATURE!) and sometimes does not. Putting your newly issued chip card into the machine generally results in a lengthy wait while the machine chews over whether or not it can process the transaction (and for foreign credit cards usually results in an alarming noise demanding the retailer intervenes AT ONCE in the process) and then a swiping of the card's mag stripe through the slot on the side.
Cash remains, as ever, king, and I can't help but wonder if some of this reluctance isn't due to the culture of tipping. Either way, shops and shoppers are full of cash, the US economy does not take advantage of the efficiencies that digital payments can bring and the whole thing is lurching into the digital payments space like some vast steam-powered tricycle that has had new features bolted on without any actual understanding of user experience, payment mechanisms or indeed the physics of the local area.
It's almost impossible to find an actual shop selling hardware in the malls of America (well, Ala Moana at any rate). The death of Radio Shack has left a giant sucking hole which has been apparently filled with Starbucks stores and (praise the gods) Cinnabon stores. Modern tech shopping has moved online utterly and entirely in a way that only book shops appear to have matched. The world's largest open-air mall contains only one bookshop and the only tech outlets consist of an Apple store, a Microsoft store (!) and some kiosks selling phone covers.
Televisions are, however, the one bright spot on the horizon, with 65" monsters selling for around US$750 but sadly my luggage limit wouldn't allow me to bring more than six home with me.
All of which would suggest that New Zealand is well positioned in terms of the ICT world, that we can and do "punch above our weight" and that a gentle move away from our utter reliance on dairy farming (and apparently tourism) towards the STEM and ICT world would not be a bad idea.
I also highly recommend taking holidays whenver you can and do leave your devices behind. The break from screens and the constant flow of information and madness is worth its weight in gold from a mental health point of view. Don't put yours off for too long.
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