CTRL: Is 2020 the Beginning of Tech Industry Stagnation?

Last year, writing this column on Super Bowl Sunday was easy. Just between Google and Amazon, I had more smart home commercials to talk about than I knew what to do with—and that’s not even counting all the other tech-related commercials that aired.

Commercials are a window into another world: a perfect technocratic world where every crazy new product is adopted by everyone and used to its full extent by oddly well-groomed people. In this way, Super Bowl commercials are snapshots of what our worlds could look like if we just bought more Alexas and Bud Light Seltzers.

In theory, this wacky, future-focused world should be exciting and alluring, at least if the marketing departments are doing their jobs right. But, this year the commercials were outright boring. And I don’t mean that they weren’t entertaining or well crafted—between Lil Nas X, Charlie from IASIP and Bryan Cranston, some commercials were actually more entertaining than last year’s game. However, the products they were presenting didn’t offer anything new or exciting. 

I mean really, who saw that Hellman’s commercial and thought to themself “Wow, I’ve never heard of that ketchup brand before! I’ll have to check that out next time I’m at the store!”

By far the most innovative newcomer in the space was Tik Tok, which should say a lot about the other ads.

This isn’t just a Super Bowl problem, though. It’s not that the products advertised in the Super Bowl happened to be boring, it’s that tech news as a whole is getting boring.

We used to see so much quick progress on the home and personal tech front. From phones, to laptops, to fitness trackers and even smart fridges, there was always something new and exciting on the horizon. I remember when we first got touchscreen phones and when YouTube rolled out 720p. I remember the waves that the Apple Watch and Airpods made. And, I’ve been witnessing the dominant rise of smart home devices in the last few years.

But, for the last year or so it seems progress has stopped. A while ago, I wrote about how Apple’s yearly iPhone announcements demonstrate how little progress is being made on the smartphone front. Now, I’ve come to realize this isn’t unique to smartphones; phones, computers, TVs, digital assistants, fitness tracker, smartwatches and the like have all stabilized. 

It’s even happened on the app and software front. Companies like Facebook and Twitter that used to be innovators are now more worried about cleaning up their recently tarnished image as destroyers of democracy.

I’m desperate for someone to shake up the tech space. I just have no idea where it’ll come from. Though, in a way that’s exciting.