A supermarket SmartCart

If it ain’t broke: Innovation nobody needs, when stupid money meets an unnecessary product

From the development of smart supermarket carts to the frequent design changes of Gmail, big money is poured into technology ventures that promise a wonderful new world, but in practice mainly invent solutions to problems that don't really exist

Last week the Israeli company Shopic raised $35 million and joined the intense race to develop a super smart shopping cart. This is the race where hundreds of millions of dollars have already been invested and the best minds have been recruited to solve the supermarket cart problem. Yes, although some of you may not know it, shopping carts are a problem, and it's a problem that a number of companies have been working diligently on to transform carts from merely a piece of metal on four wheels (or three!) to one with touchscreens and sensors that calculate your purchases automatically while continuously displaying discounts and advertisements on the monitor. The goal is clear - creating a new, digital and frictionless user experience in the supermarket, one that brings all the advantages of online shopping into the physical supermarket. At least this is how the company explained its activities in the newspapers.
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מוסף שבועי 11.4.19 SmartCart עגלה חכמה
מוסף שבועי 11.4.19 SmartCart עגלה חכמה
A supermarket SmartCart
(Credit: SmartCart)
It takes some effort to read the news stories about millions of dollars being raised by a shopping cart startup and keep a straight face. Nevertheless, this is a product whose purpose is to shorten the supermarket checkout line during a depressing social, political and economic reality in which most of us have trouble filling our carts at all.
Today our collective existence is almost completely defined by the marketing efforts of the technology sector, these include an attempt to prove to us that everyone there - from the small startup to the large corporation - is constantly working hard to change the world for the better, one supermarket cart at a time. This reality, they explain to us, puts us on a sort of permanent path to an easier, richer and more comfortable life in every dimension and beyond all imagination. The men and women who work long hours at high wages in these companies literally hold the future of all of us in their hands. They bring us a delivery from a restaurant which arrives within 20 minutes and for free, cryptographic money that can be transferred without fees and a supermarket cart that simply calculates what's in your basket.
Accordingly, press releases or the description of the new products are publicized with the utmost seriousness. A camera that captures people on roller coasters at amusement parks changes social norms. The image file created in Excel and turned into a unique NFT is the next step in the field. YouTube's new subscription service is a game changer in the streaming war. They try to attach amounts of money to messages that immediately make us feel that this startup will surely take off, while obscuring the basic questions that need to be asked, such as, is this startup good, is what it offers bad?
We are left only with the bottom line - was it successful or not? These are collected and grouped by the news sites in prestigious lists of the "successful" and funny lists of the "losers", those whose existence (in the strictly subjective opinion of the sites) was unnecessary. These will be companies that invented a product that in the opinion of the editors of the list is stupid, unnecessary, ineffective or maybe a little nice but really just a waste of time. Sometimes the lists also include some curiosities, maybe a feature that works but no one asked for (I'm looking at you, Gmail's seventh design change in the last decade), or ones that are hard to believe haven't happened yet (Hey there, end-to-end encryption of Facebook Messenger). These lists are always successful because they produce a special feeling within the readers, it's not unbridled joy but rather relief and confirmation: it didn't just sound like a stupid idea, a waste of money or a grandiose promise, it really was a stupid idea, a waste of money or a grandiose promise.
1. Stop changing the design
All this, of course, is not to claim that the technology sector is not important. Certainly it is important, fruitful and great products are built in it. Products that are positively present in the everyday life of most of us. After all, precisely because it is important, the status of the sector and its workers was established not only as the economic engine of our lives, but as the arena where the questions and answers asked about life are determined, the space where problems are identified and from which solutions grow. This status also determines how questions will be asked and how open to the different answers they will be .
So what questions are being asked today? Many of them, it seems, have an unusual aesthetic of wasting time, resources and energy. An aggressive effort to try to innovate in places where people don't really look for innovations, and to solve problems where people don't really recognize them. For example, when Google decides to change (again) the design of the world's most popular email service, it does so even though it knows that users don't like design changes if the interface is good and efficient. Google knows this very well, in fact every time the company changes the design of Gmail, users conduct an aggressive hunt for what it used to be. A hunt that is well reflected in the autocomplete in the search engine. Just start searching - "How to restore the design..." and Google's algorithm will complete the "of classic Gmail". In return, Google even leaves users with the option of continuing to use the classic design.
Sometimes the changes are so unwanted that they are truly catastrophic. This is what happened just recently when Facebook made a significant facelift to the feed of the Instagram application, with the aim of making it look more like Tiktok and including recommended content rather than content that the user actively chose. The reception was so negative that in the end Facebook decided to give up the change completely.
This resistance does not necessarily come from the fear of change, although it can be assumed that this is a contributing factor. Resistance appears because many times the changes and innovations are not really required or the need for them is based on an overestimation of the wishes of many. Yes, nine out of ten startups fail not only because the founders did not get along with each other, the product is not good, the business plan is flawed or the state of the economy is bad. Startups also fail due to incorrect or exaggerated assessments of people's needs and desires. But these assessments, as they say in the world of technology, is not a bug, but a feature.

2. Hammers that see nails everywhere
The technology sector is a victim of its own success. A few companies that have prospered exceptionally well and the early investors in those in the 1990s have become a model for which very few deviations occur. All the questions that are asked and the problems that are tried to be solved do not come from a heterogeneous point of view, but from that of programmers who are looking for a purpose for the skills they have acquired like hammers who see everywhere a mirage of nails. This reality produces non-stop occupation in a field that is important, but not the most important thing, and a huge diversion of capital (private, public) and government subsidies to good ventures, but also quite a few that are completely unnecessary. It’s just too bad that progress doesn't come from programmers looking to use the skills they've acquired, but rather from political movements working together and trying to build a better world.
First published: 12:34, 16.08.22