Updated: Mar 3
You will all agree with me that 2020 has been disastrous in many ways. Aside from the fact that COVID overshadowed all other diseases in the world, particularly other equally-deadly viruses, the year will have brought an unprecedented surge in technology into the household, technology that is supposed to enable telework, leisure, and social interaction. The use of social networks has exploded, some are under fire (TikTok), webinars, and other remote meeting software have become the norm.
Behind these technical prowesses are often start-ups that have capitalized on the global crisis to impose their products and services with massive funding.
It reminded me of an anecdote from the early 20th century when the Prefect of Paris complained about the pollution and odors generated in the capital by horse dung. In 1900, the largest city in France had no less than 80,000 horse-drawn carriages and nearly 4,000 street-cleaners mobilized every morning to clear the streets.
An article in the Figaro newspaper in 1907, got emotional about the situation, particularly because of the considerable expenses linked to this unhealthy environment, and ended its article by betting on an invention that would solve all the problems: the automobile.
If instead of the 1910s, we were in 2020, this is how things would have been: Amédée Bollée, who built on the success of august predecessors such as Verbiest and Trevithick, after having exhibited his "Mancelle" at the 1878 World's Fair, would have written an "executive summary" to describe, in some three to four well-meaning sentences, the interest of investing in his brand new vehicle. In particular, he would have praised its speed, more than 40 km/h, and its cleanliness since, according to car fanatics, "blue smoke dissipates in the air and is therefore not harmful at all".
Then, he would have set up his "business plan" to present the commercial prospects of his invention by means of graphs, images, and figures. All this data would then have been integrated into his 5-minute pitch, half the time it takes Giffard's tethered balloon to climb and descend the 500 meters of its run. Finally, he would have done his "due diligence", the valuation of his start-up, his "cap table" and would have ended with a beautiful "closing".
In 2020, the story of passenger transportation autonomy is still not over. If at the beginning of the 20th century, the question was to get rid of the pack animals, then in the 21st century, the aim is to get rid of the pilot, with relative success. Indeed, Uber, the American VTC specialist has finally decided to sell, in 2020, its autonomous car development business to Aurora Innovations, after having been sued for patent theft - and having seen its engineer, Anthony Levandowski, a former Google employee sentenced to 18 months in prison for having committed a few offences against his former employer - and an accident that cost the life of a pedestrian busy on her smartphone.
But these are not the only failures of this bizarre and cursed year.
Another example is Samsung's foldable phone, which instead caused the company to fold. Google glass also failed to meet its glorious fate. Who wants to walk around looking like a failed Power Ranger and have two thousand pieces of information in their range of sight at the same time? Moreover, these connected glasses made it possible to film secretly, which immediately made them very unpopular in places of discretion where it was quickly forbidden to wear them.
What can we think of this company that sent a capsule to the moon, full of tardigrades in full hibernation and crashed upon arrival. It is unlikely that these animals survived, but the question of the export of living beings into space is now more acute, with a significant risk of a very futuristic form of pollution. Finally, Quibi, financed by several hundred million dollars, offered videos that could be viewed on cell phones alone, for a modest subscription of 5$ per month, without thinking that a service like YouTube would certainly be a difficult competition to beat.
All these failures reminded me of that famous Christmas when, looking for a new television, we were offered the top of the line, Avatar at home, a 3D screen. I thought I would see Tarzan crossing my living room on his liana, but I was quickly disappointed when I realized that I had to choose between correcting my hyperopia, my glasses, and the very heavy and uncomfortable ones of my TV. I was definitely discouraged after the fifteenth quarrel of my children arguing to use the two pairs that had cost us more than Fr. 200 each, after searching for them for almost an hour in the sofa cushions to realize that the AAA batteries had given up.
So, this year, I went back to the chocolate fizzing in my mouth, and the organic lilac soaps and I say: Can't wait for 2020 to go away!
Picture by Cottonbro