A student at the New Jersey Institute of Technology skipped the dentist and “printed” his plastic aligners for a perfect smile at a cost of $60. Orthodontics can be notoriously expensive. It is therefore no surprise that his feat attracted a lot of attention and queries. The outraged reaction of experts may betray sectorial interests that may feel threatened. Yet they raise valid points. It is still amateurish work. There is much more than meets the eye when it comes to dental health. Also, the headline does not tell the whole story: this young man had access to a very expensive 3D printer and knew how to operate design software. As an expert commented, he could also have performed Lasik surgery on his eyes but surely the risks far outweighed the benefit (assuming he needed such intervention, anyway.) The time for amateur dentistry may not have come just as yet.
Uber has certainly disrupted the taxi industry. The question is for how long, wonders Bloomberg News columnist Megan McArdle. For one thing, its drivers are putting on longer hours to make ends meet. And unlike their professional peers, the cab drivers, only now they are factoring in the wear and tear of their cars. There are probably lots of hidden costs built into the service. In addition to it, Uber has been pushing for a bigger fare and reimbursement cuts, as it tries to break even. This, McArdle argues, is far from spelling the death for Uber. What was revolutionary about it was the opening it found for a new market. It built a niche into a business—the yellow taxis—protected by regulation, and that thrived on a virtual monopoly. In other words, it had unrivalled grip on the transfer of wealth from customers and drivers. Yet it’s not about numbers alone. The sharing economy is still in its infancy. There is much to be learned. And one thing is the realization that regulation exists for a reason. While the statistical importance is arguable, there have been a number of incidents tied to Uber. In the end, you are hopping into a car driven by a stranger. Much the same can be said about the taxi drivers, except that they pass tests administered by public agencies and meet certain criteria to ply the streets. The riders receive a number of protections. That’s probably worth the extra money to be paid. Most of the time, there is nothing wrong with getting a short ride with a stranger. What would become of hitchhiking, otherwise? And in underserved cities, like Moscow and other cities of the former Soviet Union used to be, it was a local custom to hail any car in the street and pay a reasonable fare to the kind driver that had got out of his way to serve you. This writer has often relied on these unknowing precursors of Uber in the Russian capital; Alma Ata; Yerevan; and Tbilisi. But also in China: in Beijing, Xian, and Urumchi; and in Turkey, from Artvin to Mush; and most recently, in Sebastopol, in the Crimea. So, it is not that revolutionary after all. A combination of business acumen and the resources offered by smartphones and apps have made Uber possible. That’s really all.
Software is causing people to snap. It is happening even to those who were born in the Internet era. The smartphones appear not to respond to our commands. They behave whimsically, and then some. Downloading music can feel like a struggle. And you can forget about it if the connection is slow. Or have you tried a search lately? “Google” has become a verb in conversational speech. But for how long are we going to say “Google it” when suggesting to run a search? Perhaps its days are numbered, if the browser ecosystem keeps expanding and adding functionality, like Alphabet. Apple, long the champion of simple software and design, is ceding that crown. Nothing about it is as simple as it used to, much less its software. Its iOS upgrades may often feel like downgrades instead. And if you have tried iTunes lately and have given up even before managing to browse, you are not alone. It is true that people are becoming avid for more functions. But the design is not keeping up pace. Internet of Things devices have mystified, frustrated and angered customers who were embracing its promises. Some did not even manage to connect them to the Internet. A company that has been revolutionary in so many aspects is leading the way on this score, too. Tesla is not only an example of what cars ideally should be. It also creates products that are meant to fit the habits of users, and not the other way around.