Alexa Stop! – predictions vs reality
Way back in December 2019, somewhat blissfully unaware of just how much our lives were going to change, Alexa Stop! made some predictions for 2020… and I captured them a month later here.
I thought I’d catch up with Jim (Manifesto CEO, and one of the Alexa Stop! presenters) and write a follow-up piece comparing predictions with the reality one year on.
Twitter made changes, but not the ones we expected
Back in 2019, both Alexa Stop! presenters – Jim and Rob – pondered whether Twitter would take a back seat in 2020. They also nodded to some interesting developments set to shape the future of the platform.
We haven’t heard much about these developments, which intended to create “an open and decentralized standard for social media”, according to Twitter’s co-founder and CEO, Jack Dorsey.
But that’s not to say Twitter didn’t evolve. It’s taken popular features from rival social media platforms, and incorporated them into its own interface. Recent examples include ‘Fleets’ – the Twitter equivalent of Instagram stories, and ‘Spaces’ – an alternative to drop-in audio app Clubhouse, which still excludes Android users.
Voice-enabled social spaces are a site of huge investment at the minute. As The Verge points out, Discord launched its social audio rooms feature ‘Stage Channels’ at the end of March. And the likes of LinkedIn, Mark Cuban, Slack, and Spotify are all working on Clubhouse-like live audio features. Even Facebook reportedly has one in development.
Even without its newly launched ‘Spaces’ feature, Twitter still acted as a key mouthpiece for the people throughout 2020. In addition to the usual sports and music chatter, the platform also became a vital hub of information around the global health crisis, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the US presidential election which saw Trump supporters storm the capital.
This saw #COVID19 and #StayHome land first and third places in the most tweeted hashtags of 2020.
Amazon kept it vague
The pressure is on, Rob and Jim said in December 2019, for businesses in the tech industry to show they care. That year, Amazon finally disclosed its carbon footprint. Yet to reach carbon neutral status like its BigTech peers Google and Microsoft, the pressure was on.
So, did Amazon manage to convince consumers it does, in fact, care? The online services giant owns 31% of the cloud. With only a third ($5.6 billion) of its profits between Q3 2019 and Q2 2020 coming from Amazon.com, the lion’s share – some $11.6 billion – came from its cloud services arm ‘AWS’. This infrastructure underpins the digital operations of Netflix, Deliveroo, and Airbnb.
In a Dispatches episode called ‘Is Your Online Habit Killing the Planet?’, Channel 4 brought AWS under the microscope. It spoke to a former AWS employee, who said the company still wasn’t offering enough transparency around its progress towards carbon neutrality.
In June 2020, Amazon said its entire business operation was 42% renewable. “If you talk about it as one big thing, it doesn’t really give you that much information,” said the former AWS employee. Of Amazon’s 91 renewable projects, only 31 are large-scale utility wind and solar farms – six of which have no date for operation.
Looking at the wider sector, the IDC’s 2020 Datacenter Operational Survey revealed 74% of enterprises across the Asia-Pacific region include data centre facility metrics in their corporate social responsibility (CSR). Of those, more than half said they detailed how they reduce energy use, while another 46% said they were investing in renewable energy sources.
I caught up with Jim, who said: “Organisations need to provide clarity for their users around how their products and services impact the environment. The onus to better our climate should be on the firms, and not on the consumers who are restricted by these firms’ services. If brands set a better common standard, more efficient customer behaviour will naturally follow. A standardised way of understanding the carbon impact of our purchasing choices, for example, could be a way forward.”
This sort of service is already beginning to reach consumers, but it’s coming from the banks rather than the Big Techs. In September 2020, NatWest launched an eight-week-long beta test for its carbon emission calculator, designed to track a customer’s spending against their carbon footprint. It’s unclear when customers en masse will have access, but marks a promising start.
Tech positively changed the year
Back in December 2019, Jim and Rob had hoped the world would ‘wake up’ from the negative effects of technology. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, which had emerged just a year earlier, had seen Facebook accused of manipulating the data distributed to millions of users to sway political elections.
The Alexa Stop! co-hosts’ prediction that tech would therefore become a force for good, keeping us entertained and connected, came to life in large part due to the macroeconomic effects of the pandemic.
Last year saw the adoption of tech skyrocket. From grandparents opening Zoom accounts, to Netflix attracting 36.7 million more paid subscribers, tech got many of us through what can only be described at times as a bleak, monotonous series of lockdowns which curbed all our usual social habits.
With the peaks and troughs of a global health crisis dominating 2020, it’s fair to say technology has had one of its most exciting, transformational years yet. Not only did it bridge gaps between family, friends, and loved ones, it also evolved to suit the needs of a digital-first world – revamping sectors which had long relied on face-to-face interactions.
It also saw technology platforms push against the dangers of misinformation, something which – in a year of life-threatening illness and mass riots – became more important than ever to address. In May, Twitter hid one of Donald Trump’s tweets because it glorified violence. Then in June, Twitter permanently suspended Katie Hopkins for violating its hateful conduct policy.
We saw smaller technology companies come together to create COVID-19 relief platforms. One such example was ‘Covid Credit’. The platform, designed to help sole traders evidence and validate income for government aid, originated out of a single tweet. It saw three London-based start-ups work across an entire weekend to come up with a prototype in just 48 hours.
With three lockdowns nearly up, many of us feel strongly that technology is ultimately no substitute for actual human interaction. Which is why the majority of companies are looking towards hybrid working models. Whatever happens throughout the rest of 2021, we’re looking forward to getting back together, face-to-face, to chat about it.
You can take a gander through the Alexa Stop! podcast archive here.