Tech fatigue

This isn’t a rant post. But if you have worked in tech for long enough, you know this feeling — tech fatigue. At some point, everything new feels old, everything different feels dumb. If you get stuck in this circle of endless cynicism, you need to ask yourself the important questions.

First, let me tell you how I feel about tech today. Everything feels derivative or silly. I’ve been there before, I’ve seen that. Tech companies are churning out new products that look like last year’s products, media outlets are giving me a déjà-vu and the current new trends have been the same trends for the past two years.

A pink MacBook sounds anything but new. Slack is turning into Yammer — time to party like it’s 2012. Apparently, I need to update my USB Type C adapter now. And Snapchat is becoming more like Messenger is becoming more like WeChat, proving that at some point messaging apps are going to be derivative products of all other messaging apps.

But it’s fine, you think, I just have to look at the future. So let’s head to Las Vegas. Another CES, and this time I bump into Walt Mossberg. I ask him how many times he’s been to CES. The number was so high that I forgot what it was. He’s counting in decades, not years. He was even in Las Vegas before CES was called CES. I probably have baby tech fatigue compared to him.

So what does the future look like? We’ve been talking about virtual reality, artificial intelligence and self-driving cars for years already. Now these trends sound like random buzzwords more than anything else. Remember when the next big thing was supposed to be Meerkat live streams, Foursquare checkins and 3D printing?

I’m excited about most of these things. But then, I end up in a briefing room in Las Vegas, trying out the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive Pre. None of the journalists in the room were eager to try these things. We were all there because we all need to keep up with the new shiny.

I try the Adrift demo. After literally one minute, I feel nauseous. I start sweating and take off the VR headset immediately. I didn’t feel well for the next two hours.

We were promised flying cars, and all I got was a tummy ache.

The next day, other tech reporters ask me if I think augmented reality is more relevant than virtual reality. All I can think about is all the useless connected objects around me. I’m thinking about making a Gmail filter that auto-forwards stupid pitches to @internetofshit.

And then, there’s the current state of media. We’re drowning in a sea of access journalism puff pieces. The untold story, they said. But I didn’t learn anything. I have nothing against access journalism, but if you do access journalism, do it on your own terms. Otherwise that’s another thing that’s going to lead to the end of media. Soon, every article on every website ever will be millennial trend stories anyway.

More recently, I attended another big Netflix press conference with no apparent reason, another tech event with a bunch of new faces. I wondered whether it was time to rage-quit tech and work in the fashion industry.

All of this culminated into my mood today. Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back and look at your industry. Good VCs have an investment thesis — it’s a good habit. Tech journalists should have a “why do I care” thesis.

Tech fatigue is a good thing if you know what to do with it. And the reason why this post isn’t a rant is that I’m still optimistic about tech. There are just some conditions.

In 2012, shortly after John Biggs hired me, then TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Tsotsis asked me a serious question — why do you care about tech?

At the time, I didn’t have a good answer. But when tech fatigue hits you, it’s important to ask yourself this question again — and refine your answer.

I care about tech for two simple reasons. First, technology is incredibly powerful and can profoundly alter how we communicate, share information and learn. It has brought people, things and services together that couldn’t be brought together before. Tech has drastically improved productivity, created many jobs (for now) and, more importantly, reduced inequalities — at least for those who get access to these devices and services.

Tech companies have an indirect effect on billions of people. While most people aren’t directly better off thanks to Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft, the evolution of computers and the Internet is the most important technological revolution of our lifetime. It affects the structure of our societies. Sure, there are unfortunate side effects, and governments will have to make sure tech companies don’t get too powerful. But I believe tech is slowly but surely improving the lives of many, many people.

Second, the tech industry is a fascinating industry. I’m very fortunate that I love my job. Sure, the news cycles can be tiring sometimes. But I get to talk to smart people every day. I get to talk about the future with them. And I get to help those who have great ideas and need an audience. I also believe sharing knowledge about the tech industry is an important mission.

Uncovering the next big thing before most people is exciting as well. And TechCrunch is the best megaphone to do this. Thinking that I have this unique opportunity to contribute to the public debate around tech is invaluable. I’m incredibly lucky.

These seem like simple reasons, but they are the reasons why I wake up every day. Now that I know why I care about tech, it makes tech fatigue much easier to understand. Tech fatigue is a signal. Tech fatigue tells me that I have to challenge myself every day to find new things. If I get stuck talking about the same trends and products, I’m missing out on what’s going to make tech great tomorrow.

Second, tech fatigue is a great bullshit indicator. If something feels dumb, it’s probably dumb. But it’s my responsibility to find interesting things. Every day, an interesting new startup is created. So it’s time to step out of my comfort zone and foster my curiosity, otherwise I’ll just become a cranky old man.

And if you suffer from tech fatigue yourself, think about this as well — why do you like tech in the first place? And remember that everything new is already old, and everything unfamiliar is new.