Cargo Cult Science is a helpful term for describing people going through all the actions without understanding root causes. I sometimes use the term "cargo cult design" to explain imitating UX or product ideas without knowing why.

A lifetime ago, "netbooks" were cheap laptops that were small, underpowered, and could do basic internet tasks. People said Apple was missing the netbook party for years. Their laptops weren't cheap or targeted to mobile scenarios, so the conventional wisdom was that they'd lose the next generation of computing. This era inspired Chromebooks, and Google has done quite well with them.

You know what else did well (better, in fact)?  Apple's answer to a cheaper, more limited, internet computer, which they called iPad. Apple didn't agree they needed to strip down macOS, use low quality parts, and go head-to-head with conventional wisdom for netbooks. They went for "cheaper than a laptop and focused on mobile computing," and now we don't talk much about netbooks anymore. But we sure talk about iPad.

Same with HomePods. Everyone thought Apple needed apps on their voice assistant, like Alexa. Eveyone thought audio quality would be an afterthought, because customers would be so in love with their audio assistant they wouldn't mind poor quality speakers that listened to us in our homes. Apple did the reverse, by focusing on sound quality and letting Siri be as disappointing and limited as ever. Apple made some very nice speakers and the Alexa division recently lost $10 billion in one year.

Mark Zuckerberg recently said Apple Vision demos didn't look like a future he wants to see, because they all feature a person sitting alone on a couch. Fair point, one that I think a lot of people agree with. He stressed that Facebook's vision is about bringing people closer together, which sounds good. But let's analyse further, because "social" can mean a lot of things.* It can mean closer to a few people emotionally or in the same physical or virtual location as a stadium-sized crowd of humanity, which are very different experiences.

What's better for society and mental health, looking through your own photos or yelling at people on Twitter? What's more engaging and nourishing, playing a single player game with a great story or dealing with griefers in a MMORPG? A group chat of friends or 4Chan? DMs on Instagram or watching a celebrity get ratioed on the public feed? Is it easier to be in the moment while meditating quietly to yourself, or in a tourist spot in Times Square?

I hear, understand, and relate to the point of view that technology needs to help bring people closer together. In my view, and experience working at Twitter, doing that at massive scale can have an isolating effect despite it presumably being a "social" experience. It's like a busy amusement park. Sure, you see lots of people around you, but that doesn't mean you feel close to them, or any less lonely. On the other hand, a deep conversation with a family member or spouse, especially if you're far away, and especially if you can see their face, can be very meaningful.

Bringing people together can mean two things. It can mean a large volume of strangers like VR Chat, which in my experience feels like Reddit multiplied by a Gathering of the Juggalos. But "bringing people together" can also mean your close circle of friends communicating throughout the day with iMessage and Facetime. (Or Marco Polo, an app I love) Or maybe watching a movie together, via SharePlay.

I think this is going to go the way of Netbooks and HomePods. I think Apple has identified that "social media" is a sliver of your day, and a stressful one at that. Whereas they believe personal productivity and keeping in touch with close friends is much more important scenario to optimise for. I agree with them.

*iPod came out in 2001 with good sound quality and a music store. Microsoft's Zune came out five years later with the marketing slogan "Welcome to the Social." The announcement from 2006 played up a feature that let you find another person with a Zune, send them a song, where the DRM would let you listen to the song 3 times over 3 days, with an option to buy it from the Zune store. CEO Ballmer infamously described it like this:

“The value of Zune, if we’re successful, is all in the software. It’s in community. I want to squirt you a picture of my kids. You want to squirt me back a video of your vacation.”

When Steve Jobs was asked about the Zune and its marquee technology, he had a great response to this question: "[Zune] says that this device is all about building communities. Are you worried?"

In a word, no. I’ve seen the demonstrations on the Internet about how you can find another person using a Zune and give them a song they can play three times. It takes forever. By the time you’ve gone through all that, the girl’s got up and left! You’re much better off to take one of your earbuds out and put it in her ear. Then you’re connected with about two feet of headphone cable.

Microsoft described a "social" that was fiddly, slow, nerdy, tied to DRM, encouraged interacting with people in public, and helpfully upsold you to a store at the end. Apple just focused on a great music listening experience and stopped there**. Worth noting.

** You could argue they didn't stop there, because they attempted to "Join the Social" with their music-focused social media site, Ping. It failed.