As far as I know, nothing of any notable significance occurred on Monday, October 15, 2012. The social web was still abuzz from the spectacular achievement in human ingenuity from the night before, brought to you by Red Bull and science. People continued to predictably politick and Rainn Wilson did an AMA.
However, for an infinitesimal segment of the human population, October 15 was marked by a frenetic search for answers fuelled by an anxiety that can only come from leaked photos of an up-and-coming piece of shiny new tech.
I faked the Sony Nexus X.
Truly sorry. But I did come away from the experience with a few observations. I will share these musings, along with how and why I created these fakes.
But first, here's a ROUGH timeline of how this hoax played out.
To be honest, I cooked this scheme up on Saturday, October 13 without a whole lot of initial thought behind it. As a fun exercise in 3D device modelling, I was already halfway finished with my vision of an ideal-yet-not-too-pie-in-the-sky rendering of a Sony designed Nexus device. Nothing nefarious here, folks; just a guy sharpening his skills.
While catching up on the latest info pertaining to the LG Nexus 4, I wondered to what degree leaks like this are promoted by the original source before a news agency picks them up. During Nexus season, these sites probably receive a substantial number of phony "tips". At what point do they decide that a tip is safe to print? Do they even make an attempt to ascertain the authenticity of the photos beforehand? How rigorous are they at hunting down the originators and getting in contact with them? Fakes come and go, but rarely do we ever hear the other side of the story.
A secondary motivation was to spur some real public discussions around a Sony Nexus device. I wanted Google and Sony to see how much of a demand there is in the market for a premium Nexus experience from a manufacturer like Sony. I included details like the pogo pins and a removable battery in order to elicit responses claiming that these are features consumers overwhelmingly desire. The fit and finish - aluminium trim and battery door - were not as widely talked about due to the jpeg compression muddying up the details, but I maintain that this is also very important to Nexus consumers. I was personally taken aback when I learned that the LG Nexus 4 will sport fake chrome trim. I'll gladly take brushed aluminium, but chrome-plated plastic? Eeh.
During the 48 hours after the initial Picasa upload, I made a number of observations and realisations about a range of topics including tech journalism, entrepreneurship, innovation and philosophy.
Tech journalism moves fast and cascades like a monkeyfighter. Not sure who fired the first shot, but after the post on XperiaBlog was published, dozens of articles popped up within 15 minutes time. Many of these outlets did the right thing and alluded to the possibility that the images were fake. Now, I won't name any names, but some prominent blogs actually titled their posts along the lines of "LEAKED IMAGES OF THE SONY NEXUS X". Come on, guys. Let's not do this.
One slightly off-putting thing about this entire episode was that not a single soul made any attempts to contact the owner of the Picasa album. Seriously. Not one comment reaching out to the elusive Mutul Yeter (whose name I actually misspelled). Man, if I was a journalist, the very first thing I would do is to make some sort of attempt to contact the person who posted the leak. Even if it was a long shot, I could be the guy who put the whole thing to bed. That has to count for something.
It wasn't all bad news on the journalism front. Extra special shoutout to Android Police for their incredibly detailed detective work. These guys don't mess around, which is why they are my favourite Android news site. I did not flip you guys the bird, but that had me rolling.
After the immediately observable stuff, I began thinking about these news articles as products of individual journalists. As of now, there are around 1,000 news articles on the "Sony Nexus X". Let's say it takes an extremely unscientific average of 15 minutes to research, write, edit, and publish this kind of article; that's 15,000 minutes or 250 hours of human capital that I mobilized by sitting here and moving my hands a bit on a Sunday evening. This doesn't even take into account the number of non-journalists who devoted time to reading about, discussing, or debunking this story (most likely during work hours).
Let me reiterate: I, an individual with no previous worldwide recognition save for a frontpage Reddit post, managed to alter the behaviour of people in Russia, Japan, Uzbekistan and Italy within the course of 24 hours, all from the comfort of my home while exerting next to no effort. If you are nothing short of absolutely blown the hell away by this, then the music died for you a long time ago.
So next time you want to talk about a tech bubble, Ms. Tech Writer, or decide to invest tens of millions in another "safe" hipster filter photo app, Mr VC, stop and really think about the amazing things we take for granted. Casual acceptance of the products of human genius keeps us all thinking small. The internet is still in its infancy. The mobile space is a goddamn zygote. Stand tall, Mr. Dev and Mrs. Entrepreneur; don't be discouraged. I get it, you're burnt out, but there's so much more we can do in this space. We can all make our marks, make some money, and change peoples' lives.
And finally, this whole affair served as yet another data point to validate what I already know. Human action cannot be predicted. People are not a series of inputs and outputs that a masterful technocrat can manipulate to any degree of accuracy. This exercise was a shot in the dark. Those images could have remained undiscovered or passed off as fakes immediately. What if I refrained from uploading them at all? The over 250 hours of skilled labour that I diverted to the coverage of this "story" could have gone to more productive uses. Thousands of tech geeks the world over would have done something else with their time.
Many people have this unrealistic expectation that relatively small groups of intelligent people can and should use whatever tools they have at their disposal to manage the whole of society. The economy, which is essentially a word used to describe the various dynamics of human interactions, is too complex to model or simulate with the end-goal of producing actionable policy recommendations. This insignificant non-news event had a disproportionate effect on the outside world. Imagine what kind of terrible damage one can do by artificially diverting resources from one sector of the economy to another through legislative fiat? We all know what happened when corn became a subsidised crop: High fructose corn syrup supplanted cane sugar as the dominant sweetener.
This was not by design, but simply an unpredictable result of artificially tampering with the economy. A committee of the brightest economic minds in the history of the world could never have predicted the Internet, Facebook, the rise of the mobile app ecosystem, or Bieber Fever. Yeah, all of this from a stupid hoax.