Microsoft’s obsession with Windows is ending, and I couldn’t be happier

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By Ian Sherr

A little over two and a half hours into Microsoft’s Build conference this week in Seattle, I tuned out the live coding session, taking place on stage in a downtown convention center crammed with 6,000 software developers, and started playing a game in my head.

It was sort of like Where’s Waldo. Except I was thinking “Where’s Windows?”

According to my AI-created transcript of Microsoft’s three-and-a-half hour opening keynote on Monday (which I sat through — all of it), the word “Windows” was mentioned just a little more than a dozen times. And even then, it wasn’t to extol the virtues of the monopoly-making software that powers nearly nine out of 10 PCs around the world. Instead, it was typically in relation to calling people “Windows developers,” or describing how Microsoft’s coding tools work across “Windows” PCs, Apple Macs and Linux-powered computers.

It was even worse for “PC.” That term came up a whopping seven times, and usually only in passing. “It works on my Windows PC,” “You’re working on a PC” and so on.

The PC, and the Windows software that powers it, came across as mere window dressing (sorry).

For anyone who’s followed the tech industry over the past couple of decades, Windows sitting on the sidelines at the developer conference of the company that made billions off of it speaks to the fact that we — you, me, the tech industry at large — just don’t care about computers like we used to. Or tablets. Or most smartphones, even.

What we do care about is AI and the web. Or we will very soon.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella knows this. Microsoft declined to make him available for an interview, but I’m guessing that’s why he and his team pitched themselves as the company whose stuff you use no matter what device you have. They see Microsoft as one of the key AI and web companies of the future. A company that will touch your life, whether you know it or not.

“The world is becoming a computer,” Nadella said during his opening speech. “Computing is getting embedded in every person, place and thing. Every walk of life — in our homes, in our cars, in our work, in our stadiums, in our entertainment centers; in every industry from precision agriculture to precision medicine; from autonomous cars to autonomous drones; from personalized retail to personalized banking — are all being transformed.”

And in this new age, the tech in your pocket and on your desk just doesn’t matter as much anymore. Everything else is the new hotness.

And it’s pushed Microsoft to make more of its technology available to everyone.

“We’re finally being freed from dependence on specific devices,” said Bob O’Donnell, founder and chief analyst of Technalysis Research, who’s been tracking tech trends and the PC industry for two decades. “Hardware’s important, but it’s become a tool through which we experience these services.”

So you’re welcome everyone. A decade after Apple blanketed the the airwaves with those Mac vs. PC ads lampooning Windows as a well-meaning but inept and insecure technology, and after Microsoft responded with a series of ads about how awesome PCs actually are, the war over devices has come to a stalemate.

Now Microsoft’s beginning to spread innovations across the tech industry, like its Timeline feature that helps you keep track of apps you used, documents you wrote and websites you visited, no matter what device you were using.

We’re all benefiting, regardless of whether we have an Apple iPad, GoogleAndroid-powered phone or an Alienware PC.

This is good for the industry. In the end, we’re all going to win.

Mark Zuckerberg apologized. Now he has to fix Facebook for real

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By Ian Sherr

Mark Zuckerberg pretty much invented modern social networking from his dorm room at Harvard 14 years ago. Then it turned into a monster.

He’s not the only genius whose inventions changed the world, only to watch in horror as their idealistic visions were destroyed. There’s J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who helped invent the atomic bomb and then devoted his life to nuclear arms control after he saw its destructive power. Orville Wright saw the airplane as a tool of peace, not a purveyor of war. And of course there’s the fictional Dr. Frankenstein.

They all failed, by the way, to change what their creations had become. Zuckerberg isn’t done trying.

This week, after spending the last two months apologizing for a privacy blunder that left Facebook’s 2.2 billion users, as well as its investors, advertisers and regulators around the world, saying it’s time to rein in one of the most important channels for communications and news in the world, Zuckerberg stood before more than 5,000 developers at the company’s annual F8 conference and preached.

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He talked of responsibility and idealism, of innovation without thoughtlessness. Of moving fast, without breaking as many things. He was still the defiant and powerful Silicon Valley wunderkind — but a little less so, too.

“I believe that we need to build technology to help bring people closer together, and I believe that that’s not going to happen on its own,” Zuck said to a crowd packed into a convention hall in San Jose, 20 miles south of Facebook’s headquarters. “This is how we are thinking about our responsibility, to keep people safe and also to keep building.”

Under any normal circumstances, this might sound like normal tech industryfluff. But in the past few years, Facebook has gone from being a celebrated world-changing technology to the tool of Russian propagandists, data mining companies like Cambridge Analytica and, of course, trolls who spew hate around the web.

All these things have overshadowed the happy stuff about Facebook. They made us — and legislators around the world who have the power to regulate — re-examine the faith we’d put in tech companies, and the trust we’d given them.

Society’s decades-long honeymoon with Silicon Valley was ending, and it was something even Zuckerberg acknowledged.

“There’s no guarantee that we get this right. This is hard stuff. We will make mistakes and they will have consequences and we will need to fix them,” Zuckerberg said. “It’s not enough to just build powerful tools. We need to make sure they’re used appropriately, and we will.”

Congress isn’t ready to regulate Facebook, but it wants to

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By Ian Sherr and Abrar Al-Heeti

Mark Zuckerberg walked into the Senate a tense man. It didn’t take long for him to relax.

The Facebook CEO had been summoned to Washington after The New York Times and The Guardian’s Observer newspaper reported a political consultancy had improperly accessed the personal data of about 87 million Facebook users. The consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, was affiliated with the Trump campaign, and that raised questions about whether the 33-year-old billionaire’s social network had been used to manipulate voters. Worse, Facebook had known about the data leak  three years ago but hadn’t bothered to tell anyone.

Any tension Zuckerberg carried, however, disappeared halfway into his five-hour appearance before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Commerce Committee. His shoulders — stiff as the hearing began — hung looser. The deer-in-headlights expression that had been frozen on his face melted into occasional smiles. That’s because Zuck, who traded in his t-shirt and jeans for a smart suit, had prepared for far worse.

One senator asked how Facebook made money, a process obvious to anyone who’s used its services. Another asked Zuckerberg whether Twitter was “the same as what you do.”

As the first break in the proceedings approached, Zuckerberg’s confidence was on full display.

That was pretty good,” he told the chairman and assembled senators to chuckles.

Zuckerberg’s trip from Silicon Valley to the halls of Congress was evidence, as if any were needed, that Washington changes slowly. Plenty of people expected legislators would use the social network’s latest misstep as a reason to slap some laws on the tech industry or at least threaten to. Instead, the Senate showed it still didn’t quite get the internet, a reputation that’s persisted since the late Ted Stevens called it a “series of tubes” more than a decade ago.

A day later, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked smarter questions. But representatives still tripped over partisan politics, with five members using their time to discuss conservative bloggers Diamond and Silk, rather than their constituents’ privacy. And a couple of others expressed concern that Facebook had given preferential treatment to the Trump campaign.

“They made a really good case for not regulating social media very much,” said Betsy Page Sigman, a business professor at Georgetown University.

After all, how can Congress hope to write rules for something it barely understands?

For three decades, Silicon Valley has more or less escaped regulation as the government looked to nurture a new industry. The information age was ushering in jobs up and down the economy. And it wasn’t just about selling nifty gadgets, either. The internet brought another boom, with Google, Netflix and Facebook needing engineers and coders to build search engines, email programs and video streaming used by billions of people.

The spillover created jobs in the rest of the country, too. Demand for all those services meant AT&T and Comcast hired people to run fiber-optic cable into as many homes as they could. Eventually it meant wireless companies would become the new kings of industry, giving life to always-connected devices in our pockets while Best Buy and Apple Stores became cultural icons.

Who wanted to mess with that?

Zuckerberg takes Facebook data apology tour to Washington

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By Ian Sherr

Mark Zuckerberg’s lived his adult life spreading the gospel of Facebook: “Bringing the world closer together.”

And in the 14 years since Facebook was founded, he’s largely succeeded. More than 2 billion people use his service each month, making it the biggest social media network on the planet. It’s the largest photo site on the web. It’s now home to powerful social movements, an outlet for political dissidents and, yes, the place where you share baby photos and what you had for lunch. Most of us know more people who use Facebook than those who don’t.

But the cheery optimism that helped Facebook become one of the most powerful companies in the world left it vulnerable to being co-opted by bad actors and twisted into a tool for mass harassment, for spreading propaganda and, most recently, for mass theft of our personal information by a data consultancy that works to influence elections.

“For the first decade, we really focused on all the good that connecting people brings,” a contrite Zuckerberg said in a rare media call last week. “But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough. We didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools to do harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, hate speech. … We didn’t take a broad enough view of what our responsibility is, and that was a huge mistake. It was my mistake. But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough.”

He’s not the only one who thinks so.

The 33-year-old multibillionaire is heading to Washington to answer questions from Congress about how Facebook was blindsided on so many fronts and what he’s going to do to ensure users’ data isn’t misused again. His testimony, before a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday and then before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, is likely to be one of the biggest spectacles of the year.

And that’s not just because lawmakers have everything to gain by spending two days grandstanding at the expense of the tech industry’s boy wonder. At stake could be the way Washington treats, as in regulates, the entire industry.

“Advertisers are queasy, influential users are critical, there’s been a global avalanche of bad press, and now that the company has to open its eyes after years of not doing much, he’s finding they’re truly in a mess,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the privacy advocacy group Center for Digital Democracy. “He has to do a Herculean effort to apologize and reassure people he’s making meaningful changes.”

For decades, lawmakers and government regulators have treated Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies like favored children. The tech industry created jobs and unimaginable wealth, and it routinely upended the way we live our lives. Tech companies together make up the third largest economic force in the world, behind the US and China, according to one study from business software maker Apptio.

All those entrepreneurs — Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Zuckerberg — weren’t just writing code or selling gadgets, and they weren’t mere celebrity CEOs. They were the human embodiment of the American dream.

Zuckerberg will no doubt remind lawmakers that Facebook inspired world-changing social movements, connected billions of people with friends and family around the globe, and evolved into a town square for the digital age. But he’ll also acknowledge, as he’s said over and again in the past two weeks, that social media has become a shockingly effective tool for spreading propaganda and undermining public trust. All the while, he and his team didn’t anticipate the threats to our private information and the theft of our user data.

“With all of the data exchanged over Facebook and other platforms, users deserve to know how their information is shared and secured,” Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the US Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary chairman, said in a statement.

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment beyond Zuckerberg’s earlier statements. The hearings will be carried live on television and streamed over the web.

Trump’s national anthem Twitter feud with the NFL changed the game

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When the Super Bowl begins on Sunday, expect the normal pomp and circumstance we’ve seen for the past half century. Excited fans, over-the-top commentary and wacky commercials will be on display. And it all will start with the national anthem.

There will also be the unseen presence of Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL football player who took center stage in the debate about the line between patriotism and protest.

A year and a half ago, Kaepernick was a better-than-average quarterback. A promising second-round draft pick, he began his career with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. In the following years, he helped lead the team to play in the Super Bowl and then again in the playoffs.

But it’s the other things he did that will change the way he’s remembered. Beginning in late 2016, he started an on-field protest to draw attention to police violence and shootings. He did this by either sitting or kneeling, rather than standing, as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played.

That act of quiet defiance made him into one of the men who changed the culture of football. Well, that and a Twitter feud President Donald Trump began with the league.

“It originated as a protest against police brutality, everyone was clear on that,” said Glenda Gilmore, a US history professor at Yale University.

The protests vaulted Kaepernick to being the fourth-most talked-about athlete in the world last year, according to Twitter data. But as people’s Twitter timelines filled with the more than 3.8 million tweets referencing the hashtags #takeaknee and #taketheknee after Trump weighed in, Kaepernick’s message got muddied.

Trump changed the debate into a discussion about respect for the flag and veterans and whether players for the NFL have the right to protest. Entire teams protested in response.

“What’s astonishing to me as a person, but not astonishing as a historian, is the fight over the narrative,” Gilmore said.

Sports has always had an element of politics in it. There’s the Olympics, which provoked a boycott movement when they were held in Nazi Germany in 1936 and which a number of countries, including the US, did boycott in 1980 to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1968, the Olympics became a platform for protest when two sprinters raised their fists in the air as the national anthem was played. The boxing great Muhammad Ali failed to show up for the draft for the Vietnam War, saying he was a conscientious objector.

What made these protests different, Gilmore said, was the Twitter effect. Hashtags like #standforouranthem, #boycottnfl and #takeaknee, became an easy way for Americans and propaganda bots to pick a side and dig in.

Teams were divided. Players, coaches and owners were inundated with questions about where they stood. And once they spoke out, some fans responded quickly on social media.

The backlash was intense. “Social media is an opportunity for the average person to voice things they may be saying in other settings, like their private homes, or at work or among friends,” said Charles Ross, the director of African-American Studies at the University of Mississippi. “There’s no filter.”

Recycled guns give these headphones heft and a cause

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By Ian Sherr

A Swedish company, Yevo Labs, is building its latest headphones with material from an improbable source: guns.

The headphones themselves are pretty standard Bluetooth earbuds, based on the company’s previously released Yevo 1 design. It’s around the edges that things get interesting. The accent metal is less polished than the mirror-finish chrome-like plating you’d find on its onyx-, ivory- or jet black-colored $249 headphones.

The carrying case, which also doubles as a battery-powered charger, is heavy. Like a power tool. And the metal it’s made from feels rough, industrial. Yevo plans to sell this version for $499 when it’s released in the next few months.

“In a way, this is the most valuable material in the world,” said Andreas Vural, Yevo’s founder and president. “It’s a firearm that may have taken someone’s life.”

This is a statement piece. It’s a visceral reminder that this was made from something substantial. And it’s completely unlike anything I’ve ever seen while covering CES.

This event, the largest in the tech industry, with more than 180,000 attendees expected this year, is the place where Microsoft’s Xbox video game console was first announced in 2001, where we learn what the latest TV tech will be and where we found out our shower might listen when we’re singing.

But I’ve never seen something so unusual as a piece of everyday tech made from a firearm.

Guns in particular were thrust into the forefront in Vegas after a gunman took aim at an open-air concert here in October, killing 58 people and leaving more than 500 wounded. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. These horrific events have become so common that around the time of the massacre in Vegas, a report found that the US in 2017 was averaging one mass shooting per day.

And while CES has become home to technological advancements from around the world, smart firearms rarely make an appearance. When it comes to guns more broadly, the annual Shot Show will draw about 65,000 people from across the firearms industry to Vegas when it begins later this month.

Vural, who flashed a smile when we first met, became more serious as I sat opening and closing the gun metal case. Its predecessor, which came out last year, has been a hit, Vural said.

The model made from guns is coarse by comparison. It almost seems unfinished. The bit that holds the headphones slides out feeling like it’s grinding against the metal, which Yevo bought from a Swedish initiative called Humanium. In addition to its weight, the Humanium-metal headphones also cost five times more to make. Yevo is using it to make both the accent metals around the edge of the headphones, as well as for the outside case.

Everything about this gun metal device says it isn’t a piece of tech meant to disappear into the background of my everyday life.

“We want to bring more awareness” to the issue of gun violence, Vural said. And a portion of sales will go back to Humanium as well.

Baby tech makers, please figure out what parents actually need

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For the past 19 months, my wife and I have been living with another human.

He can get cranky, and he’s sometimes a picky eater. But he can also flash a smile that melts your heart.

I’m talking about my toddler son, Theodore.

As a tech reporter and the producer of CNET’s Status Update podcast about parenting in the modern age, I’m often asked how much kid tech I own.

The answer: Not much.

And that’s notable because I’m a tech fan boy. I get a new iPhone every year, I regularly geek out over new software, and I can’t wait to play the Nintendo Switch with Theodore when he’s older.

When it comes to stuff that’s supposed to help me in my life as a dad, there are plenty of products that pass the “oh, that’s clever” test. But few justify their price by truly upending the way I parent today.

That’s a problem, and not just because needy and sometimes desperate parents could really use some good tech to help with their kids.

It’s also an issue because bad products may end up hurting an industry that’s still so small that few analyst firms follow it. Electronics accounted for less than 9 percent of baby product sales in 2015, according to industry watcher GfK. The top purchases by parents: food products, car seats and strollers.

That’s part of the reason founders like Naya Health‘s CEO Janica Alvarez are frustrated by venture capitalists who just don’t appear to understand women in technology at all. In one case, a male VC refused to touch her company’s flagship product, the $999 Naya Smart Breast Pump. He called it “disgusting,” she told Bloomberg. (Alvarez successfully turned to Kickstarter for her second product, a $79 smart bottle, due early next year).

That kind of resistance, mixed with the typical white-male heavy demographicof the tech industry, has slowed the evolution of baby tech products.

“They’ve tried to build a better mousetrap instead of disrupting an industry,” said Sara Mauskopf, CEO of Winnie, an app to connect parents and help them find stuff to do nearby. “It’s a lack of founders with the right background and insight into the problem.”

Sorry not sorry, my iPhone X means more photos of my kid

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By Ian Sherr

Everyone has that photo: The first time they realized their phone’s camera was more than just a toy.

For me, it came not long after the release of the original iPhone in 2007. Laura, my then-girlfriend-now-wife, and I stayed up to buy “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” on release day before we started off on a journey to New Jersey from DC.

We were doing the typical road trip thing, singing along to the radio, when I held up my phone and snapped a photo of Laura driving along, all smiles and having fun. By today’s standards, the lighting is off, it’s a little blurry and generally lower-quality than I’d like.

But it captures the emotion of that moment perfectly.

That weekend I began taking more candids. Of us walking around town. Of the sunset. Of her triumphant moment finishing the book (759 pages in the US edition!).

Sure, cameras had been on phones for years before Apple’s came along, but they were typically an afterthought. The photos were hard to share or load onto a computer. The iPhone, with its always-there internet connection and easy email, was a revelation.

But more important, the iPhone put a usable camera in my pocket at any time, which meant I could capture small, intimate, everyday moments of life in a way that most of us rarely had.

Fast-forward 10 years and I’ve followed along with every iPhone upgrade. I’m not kidding. Every year. (This time, I’m buying the 256GB version of the iPhone X, with enough space to hold more than 80,000 photos.)

At first, it was because I’m a techie and I like to buy new gadgets, just as other people buy new clothes each season.

But now that I have a toddler, I look at the photos I take as more than mere memories. They’re time capsules that he’ll one day share with his children — and I like to think even their children after that.

When you think about it that way, paying a whopping $1,149 for a high-end phone is a no-brainer.

VR promised us the future. Too bad we’re stuck in the present

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By Ian Sherr

Are you going to buy a virtual reality headset?

Seriously. Are you?

I’m not the only one who wants to know. The VR industry is having an awkward moment. Though headset makers have spent years and billions of dollars promising world-changing technology, relatively few of us have actually lined up to buy them.

That sales problem is likely to be among the things discussed at the fourth annual conference for one of the darlings of VR, Oculus, which Facebookbought three years ago for as much as $3 billion. More than 2,500 app and game makers are expected to attend its annual developers conference, called Oculus Connect, starting Wednesday in San Jose, California.

Facebook’s Oculus VR division promises discussions on how health care, movies and video games are adapting to this still nascent technology. One panel will explore how the disability community can benefit from VR gear and presentations.

The talk underscores the potential of VR. Yes, the high-end headsets are bulky and need special setup and long thick cables tethered to big PCs. They’re expensive too, with Oculus’ Rift costing $499 and requiring a $500 PC before you can get set up. But after you put on those VR goggles — basically strapping a screen inches from your eyes — your brain can be tricked into believing you’ve been transported to whatever computer-generated world you want.

You could be in the middle of a massive space battle or dive to the bottom of a shipwreck and come face to face with a blue whale. Or you could watch cartoon bunnies hack your brain. Maybe you want to meet people from around the world and chat while hanging out on a idyllic beach.

For some people, VR is more than that. Rae O’Neil, a 34-year-old IT worker from Nova Scotia, had always been fascinated with VR. But it was her grandfather’s reaction to the Rift that made its promise clear.

In his 80s and disabled after losing a leg a few years prior, he put on the headset and began using an app called Blue Marble, which lets you float in space, looking at planets while music plays in the background.

“He felt like he was actually in space,” she recalled. It brought a tear to her grandfather’s eye.

Those kind of otherworldly experiences helped convince Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to buy Oculus after trying a prototype of the headset back in 2014.

“Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction,” Zuckerberg wrote on his social network after buying the startup. Back then, he said, VR had the potential to remake everything from education to medicine to communications, just like the phone and computer had done in their day. “The future is coming.”

It still is.

From hype to trough

Oculus’ flagship Rift headset hit store shelves in March 2016, with so much hype leading up to the launch that even then-President Barack Obama gave it a whirl as part of a virtual tour of the White House.

But a lot of people still haven’t bought in.

Facebook’s been tight-lipped about shipments, but several people familiar with Oculus said that fewer than a quarter million Rift headsets were sold during their first year on the market. Facebook declined to comment on Rift sales.

But the company signaled its frustration with the anemic interest when it pulled Rift demo stations from hundreds of Best Buy stores around the country in February.

Then, the social media giant cut the headset’s price. Twice. It was being sold for $400, a third less than its original price, for six weeks over the summer before jumping back up to $499.

The company’s chief competitors, Sony and HTC, followed suit. The PlayStation VR dropped to $400 from $500, and the Vive dropped to $599 from $799 all in the past three months.

The price cuts were enough to juice demand for Oculus, two people familiar with the company said. Though current total tallies couldn’t be learned, at least a million units are estimated to have been sold.

Sony, by comparison, says it sold more than a million units of the PlayStation VR as of June, just eight months after going on sale. HTC didn’t respond to a request for sales data.

The question of demand is causing some VR game and app developers to worry about their future.

“It’s not happy sunshine and rainbows,” said James Iliff, co-founder and creative chief at VR game maker Survios, which made early hit shooters Zombies on the Holodeck and Raw Data, one of the first VR games to rack up $1 million in sales. “We are very much in a trough of disillusionment.”

That “trough of disillusionment” comes from the “Hype Cycle,” a theorypopularized by research firm Gartner and whose stages have become mantra in Silicon Valley. The goal of the Hype Cycle is to chart the expectations and emotions around products as they’re introduced, innovated upon and eventually adopted — or not.

In the beginning, there’s the “Innovation Trigger,” when new tech is introduced. Then hype and excitement begin to build until the new thing eventually hits the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” That’s followed by the crash into the “Trough of Disillusionment.” (Gartner says VR is nearly out of that stage and headed into the “Slope of Enlightenment,” just before mass adoption.)

Iliff and his co-founders worked on early VR research before Oculus was founded. He felt expectations were getting too high, particularly in the media, and expected a backlash of sorts. So, he’s prepared.

This month, for example, Survios made Raw Data more widely available for Oculus, Vive and PlayStation VR. Survios is also looking beyond VR for customers, redesigning Raw Data to work in arcades as well.

“The game industry is hard, it is a tough industry, and that is not going away,” he said. “That’s the same for VR.”

Digital detoxing is a thing. Really

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By Ian Sherr

What started with my wife and me looking for an escape from digital overload has completely changed the way we take vacations.

I’d been pulling all-nighters. Endless calls with my colleagues made me late for dinners with friends, tied me to my phone nearly all hours of the day and left me frazzled.

Then I read a survey by American Express that floored me: Nearly 80 percent of vacationers expected to remain connected to the net for some or all of their vacation. More than two-thirds of them said they’d be checking their work email.

That inspired us to seek out our first disconnected vacation. We wanted to find a place that was remote enough that even the vast wireless networks that deliver YouTube videos, Facebook posts and work emails to our handheld gadgets couldn’t find us. A place without Wi-Fi or cellular.

We found it in Jenner, California, a slow-going village (population 136, according to the last US Census) on the California coast, about two hours north of San Francisco. It has a coffee shop, a gas station, a couple of restaurants and a bar. And practically no cell service.

It was heavenly.

Maldives, little island resorts

It’s almost impossible to detach ourselves from the digital world these days. We check our phones 47 times a day, on average. Almost half of us check our phone at least once in the middle of the night, says consulting firm Deloitte, and nearly two-thirds of us reach for our phones within 15 minutes of waking up. And an astounding number of us say Wi-Fi is more important than sex, chocolate or alcohol.

It’s why off-the-grid vacations are becoming a thing, whether to remote locales in places like Africa and Asia (Gobi Desert, anyone?) or to spas that combine luxe accommodations with safes to lock away your gadgets. There’s also a growing number of “digital detox” programs just to get you to turn off your devices for a while.

“There is this awareness of, ‘I know I need to cut back, but what do I do?’ ” says Sylvia Hart Frejd, founder and executive director of the Center for Digital Wellness at Liberty University, which helps students learn about the dangers of digital saturation. “Technology is rewiring our brains for distraction and, in turn, addiction.”