Who will keep the kids?

Akihiko Kondo is a perfectly normal human being. He works as a school administrator, lives in Tokyo and, until recently, shared his home with his wife, the celebrity Hatsune Miku. But an act of neglect silenced her and since then Kondo is struggling to communicate with her. Until now this sounds like a perfectly imperfect relationship between two people, especially considering there is a celebrity involved. Miku however is not a human that you can meet in her flesh. She is one of Japan’s most famous anime characters and is all over the Japanese internet.

When Kondo married Miku in 2018 he acquired a so-called Gatebox that thanks to basic AI technology allowed him to have a holographic depiction of Miku in his home, talk to her and have at least the illusion of a romantic relationship. Which by the way he is not illusional enough to confuse with a relationship between two people. But his ability to control the narrative did something humans failed to give him: It helped him overcome his depression.

So what changed? Well, the company that provided Kondo with the technology to experience his relationship with Miku, discontinued the service that offered the hologram in 2020. They pulled the plug. Kondo replaced the hologram with a life-sized doll, but his marriage has never been the same ever since.

Akihiko Kondo might seem like an extreme case of tech affinity. But when we are honest with each other we all tend to have some kind of relationship with our technical devices. We all grew fond of the little things these devices offer to make our things easier. And it is no big surprise we fall for the services tech companies offer. After all, they are really good at creating a desire for and within us.

Companies make decisions based on different parameters than the individual customer. While the customer is looking for that one product that makes our lives easier, more pleasant or richer, most companies focus on the optimal intersection between what they can create with their resources and what they assume the most customers want – or what they can make the most customers make desire. If we’re lucky we find that one service and we love it. We can’t (want to) live without it.

Tech companies change their focus more and more from having customers, users to having fans! They seem to understand the importance of caring about existing clients. Personal recommendations are already number one in regards to marketing channels and who better to recommend your product than your already existing clients.

But sometimes what a company offers might turn out less profitable over time. Customer desires change nearly as fast as hype cycles and what is technologically possible evolves even faster. And companies have to make a decision: Do we discontinue a certain service or not? Single people’s personal investment in the matter will mostly not play a big part in that decision. Rather, they will look at the cold facts and numbers. How much revenue can we still generate? Is it still viable? If they decide they cannot or will not meet a certain threshold the decision is made: The product or service is discontinued. And we are at the beginning of our search for a fitting product – again.

So do we all need to get prepared to have our hearts broken? Well, I suppose we will. Especially in this fast-changing and hype-based world. But I am optimistic that we will learn to adapt over time. We survived the Take That Breakup in the 90ies – we will survive the change in the services we use.

Mostly, it will not be comfortable. A breakup never is. Most of the time it’s a pain in the bottom. And next to all the emotional stuff that we deal with, what do we do with the things we have created together? Who gets to keep what? Getting your data out of one service and into the other is – if even possible – nothing short of a degrading process.

But we can plan for it. We can actively decide to choose services that give us certain flexibilities, for example, easy export functions. If we are residents in the EU we can use services that take GDPR norms seriously and make use of our rights to get a report about all our saved data. We can reduce our complexity in systems and think about what we really use and need. We can plan our tech stack strategically. So the heartbreak might only feel like a little crack and not like a hole that is ripped into our core.