Saturday, May 4, 2024

Out of Data!

For the first time, all three of our cellular devices ran out of data before the end of the billing cycle.  What's up with that?

It seems that everything today is a video.  Fahrenheit 451 has arrived.  In that Ray Bradbury novel and subsequent movie, the story is told of a dystopian future where books (and all forms of print) are banned by the government, in order to control people and prevent them from being exposed to different ideas. Since houses are now fireproof, firemen actually set fires, by burning books.  Paper combusts at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, hence the title.

People read wordless comic books instead of newspapers, and video has supplanted the printed word, in this horrific world-of-the-future. It all seems so familiar right now. Today, when I search on something on Google, the first five hits are for YouTube videos. How do I fix my bicycle?  Watch this 30-minute YouTube video whose content could be reduced to two paragraphs of print, at best.

Of course, the point is to have you watch one commercial after another, which is why so many YouTubers and Vloggers stretch out their "casts" to get you to watch longer and longer.  It is getting to the point where I always check the video length before watching. 30 minutes? Unless it is a movie, I ain't clicking.

So much of social media is now video, too - unnecessary video as well.  I despise these videos that are nothing more than some guy or gal staring into their laptop or phone (often the latter, in their car) and just talking. I mean, I know people personally, who talk, and if I want to hear someone talking, I can just listen to them.  Often they have something more interesting to say.

The printed word rules. It is compact, requiring little in terms of physical space or digital space, and can be "fast-forwarded" or "rewound" at will and "played back" at any speed.  I can download and read repair instructions in a matter of seconds.  A video takes a minute to load sometimes, and you have to watch five minutes or more before you realize the guy is talking about a different machine or has no clue what he is talking about.  Just give me the service manual, please!

But more important than the general decline of civilization, civility, and intellect (because that's just inevitable, right?) is the staggering increase in bandwidth needed to send all this video data, particularly at higher definitions.  Simple ASCII characters required only 8 bits, assuming you have 128 characters and one parity bit.  That's one byte per character.

There are a little less than a million words in the entire works of Shakespeare.  If we assume an "average" word length of 8 characters per word, you'd need "only" 8MB to store the entire portfolio.  But if you want to just watch "Hamlet" the video uses up 1.6 GB.   Granted, the play's the thing, to be seen, not just read.  But the example illustrates how much more space video takes up than text. And let's face it, most of the dreck on YouTube ain't Shakespeare (certainly not my channel, anyway!).

So bandwidth literally costs money - to produce and to consume.  And this blog is (nominally) about saving money. I have recounted before how you can reduce resolution on most channels to save bandwidth and avoid data caps. But with the plethora of streaming channels online, it gets cumbersome to do this, particularly as each channel has a different name for bandwidth adjustment and locates it under a different icon.  Disney calls it "data saver" and puts it under your "profile" - but resets it to data-waster on a regular basis.

I think YouTube used to have a resolution adjustment, but I can't find it now.  Oddly enough, it seems that porn sites are the only sites that let you scale down to as low as 240p.  No one likes interruptions!  Yet some channels - most, it seems, stream by default in high-res and don't offer a lesser resolution (or make it hard to select and don't save that preference)

AT&T Prepaid has a "video management" setting that throttles video on my poverty hotspot, but I am not sure if it works OK or merely causes some streaming channels to pause:

With video management on, we manage your video experience, striving to deliver video in standard definition (at a max of 2 Mbps if you have both a 5G-enabled device and rate plan, or 1.5 Mbps otherwise). This should be perfect for viewing on a smartphone, but you can turn it off any time to enjoy higher definition video, when available

Sadly, it seems that this "stream saver" feature is limited to hotspot devices these days. Speaking of which, we may lose our hotspot subsidy unless Congress re-authorizes it.  We may lose it anyway, as, thanks to inflation, our income may now exceed the caps.  AT&T has temporarily authorized a $15-per-month credit, for the next three months.  Hey, that's something!

You could, of course, merely pay more for more data or "unlimited" data (which, as we discussed before, is not really unlimited).  But throwing money at a problem is not solving it.  And I suspect the Internet providers are happy that more and more people are watching video rather than reading, and watching 4K on their smartphones, which, as AT&T admits, is just plain stupid.

Of course, the ultimate solution is to consume less.  I find myself downloading fewer and fewer "funny videos" because they usually are a disappointment and take too long to load on my phone.  Even photos, particularly photos of text are stupid and a waste of bandwidth.  Just type it out, for chrissakes!

Why, dear God, do cell phone photos take up so much data?  They don't seem to be much better than the old digital camera days - and in fact, in some respects, worse.

But maybe that right there is the solution.  So long as we keep watching pointless high-res videos of people talking into cameras, the streaming sites will offer more of this garbage (as well as overblown soap operas and "reality" shows.  If people want to pay extra for this crap, that is their business.  But on the other hand, it utterly voids their right to complain about "living paycheck to paycheck."  One cannot squander money and then complain about being broke.

But moreover, if people stop watching high-res videos because they are too expensive to watch, then maybe advertisers will get the hint and pressure streaming services to offer lower-res options.

I mean, I get it - you have an eight-foot television and are watching Lord of the Rings, Dune Edition - you want the high-res imagery.  But for a YouTube "how-to" video peppered with ads, well, the source video probably wasn't in 4K, so what's the point?  Just dial it down, be happy, and save money.

So there's a hint to all you marketers out there - you may be losing eyeballs by putting up your ads for laundry detergent in high-res.  Americans don't like paying for television as it is - paying for ads is even worse.  And if you are paying-by-the-byte, then a 30-second ad for Old Spice may literally be taking a penny out of your pocket.*

Ain't worth it!

* I estimate that each hour of streaming video uses about 1GB of data in medium resolution.  Some higher resolutions can go up to 7GB an hour(!!).  Assuming the low end, each minute of video is 16 MB and one 30-second ad is 8MB.   Our AT&T hotspot charged $55 (without subsidy) for 100GB of data per month.  So each MB costs about 0.00055 cents. In other words, that 30-second Old Spice ad is literally costing you 0.44 cents to watch.  Of course, this adds up, over a month, to quite a few pennies!