The Six Biggest Tech Trends of 2014

Is that a phablet in your pocket? Photo | Shutterstock.com

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Every year in January — after they’ve shaken off the holiday hangovers and said goodbye to the in-laws — thousands of technology professionals, application developers, engineers and assorted tech geeks descend on Las Vegas for a glimpse at the next wave of consumer tech innovation.

Hosted by the Consumer Electronics Association since the 1960s, the International CES, which begins next Tuesday, is like the Super Bowl of high-tech gadgetry — if the Super Bowl lasted for five days; included super sessions from the biggest names in entertainment, media and technology; and featured daily Les Paul guitar jams hosted by Gibson.

This year, scattered among the 3D TVs , tablet computers and portable gaming consoles, attendees will discover a host of new and exciting devices and applications designed to make their lives easier, or at least more exciting. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come. With a smartphone in the hands of nearly two-thirds of Americans and tech-savvy consumers demanding real-time, interactive engagement, 2014 promises to be a breakthrough year for emerging technology. Here’s a preview of the tech trends you can expect to hear more about this year.

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Confessions of a Gentrifier

A few months ago, toward the end of the summer, I was walking my dog near my house in East Kensington when my neighbor Franky (not his real name) called out to me. Franky, who’s about 10, is a fixture on our block. He lives around the corner with his dad, his grandmother and his sister in a tired-looking house that doubles as a sort of informal command center for the neighborhood youth.

He spends his days with the other kids his age, doing kid things like playing football and lighting stuff on fire (it’s true, I caught him once).

Anyway, Franky loves my dog and when he sees us he usually runs up to give her a pat on the head. This time, as he scratched behind Mara’s ear, he had a question for me:

“Are yuppies rich?”

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Memo to the Tea Party: Jesus Was Not a Capitalist

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Photo | Shutterstock.com

The publication late last month of Pope Francis‘s first papal exhortation – Evangelii Gaudium, or “Joy of the Gospels” – raised the hackles of some American conservatives, many of  whom view the Pontiff’s call for universal justice and tolerance as ceding ground in the culture wars they have fought so hard to prosecute.

The hyperbole, which reached a crescendo over the Thanksgiving holiday, barely let up this week. Writing yesterday at Forbes.com, Louis Woodhill – who applies his own brand of “unconventional logic” to make laughably contrarian arguments like this one – exclaimed:

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Generation Selfie: Are We Now Officially Celebrating Narcissism?

Even <a href="https://twitter.com/Jim_Gardner/status/402636032887496704" target="_blank">Jim Gardner</a> takes selfies now

How pervasive is the selfie? Even Jim Gardner is taking them now.

As a freelance journalist, I spend a lot of time on Twitter promoting my work, reading other people’s, and — like most everyone else these days — waiting to see what Rob Ford’s going to do next.

Excepting the occasional photo of my animals, for the most part I keep it pretty professional. But two days ago I decided to do something I’d never done before and, as God is my witness, will never do again.

I posted a selfie.

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Sarah Palin, Yawn, Wants to Protect Christmas

Sarah Palin gestures during a book signing, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013 in Bethlehem, Pa. The former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee signed copies of her new book, "Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas". Palin chose to start her book tour near a city with obvious connections to the holiday. Bethlehem was founded by Moravians on Christmas Eve, 1741. Its nickname is the "Christmas City" and the city draws many tourists during the holiday season. (AP Photo/The Express-Times, Matt Smith)

Sarah Palin gestures during a book signing, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/The Express-Times, Matt Smith)

In what may go down as one of the most transparent marketing gimmicks of all time, Sarah Palin traveled to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, this week on a mission to save Christmas from the heathens. The former governor of Alaska and bête noire of the 2008 presidential election was joined by her perennially devoted husband, Todd, at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Easton (which, if you’re keeping score, is not Bethlehem) on Tuesday night for the formal launch of her new book Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas.

I’m still waiting for my copy of Good Tidings to arrive, but early reviews of the book describe it as a critique of the secularization, homogenization and consumerization of the holiday season, and, according to publisher HarperCollins, a challenge to the “politically correct Scrooges seeking to take Christ out of Christmas.”

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Don’t Clench Your Butt in Front of These Cops

police car

Photo | Shutterstock.com

I’ve spent nearly a decade investigating and reporting on the fallout from America’s inexpedient and misguided “War on Drugs.” I’ve talked to people who’ve spent years of their lives in jail for as little as a pound of pot, documented the plight of cancer patients denied adequate pain medication as a result of knee-jerk policies designed to curb abuse, and toured urban communities where as much as a third of the male population is incarcerated or on supervised release for drug-related offenses.

But none of that could have prepared me for what must certainly be the most heinous example of how our unmitigated assault on illegal substances has completely debased the principles of justice upon which our nation was founded.

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“Opportunity Index” Ranks Philly, ’Burbs for Social Mobility

Chart of Philadelphia region from opportunityindex.org

opportunityindex.org

In the decades since the term was first coined – in the preface of a 1931 book by historian James Truslow Adams – the notion of an “American Dream” that binds all U.S. citizens to a common goal of individual empowerment has taken on near religious significance. Four years into a recovery from the worst recession in more than half a century, it seems many of us have lost our faith.

A poll last month by The Washington Post and the Miller Center at the University of Virginia found that while a majority of respondents say the American Dream still has personal meaning to them, fewer than half think they have a chance of achieving it. And they’re pretty sure their kids won’t either.

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Expert: Here’s Why Healthcare.gov Has Been a Disaster

Photograph by Jeff Fusco

Photograph by Jeff Fusco

On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced that it had tapped Jeffrey Zients – a Bain & Co. alum and incoming head of the National Economic Council – to lead the efforts to fix the glitches that have plagued the Affordable Care Act website Healthcare.gov since its October 1 launch.

Zients–who is credited with helping turn around the malfunctioning website of another government program, cash-for-clunkers–will work with presidential innovation fellows and representatives of federal contractor CGI Group as part of a “tech surge” (Washington sure does love its surges, doesn’t it?) with the goal of having the portal running smoothly before an uptick in enrollment expected around the Thanksgiving holiday. By all accounts Zients will have his work cut out for him; but experts in the know say success is well within his reach.

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The Republican Party Is Sinking. And That’s Bad for America.

GOP Elephant sinking

Shutterstock

Sixteen days after shutting down the government and less than 48 hours before pushing America into default, Republicans in Congress have finally abandoned their fruitless effort to preempt the lawful implementation of the Affordable Care Act and allowed the government to re-open and pay its bills.

I’m not sure exactly what convinced them it was time to fold; maybe it was their party’s historic plummet in public opinion polls, or perhaps it was the scolding they received from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce–a committed ally–for their intransigence on the debt ceiling issue.

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