gadgets

Porn through a looking glass? Tech vices that could haunt us in 2014

Dec. 30, 2013 at 5:04 AM ET

Novel tobacco products like e-cigarettes and hookahs are quickly replacing their traditional devices for many users, but it's still not clear if any of this new tech actually represents a healthier alternative for its users.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
Novel tobacco products like e-cigarettes are quickly replacing their traditional devices for many users, but it's still not clear if any of this new tech actually represents a healthier alternative for its users.

The optimist in all of us would like to think that technology evolves to make the world a better place. And, well, it often does. But it also helps stimulate our seedier side as well. Here are some of the best — or worst, depending on how you look at it — ways that we see tech feeding our vices in the months to come.

E-cigarettes will turn us into walking chimneys once again

Many of us first learned about e-cigarettes in 2012 via a Blu brand TV commercial starring Stephen Dorff. 2014 will be the year we can't escape them. Why? Because the battery-powered devices that produce a nicotine vapor are quickly evolving into a growth industry. As Forbes reports, Wells Fargo estimates that the market for e-cigarettes will grow to $10 billion by 2017. Established tobacco companies like Philip Morris International and Altria Group (maker of the Marlboro) already began to roll out electronic versions of their wares in 2013. 

E-cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular in part because they just seem like they should be less harmful than the old-fashioned burning kind. Unfortunately, there just hasn't been enough research in the field yet to make any scientific conclusions, and officials from organizations like the CDC and FDA have told NBC News that they could easily prove to be as addictive and harmful as other kinds of smoking. Many U.S. cities are already trying nip the trend in the bud for this reason. Just this month, the New York City Council voted to extend the public smoking ban to include the new vaporizing smokes. But will these kinds of regulations be enough to stop a resurgence in smoking — albeit an electronic one? If the years and years of court battles over tobacco are any indication, it won't be easy to put e-cigarettes out for good. 

Seeing the positive response to its new shows like "House of Cards," Netflix has promised to double its investment in original content in 2014.
Netflix
Seeing the positive response to its new shows like "House of Cards," Netflix has promised to double its investment in original content in 2014.

Netflix's original programming will turn us all into couch potatoes

Netflix turned the shameful indulgence of binge-watching into viable business model in 2013 by dumping the entire seasons of addictive shows like "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black" on its service at once. It's only going to get worse in the next few months. The company said in October that it expects to double its investment in original programming in 2014. Its competitors are picking up on the idea, too: Amazon revealed plans in May to produce five exclusive shows for its video streaming service, Amazon Prime. Hulu had 20 "Hulu Originals" in 2013, and CEO Mike Hopkins recently announced that the company wants to double the amount of exclusive content "over the next few years."

In other words: Tech media giants are all going to compete for your eyeballs in 2014 by offering more stuff to watch in the binge-friendly format that Netflix pioneered. Don't blame Netflix when you start to develop couch sores, though. The company said that an internal study found that 61 percent of Americans binge-watch. In other words, Netflix is just giving us more of what we want.

Andy San Dimas and James Deen were two of the first pornographic actors to use Google Glass to bring a new angle to their work. They probably won't be the last.
YouTube
Andy San Dimas and James Deen were two of the first pornographic actors to use Google Glass to bring a new angle to their work. They probably won't be the last.

Google Glass will bring porn-hungry exhibitionism to new heights

While Google is still being vague about how it plans to turn Google Glass into a legitimate consumer electronics product, it already has key ingredients like a dedicated app store lined up for 2014. And you know what that means: As more people get their hands on the device, there's going to be more illicit content on it. Was it any surprise that shortly after Google introduced its wearable computer to the world, a porn app quickly followed? "T**s and Glass" from the adult entertainment company MiKandi might be the first app to test the limits of Google's terms of service, but who wants to be bet that it will be the last? 

Online food delivery services like GrubHub will be available in more than 500 cities in 2014.
GrubHub.com
Online food delivery services like GrubHub will be available in more than 500 cities in 2014.

Online ordering will make us fatter, according to science

Internet anonymity and shame-free gluttony might see like a match made in heaven, but online food-ordering hasn't made as significant a dent in the delivery landscape as you might think. GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney told Marketplace that Americans spent a whopping $69 billion on takeout in 2011, but, as Seamless CEO Johnathan Zabusky noted in the same piece, just 5 percent of diners in the U.S. make those orders online through services like theirs. When Seamless and GrubHub announced in May that they would be merging to bring their combined calorie-injection powers to more 500 cities in the U.S., it was like we were all staring at a Death Star-sized pizza floating ominously overhead.

Why should we be concerned about two of the largest players in the online food delivery game joining forces? Online ordering has always seemed like it should be bad for our health because eliminating the last remnants of face-to-face contact from buying food makes it less embarrassing to go for the "double extra cheese" option. Those assumptions were confirmed by a study from Duke University in March that found that pizza orders placed online were more complex and roughly six percent higher in calories. Well, at least Netlfix and its rivals will be giving us plenty to watch when we all collapse into a collective food coma. 

The Brewbot, a machine that helps its users brew their own beer with the aid of a smartphone, was a successful Kickstarter project in 2013.
Cargo
The Brewbot, a machine that helps its users brew their own beer with the aid of a smartphone, was a successful Kickstarter project in 2013.

Our smartphones will come to aid and abet our alcoholism

We're betting 2014 will be the year that DIY beer-brewing is transformed from an activity of physical exertion and genuine alchemical know-how into — you guessed it — a smartphone app. In October, U.K.-based startup Cargo successfully completed a Kickstarter project for the Brewbot, which is basically a robot that will craft your beer for you. As Fast Company put it: "Science has just created a way to brew beer with an iPhone." And hey, even if it doesn't work, the new and improved Seamless-GrubHub behemoth will offer you plenty of places to order booze from, so don't worry about having to do any of that pesky stuff like putting on pants and meeting your friends at a bar. 

Some reports estimate that "Candy Crush Saga" players spend as much as $1 million a day on in-app purchases, so it's not surprising that jokes about entering "Candy Crash" rehab have spread across the Internet.
KnowYourMeme.com
Some reports estimate that "Candy Crush Saga" players spend as much as $1 million a day on in-app purchases, so it's not surprising that jokes about entering "Candy Crash" rehab have spread across the Internet.

Games like "Candy Crush Saga" will turn us all into hopeless slot jockeys

The fiendishly addictive puzzle game "Candy Crush Saga" skyrocketed to the top of Apple's list of most-downloaded apps in 2013. King.com, the game's creator, won't say how much money the 500 million people who've downloaded it have collectively forked over to get a few more turns to clear the jelly, but estimates run as high as $1 million every day. What does this mean for our future as mobile gamers? According to one study conducted by the market research firms AppLift and Newzoo, the global mobile games market is expected to reach $23.9 billion in 2016. Analysts are still crunching the numbers for the near future, but a 2013 study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 56 percent of all Americans now own a smartphone, up from 35 percent just two years ago. It's safe to say that a lot more people will be getting their hands on smartphones — and spending more money on the apps therein — in 2014. 

Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: Yannick.LeJacq@nbcuni.com

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