As we race forward with technology, the hallmarks of progress seem to have lost their familiar pacing. What I mean is that for years—ever since the late 90s, in fact—every few years presented us with amazing advancements in things like touchscreens, world-wide web in our pockets, GPS tracking, facial recognition, retinal displays, battery life... Only, lately the “right around the corner” expectation has diminished to “is that all you’ve got?”
The tale of the iPhone
Apple has been a benchmark, or litmus test for most of the electronics consumer market. If Jobs’ investment is doing well, then everyone can trust technology to continue improving. This is largely because of their track-record for innovation. However, recent releases have shown that is no longer the case.
In fact, even as you read this, the larger part of the Apple-sphere has all but given up on their holy fruit. But that’s just the tip of the news. The fact that Apple serves as a litmus is evidenced by the other tech companies’ similar laments. Consumers are wisening up at how little upgrading adds value to their lives. Or is there more to it than that?
The truth is, technology isn’t what it was ten years ago. How’s that for a tweetable quote? Here’s how that works: in 2007, our eyes were opened to the possibility of a sleek interface, a new communication standard, and unbelievable definition in the tiny screens we would devote the rest of our lives to. 2019: we have essentially a wider variety of the same basic devices to choose from. Only now, they cost more and no longer fit comfortably in one hand—well, unless you’re Shaquille O’Neal.
The race evens out
You may not have realized it, but we as consumers are in a race against technology. And for a time, tech was winning out. Their new releases wowed us at every turn, making us scramble to reach the expectations they had set up for us. Expectations of better time management, more connectivity, and cooler products.
After eleven years, it is becoming clear that we are starting to catch up with the technology that raced ahead of us in expectation… only, not as much in pricing. That a typical smartphone costs upwards of $1,000 is obscene. Even if we roll in the costs to recycle them properly—which we should—that number of zeros far outpaces the actual value you’ll receive from that device.
Now, upgrading, which used to be a rite of passage for tech-savvy consumers, is just a sign you aren’t really knowledgeable about your devices. Perhaps, this is the equalization of all those years of unprecedented growth and development?
Good Enough can be better than Better
Reuse is never a bad option—even if you have money to burn—because it adds value to an existing investment. Anything you spend your money or time on is an investment, and what it returns on you can be measured by what you are able to accomplish with it, but also how long you’ve been able to use it to accomplish those things.
In my own life, I have been able to use my first laptop—which I used to write a novel and run a small business—as a tool for my kids’ schoolwork, watching cooking videos in the kitchen, and streaming football games when we don’t have cable. Clearly, I made my money back with the first applications of running a small business, but now it’s surpassed what I ever imagined its value would be with its continued use.
At the heart of it, any new device I would purchase would have to justify its existence by outperforming that first laptop in some way. After all, what am I really getting with an upgrade, other than that feeling of using something new and cool? Indeed, as I shop for new devices even, I am haunted by the interface and usability of that first device. Its keyboard, the screen size, and even the integrated CDROM drive all weigh on my conscience as I scroll through the current models.
I believe the general populace is feeling this same malaise when it comes to getting a new phone. The voice says: what am I really missing out on if I don’t upgrade? And there isn’t much to counter that anymore.
Or did Good Enough cause Better to lack?
Another thought about this recent turn of events with Apple just entered my head. What if this is indicative of something else entirely? What if these reports of diminished earnings indicate a sad reality that American giants just rest too easily on their laurels? Is Apple to technology the way Ford was to the automotive industry?
The scary thing about this as a possibility is that it will lead to another significant American economy shift. Not because the innovation has stopped, but because it has moved overseas. We can see this already happening in China, even. Shenzhen is still innovating, but it’s under a new—decidedly non-American—model of scaffolding off others’ designs. And, as hardware moves farther away from US soil, the consumer experience will begin to get a lot more complicated. Let’s just hope we keep our smarts about Good Enough when that happens.
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