Every major new technology brings with it not only fascinating new capabilities, and in the case of electronic technologies also some potentially-dangerous new challenges. So many auto accidents have been caused because drivers were distracted by their gadgets that it has been proposed that those drivers be punished as if they were driving under the influence of alcohol (or other substances). And it isn’t only driving. Focusing on the small screen while walking not only puts one in harm’s way but in cities like Montclair, CA crossing a street while distracted can result in a sizable fine.
Will Apple topple from its perch as the world’s most valuable company? The stock market didn’t reflect Apple’s declining smartphone sales far enough ahead, which led to a drop in share price when year-over-year Q1 iPhone sales declined nearly 15%. And while the overall market grew about 4%, leader Samsung stayed flat, and a handful of Chinese companies rose ominously. Apple’s reliance on the iPhone for growth has become a weakness.
But there is another important consequence. If you look at total market capitalization (total shares times share price), Apple is declining rapidly and Amazon is rising rapidly. For the last 3 calendar quarters, the top 5 companies in the world have included only Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and Exxon Mobil, and the top 3 were only Apple, Alphabet, and Microsoft. But Apple’s market cap(italization) in 1Q2015 was more than double ANY other company, while in 1Q2016 there were 7 other companies with market caps over half of Apple’s. But In 1Q2015 Amazon was not in the top 10. It was #10 in 3Q2015, and #4 in 1Q2016 (getting profitable helped a lot). And Amazon is not dependent on one product line.
GoPro’s CEO Nick Woodman holds a GoPro camera in his mouth as he celebrates his company’s IPO at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York, Thursday, June 26, 2014. GoPro, the maker of wearable sports cameras, loved by mountain climbers, divers, surfers and other extreme sports fans, said late Wednesday it sold 17.8 million shares at $24 each in its initial public offering of stock. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
We hate to tell you we told you so, but … we told you so (see our post of July 3, 2014). Investors were initially stampeded by the sex appeal and attitude of the surfer dudes who were taking exciting videos of their surfing exploits, but now their motto may have changed from “eat camera” to “eat crow”. Or, to segue to another mixed metaphor, this one-trick pony may have done its one trick already, and all the early adopters have already adopted. We wonder how many earlier buyers are actually continuing to use the GoPro, and how many newer buyers are putting up with the flawed documentation, steep learning curve, and difficulties of using the product to take videos and still pictures they are proud to post or to show their friends.
And what about competition? The GoPro Hero4 Silver costs $400. The Garmin Virb line has models for $200-400. But the $100 Polaroid Cube may be fine for the rest of us. Or the $76 SJCAM SJ4000. Or the $64 entry-level Yi model from Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi (not as many features as the GoPro Hero4 Silver but some interesting ones such as selfie stick support).
“The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away” is a truly flexible and useful concept. We can replace “Lord” by such notions as “Technology” or “Internet” or “Mobile Devices” or a whole host of other products and services. And those products and services can be used to teach us, to inform us, to entertain us, etc. How valuable they are depends on the objectives of the individual or group in question. We’d guess that a large fraction of the folks who read the New York Times either work pretty hard or respect others who do work pretty hard. On the other hand those who spend a lot of time looking at or posting to Tumblr probably are at the other end of the spectrum, as Tumblr itself serves up such suggestions as “5 ways to waste the rest of the day” (by the way, you can find lots of OTHER folks using that phrase when you surf) and counsels its members that “work can wait”, presumably while you read or write posts on Tumblr.
To put this in perspective we took a look at how Americans spent their day in 2014, thanks to some detailed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Of the 24.00 hours in a day, we spend 10.75 hours taking care of basic needs (sleeping, other personal care, and eating and drinking), 3.59 hours working or doing work-related activities, a meager 0.42 hours being educated (a low average because the majority of Americans are not enrolled in educational institutions), a whopping 5.30 hours on leisure and sports (which includes 2.82 hours watching television), and a modest 0.14 hours communicating (telephone, email, and snailmail).
But even the most casual observer would likely object to the low communicating figure from the BLS because everywhere you look people are peering into their smartphones. One study found that smartphone users spend two hours each day using those devices. And what are they doing with those phones? It depends on whose statistics you believe, but it is interesting to note that it’s not all entertainment. And it is even more interesting to realize that a smartphone enables its user to seamlessly shift between work-related and personal activities, so they aren’t all just wasting the rest of the day a la Tumblr. Whew, the American economy may not be in danger!
In its day a solid-state calculator was amazing. And look at the incredible amount of technology millions of us literally have in the palms of our hands today with our smartphones. But, if we don’t use that technology to improve our comfort, safety, longevity, etc., where is the wisdom asks classics scholar and historian Victor Davis Hanson. Are the 4,000 texts per month of the average high-schooler wisdom? Do the million views per month of PewDiePie (Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg) watching as he plays video games add much, or any, wisdom to us individually or to our society?