Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Technology and Your Monthly Expenses. . . .

As I understand it, Apple is now talking about producing a TV which is also an internet device. Even before it became one of the primary topics of tech-talk, I thought that since so many people don't actually use a personal computer for anything but web-based functions, the future for computing was through the television. However, as time has ticked by I have grown more doubtful of this possibility. The reason for my doubt is . . . . well, money. Just as leasing vehicles has allowed the car industry to inflate the price of automobiles to ridiculous levels, the modern tech industry is nickeling and diming us to death. Every new tech device you purchase seems to come with some built-in monthly cost. As I understand it Google's new personal computer in which everything you do is done through the so-called "cloud," is really just a computer that comes with another monthly bill to access Google's cloud.

Last year we tried Netflix in our house. The content, though not overwhelming, was good and there was lots of entertainment to be had. The problem was that by the end of the month we had an extra bill of fifty dollars for extra net usage. For that price I could have purchased a movie channel package and watched three times as much new content for less money without having to worry that the kids are further pushing up my internet bill every time they go online.

It seems that companies like Apple and Google are consciously driving technology not for the sake of convenience and innovation but to find new ways to drive up the amount that people will pay every month for access to a service or network. Young people are getting jobs just to finance their cell-phone bills and it seems ridiculous to me. I don't want to access the internet through my television just so Rogers can send me an extra bill every month. I don't actually gain anything except a bigger screen for my web access, and anyway I can purchase a cable for a few bucks that will put my computer monitor screen on my LCD TV without any new technology.

I think that there is something fundamentally wrong with the technology model that is being developed today. Remember (if you are over 40) when they told us that in the future we would have a lot more leisure time and we would be a paperless society? That didn't workout for the simple reason that capitalism has a mindless growth incentive that makes leisure fundamentally problematic. Regardless of how much resources and technologies we develop and have, capitalism as an economic system cannot function unless people are continuously, mindlessly, exhaustively working and consuming. The problems with this are many and obvious. Beside the environmental issues that such a system brings up, economists like Schumpeter (to say nothing of Marx) long ago pointed out that as capitalism drives people out of work through innovation in production and international competition, capitalism will put more wealth in fewer hands and the modus operandi of the system itself will begin to corrode its function.

Returning to the issue of Apple TV, where are we going with this? Why should people purchase a device that will do almost nothing for them which will essentially include another monthly expense in an already stretched budget? The way forward is open source networks, and reductions in patents and copyrights (something Adam Smith ironically would ague for) in order to make technology actually work for people rather than people working for technology. The problem is, of course, how to make the economy do the same thing?


Poyan said...

Well Said! Aside from being hard on the pocket and over inflating costs of things, these monthly payments are also a strain on the economy. They promote a lifestyle entirely in borrowed money which one day is guaranteed to collapse and bring the value of such things back to where they actually belong. Very similar to what the housing market did in the US, due to the very same phenomenon.

Owen Gray said...

Let's face it. Technological innovation makes life a little easier.

But, truth be told, each new innovation is a new way to make money.

Anonymous said...

Of course, some providers do not have "extra net usage" fees. Netflix is very popular in my location: it streams very fast and you only pay $8/mo - far less than a night out at Cineplex Odeon.

But your concerns are valid: a new technology cannot guarantee it will be useful or worthwhile. People who endlessly pursue the latest fad seem to miss the whole point of technology.


kirbycairo said...

Dear L.

I didn't mean to attack Netflix per se (though there are rumours that they are using some kind of dodgy streaming system) I was saying that streaming entertainment through the Internet is too expensive, particularly in Canada which has much higher cost per megabit of streaming than, say, the US where people get so much band per month at a low cost that they can run their Netflix 24 hours a day and it doesn't cost them extra streaming money through their INternet provider. Of course the $8 is reasonable but in the long run entertainment through the Internet will not be sustainable if companies like Rogers are going to charge so much for broadband usage. There is a conflict of interest to have Cable companies providing broadband because they don't want people to move to Internet Entertainment because then people will start cancelling their cable.

doconnor said...

$50 per month is an exaggeration of the cost. Had you adjusted you internet plan to reflect you increased usage the cost would have been much less. It is a common mistake that the internet companies make a lot of money from.

If you canceled your cable and used Netflix instead it would probably come out cheaper even with the higher internet cost and you would have a wider selection of shows to watch with no commercials.

If done properly and under the right circumstances technology can make things better.

kirbycairo said...

Sorry Doconnor, you are wrong in this case. I did in fact adjust my Internet package and it still doesn't work. In part because I have three kids here using the Internet all the time. Unlike major US companies, the Canadian companies like ROgers, Shaw and Bell, have very low ceilings on their Internet packages and where I live no one offers any where close to an unlimited package. And the problem is that when you go over your usage the companies charges exorbitant rates for each megabyte you use. I crunched all the numbers over and over and you cannot come out on top. The Internet entertainment option is just too expensive. But three kids can use the Television 24 hours a day and except for the electricity (which a computer uses anyway) it doesn't cost me any extra.

Anonymous said...

You may be pleased to know that good 'ole Crown Corporation Sasktel has not cap on net usage, nor extra fees. I don't believe they employ throttling either, since I've never heard anyone complain of slow speeds.

That companies can get away with these tactics (and I'll add in one of my own: charging $0.20 for a text msg!) speaks to the ignorance of their consumers.

While those who know, usually subvert.