Jenna Wortham of the New York Times seems to think that new technology should be cheap enough for poor people to afford it. My first question is: Why?
Headlines are not normally created by the journalist, but are apportioned by editors who sometimes miss the point. Jenna’s article, which in the NYT has the headline “More Tech Magic, if You Can Afford It“, in my local newspaper is headlined “Tech magic comes at a price out of reach for many”. But in this case, the editors in question did get the point Ms. Wortham intended.
While writing about Google Glass, she reports handing her demo device back to the Google employee “…with the sinking feeling that it could be a while before I’d be that close to them again.”
And why would she have such a feeling? She writes:
That’s because they cost $1,500, and they are being made available largely to developers and people who are eager to figure out how to build applications for them.
Her entire article rants on and on about how wonderful the new technology is and how terrible it is that poor people won’t be able to afford it. Until the price does down. And even when the price does go down, how terrible it will be that the poor won’t be able to afford the newest versions, since the price for the latest and greatest will be higher than state-of-the-art.
But what the heck is she complaining about? It’s not fair! That’s what. “…it would be a shame if the only people who participate in this leap forward are those who can afford it.” Bat puckey. Cannot “the poor” wait five minutes until they CAN afford it? Apparently this is a tragedy. She agrees with Anil Dash, an entrepreneur and blogger who raised similar concerns last year in a post titled “You Can’t Start the Revolution From the Country Club.” She nods sagely in agreement with Dash’s pathetic premise, and except for the obvious fact that this premise is completely false, we might be tempted to go along with it, too. You can take it to the bank that technological revolutions almost always start from the so-called “country club”. The fact is simply this: if the “country club” doesn’t adopt the new technology at its inception, then nobody else is getting it either. It turns light outside when the sun comes up. No sooner. Deal with it. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t give you an entitlement to have it otherwise.
And fairness? What is it about certain people that they think that being poor gives one rights superior to the better off, who have to work for what they get, too? Oh, sure, you work at a dead-end job, a job that you qualified yourself for by spending your time goofing off instead of getting an education that would make it possible for you have a better job. Therefore you are entitled to the same choices in life as someone who put business before pleasure and prepared for the future?
Please spare me. I can sympathize with someone affected by breaks that resulted from circumstances truly beyond their control, but most people are poor because of choices they themselves made, or are in situations that they could, with some effort, work themselves out of. Ms. Wortham’s own experience shows clearly that being poor is, with some effort, only a temporary condition. She says she couldn’t afford that iPhone because she was working in a poorly-paying job. But now she can afford one. Does she think she’s the exception?
I’ve been poor, and I’ve been moderately well-off. I knew precisely why it was that way at every point. There was no-one to blame but myself, and I would have felt ashamed of myself for blaming anyone else but myself, and I would have felt like a fool for asking for extraordinary consideration for my condition. “Hey, Steve Jobs, I can’t afford that nice new iPhone because I’ve gotten myself into overwhelming debt due to wanting crap I couldn’t afford, so you must sell me one for one-third it’s retail value (or better yet gimme one for free). That would be fairer, wouldn’t it?”
Maybe my desire for an iPhone (or a Windows Phone) should lead me to better my condition so I CAN afford one.