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Saturday, July 11, 2009

I just called to say, "I'm on welfare"

We had lunch with a friend downtown the other day -- by internet standards, an old friend -- and afterward we thought we'd prowl around asking about the chances of the Mrs. and us getting iPhones. The intertubes told us there was a place in Pioneer Square that sold them. We walked over, noticing how dead everything looked. And after prowling around inside the mall a little, we saw that there was an AT&T place upstairs, to which we immediately headed.

There was one customer ahead of us to talk to the lone sales clerk. They had a lot of cell phones for sale, but no iPhones at that location. For that, you'd have to go down to the lower level, down by the food court. So down we went, hunting around for a while before finding the Apple store.

The place was absolutely packed -- a consumer feeding frenzy of a nature we haven't encountered in many months. Dozens of people, peering and poking at this gadget and that. So this is where the American economy has gone, we thought. Average Joes falling all over each other to pay $60 a month for a phone and a mobile internet connection.

Our reveries were interrupted by a young man in a goatee and a t-shirt. Could he help us? Yes, we'd like iPhones. Let him talk to the manager a moment, would we? Already we're rolling our eyes.

A few minutes later, he returned with the verdict: Given how crowded the store was, and how many of the people in it were wanting phones, "the most efficient way to handle this" was for us to start a line outside the store -- out by the food court -- until someone was available to help us. He steered us to a pair of velvet ropes out by where they were selling sterling silver unicorn necklaces.

Needless to say, we promptly took our iPhone ambitions and credit cards out of the mall and onto the nearest bus. Over we went to the AT&T store, where we were greeted by another line.

We may get iPhones, but this country is doomed. Over lunch our friend asked -- with an earnestness, almost a desperation, in his voice -- what America is going to produce to lead itself out of the current recession. Given that we're all turning a serious percentage of our disposable income over to thieves such as AT&T and Comcast, for communications and information that we did perfectly well without, or that used to come a lot cheaper, there's no answer to that.

Comments (26)

I guess this is one of your "I had a bad day so the world is going to hell" postings, right?

Let's see, the economy is doomed because an American company has produced a new telecommunications device that is so desired that people worldwide stand in long lines to buy it ...

And the US is a world leader in producing media content ...

I don't get it. You do realize that service and media industries are the wave of the future, right?

jj - Can you explain the value proposition of service and media industries? And media as those of us born before 1960 or probably even 1970 know it is in serious trouble.

Just so you understand - a barrista is making a product that requires disposable income to purchase but service workers don't have a lot of disposable income - a manufacturing job produces items that are more likely required by buyers and those jobs pay more.

And as for the manufacturing going offshore, for a year I've been looking for a product that used to be produced in the US. It's all from China now and it's pure crap from design to materials. So I keep resisting the urge to replace the 25 yol things that I have.

I walk past the Apple Store a couple of times a week: it is routinely busy, and never empty (unlike the high end boutiques and jewelry stores).

Buy AAPL stock?

"You do realize that service and media industries are the wave of the future, right?"

I'm not a genius economist, but I don't see how we can all place any hope for meaningful job creation in the "media content" market. Do you mean we are all going to blog our way out of this mess? Are we going to take turns going onto reality T.V. shows, or make YouTube videos and that will somehow bring us prosperity as opposed to rotting our brains and wasting our time? How does creating a Myspace or Facebook page make money for anyone except for MySpace or Facebook? My perception of media creation is that a very, very small handful of individuals create it for a massive market which the creator hopes to profit from by charging advertising or user fees. If there is any wave of the future it's in the creation of so-called free media, and I don't see how the little guy is making any real money off of that. Maybe I'm thick headed and you can break it down for me.

Jack can defend himself here, but I took his comment to mean that he found the overheated reaction to the iPhone at the Apple store to be a little over the top, and possibly indicative of deeper problems in our economy. Obviously, it's a popular gadget, but is it something we really need? Our consumerist mindset tells us we need it, and after we shell out a healthy chunk of change to buy it, there are steep user fees that approach four figures on an annual basis that go along with using it. These high fixed costs may be something that people cannot afford, but they perceive them to be a necessity so they go ahead and buy it anyway.

If you want to entertain yourself there are thousands of wonderful books to read that may teach you something about yourself or the world we live in. You can buy them used for a good deal at Powell's and elsewhere. Oh wait, I'm sorry, you need to update your profile on MySpace, Twitter about that awesome muffin you just had at Starbucks and then check out the "Jizz in my Pants" vid on YouTube.

The corporate magnates look down on this with a big smile on their faces, because we're conditioned to act like a bunch of zombie drones every time they sling a new fangled piece of crap our way. It all reminds me of that that Eagles song The Hotel California somehow. O.K., I'm dating myself so I'll just stop now.

Good post and I think you are right on with this. I thought about it too after watching the Jane Austen based film, Sense and Sensibility. Where are the jobs is a valid question for a culture to ask (if it wants to see there be jobs) and if we stop producing real products where will future jobs be? It's obviously not just the phone but the media period and where a lot of our income goes. Interesting times to say the least.

My spouse and I have decided we need an
"information intervention" after reading your post this am.
On the other hand, I confess I really enjoy reading your blog and others at our remote undisclosed locations during the summer months.

"If you want to entertain yourself there are thousands of wonderful books to read that may teach you something about yourself or the world we live in."

You're using books to try to bolster an argument against a media-obsessed society? Ever been around a bookstore when something like a Harry Potter title is released?

BTW - If you go to the factory ATT Wireless store across the street from Pioneer Place (or on NE Broadway), they have quick service.

The one inside the mall is just a reseller and they don't let them have iPhones.

I'm going to wait for the next iteration of the iPod touch (September, probably) and use it as a VOIP phone. Sure, it only works in wireless zones, but where is there not a wireless zone these days? There's no way I can justify the $80/month for 2 years iPhone contract.

Cars. Expensive to buy, expensive to use, but do we really need them? Really? The country used to have great mass transit systems until corporations and the government told us that we needed the freedom of the car. That freedom created suburban sprawl because everyone had to have his or her own house with a yard. As that sprawl grew we needed more cars because distances became to great to conveniently walk. Then shopping malls were created rather than shopping in your neighborhood; forcing you to drive more to get the things you need. Now we have huge traffic jams in most cities—PDX has some but until you’ve experienced LA, the Bay Area or other metropolitan traffic you haven’t really experienced it. Pollution from cars affect our health and well being. Still, most believe they need a car, that it is a necessity of life, they can’t live without it.

And were doomed because of the iPhone craze?

My iphone was a lot cheaper than a new laptop. And it does all the things I wanted a laptop to do. Also, i was paying a monthly cell phone bill anyway, now i have canceled my old isp and just have one bill.

Iphones are amde in America???

Even though they've shipped some real duds in their day (Mac Mini, for example), Apple has had more than their share of blockbusters. And for all of talk about cost and contracts, the actual iPhone as an object is the apex of industrial design. Like the iPod or the Mac operating system, it is uncompromisingly beautiful. And for consumers who are accustomed to being incentivized to compromise (it's an ugly couch but we deliver; it's not the car you want but it's free for six months; it's not healthy food but it's convenient) what Apple is demonstrating is that there is also a demand for high quality products and there are rewards for taking the trouble to make something excellent. Consumers will endure other inconveniences if they have are sold on the quality of the product. Not everybody, not PC users, but the demand is there.
I don't know what Americans will be making in the future, but Apple sure is a study in how to make it.

It's stunning to me, actually how some people "need" the latest cell/web/music gadgets and 5,000 minutes per month. Not to mention paying as much as .25 per text. I have a 20 y/o associate who pays $160/mo to one of the carriers, which is about 10% of his income. I just about spit coffee all over when he told me that. Not because of the amount, but because he accepts that as the norm. He probably considers me an old fuddy duddy because I have my basic TMobile plan from 7 years ago (19.95) and 60 minutes free per month. Call me old-fashioned but I just have other priorities in life.

I gotta agree with Nick. I got my iPhone for my birthday last year and I use it all the time. It is a bit more expensive with the required media plan and all, but it is my main computer and link to the Internet. Not to mention phone, camera, personal organizer, game console, and music player, all wrapped in one elegant little device. I also really love the enormous variety of cheap applications available.

PS. I got mine at the Gresham AT & T store. No waiting and they had plenty.

If you want to entertain yourself there are thousands of wonderful books to read that may teach you something about yourself or the world we live in. You can buy them used for a good deal at Powell's and elsewhere. Oh wait, I'm sorry, you need to update your profile on MySpace, Twitter about that awesome muffin you just had at Starbucks and then check out the "Jizz in my Pants" vid on YouTube.
Posted by Usual Kevin | July 11, 2009 6:40 AM

Post of the year.... This Twitter for twits and Facebook has gotten out hand along with texting.....


You can get your iPhones online and have them delivered to your home. No line, no muss, no fuss. The phone can be activated from home and you never have to set foot in an Apple or ATT store.

Disclosure: I own lots of ATT and Apple stock. My Apple stock will send our youngest daughter to college in a year.


I just reread "The Jungle Book," and "Alice in Wonderland" (one of my all-time favorites) on my iPhone. They were part of a free package of classics I downloaded. Not to disparage the written page, my books are some of my most beloved possessions - but c'mon folks, this is the 21st century, and all technology isn't evil.

I, too, think Twitter is a ridiculous waste of time and an example of taking technology too far, but we wouldn't be having this discussion here and now if we'd pooh-poohed blogging in favor of the now almost defunct dead-tree version of getting our news and communicating with one another.

Just like everything, moderation is the key.

I'm surprised ep thinks the Mac mini was a dud. It's an amazing workhorse, totally quiet, takes up no space to speak of and seems incredibly reliable (one in our house has been running for several years now and never even gets rebooted). And I think they've been a driving force behind people wanting to switch from PC's. Besides, they're still on sale. Duds from Apple? Try the Newton. Or the cube.

You want a dud from Apple? Try Final Cut Pro 6. You can edit a movie in 1080 high definition but there is currently no way to retrieve it from your computer and put it on a 1080 Blu-Ray.

So you can bake the finest cookies with the finest ingredients in the finest oven, but you can't take them out of the oven without a significant downgrade. Ridiculous.

I don't think Twitter is ridiculous at all -- it was at first, when the sum of most tweets equaled: "I'm in line at Burger King."

And most of the gossip stuff on Twitter is silly, but a growing number of businesses are using it to GREAT effect ("we just got in a shipment of the latest Minolo Blahniks"). Not to mention politicians and other notable types.

Even Sarah shoots herself in the foot on a regular basis on Twitter.

I now get a lot of info off Twitter. Who woulda thunk?

It's true. Dud is too strong of a word for the Mac Mini but it fits the cube, for sure.

To be sure this can't be categorized as an Apple bashing story, let me bash Bill Gates, Inc.

How in the heck can you make an OS that an entire industry cannot use. Vista 64 is not compatible with the digital printing industry. No (or little) software will run the darn thing. I had to order a custom Dell with XP Pro so that I can open my darn business b/c all you can buy in a store in Salem is Vista 64. Errrr

Jack, Palm Pre perhaps? I went to the store in Irvington and was greeted with prompt service and a good 30 minute demo personalized for what I wanted.

I used to loathe Sprint, but they've come a long way in store service. Especially that store.

Yeah, the service contract is more, and the phone less pricey than it was, but not cheap. Still, I now consult my dictionary app to resolve scrabble disputes. It accompanies me on reads when I need a quick definition. Finally it stores all prior definitions so I can revisit my recent new words and easily build vocabulary. Price of the app -O-.
There are thousands of great free functional apps. Seems like I'm saving hundreds on software purchases replaced now by handy apps.

But it's soooo cool. And it does sooo much. Never thought I'd be happy to pay more for cell phone service. Come to the dark side Jack!

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