About 10 years ago I got my first cell phone and am now using my 7th. Only one of them stopped working outright. The rest of them still turn on and probably still function. They were shelved because wireless technology advanced which eliminated their network or their lack of features made them obsolete. 1 in 7 failure rate isn’t that bad considering what is involved with a wireless phone. 5 in 7 technological decay rate is a lot more exciting to think about, and a touch alarming when you actual hold onto a smart phone and think about the people how helped to make it.
It’s exciting because 25 years ago there weren’t a lot of cell phones, the Internet wasn’t really very much to many people, and the global economy wasn’t the thing that it is now. We’ve created wireless technology and the profit cash machine of disposable accessories out of nothing in about the same length of time it takes to raise a baby into a self-sustaining accessory buyer. That’s fantastically quick. In fact, it’s science-fictionally quick. Ours is a species that can imagine and create the impossible into reality given enough energy to fuel the physical and mental labor. Once it exists, it quickly becomes part of the economy and accessories are introduced to be the profit taking currency for the technology.
What’s alarming is that I don’t know how to make a cell phone and I’m sure no one on the planet could make a cell phone by themselves. The accessories that drive the wireless industry depend on the cooperative effort of millions of people. You need a well formed and stable society to create the technology in the first place – countries that focus on education, infrastructure, national security and the wellness of their citizens. Then you need stable predictable places to build the accessories to ensure a constant supply.
The country that created the technology will tend to enjoy an initial boost from the accessories but the need to increase profits and “stay competitive” eventually sees the trend towards lower cost suppliers and efforts to lower the cost of manufacturing (labor). It starts with the chips and plastic cases coming from Asia and in a couple of years the factory gets moved to Mexico. Soon there is nothing left of the company in the country but R&D, business offices and distribution centers and then, these have been absorbed by a bigger corporation and been streamlined for efficiency. Unless there is a new technology or industry created, it’s really unlikely that a country will enjoy a boom again. I think this is the point we are at now.
The country that supplies the lower cost components and then the lower cost labor enjoys a slight change in their standard of living. Some do very well but for those who supply the work the change more closely resembles 19th century industrial cities were you ARE a piece of the machine. I have no idea if they enjoy an improved quality of life. I know they aren’t getting paid anything close to what was paid for the job in North America. While it is relative, how can it be that someone in Asia would be entitled to 45 times LESS for doing the same thing? The cost of the device doesn’t drop very much; company’s profits go up.
Okay, so the jobs left one country to be done at a fraction of the price somewhere else. The cost to the consumer doesn’t go down enough to accommodate for the loss of national income. The people who now make the devices cannot afford to buy them at the price we are charged here. In fact, the number of people who can actually afford to buy them has decreased by the out-sourcing of its manufacturing. Over time, and not very much of it, the population of people who actually have in their hands the money they need to buy the devices (not on credit) is shrinking. It doesn’t take a lot of foresight to realize that this is extremely short sighted. It is compressing the affordable life cycle of a technology by factors, extracting all of the money out of it as quickly as possible and putting it into the hands of a very small number of people. People supply the labor for as long as the money moves from the masses to the few. Once it slows down, many are out of work and a few have acquired generational wealth.
When someone says “buy Canadian /American / whatever country” they’re encouraging you to keep as much of the labor in that country. This is a noble pursuit, but do they make a promise to keep the labor in the country? What happens when the owners sell or decide to focus on taking profit?