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The Toy Bubble

I have been to Macworld.

For those who aren't geeks (I'm not: I'm a nerd) Macworld is a gathering of Apple fans. MacHeads. Mac fanboys. And a smattering of fangirls. It lasts for what seems like about three weeks, but my calendar says it's just 5 days.

My son (the geek, the fanboy, the MacHead, the techie,) has wanted to go to Macworld for the last couple of years. The answer was always "No.*" But this year he agreed to pay half the cost and with Macworld in San Francisco and us in the OC, it wasn't too big a trip.

You may wonder, "How the hell does an 11 year old afford something like that?**" Well, by customizing our blogs, building our websites, putting together our Keynote/Powerpoint presentations, shooting and editing our videos and getting paid for it all.***

The main event was the keynote speech normally given by Steve Jobs but in this case given by some guy. I'm going to say Phil. That could be his name, who knows? We had to get up at 4 am and stand in a chilly line in order to ensure that we would be in the actual presence and not exiled to an overflow room.

There was a line. But it wasn't much of one and they never had to use the overflow rooms. The absence of Steve had a profound effect. The cult members had bought tickets in the expectation of seeing Tom Cruise. They got Jenna Elfman instead.****

Anyway they announced some software tweaks. Cool tweaks. Nothing exciting.

For the rest of the show we attended lectures none of which I can actually remember. Possibly because I don't recover from 4 am wake-ups as well as I used to. And we walked the Expo floor at the Moscone Center gazing respectfully upon software and iPhone apps and things that enabled and things that synergized and things that caused various other buzzwords to be spoken.

I found it vaguely depressing.

Here's why: 90% of it is about nothing. You start with a "thing." Maybe that thing is a document or maybe that thing is a tune or a manuscript. And then 10 bazillion people come along and offer you software to make that thing better, easier to do. If you placed on a graph our total aggregate ability to make things easier, better, faster, funner, wilder, better integrated you'd see this line that crawled for ten thosuand years of human history and then suddenly rocketed straight up.

So, simple question: why aren't our things any better? Has someone made better music than JS Bach did with just an organ and some foolscap? One of the big hits of the show was the Occarina application for the iPhone. It allows you to use your phone to play a slow, uncertain, flutey version of Oh, Susanna!

Well, in your face Johann. Screw you, John Lennon. We can play Oh, Susanna on our phones. And now the world is a better place. Imagine!

These things are just toys. A song is real. A phone that lets you play a song -- badly, irritatingly -- is a toy. Extra special software for executives to maximize and optimize and all other manner of izing are toys. We've apparently just lost track of the entire GDP of the United States. Maybe because executives were playing with their latest, coolest execu-toy as opposed to asking why they should buy bundles of absurdly overvalued mortgages.

So much energy and so many intellectual and capital resources devoted to making sure that our computer files look shiny, and we can easily indulge our Twitter narcissism, and Facebook narcissism, obsessively communicating the boring details of our lives with "friends" who are no such thing. So much faith placed in software that by golly would give the busy executive a total awareness of absolutely every single thing going on in every single place.

We had the dotcom bubble. We had the real estate bubble. I wonder if the next is the toy bubble. We're valuing toys at hundreds of billions of dollars. But that's all they are: shiny, hi tech, cool, fun and almost worthless toys. Facebook is a toy. Twitter is a toy. Most of Apple's business is toys. All those clench-jawed business aplications are toys. I think they are worth about as much as an Icelandic krona.


*Or "Are you f---ing kidding me?"
**Yeah, me too.
***When I was his age I took out the trash. I was paid in slices of Velveeta.
****Scientology joke. I assume I'll be hearing from their lawyers.

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“The Toy Bubble”

  1. OpenID Howlin' Hobbit Says:

    Wait a damn minute! Jenna Elfman is a Scientologist?

    Way to demolish one of my favorite fantasies, dude!

    (I'll just be over in the corner here. Pouting.)

    I tend to agree with the main thrust of the piece though.