by Fred Cederholm
Economic Analysis Column
Columnist, Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel
January 11, 2010
I’ve been thinking about gadgets. Actually I’ve been thinking about CES 2010, phones, drones, stereo-3D- flat screen TV, programming, BETAs/ VCRs/ DVDs/ BlueTeeth (or is it Bluetooth’s?), PDAs, and communicating. The quality of our lives does not seem to be a function of the love and dedication of our friends, neighbors, families, and pets… that is, if you swallowed the hype of the most recent edition of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas. There is an old saying: “He who dies with the most toys wins!” But… wins what? Having a silver 2000 Chrysler PT Cruiser, a bright red1967 Fiat Spyder 1500, a baby blue 1964 Olds 88 Convertible, and a British Racing green 1950 MGTD roadster really meant nothing to me as I approached death last summer. I actually thought about my gadgets and stuff a lot as I a came in and out of those long induced sleeps. Generally, I have never met a tool that I didn’t like and phantasized about playing with and using. Still…I’ve rarely been at the head of the curve, but I look (and drool) a lot --- it’s a guy thing.
You see the conclusion of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas just occurred. This is the largest trade show of its kind on planet earth. Ideas are hyped, concepts are exchanged, and “shtick” is put foreword. One might assume that everything shown, hyped, and discussed is going to happen by the coming Christmas just 11 months away. It will be the next “got to have.” Despite the prototypes and mach-ups shown, fondled, and hawked; CES is where Rodeo Drive (California), meets Madison Avenue (advertising) meets Wal-Mart (where America Shops for Cheap). It is a fairy land of the “what could be” at best. That is: if and only if, there is a real perceived need, the manufacturers can get it assembled somewhere abroad on the cheap, and it comes for a price the marketers can enhance. (That each stage in the pipeline thus makes a pile of money is another significant criterion.) The 2010 show was no different from its predecessors, and yet there were far fewer “home runners” shown, hyped, discussed, and presented this time. (I was taken by the personal drone which could be remotely flown to spy on --- well… whoever/ whatever you wanted to spy on. But then, too… I‘d need a different telephony unit or PDA and tons of wifi and wireless hardware and software. (Oh… never mind!)
Hi definition, flat screened, plasma TV’s were a significant part of the show. Prices had come down significantly from the original offerings. But… just what was really new? These were not the buy- a-couch-and-chair and get a free TV model. OK… the screens were thinner, but would a trendy geek scrap a 2 - 4 inch thick model for a 1 to one-and-a-half incher? Sound hasn’t improved as the High definition models with 27 positioned speakers have enhanced the home entertainment “quality of life” for a couple of years now. Home 3-D was new but would people fork over that kind of cash in this economy? Hummm… Then too, if the programming sucks, will 3-D, dualdecimalseptem sound, on a 1 inch thick screen make more people watch CSI: Creston? If it was working, don’t change it. I mean… just look at the Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien mess that NBC wants to go away before the local affiliates scrap national programming for perennial reruns of “Golden Girls, Home Improvement, or Roseanne!”
Planned obsolescence is also a big part of the CES and what we will be offered for sale. The re- streaming, re-broadcasting, and re-playing of all the “got to see” shows speaks volumes of where we have been and where we are headed. TH*NK about BETAs, VCRs, DVDs, TiVos, or the latest BlueTeeth (or is the plural BlueTooths?) which we have all experienced or owned. Time and technology marches on --- as does the unending campaign to separate US/us from our money. I am somewhat of a cheap Neanderthal in that my PDA (Personal Data Assistant) is a $.77 paper pocket notepad from Wal-Mart and a free pen from my local State Representative, Bob Pritchard. The backup system for appointments is the free calendar from my local bank which hangs in my kitchen by my fridge. Not exactly high tech, but it works very well for me --- and it has for years.
Phones, or rather multi-tasking telecommunication handhelds, are really hot now as well. These combine a phone, personal data device, internet surfer, TV, camera, telecom texting/ tweeting/ messaging device, and a global positioning/ locating gizmo. To be hip you got to have 3G or 4G access on your service map or you don’t cut it as any viable human being. I should point out that I got my first Cell phone (only) this past August and that our first in home phone was installed in 1966. My father was mayor back then and if people wanted him bad enough, they could come to the house (which they did)! I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.
© 2010 Fred Cederholm