Why I won’t be buying an iPad, and why it doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.

There’s all sorts of interesting arguments about the inherent politics of the iPad out there, like Cory‘s and Aaron‘s, or maybe most interestingly, Dale‘s. But none of that has to do with why I won’t be buying an iPad. I didn’t get as far as those thoughtful concerns. I simply don’t have the money.

Rich people looove to hug the iPad

I’m known among my friends for generally having less money than they do, for living hand to mouth, and for having thoughtful critiques of the American Poverty Trap, but from the inside. (In some future post I’ll try to explain why there is no point in me (& many others) trying to save or work my way out of the Trap, but that’s for another time.)

I have a laptop, and a car. But like many poor people, my big ticket items are old and I need them to survive. The poor make their durable goods really durable. People are resourceful, and the poor have ways of getting what they need that generally trade time for money. It falls down sometimes, and we can’t get what we need, but in general it’s amazing what someone will eventually lay their hands on with enough time, thought and determination. Increasingly I am seeing a lot of homeless people with older laptops, some of the straight up street people, huddled near public outlets and presumably open wifi. It’s exciting, because it opens up worlds of knowledge and communication that were always closed to the poor. The net is becoming simply a part of everything, to the point where taking a break and moving back into early 90s technological life seems to have the feel of going on an Arctic adventure. Did bears try to eat Aaron in his month off? Mysteriously, he never says.

I live a really rich intellectual life and get to do lots of things most poor people don’t, and I appreciate that it’s because almost none of my social group are poor. But sometimes my social group kind of goes crazy and forgets that while they have a lot of power, my class is a whole lot bigger than theirs. And none of them will be buying iPads.

A few of them do have iPhones, because phones are one of those durable goods we need to survive and that’s most of their meager disposable income. A few probably have iPod touches that they got as gifts, hand-me-downs, or because that was their one nice thing they wanted. But the iPad does absolutely nothing vital, and nothing a cheaper piece of electronics doesn’t already do well enough to get by. I’m pretty sure Apple knows this, and couldn’t care less. Poor people do buy iPods, sometimes even new, but they’ve never bought anything else Apple has ever made. And that’s fine. I’ve never felt the urge to get me some Tiffany, and they’ve never felt the need to try to get my money. Similarly, Apple’s just not a brand very open to the poor. But why does this mean anything to the political arguments? Because other vendors out there do want to take our money. We don’t have much, but there’s a lot of us, and unlike the other classes, we’re getting a lot bigger.

These vendors squeak by on razor thin margins, especially in electronics, and their value adds are generally rip-offs of features from more expensive products. We don’t have any walled gardens in our world, because there’s no margin in controlling things for poor people. When the iPad becomes old news and is massively ripped off, no one is going to wall in anything.

Curate my content? Hell, you're not even going to be here next week.

This is important, so I’m going to say it again: There will always be people trying to get the disposable income of poor people, and there will never be a margin in maintaining a walled garden for us. You might reply to this by saying ‘Sidekick’ and I’ll point out that was a lesson in there being no margin in it. Just because something doesn’t work doesn’t mean people don’t try it occasionally. This is also the failing of the Zittrain argument. Even in his worst case scenario, it really is just you rich people that get locked up for your own safety. We will still be free, and living in dangerous lands1. Just like in the real world, our neighborhoods online will be built from crap materials, mildly dangerous, old, and interesting2.

Which means that it will always be true for you as well. Like fashion, technology is primed for occasional revolutions that come from below and are recycled from the top. Those will impact many parts of society- and even change the walls the rich3 build around themselves as well. As the internet devolves knowledge to something we can get, you’ll decide something else is required for accreditation into your class. Oh wait, you already did that. You’ll do it harder the more knowledge we get. But I’m so excited about seeing everyone get your used netbooks. I think the halcyon days are ahead for the life of the mind among the poor, and we’ll do it with the same freedom we’ve done everything, the freedom of the forgotten.

Don’t worry about freedom going away because of the iPad, just becoming the kind of neighborhood you wouldn’t visit.

  1. For most poor people, the idea that the net is dangerous is pretty laughable. We actually do live in dangerous places, and mostly the police don’t really protect us so much as protect you from us.
  2. Also, the iPad seriously looks like thief bait. We’re not idiots, we know what our drunk uncles are going to do with it if we come home with one.
  3. Rich includes the middle classes. You all look the same to me.

46 thoughts on “Why I won’t be buying an iPad, and why it doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.

  1. David

    Good article. Thanks for speaking up for my people, the hand-to-mouthers class (though some of my best friends are bourgeoise).
    I would buy an iPad, if I also had a Hummer (and a job), but I would only use it in public—so to keep the poor people in their place. “The better toys syndrome” eh?

  2. Facebook Indie Games

    I don’t consider myself poor, but agree with what you say. The iPad is an elite product and it’s not going to change the world, except when knock offs made with commodity parts become the norm. And then there will be no walled garden.

    I’m sticking with my netbook until that happens.

  3. Russ Nelson

    Interesting perspective. Not sure that I believe in the existence of “class” in America. In other places where they really *do* have classes, you’re born into a class and you stay it for the rest of your life.

    I think that, if you feel you’re free, then you’re not poor. Poverty is not defined by money, instead by the quality of the choices available to you. If you have only bad choices, then you’re poor. If you only make bad choices, you’re also poor (and giving you money won’t change that).

    Don’t think that you’re free because you have little disposable income. We have our ways of making you suffer. We can force you to be fired if you’re not minimally productive (minimum wage laws). We can make your house more expensive (building codes). We can make your cars more expensive (raise gas taxes — which you pay in the products you buy, so don’t think not having a car will save you). We can tax the rich, so they can’t afford to expand their business, or won’t profit from doing so. We can make your health care more expensive by restricting the number of doctors, and making sure that you can only get doctoring from an approved physician.

    Oh, and I can’t afford an iPad either.

  4. quinn Post author

    Russ, for what it’s worth many of those places that really do have classes have more social mobility between them than we do. We basically fight it out with the UK and Italy for the bottom of the OECD, and the UK kind of invented the idea. Google “oecd social mobility” to encounter more studies than you need. At this rate, I think India might pass us by.

    As for what poverty means, I’m just using the dictionary definition here, which is defined by income. I think you mean more of a ‘poverty of spirit’ thing, which is outside the scope of a post on the iPad.

  5. Matt Moran

    I’m not getting one because it doesn’t do anything I need, costs too much, doesn’t fit in my pocket and isn’t versatile enough to replace the laptop. It’s a disappointing piece of frippery – what we all really wanted was a MacBook with a touchscreen & no keyboard. Instead we got an overpriced & bulky iPhone.

  6. tony

    I am unemployed, perpetually broke, couchsurfing, in debt and yet would never consider myself “poor” or use the word “poverty” except when being ironic. I’ve worked with people who are truly poor, experiencing real poverty and it is qualitatively another universe from what I (and I suspect you) deal with, and I think it is an important thing to distinguish.

    No matter how much I fuck up, I will not be hitting bottom. I don’t come from any money, but my meager family would pitch in if a car ran me over tomorrow, my friends provide crash space when I blow into town to chase whatever silly opportunity has my attention, there are people I can borrow money from, and I have a handful of skills that even in this economy can still put some gas in the car and beer in the belly. And based on the prominent names I’ve seen RT your post today I’d say you’re in a much stronger position than I.

    I don’t necessarily want to argue about a definition of poor/poverty versus my preferred “merely broke”, but I think people in my position should be cautious about framing ourselves as part of an underclass merely because our many friends still participate in more aspects of the shrinking economy than we do. We have a loooonnng way to fall before we can claim kinship with the truly destitute, and most of us would find some tribe to share a liferaft with before the worst befalls us.

    p.s. – I really want an iPad.

  7. Damien Stolarz

    This post could apply to any expensive product.

    But I don’t agree that poor people don’t spend money on this sort of thing.

    I’ve seen many poor pay their expensive cable bill. And console game systems.

    To the degree that the iPad has “exclusive content” (define that however you want), the poorest of people may well figure out how to pay for exclusive content.

    Craigslist has taught me how vibrant the market is for intrinsicly $600 iPhones.

    The iPhone has been cracked so many ways, and millions of people have jailbroken and unlocked phones. And many of these in the US are on their cheaper T-mobile plan, can’t afford to switch, even using pre-paid.

    Apple doesn’t quite ‘leave the key under the mat’ but the reality is you can do whatever you want with an iPhone. I bought one for my kids for $40 on craigslist with a slightly cracked screen.

    I just can’t believe there won’t be a vibrant aftermarket for iPads amongst so-called “poor people”.

  8. Bob

    This is the first time I’ve come across your blog, but you seem like someone I’d want to be friends with, someone who actually gets it.

    I’ll fess up (as an anonymous coward, commenting on a blog with his first name only…) when the original iPhone came out, seeing all the pictures of line-ups actually ENRAGED me that so many people could just whip out $600 at a moments notice for a new cellphone. It made me feel very small and pathetic.

    And yes, I too say this as somoeone whose job is supposedly a “technology journalist.” One of the problems I have these days is that most of my “colleagues” these days are marketers masquerading as journalists who make a marketers salary and don’t get it.

    That said, I don’t begrudge others for getting an iPad, but the “future of media” I don’t think it is either. It might cost more in the long run, but it still makes more sense to me to feed a few quarters into a newspaper box. (Yeah, I pretty much see the iPad as an e-reader. My three-year old laptop still has more power as a computer, so why would I use it for anything else, anyway?)

    So, thank you for coming up and saying what I lack the balls the say…

  9. r

    im not poor. in fact im pretty well off and its not because i get paid a lot. im well off because i dont waste my money overpriced gadgets whose main purpose seems to be entertaining people to death and charging for every second of it.

  10. Russell Nelson

    Yes, there’s something to be said for sticking to the dictionary definitions of words, but in the case of poverty, I don’t think it’s explicating.

    Interesting that most of our rags-to-riches stories came from a century ago, before we decided that markets needed to be regulated by governments instead of customers. I’m thinking that was a wrong turn, but we just repeated it last week.

  11. Robynn

    I like and appreciate the tone of this piece, and i think it’s a common sense view of “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality of most early adopters. It’s illogical, because new tech is hardly ever that good in version 1.0, and in six months there will be a better product, for cheaper – and there where are you? Stuck with outdated technology that is worth half what you paid for it. The impulse buy is behind a lot of our economic troubles in this country and the massive amounts of debts that people shoulder, simply for toys that don’t really do anything to improve the quality of their lives. So I fully support the message behind this post.

    However, I will say that you don’t have to be wealthy to use Apple products if you choose to. I’ve never purchased a new Mac, all my Apple products were bought either through ebay or through Apple’s own refurbished section of the online store and I’ve never had an issue. My iPod is refurbished, my iPhone is a hand me down (someone else in the family got 3Gs, and AT&T happily moved my sim card (from my refurbished $30 phone) to his old phone, I still use a G3 iMac that was under 100 dollars on ebay, and my main machine is a G5 that was fast in 2004. All these products still do exactly what I need them to, and they didn’t cost me high Apple prices.

  12. A.Lizard

    You should consider collecting your observations about ‘technology for the rest of us’ into a book and looking for an agent. or going the self-published route via lulu… and spend the extra money for a publishing package with ISBN so if things pick up, people will be able to buy direct through local bookstores once you’ve got some buzz built up.

    I heard about this article through a friend, if this is typical of what you write, I’m sure there’s a market.

    You’re dead on with respect to the iPad, I’ve seen tablets for sale for 1/2 or less the iPad cost for years, it’s merely that before Apple put money into PR, there was never any mass consciousness with respect to what a tablet can be used for. And of course, given that the electronics are essentially the same, ANY netbook manufacturer can go into the tablet business and I expect that they ALL will.

    I’d give more detailed advice, but my published work has been all magazine-length stuff submitted directly to editors.

    Even a few grand worth of advance (which is all a typical book writer will get from any given published book) would probably be helpful to you.

  13. quinn Post author

    Marco: generally true, but I think the poor generally get more value for their entertainment money than for necessities, where being poor is more expensive than being rich.

    tony: I understand the difference, intimately, but I really, actually am poor and have been most of my life. I know, I know, given that my social connections are unusual. More about this in future posts.

    Damien: I feel like there’s a lot of really subtle things about poverty you’ve not yet learned about. There’s assumptions in the way you talk about which are simply beyond my powers to address in this medium, but I think you’d find learning more about it interesting. I can suggest a few books, like The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David Shipler, or possibly nearly anything by Upton Sinclair. True, not contemporary, but amazing. A lot of people really like Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. I have issues with it, but they probably aren’t materially important for your purposes.

    Bob: thanks. Please don’t ever feel less-than for not having money. Papa Hemingway was right, and Fitzgerald was wrong.

    Russ: explicate is a verb, the gerund form doesn’t do what you’re trying to do with it, and it needs an object. Also, it feels like you’re trying to lay bait by talking about healthcare in a post on the ipad. (But misusing “explicate” is probably more effective for baiting a writer.)

    A. Lizard: thanks. Someday I am sure I will buckle to the pressure and write a book, but by god, that’s not today.

  14. nik

    Refreshing piece. For the less wealthy and those living in emerging countries like China, I think iPad provides a more affordable opportunity for them to own an Apple “computer” than the Mac family or iPhone. If it’s considered as an alternative to a laptop or netbook, the $499 price doesn’t seem too high.

    Many of them might have an iPod and aspire to owning a Mac computer one day, and the iPad might just be priced low enough for those people. The more important factor might be deciding on what their computing needs were (aka. is it just browsing, email, reading books and light work).

  15. Doug

    Great post. Very interesting to read something that isn’t a typical pro/anti iPad rant, but a thought provoking alternative perspective. Thanks.

  16. Ken Andersen

    Have you thought that the iPad could do more for the poor
    (Children) then the rich. If school books were published on
    an iPad provided and charged up by the school system there
    could be a substantial improvement in the cost, quality and
    value of educational material for the intercity poor.

    Just a thought about how not to raise another generation of poor.

  17. J potts

    Good points and all but you create a wall to isolate yourself. You throw middle class as prevlidged & different from yourself. Yes, dict defines poverty by income. Again you are creating a wall for yourself. Yes, my family is defined as middle class. My father worked 3 jobs and my mom worked 2 jobs to raise our family. Yeah it was tough on them but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. No, I’m not buying an ipad.

  18. Steve Song

    Really enjoyed your article and while I emotionally agreed with it, some of my practical experience differs. When you say “We don’t have any walled gardens in our world, because there’s no margin in controlling things for poor people.”, I can’t help but wonder whether things are so different in the U.S. as to how they are here in South Africa where telecom operators are making a killing on the backs of the poor on the basis of “walled garden” business models. Economists like Dan Ariely have permanently jaundiced my view of the rational purchaser.

  19. Gabor Szabo

    So you consider yourself poor while having an IPhone. There are people out there who could not buy an IPhone from their whole annual income.

    GDP per capita

    We are all very lucky to live in countries where the poor can afford such luxury items, are literate and can blog.

  20. quinn Post author

    Steve: Actually I think there are some really important and interesting differences that way between African telecom and most of the world, namely incredible monopolistic and political powers that seem pretty rare. I don’t know the specifics you’re talking about though, and would love to.

    Gabor: I don’t have an iPhone. But I am literate and can blog.

  21. Benson

    I don’t agree at all, most folks I know (who aren’t rich at all) blow that sort of money on a couple of big nites out or a bi-annual holiday. Most families certainly don’t need 2 cars but they certainly have them. Convenience and style are worth paying for and associating with.

  22. Matt Johnston

    A hundred years ago when I was 12 years old we were affluent enough to go wherever we wanted on holiday, had two cars, big house and lavish Christmas presents – then my dad got sick – and while the NHS took care of his medical bills (proving a point about universal healthcare because otherwise he would have died), the family lost their breadwinner and that put us in severe financial straits. The second car went immediately, the holidays disappeared and Christmas was still bountiful but not lavish.

    But we were never ‘poor’ because that’s a state of mind that never entered our consciousness. We were low income middle class to be sure and surrounded by others who live in social housing and could easily afford big ticket items, satellite TV (when it was new and expensive) and more recently a new mobile phone every six months.

    But I’ve always bought Apple gear because I understand the difference between cheap and inexpensive and Apple has always been good value for money. I’ve been lucky enough to make something of myself over the years – rising from the pretence of middle class and working my ass off strategicaaly so that none of my time is wasted treading water. It means that while the folk I grew up with see the price tag on an item first, I see the long term quality.

    I bought a Netbook and was disappointed. My work provides other technology for me to sample so I at least have choices which are educated. So I will be buying at least one iPad, probably more , because I do not see the value in laptops which are made of shoddy materials and outdated components. I don’t see the value because my study has a desk dedicated to fixing poor technology choices by my friends. It’s populated by DELL, HP, Gateway and Packard Bell and I fix for friends for free because I know sone don’t have much to waste on technology items. Charging them my hourly rate would compound their poor technology choices.

    To my mind, poverty in the West is all in the mind. It is a combination of environment and actions. The poor impulse-buy and buy poorly. They are the victim of salesmen and repairmen who spot their lack of awareness and are happy to fill their pockets while selling the moon. It’s nothing to do with how much money you have – all to do with the way you live your life.

  23. Paul

    I think there is one over-riding issue with the iPad (which Apple’s own predictive text engine thinks should be Olaf!) and it is that nobody NEEDS an iPad but quite a few will WANT one, LESS will actually buy one and even less still will actually find it useful.

    I also cannot look at it without thinking that someone just took an iPod Touch and stretched it out!

  24. Thomas

    Great post – because it is provoking and not polarizing at the same time. In Germany we have the same IPAD HYPE than you have, but I cannot see (in this case) other type of people wishing or even buying an IPAD than type of people wishing or buying a Porsche or Mercedes Benz. You will allways find those kinds of products which are bought by people who can afford it (and often do not estimate it) and people that cannot afford it. Nothing new.
    By the way – when you are able to write such a post and you find such people RT ing it – you are by far not “poor”. In my opinion financial poverty is the cause of intellectual poverty (however it came to it). Nothing I can see in your case.

  25. A-Droid

    I would write at least a few sentences about Android when speaking against the iPad.
    Upcoming Android tablets are a huge reason not to buy an iPad in my opinion.

  26. Richard

    The only point I would make is that I have actually known quite a few less well-off and even homeless folks to own Apple products — that is, “obsolete” hand-me-down models. I think this is because Apple computers tend to have a longer usable life than PCs – the chassis and cases are good materials and well-constructed, and one benefit of the closed universe of Apple is that older software, apps, and processors tend to chug along usefully for a longer time without the need for constant compatibility and driver updates. I mean, Apple stuff requires updating too, just not nearly as often.

  27. rantersparadise

    A friend emailed this to me.

    @ matt johnstone

    I think you’re a little to black and white about the poor in the UK. It’s very different to the US.

    1) We have the dole
    2) We have a society that is entrenched in class. Look at our goovernment, or who runs certain types of the media. All went to the same schools or Universities. Not saying it isn’t the same in the US but I remember a really interesting post about the amount of Guradian writers who all went to Cambride, something like 90% at top level. The other 10% was Oxford, Durnham or UCL.

    Furthermore, when you talk of the ‘poor’ being duped, I would say that is humans in general. People are constantly being duped into buying more or dating someone who looks like this or buying into that lifestyle. It’s just that different tagrets for different sectors. What that is, we call the free market capitalist society. A smart business person goes where there is demand. That’ all.

    I’m poor. Poor because I am poor. It’s factual and logical and has nothing to do with what I read or is going on in my head. I struggle to get work and so live hand to mouth.

    I’m lucky in that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing different facets of society deeply and that could be because I am always an outsider.

    It’s complex because it’s not narrow like so many middle class people-went to private schools but didn’t have the money to do anything…father had money, mother wasn’t great at keeping money.

    Things happen. That’s life.

  28. Bryce

    Matt: I would like to draw your attention to the Sam Vimes theory of economic injustice: http://wiki.lspace.org/wiki/Sam_Vimes_Theory_of_Economic_Injustice

    When you’re in poverty, even when you recognize that the quality of the more expensive item means that you end up with a lower total cost of ownership, it doesn’t matter, because you can only scrape together enough for the cheap knockoff.

    Sam Vimes’ case mimicked my own. Like him, I used to buy cheap, $20 pairs of shoes, and wear through each pair in about six months. About four years ago, I accidentally stumbled onto what should have been a $100 pair of shoes. I’m about ready to replace them now, but when you factor in the eight pairs of shoes I didn’t have to go buy and the time and energy I didn’t spend shopping for them, I came out way ahead.

    [aside: New Balance shoes are pretty great, but my sis works for Adidas, which may factor in when I go to get them replaced.]

    I can afford to make these sorts of long-term investments right now, because I’m making enough to get by. If you don’t have enough, if you’re living from paycheck to paycheck, even perfectly sensible, meager investments like CFLs suddenly become A Big Deal. Sure, the $4 bulb might save you $50 over a several year haul. But you only have fifty cents now.

    Homeless people encounter this phenomenon constantly. While they might occasionally have access to free food through charity (both formal and informal), they probably spend more on food than most people. They can’t keep a pantry, and they can’t refrigerate their food, so they end up buying a lot of fast food and throwing a lot of it away.

    Eh, well. We’re talking about the iPad here, and the only people who might be making a strategic, long-term investment on that are iPad developers.

  29. Shava Nerad

    Thanks for this. I am currently supporting my Parkinson’s-afflicted 89yo mom, my disabled fiance, and a 17yo son, all living in one very loving household, while I’m struggling mostly on my own to file patents and start up a company I refuse to give up on – with my freelancing/consulting basically dried up this past year. I don’t see much of many of my friends because socializing means spending grocery money. The last day or so of Twitter has been aggravating – not only because I can’t help thinking that 2-3 iPads would catch me up on back rent/utilities, but because my usual timeline of thoughtful tweets from smart, observant people is just rife with apple koolaid. The hugest news could have happened in the world or my community in the last 24h and we’d never know, because it’s geek xmas on Easter.

  30. Dylan tweney

    The way I put it in my headline on Wired.com is that the iPad is a gorgeous luxury. It’s really very well designed, and a delight to use, but there is nobody (apart from gadget bloggers like me) who really needs to get one.

    But the price will come down, and there will be competitors and knock-offs. When that happens I expect a lot of people, including poor people, will get one. And I hope lots of people do. It’s like a television, in a way, in that its a passive entertainment device, mostly. But it’s a TV you can talk back to, like I’m doing right now. I hope that makes a difference in long run.

  31. Justin C. Houk

    Great piece of persuasive writing. I don’t buy that you are poor and can then write from the perspective of the poor. Not saying your are dishonest or lack principle. I’m sure your writing is from your true perspective. I don’t know you personally so I have no idea what your background is. Perhaps I’m wrong and you can correct me.

    From your writing you seem like and educated or very well read person. The way you describe yourself here is using technology to make a living or get by. Sorry, but the truly poor really don’t have that level of empowerment (although they might if they believed in themselves more).

    If you want to say the iPad is an expensive device then that’s ok with me. For now you are correct. I don’t think that you capture what it means to be poor in this post.

  32. Naveen JP

    Nice post, I hope the post gets atleast some people thinking about concepts (basic?) such as class, social mobility and related things as this is a realm where people otherwise invoke “culture” to explain things.

  33. Leo Dirac

    Great post, Quinn. I do see a place for iPad in the lives of people on budgets. The data plans are serious bargains. I don’t know of any other way in this country to get mobile net access for $15/mo — it’s not unlimited, but if you’re not consuming media, it’s probably sufficient. Even the full plan at $30/mo for many people is less than their broadband line at home. Somebody who bought an iPad to replace the data plan on their phone and their DSL line would be saving some real money — monthly payments, not just a one-time fee.

    The Cupertino Politburo’s approval of Line2 on iPhone indicates that the iPad might become usable as a VOIP device as well, which could lead to even more savings. Sure it doesn’t offer nearly the flexibility of a real laptop, or the portability of a smartphone. But the possibility of getting all your electronic communications needs satisfied for $30/month will definitely appeal to a bunch of low income people.

    1. quinn Post author

      Leo: That’s really interesting, and it’s actually the kind of interesting hack I find, but unless something like this is explicitly marketed to the poor there’s little chance they’ll ever know about it. And there’s a reason for that- these economics probably don’t work out to the margins Apple and AT&T like if too many people use them. If you market successfully to the poor, you have to have a metric bloody fuckton of capacity. There’s a lot of us.

  34. Russell Nelson

    Bryce, this is exactly what my father-in-law used as an example: poor people buy cheap shoes that don’t last because they can’t afford $100 shoes that do last. And he grew up in the Great Depression where they were picking berries for their dinner, which meant that they didn’t leave just because a bear was on the other side of the berry patch.

  35. Russell Nelson

    quinn, not trying to bait, just pointing out that social mobility was easier when our economy was controlled more by customers than by government. I don’t trust government. The bigger the government, the less I trust it. I also don’t trust big businesses. Back when Intel was king of the hill, I went out of my way to buy second-tier CPUs, to encourage competition. I really like that the iPad uses an ARM rather than the Intel Atom. Basically I don’t trust deep hierarchies where there are many layers between me and the people directing the institution. You can call it socialism or you can call it capitalism; whatever it is, I don’t like it.

    See? I didn’t say h**lth c*r* once.

    So, thinking about it this way, plus the shoes example of Bryce’s, this device is still a luxury because nobody has to have anything like it. But once this device category becomes important to have, the Apple will still have value just as Matt said, because Apple products are typically sturdier. Will that value translate into something the poor can afford? Maybe it will when the iPad 2 comes out and the early adopters drop theirs on ebay.

    And pthththth on the gerund form. That dog don’t hunt.

  36. Pablo

    Cool post and all, but being from Argentina, deep south of South America (and better than other South American countries in economic terms) your argument about “the poor” sounds more like a lower middle class, at best. The poor in Argentina sometimes have cell phones (sometimes stolen, sometimes legal, always on pre-paid cards, never smartphones) and kids access the Internet because Internet cafes offer it at 50 cents of a dollar per hour, but they are poor in the sense that getting money for a daily meal for them and their children is a challenge.

    They don’t have social networks of wealth, opportunity and access that help them out the way you seem to take for granted: when they fall through the cracks, there is no net to hold them. Their children literally starve to death – I would say open technologies are the least important thing in the universe for them.

    They’re lucky that our country has universal, free health care and education, otherwise they would be illiterate and die in the streets from treatable conditions (more often than they do – hospital access is not perfect). We are, in that sense, a lucky country, and our infrastructure is solid yet existent. Ask Haiti how they feel about the iPad versus an open source model for gadgets. They will be too busy to answer, I guess.

    I am not fighting over definitions, but it’s just that every time you say “poor” I think it should say “the relatively less afluent people in an afluent society”. And there’s a HUGE difference.

    1. quinn Post author

      Pablo: I very much respect that poor means different things in every society in the world. For instance my father made enough money to buy things people would struggle to get in Argentina, but died (in the streets of Arizona, ironically) of a treatable condition, because he couldn’t afford treatment or insurance. It is insane in that in a wealthy country, we let our poor die this way, when a much more poor country like Argentina at least makes an effort to take care of its own. But it’s also not something the American poor can do anything about.

      Sure, in America it’s not that hard to make, say, $300 a month, but in most cities, you’re still sleeping in the streets at that point. Poverty is to some degree relative, always.

  37. Tim

    This is a fantastic post analyzing the role of class in technology (I hope you do more!). However, I’m not at all convinced that there will never be a “walled garden” for the poor. The issue is not safety (though this is how it is couched today for the those who buy an iPad) but control. And society is all about controlling the poor.

    The relevant precedent is not the Sidekick, but radio (which, in the late 19th and early 20th century was identical to the internet of today). This changed after WWI though a combination of technological “advances” and legal controls. Modern media companies make their money by controlling content and the iPad represents the first device that suggests they might be able to do this. I see no financial reason why internet consumption cannot go the way of radio, tv, and film.

    I really hope you are right (and I’m wrong), but I’m expecting the worst.

    Thanks again for the post!

  38. I Heart Monster

    I have nothing negative to say about your perspective. I don’t agree with all of it, but I’m not going to try to fight you on it. I respect your stance. I don’t want an iPad because 1) I hate Apple, and 2) I agree that iPads do nothing that my laptop or netbook won’t do and are therefore a waste of money.

    Here’s the only thing I find bothersome: (In some future post I’ll try to explain why there is no point in me (& many others) trying to save or work my way out of the Trap, but that’s for another time)

    There is always a point in trying to better yourself and your situation. You are obviously well-spoken and possess critical thinking skills. To not attempt to better your situation because of a perceived ceiling in your self-appointed “class” seems sad to me.

    I live a financially comfortable life, but only because I am frugal and I have made sacrifices, HUGE sacrifices to get here. I was the dictionary definition of poor for a very very long time. On the flipside of what you wrote and kind of near what Damien said, I see my friends who are on welfare and public healthcare paying for cable, getting surgeries that I cannot afford, and buying technology that I couldn’t possibly justify, but then asking me for money to pay their electric bill the next month. I think it’s just important to remember that there are exceptions to both of our paradigms and that we need to respect everyone’s point of view even if we spy an inherent flaw in their logic.(not saying that I do in yours, just in general)

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  39. white dogs

    I think the points you make about the functioning poor and technology are well taken, and I’m certainly not questioning your stated economic status. But this seems like some measure of poor mouthing here. You can not only afford suitable technology for running a blog, you can afford internet access and your own web site. There are plenty of poor people for whom the big concern is eating and heat. There is a perceptual difference between being poor and being not rich.

    1. quinn Post author

      white dogs: I don’t pay for any of those things. It’s a false choice- any literate American with library access can blog, even if they’re cold and hungry.

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