in life, observations, philosophy, tech

The Decreasing Value of Physical Goods

Today, most of us are spending so much time online and on our smart devices that I feel that the value of physical items in our lives has decreased a lot. A few days ago, a friend took me to a store in the 29th street mall. It was a toy store that opened just for the holidays and on that day, everything in the store was 50% off. Needless to say, most of the store was empty, toys and funny calendars having been bought by people taking advantage of the sale. I bought a nice glass chess set on the cheap and then had a chat with the store owner. Apparently, this was a seasonal store that was closing today. She told me that about eleven hundred such stores open across the country during the holiday season and this one was closing that day. Everything that was left today was going back to the factories. I looked around the store for a while. Most of the good stuff that I’d seen in the shop a few days ago was already gone, but a lot of really interesting games and toys were still there.

Looking at the stuff sitting around, I had a thought. Today, the children and even the adults of this generation have discovered software. We’ve found how easy and quick it is to own the latest games and the coolest software. We’re pouring money into apps and tweaks and widgets, knowing that they’re a lot cheaper than spending on new hardware. A new watch on our desktop is literally free but a good new wristwatch will set you back anything from fifty to a couple of hundred dollars. So, we’re all choosing the easy way out and spending on intangible goods. Of course, in the larger sense of it, we aren’t really giving up on physical goods. We still buy a car and a home and buy iPads and computers. But beyond that, we’ve stopped valuing physical goods. A great game of scrabble with the family? Been years since I heard about that. A good round of Uno? Let’s do that on our iPhones. It seems our priorities are shifting from actual physical stuff to software.

I’m not really trying to say that this is bad. As we move to better technology, a lot of things change. When once, people were happy travelling in horse carriages, technology gave them faster and dirtier ways to travel. Today, I read about Apple’s record-breaking news. 40 Billion app downloads tells us one thing – People have accepted this technological change and are building their lives around it. People are investing in good apps and services and accepting that their data is in their phones or iPads or in the cloud. Dropbox is doing big business not just because it’s a good service but also because people have decided that there’s more value in saving their pictures and information in the cloud where it’s easily accessible anywhere instead of saving it in diaries, notebooks or a scratchpad.

In the last century, we’ve made amazing jumps in computer technology that have brought us to this place today where we’ve got more processing power in the palm of our hands than an entire University did twenty years ago. We’ve also got more capability and design in a single app than entire printing presses did during Gutenberg’s time. Technology is simplifying, extending and increasing our processing, storage and imagination. But all of this is taking us away from the real and into the realm of the imaginary. Anyone can come up with a new app, a better service or a more fun game and that transience will only lead us to losing the value of each of our possessions. This just reminds me of an anecdote – my latest, snazzy, stylish sneakers will last me only a couple of months but my Dad’s old white running shoes are still pristine since twenty years. We’ve got much better and interesting possessions but are they really worth it? When I was walking out, I wished the owner goodbye and said that I’ll meet her next year. She only said, “Other stores will open next year. This one, maybe not.”