Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Bad news for consumerism: Everything’s good enough.

I am well aware of the history of the term ‘640k is enough for everyone’, so hold your horses in your excitement to post it as a ‘gotcha’ response. I would like to lay out a case for a big slowdown in consumer spending, and put it to you, the reader, that although often we are wrong when we predict such things, this is not always the case. We have not all rushed out and bought 3D TVs, as predicted. We did not all buy VR headsets. I have still only seen a single folding phone in the wild…

I’m in the economically enviable position of having some spare cash which, in previous years I would probably have put towards buying some new thing that I coveted. Maybe a new TV, or phone, or gaming PC or laptop, or whatever. However, I am definitely noticing that this is slowing down, at least for me. Maybe this is an age thing? but maybe not…

I’ve had a bunch of mobile phones over the years, right back to the first actually practical ones, which were given to me at work when I was in IT. They were big, they were dumbphones (no apps or games or internet access), they were heavy, they sucked.

The first phone I had which was a smartphone was a revelation. Then, the next one was much thinner, much lighter, and much more powerful. The last one I bought was a samsung S8. Its amazing. It has bluetooth/wifi it has a fingerprint reader, it has GPS, it has a nice big screen that does face recognition, takes amazing pictures, and videos, can post-process them, and can play games. I use it to control my car, my drone, my lights, my TV, to talk to my solar panels and home battery, to surf the net, and to pay for everything. It charges wirelessly. I record my weight on it, and my steps. I take it everywhere.

I’ve had it years now, and there is basically no reason I can think of to get a new one. At least not yet. I’m not just ‘skipping a generation’, I think I’m at the end. It would be *nice* if the phone battery lasted longer, or if it was a bit thinner or lighter, but its not exactly a hardship now. It charges wirelessly in my car anyway, and its hardly heavy or bulky. It fits easily in a pocket, but its not too small to lose track of. Its thin, but not so thin I can break it.

To get me to buy a new phone, you need to REALLY go nuts on the few things that would improve it. Make the battery last 10x as long, and make it 1/5th the thickness (but same strength) and yeah…MAYBE I would pay the money to buy a brand new phone. I don’t anticipate this being possible in the next 5 years though.

My TV is a 43″ TV. I cant go bigger, because it fits in a small alcove. We sit far enough away from it that a 4K resolution would be pointless. The streaming apps *are* a tad slow on it, but can I really be bothered to set up a new TV, and recycle the old one, and tell alexa about the new one… just for a minor speedup in streaming UI? Not really. If a new TV was FREE, and had a slicker, faster UI, then *maybe* I’d bother. But my current TV does the job well enough.

Its not just these two things.

We bought a toaster years ago that seems indestructible and will probably last as long as me. My gaming PC has ridiculous power, and plays 60FPS Battlefield 2042 even on a 5120 res monitor. This laptop is fairly new, and amazing, and frankly…I am not sure if there is any improvement that is worth paying for. If you gave me a voucher for consumer electronics that I had to spend RIGHT NOW, I honestly struggle to think of anything I’d upgrade. Home theater system is fine and will last forever, alexa works fine…err…don’t bother with bluray player any more. No radios, everything is streamed. Nothing needs upgrading. Nothing.

Now obviously this is not the end of consumerism because a) I’m clearly well-off enough to have bought all this, and many people are not and b) I don’t know what crazy tech may come out soon, but I am definitely noticing a change…

chatgpt is amazing. midjourney is amazing, but these two amazing discoveries don’t require me to buy ANYTHING. The most exciting tech breakthroughs right now seem to be software, not hardware. When I see headlines about CES (Consumer electronics show), it just seems laughable. They are running out of ideas now. I really don’t need a phone that I can fold. I don’t need a 3D TV, I cant be bothered to wear a VR headset to be entertained.

The trouble is, our entire societal model of economics seems to be focused on selling new shiny gadgets to the wealthiest 25%. Thats how the system works. Bored wealthy people buy expensive cool cars which in 10 years time end up in the hands of ordinary people. The trouble is, we have run out of ways to get those wealthy people to trade in their current stuff. Its good enough. People now want ‘experiences’ not a slightly thinner, slightly faster phone.

And yet… there is a ton of work for society to do. So many people do not own a refrigerator, let alone a drone or a VR headset. We need to be addressing that huge swathe of people without the basics of western consumerist culture, not working harder and harder to make VR and the metaverse a thing. To be blunt: we need cheap fridges, not AR goggles.

In theory you can fix this with a lot of high taxes and high welfare, taxing those AR goggles like crazy to fund purchases of ‘my first fridge’. In practice, I think we do need to do that, but ALSO we need a shift in thinking in modern technology companies. For the last 30 years or more, it seems that the assumption in ‘tech’ is that the goal is always to produce some new, amazing cool thing that wows the CEO and impresses everyone in the boardroom. The problem is, everyone in the boardroom is rich.

The future may not be ‘look at these AR goggles, they are phenomenal’, but in fact be ‘look at this ordinary fridge. It was made for $30’. Thats what we NEED, but its not what we are getting. Companies are more excited about new features and functionality, but never about low cost. Tech companies want the specs on new tech to always be higher bigger, better. Hardly anybody talks about affordability, or how cheap something is to run.

I don’t know how the politics of the future will work out. We may end up with UBI and a crazy high tax rate on a super-wealthy 0.1% of the population. Who knows? What I do hope for is a future where technologists and industrialists care more about what the bottom 25% cannot yet afford, rather than what the top 0.1% might buy if you can make something 1% faster.

What about you? do you have a big long wishlist of stuff you wish you could afford on amazon? or are you quite happily reading this on a 3 year old phone or 4 year old laptop?

9 thoughts on Bad news for consumerism: Everything’s good enough.

  1. > look at this ordinary fridge. It was made for $30

    I am not an economics expert and probably will be wrong here. I think everyone prefers to sell 10 fridges for $3000 each to selling of 1000 fridges for $30 each, because that way they can save on shared costs, like transport, support, warehousing, or salespeople. On a capitalist society where money and power is concentrated at the top it is in your on best interest to serve and cater for the elites.

    1. You are right, but ii’m hoping its possible to get tech to work in the same way as other industries? For example, we can get food VERY cheap, compared to 100 years ago, and plastic is stupidly cheap. Some stuff, like lighting and clean water, is so cheap its practically free, but tech is still focused on high end stuff.

  2. Reading this on a Samsung S8, I agree with your points. They are the same ones that I’ve been trying to articulate after noticing that I don’t feel the same urge to upgrade gadgets as I did ten years before, despite having disposable income.

  3. I’m in the same boat as you. Even paying for experiences doesn’t hold terribly much appeal because that often involves travel and we’re trying to avoid flying as much as possible. Not to mention that travelling with kids is always a hassle.

    I really do hope for a societal shift. The ultimate promise of technology has always been more leisure time for everyone. So far what we got instead is a much longer lever for the fortunate few and a correspondingly enormous concentration of wealth. I doubt that UBI will end up being the solution, but it is obvious to me that we need to fundamentally rethink how we structure society and the economy. True artificial general intelligence will only exacerbate that. Whoever ends up controlling that will effectively be commanding an infinite army of slaves. That is tremendously powerful.

  4. I agree with your point about us reaching diminishing returns in the various megapixel races going on in consumer electronics. And attractive new features are becoming more rare, in my subjective experience.

    But I don’t think the entire tech world has missed an opportunity to sell stuff to poor people, and price of electronics has definitely dropped dramatically over the last few decades. Refrigerators seem to have dropped by two thirds since the seventies. Smartphones (at least android) have dropped by 50% the last decade.


    I couldn’t find a source for VC spending, but my experience is that there’s a lot of demand for startups doing poverty-tackling stuff, although most of it seems to be battling climate change.

  5. Sliding scale from gadgets to content.
    I’m glad I don’t need to get new stuff even with 2009-grade hardware. Streaming will amplify this. Tech’s been good for awhile now.

  6. Samsung Galaxy S8 got its last official update in April 2021. Sure, there was a security hotfix released in August 2022 but eventually it will be bricked by software incompatibilities even if it’s in good condition otherwise. It really sucks.

  7. Planned obsolescence, unfortunately, is a thing. I’m happy that your old phone still works so well, but it is not designed to last forever… just to make sure you will buy a new one eventually.

    Writing this on a 3-4yo Fairphone 2 btw, but it is slowing down…

  8. Not really on the same page on the “it’s good enough atm” side of things, but definitely of the same opinion in that things are being developed in an absolutely asinine way.

    I still rock a flip phone; if I’m not home or capable of sitting down in front of a PC, in my opinion, there is no reason for me to seek out the internet. I don’t need to take photos and publish them, I don’t need any games or apps on the go (imagination is a great thing), hell, nobody even has my phone number because its only purpose is emergency calls.

    I am vehemently opposed to anything “smart” ever entering my domicile – the only reason my TV can do YouTube is because there simply was no non-smart TV to buy at the store at the time.

    Even most of my PC doings are ancient. I have a 2003 iMac solely to play 25+ year old games in a decent, non-virtualized environment. Even with modern games, the most recent one I own that isn’t a free-to-play MMO or something is from 2021.

    A lot of companies are trying to build a future that I not only do not need, but actively despise. Never mind having an amazon (which I also hate :P) wishlist, with the way it’s going I’m more likely to have a wishlist of things 10+ years old than a wishlist for anything recent…

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