Amazon vs Apple AKA Jeff Bezos vs No Direction AKA The Evolution Economy vs The Leisure Economy

Amazon vs Apple isn’t really worth discussing. Yet, the main stream press keep discussing it.

There’s an article today from one of the TechCrunch guys writing about how much profit Apple is going to make in the holiday quarter and how little profit Amazon will make. It’s a general theme that constantly amazes me – Apple is finally successful. Why still try to show you’re superior?

If your sense of worth doesn’t flow from inside yourself then at least having $60 billion cash in the bank should fill that hole in your soul.

It makes you wonder exactly why Apple and Apple people need to trumpet how amazing and revolutionary Apple products are.

Did electricity have to send out a Press Release touting why it’s better than candle light? Did the wheel hold a fancy presentation to tout how much better it is than square-shaped transportation attachments?

When it strikes you the answer becomes apparent. When what you are doing isn’t really permanent then you have to constantly pretend it is. To feel good about yourself.

Bill Gates left the PC Wars to try to find cures for Malaria and Cancer and solve the really big problems. Perhaps nothing comes of it. Perhaps something does. If he does manage to achieve even one of his big targets (cure malaria, cure cancer, create a culture of billionaires pledging half of their money to such causes) then he would have done something that is perhaps far more important than putting a computer on every desk (which he did do).

Jeff Bezos is doing a lot of things that potentially have huge long-term impacts i.e. Blue Origin (space), Kindle (the future of books), AWS (a move to a cloud infrastructure), the future of retail. He doesn’t need to pose in a half-lit room and show the world how zen-buddhist cool he is. Because if Blue Origin ends up being one of the winners in the Space Race or Amazon takes over retail or Kindle replaces paper – every single person for the next 5,000 years will know who he is.

He’s even building a clock that will work for 10,000 years. Perhaps that helps explain why he doesn’t care what the leeches and parasites of Wall Street think about his plan to invest in the future.

Google, despite the distinct possibility that it becomes the Matrix, is doing Search and Maps and Self-Driven Cars and lots of Translation work and a lot of information organization and gathering.

***

When you do stuff that has really big impact and are focused on the really long-term – you don’t need the validation of short-term success. Things like popularity and acceptance and being cool are pretty meaningless.

Note: We aren’t judging here. Every person is different and some people want to be Prom Queen and some want to write a book that is timeless. Everything is fine. The problem is when you try to have your cake and eat it too. The Prom Queen should stop insisting that her winning the Prom Queen title is timeless and as significant as Shakespeare writing Macbeth.

Let’s consider someone who isn’t making pretty gadgets and isn’t considered the Technological God of the current generation and is relatively unknown – Elon Musk.

This is what he wrote about what areas he chose to focus on (courtesy Wikipedia) -

His undergraduate degrees behind him, and drawing inspiration from innovators such as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla; Musk then considered three areas he wanted to get into that were “important problems”, as he said later, “One was the Internet, one was clean energy, and one was space.”.

These are the companies he’s part of or owns (or was part of): SpaceX (which won that multi-billion dollar contract from NASA to handle space launches), Tesla (the electric car frontrunner, in most people’s opinion), SolarCity (one of the largest solar panel installers), PayPal (which did something pretty impressive).

Not many people know of him because he isn’t really focusing on ‘making people happy for the short-term with shiny gadgets’. Conversely, he probably has little need to gain ‘the love of the common people’ and be considered ‘the greatest technology person alive’. If even one of his two main bets works out – then every single person for the next 10,000 years will know who he is.

Here’s the crux of the argument:

If Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin become 2 of the big winners in the Space Race. If Bill Gates cures some major disease and sets up the richest fund ever for the good of humankind. Will anyone remember who made the Walkman or made the prettiest Tablet?

That, in a nutshell, is why the consumerist culture engine is so focused on taking the Vatican of Consumerist Culture and portraying it as life-changing and revolutionary. It’s a futile attempt but impressive. There’s probably a maker of pure ivory tools from prehistoric times who wishes he had the same marketing engine – He’s convinced that if he did, then today his pure ivory nutcracker made from only the finest Mastodon teeth would be considered more important than the wheel.

***

All of this leads to a brief detour.

Amazon vs Apple is meaningless. Jeff Bezos is still here to build Amazon into something (and Charlie Rose really should ask him this the next time he goes on the show) that lasts longer than his 10,000 Year Clock.

Steve Jobs built something that now has no head. It’s literally a giant stack of money and 5 years of plans for fancy gadgets and then nothing. It’s a Validation Providing Engine without the one person who most understood the need for validation and how to provide it.

Jobs-less Apple will release an easier to use and prettier TV and will then claim that TV was nothing before this. That making remote controls easy to use was the real magic. That Baird and Farnsworth and everyone else were minor contributors. But no one at Apple now knows how to link Apple TV to people’s need for validation – not without letting people realize it’s just a pipeline of Validation sent out by and connected to the Vatican of Consumerism.

Without Steve Jobs there is only reality and reality does not treat Validation Engines very well.

Amazon vs Apple is such a concern for the main stream press for this precise reason. If Apple’s Press Acolytes really thought Amazon was not a danger they would be indifferent. Truth is that they are scared out of their wits because Jeff Bezos might beat Apple’s Validation Engines with his Value Engines.

It’s bad enough he doesn’t have Time Magazine spend 25 hours lining up the perfect photo to show how artistic and cool he is. What’s worse – he doesn’t care about profit or the short-term.

Enough of this pointless detour. Let’s get to the real story.

***

The Evolution Economy vs The Leisure Economy

There are two warring viewpoints trying to take over the world.

The Leisure Economy

Everything is fine. We are never going to have any problems. We have evolved enough and now we can just sit back and enjoy. The Human Race has reached its zenith and it’s either going to last forever OR it’s not our problem.

It’s the Leisure Economy. If it weren’t for those annoying greedy parasites on Wall Street – every person would have enough for a comfortable life and we could just worship Angry Birds champions and write about how the person who thought up virtual goods is more important than the person who invented the wheel.

It’s perfectly OK – We each have the option to choose any view-point we like. And we have the right to choose our heroes and Gods.

The Evolution Economy

Humans as a race need to keep evolving. All this worship of the present and thinking the American Idol winner is more important than your parents is getting out of hand. If teachers and policemen and doctors and librarians are considered worthless, and actors and musicians and people good at hitting a ball are worshipped, then it’s a warning sign.

People with this viewpoint look around and wonder -

What happens if we need another Planet? As in – really, really need another planet so we can survive as a species. Then they start thinking Space. Or, if they are elected officials focused only on the next election, and on pleasing their Wall Street overlords, they disband our Space programs and hope someone else will solve the problem.

What happens if we run out of Oil? Apart from minor inconveniences such as not being able to drive to MacDonalds we would have more serious issues like not being able to transport anything. Literally everything runs on Oil (including several governments ;) ).

What happens with our water situation? A lot of people are dying (literally) because they can’t get any drinking water. If the absolutely imaginary global warming continues/happens/magically appears and the areas affected expand – what then? Would Consumerist Culture Jesus appear and turn wine into pure water?

It’s quite a long list. It’s also a list that we should pay at least a tiny bit of attention to. If not for ourselves, then for our kids. If not for our kids, then for whatever reason excites your fancy.

The Leisure Economy is very seductive

Who wants to believe in a world where things are hard. Reality is terrible. It’s like that person you really like who is crazy enough to not like you back. Love only hurts the heart – reality hurts every single part.

It’s much easier to embrace the fantasies and imaginary adventures of the Leisure Economy.

To believe that the biggest challenges your grandkids will face is choosing what color of iCar to buy and deciding whether to enter the Google matrix at 11 or wait until 21.

Perhaps people like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates and Elon Musk are wrong. We truly have reached a Leisure Economy and nothing will go wrong and everyone will wake up and the World Peace fairy would have made everyone good and kind and benevolent. The Earth will never change its weather patterns. Asteroids will always stop at red lights. Sea Water will become drinkable. And that crazy man who was turning leaves into Oil will turn out to be right.

It is however, a very dangerous bet to make. We can look back all through history and the few times a Civilization reached riches like ours (Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, etc.) – it didn’t turn out well. The Barbarians at the Gate didn’t have iPads or Angry Birds.

On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.

What accelerates things is when a species starts believing the illusion that there is no timeline. We are God’s chosen people and unlike every other empire and species before us we shall remain untouched.

Dinosaurs never had iPads. Otherwise they could have just used the iPads as shields when the Asteroids hit. All our human experience of playing Space Invaders will surely pay off.

That really is the belief amongst people who believe a bit too much in the Leisure economy – the voices of the American Idol singers and the bats of the Red Sox and Yankees and the iPods we throw out into Space will stop the Asteroid. Then they will fall back as a mix of pure oil and pure water and also cleanse any thoughts of war from the minds of the entire human race.

Our Species is safe. If that annoying Ice Age starts creeping up on us our rappers will just smile at it and their gold teeth will scare it back.

***

Should we really be thinking beyond the next 50 years?

It’s a good question. Probably depends on whether you have kids. Whether you think the human race deserves to live on.

What about beyond today?

An even better question. Wish I knew the answer to that.

***

Reasons a Leisure Economy is Unsustainable

Even if we do magically reach a perfectly balanced and perfectly secure Leisure Economy where every single person is happy and has enough money to buy a Maybach with platinum rims and 3D TVs, there are still a few problems.

  1. A Black Swan event. Nassim Nicholas Taleb would explain this a 1,000 times better. In a nutshell – we might have the perfect world and annoying Earth might decide to go into an Ice Age and freeze us all to death. Or an Asteroid might hit. Or a virus might evolve faster than our defences and our medicines. Or a thousand different things. Low probability but if a black swan hits the Leisure Economy – The End, My Friend.
  2. Wall Street Banker Syndrome. We’ve spent so much time as a species fighting for resources and fighting with each other that it’ll be impossible for people to live happily in a Leisure Economy. You’ll want more and your neighbours will want even more and the chain continues until people think 100 million kids dying due to poverty is fine because they need to make money on commodities trading.
  3. War. This is not about inequality but a difference in opinions. Look at the world around us. The only thing saving us is that one country has huge military superiority. If we are unlucky enough to reach a state during our lifetimes where the Middle East and/or China become as powerful as the US, then all dreams of the Leisure Economy’s permanence will be permanently shattered. To be absolutely blunt – all those people working 70 hours a week making iPods and iPhones and Kindles and Xboxes might not treat us very well if they become the most powerful country in the world.

There’s a long list but it mostly stems from the fact that humans are used to competing with each other, for fighting for things, and to the Feudal model (Kings and Lords ruling over the peasants). There are also a lot of things going on that we ignore but shouldn’t (the race against viruses and parasites, the Earth itself, the energy situation).

Does that leave only the Evolution Economy?

That would be brutal. To find out that the only way for the human race to survive is to keep doing what it’s been doing (working and improving and evolving and doing things other than killing the time).

That people will have to keep inventing wheels and steam engines and electricity and airplanes and cars. That doctors and scientists will have to keep making medicines and discoveries. That we can’t all just sit and design ever prettier toys.

That’s a real bummer. Instead of having 7 billion people spending all their time figuring out how to amuse each other, we might be forced to evolve as a race and do boring things like explore space and the oceans and discover new technologies and sciences.

It almost suggests that we will bifurcate. This is where it starts getting really interesting.

The Evolution Economy AND The Leisure Economy

You could argue this is already happening.

25% of people choose the Evolution Economy. They build flying cars and fly to Mars and discover how to purify sea water and find new energy sources.

74% of people prefer the illusion that everything is perfect and they just need to think about the next ballgame and the next device upgrade and the next mortgage payment.

1% of people realize that there is a lot more money, in the short-term, in providing the above 74% people with the dream-illusion of the Leisure economy. That if you make a device shiny enough and market it well enough – the 74% will start thinking it’s as revolutionary as Electricity and the Steam Engine. That if you conjure up fantasies that are compelling and easy then the 74% will leave behind the harsh reality of the real world and embrace the fantasies.

That really is where I think the world will end up.

25% will choose reality and live in the real world and be part of the Evolution Economy.

1% will cater to the 74% that don’t like Reality – they will create a perfect matrix where you might be in vat of fluid the size of a coffin but you think you are flying to Switzerland for a ski in the afternoon and then walking on a farm in Wisconsin in the evening and finishing up by having dinner in Paris. Every day is just perfect and, to your senses, perfectly real.

It’s free choice – And it’s understandable.

It’s also completely natural that for people who choose the Leisure Economy the real heroes and Gods are the 1% who create it.

People in the Evolution Economy might find it strange that in the Leisure Economy the heroes are the ones who can allay the Satanic evil of boredom, even if just for a few minutes. But that really is the crux of the Leisure economy.

Everything is taken care of. No risks. No worries. Just Leisure. The highest goal anyone can achieve is fending off the terribleness of boredom and attaining the nirvana of being entertained. The 1% will figure out a way. To take all the drives and instincts built up over millions of years of fighting off saber toothed tigers and building cities and raising families. A way to channel them into fighting off Green Pigs and building virtual farms and raising imaginary children who never become ungrateful teenagers.

It’s inevitable and we just have to choose whether we are in the 25% who choose reality, the 74% who embrace total fantasy, or the 1% who keep the fantasy alive. Perception is reality – it’s debatable whether it’s the 25% choosing the Evolution Economy who are delusional or the 74%. Perhaps it’s the 1% who are truly delusional – they are the only ones who neither get to enjoy fantasy nor reality.

11 Responses

  1. TLDR. However–it’s worth noting that electricity DID have to go on a press run to prove it was better. Or, in this case, safer. Not only that, but at the time, Edison’s DC model was in direct competition with Tesla’s AC model, which was superior for household electricity use.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_Currents

    Further, while principles of electricity were discovered as early as the Greeks, and while the first battery was invented in 1800, it wasn’t until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that (a) electricity was applied to household use, and (b) was publicized as a safe and efficient replacement to burning fuel.

    I enjoy your blog, and I constantly use the resources you post, but you have a clear cognitive bias against Apple here, and I’m not sure you really spent much time actually considering the argument, or the examples you were comparing.

    • Thanks. You’re right – Apple is the Vatican of Consumerism and as someone who dislikes consumerism intensely Apple is not on my Christmas List.

  2. I’m still trying to get my mind around the folly that is an Apple-branded TV. Televisions are commodities at this point — once you get to certain name brands such as Samsung, Vizio, Sony, etc.the prime consideration is price. That’s why the margins on televisions are so low.

    An Apple-branded set would not do anything all that different from, say, a Vizio coupled with an Apple TV2 but it would cost a lot more. I don’t care how “validating” owning Apple products are, people aren’t going to pay extra for one, especially since, unlike their phones and tablets, they can’t take with when they leave home.

  3. You need to write some post-apocalyptic fiction. You’ve already written the apocalypse part. ;-)

    • You’ll think this is crazy but I had a dream about a post apocalyptic world. A city of kids who welcomes us in and then tries to kill us for our goods and jeep. I’m blaming you.

  4. I was just sad to see that Bezos had copied Jobs’ style so blatantly in September. The lighting, clothes, the showmanship, etc. Now my delivery guy wants to make real things and it doesn’t seem to be as easy as expected.

    Also, after years of blogs saying that nobody would want to read from an LCD screen they now are curiously quiet.

  5. I’ve been reading this blog for several months via Kindle. This article prompted me to look for your web site so that I could bookmark it.

    Very nicely done article. I was wondering if I was the only one that marveled at the messianic level of Apple’s marketing and products. Truly, I admire how the company has done what it has done. But, is it meaningful in any way that explains this level of hub-bub?

    Frankly, I’d like to see a company design something that causes us to talk face to face with our fellow man.

    I live in a foreign country, which affords me the vantage of an observer in my regular visits to family in the U. S. As I move about in North America, I marvel at the way people are in proximity to other humans, but are all looking at, and communicating with, the palms of their hands. I view this as regress, not progress.

    Knowing how to work the system to make enormous amounts of money is what captures the limelight. Discovering ways to live on this planet with each other, and in harmony with the demands of the natural systems of things dwells in the shadows.

  6. it has dawned on me that Apple represents the basest level of humanity:
    – unbridled corporate greed (Look at us we are making the largest profits in our industry). there is only a certain type of mentality that flaunts it so.

    – money purely for the sake of money ($60 billion cash!), not as a means to an end.

    – form over function, appearance and fashion before anything else

    – arrogance and disrespect (we will decide what apps you can have, why would you want a different theme on your device we have chosen the best one for you…)

    – no corporate social ethos or lasting legacy for the improvement of the human situation

    – complete lack of charity and giving (but then if you believe in karma why would you help those less fortunate, – if they are suffering then its because of bad things they did previously, if you are worthy of our stuff its because you were a good person in past lives so flaunt it and rub their faces in it.)

  7. A different approach to your conclusion can be found in the writings of Gregory Clark (http://www.amazon.com/Farewell-Alms-Economic-Princeton-ebook/dp/B001EQ4OLA/). Luckily, you can also get his lectures at USC through iTunes U for free, in a course called World Economic History before the Industrial Revolution. In it, he talks about how society changed massivily after 1800. Prior to that time was a near static society which he calls the Malthusian World. Most of the world lived on a subsistance level, while a very small number lived better.

    Now, however, due to innovations and technological advances, people live far better. But the underlying message is that we’re in a Red Queen’s Race. As long as we keep innovating we can live above a subsistance level. But once we stop, then the vast majority of people will go back to a subsistance level. As the Leisure Economy grows, then real inovation drops. How much longer before the Malthusian World returns?

    • thanks a lot for that book. That’s exactly what I was looking for.

      Because there are two starkly different possibilities – a utopia where everyone has enough and just focuses on leisure Versus a dystopia that is a return to the Malthusian World.

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