Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

iPhone is not our savior

By Douglas Rushkoff, Special to CNN
updated 4:44 PM EDT, Wed September 12, 2012
The new iPhone is being touted as a boost to the economy. Douglas Rushkoff says these tech bubbles tend to burst.
The new iPhone is being touted as a boost to the economy. Douglas Rushkoff says these tech bubbles tend to burst.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Douglas Rushkoff: Release of new iPhone is being touted as a big boost to the economy
  • He says such pronouncements make him think more of a hyper-inflated bubble in the making
  • He says much of growth comes from carriers subsidizing subscribers' purchases
  • Rushkoff: Developers, investors obsessed with iPhone. Like other tech booms, it too will pass

Editor's note: Douglas Rushkoff writes a regular column for CNN.com. He is a media theorist and the author of "Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age" and "Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World, and How We Can Take It Back."

(CNN) -- Last time around, humanity's savior came in the form of a human messiah. This time, if technology analysts, bankers and venture capitalists are to be believed, it will take the form of a handheld computer otherwise known as a smartphone.

That's right, the new Apple iPhone announced Wednesday is already being credited with saving the United States economy. According to JP Morgan, sales of the new device should boost our nation's GDP by as much as 0.5% in the fourth quarter of this year alone. That's not a misprint, but half a percent of the nation's economic activity, or $3.2 billion.

Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

It's hard to know whether such proclamations - even if true - say as much about the power of smartphones as they do about the weakness of the rest of the economy. In either case, however, I can't help but fear yet another hyper-inflated bubble in the making.

Maybe smartphones make us 'SuperStupid'?

First off, most of the projected $3.2 billion won't be from consumers to Apple, but from wireless carriers subsidizing their subscriber's purchases in return for contract extensions. That's not really "growth" the way we used to define it in economics class. But that doesn't stop us from mistaking wireless as a pure growth industry, and far too many from placing their bets accordingly.

Working as I do in New York's Silicon Alley, it's hard not to bump into an iPhone app builder or investor everywhere I go. Labs, incubators and angel investing groups are quite focused - some might argue obsessed - with launching the next monster iPhone hit, and then selling before it crashes. Top-ranked iPhone app Draw Something, for example, peaked at around 50 million downloads this spring. This was just in time for its developer to be bought by Zynga for $200 million, and then start its descent into obscurity the very next day.

Even the students at the graduate digital programs where I teach have shifted from building for computer or the Web to developing for the iPhone. Like garage bands of yesterday, they toil away in the hope of getting the next big hit.

Yes, we've been here before.

Apple expected to unveil iPhone 5 today
2007: Jobs unveils the first iPhone
2010: iPhone gets face-lift
Apple ripe for parody with iPhone 5

First time, for me anyway, was the CD-ROM craze. Flashy interactivity, new authoring tools and seemingly infinite storage space led many media publishers to believe that CD-ROMs would be to the digital era what books were to that of text. They obsolesced themselves as a viable format (mostly by being slow and boring) even before networking speeds made disks irrelevant.

The dotcom boom appeared just as infinite to those in the know. While Amazon has been left standing, Pets.com and Etoys crashed as quickly as they rose. The vast majority of online retailers surprised the Wall Street analysts betting on them.

Social media was supposed to solve that problem for the tech industry and NASDAQ alike, but climaxed in the IPO of Facebook, a disappointment so far-reaching it has dragged dozens of social media companies along with it, and sent investors and entrepreneurs looking for greener pastures.

The choreography of an Apple event

Like wireless handheld devices and the apps running on them.

Everywhere I turn, every conference I attend, every magazine story I read seems to be based on one aspect of these technologies or another. Everyone is hard at work on an iPhone app that lists, maps, or socializes some data set in some new visual way. Pictures over text, text over maps, restaurants close to subways, or apps showing subways with WiFi to download more apps.

Don't get me wrong: Wireless is big, and these devices are here to stay, at least until we get comfortable with apps being embedded in objects and technology being implanted in our bodies. And while the opportunity for corporations to make billions on these apps may be overstated, we may still see a new peer-to-peer marketplace emerge between independent developers and the users of their bounty of applications.

But the extent to which entrepreneurs, developers, and even columns like this one depend on Apple and the rest of the wireless computing industry for new grist far exceeds their true impact or potential.

So go, get an iPhone. Enjoy it. But find something or someone else to save you.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Douglas Rushkoff.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:31 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT