At The Front of the Queue

Remember when you were little, and there was always the annoying kid who had everything? He was the person who’d completed their Panini sticker collection before we’d even stuck in the free pack that came with the album. He had Bigtrak or a ZX81 even when he didn’t really like computer programming? He got a shiny new Chopper while you had to make do with a no-brand? He had Adidas football boots while yours were made of Hi-Tec.
Maybe I’m letting a few too many of my own personal “issues” come into the open, but regardless of the generation you were brought up in, you recognise the type. When you complained to your parents that it was “so unfair…” they’d tell you were lucky to get what you had and the other child was spoilt.
Flash forward 30 or more years, and we live in basically the same world. Yesterday Samsung teased a 2 September announcement regarding their latest iPad-style tablet, while “everyone” is excited that Apple is going to announce some new iPods and possibly some other stuff.
And it is Apple and the video game manufacturers that have driven this growing need for rapid consumer satisfaction. They set very clear dates when their products are available to buy, and love the fact that people will queue outside stores to be sure of getting their device first. They worry about whether they’ll get their product faster if they pre-order online or queue up.
Is this a healthy state of affairs?
I’d say, it’s definitively not.
Perhaps it’s my own fault. Should I step away from the tech blogs and news sites that breathlessly report this stuff? Do I eagerly read the review sites when new devices come out, keen to discover what new features this upgrade has?
I wonder if even the electronics industry really likes this state of affairs. While they’re probably jealous of the coverage that companies like Apple, Nintendo, Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox achieve by releasing their products on a single day, encouraging pre-orders and queues for the devices, having a massive spike at the start of sales is not an easy way to manage inventory – particularly when consumers demand a worldwide simultaneous release. That means a lot of ramped up production to meet initial demands rather than a perhaps more measured production timetable.
It’s the materialism and greed of it all that I’m finding more difficult. Should I feel guilty? We hear stories about suicides at Foxconn which manufacturers many of these devices as workers are put under intolerable pressure to meet production timetables.
Am I immune to it? No. I jumped on the phone to order my HTC Desire from Orange on the day it was made available, and I remember pre-ordering my PlayStation 2 for the day of release.
Sorry – this has all been a bit rambling, and I’ve certainly got no solutions. But this is something I find troubling.
[Note: The genesis of this blog entry is from something I’ve been thinking about anyway, but was catalised by what could be characterised as a Twitter “tiff” between myself and James Cridland last night – James was disappointed that he wasn’t getting his new Amazon Kindle on its promised release date. In retrospect I was probably unfair to castigate him about Amazon’s failure to manage their customers’ expectations.]

2 Comments

  1. The tech upgrade cycle is a bit of a pain for everyone involved – manufacturers who are focred into R+D and manufacturing costs, developers who have to redo everything for the latest features, and consumers pressured into keeping on the cutting edge.
    Then again, how widespread is the rush to new gadgets? Outside of tech circles there are plenty of people who are aware of smartphones, but haven’t upgraded yet, for example…
    And despite the fact tech companies target early adopters, a recent study quoted in Wired pointed out that the laggards who are behind the curve can actually make products successful when they actually do catch up – e.g. holding onto a tape Walkman despite CDs, but then finally upgrading to an MP3 player…

  2. I’d just like to say a quick thanks for taking me on a trip down memory lane back to my childhood. In all honesty I hadn’t even given such much as a passing thought to all those Panini sticker albums I used to own until you just mentioned it. Oh my goodness did we ever have fun trading stickers at school. Good times they were.

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