Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

iPhone is not our savior

By Douglas Rushkoff, Special to CNN
September 12, 2012 -- Updated 2044 GMT (0444 HKT)
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
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1812 GMT (0212 HKT)
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 2124 GMT (0524 HKT)
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2350 GMT (0750 HKT)
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2031 GMT (0431 HKT)
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT