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
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
ADVERTISEMENT