Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Has anybody ever noticed that, lately, most of the technological innovations seem to be geared towards getting people to spend more money? I mean, seriously, there was a time that you paid cash, or wrote a check. Then came the credit card, then the instant credit card reader, now all you have to do is tap your phone or wallet on the reader and paid. This isn’t really new, though. I realized long ago that if you owe a corporation money, they wanted it RIGHT NOW OR WE RUIN YOU, but when they owed you money you might get it in the next 90 days. It hardly seems equitable, but if you have money, you get to keep your money, but if you don’t have money, get ready to lose it today. Like my friend once said, it’s expensive to be poor.
Today, people are not happy when you buy their products. They are looking for continuous income streams of your money. This trend started with the normalizing of the idea of appliances that just don’t last. My friend recently bought a new washer and dryer, saying that it was time because they were over four years old. My parents had the same washer and dryer for over thirty years. And as consumers, we buy into this. There was, for a time, a movement to make items “user serviceable”. This is not new. When I grew up, we had one television in the home, black and white (decades after color television was released) that run on vacuum tubes (decades after solid-state television). Every year, my dad would come home with a set of brand-new vacuum tubes (I doubt you can still get them today), he would remove the back panel of the television set and replace the tubes by hand, himself. The advent of the printed circuit board should have made it easier for user-serviceable purchases, since today “repair” means identifying the damaged board and simply swapping it out. I’ve done it, and it’s really quite a simple process. Identifying the proper board is not always so simple, but today many of the computer operated devices can tell you what the problem is with an error message should the manufacturers choose to make the messages less cryptic. Of course, we all know that that won’t happen.
The new trend today is purchases with subscription. Try buying a computer device today without being automatically enrolled in a cloud storage service. It doesn’t matter if you buy a tablet or laptop with an extra-large hard drive or not. Even if you have more than enough space for all of your files and programs, they’ll still enroll you in a cloud storage service. Usually it’s, naturally, free. Then, between one and three months later, you have to pay for it with a regular monthly fee. They are hoping that you’ll forget to cancel the subscription because, after all, they captured all of your credit card information when you made the purchase in the first place. I recently discovered that, apparently, I am being charged regularly for a charity. I made a donation once, and they automatically enrolled me in an annual renewal payment. Not that it isn’t a good cause, but it’s an awfully underhanded and sleezy way to keep taking my money, and they hope, without my noticing it.
I will never pay for a cloud service. I actually purchased a large home network hard drive to create my own cloud, and because it’s on the web (through my home network), I can access it from anywhere in the world. But I own this. I set my own password, and know that nobody will access, look at or sell any information stored on it. “Cloud based storage” is a kindly sounding way of saying stored on somebody else’s hard drive. I don’t know who owns that hard drive, I don’t know their policy or security, I don’t know what they will do with that data, so why would I pay to use it?
In an age where the middle class has been decimated, as there is continuing disparity between the wealthy that own these services and the rest of us who pay into it, as corporate profits far outpace increases in employee paychecks, I am always careful to avoid continual income streams. Ethics in business are a thing of the past, and it’s time for a just government to step in. If businesses won’t increase wages, tax corporations more heavily and provide social services. If the wealthy won’t pay those who helped them build their wealth, increase their taxes and give the rest of us larger tax returns. There is a way, but as long as we blindly accept these tricks as “the way it is”, the will is lacking.