Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) delighted smartphone consumers and enthusiasts of technology trends when it unveiled its new iPhone 4, which will go on sale in the United States on June 24. The fourth-generation iPhone upgrades previous versions with a front-facing video camera for video calls, a higher-resolution screen, slimmer body, and an operating system that accommodates multitasking ability.
Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs referred to the phone as the "biggest leap we have taken since the original iPhone." It's aimed at keeping the company's momentum going as Motorola's Droid phone, which uses Google's Android system, has edged some market share from Apple.
Apple's iPhone and iPad have helped supercharge the mobile-communications market. Those products – and others – have helped make sure that consumers and companies alike are inundated with new technologies, new applications, and a slew of new products. All these new options have potential buyers asking such questions as "Can this help me? " or "Do I need one? " or "Should I upgrade? "
"We're living in extremely exciting times right now," said Nokia Chief Executive Officer Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo. "It's quite challenging to define what industry we are in because everything is changing."
Shareholders are certainly pleased. In the midst of a troubled economy and a moribund stock market, Apple shareholders have enjoyed an 18% surge in that company's stock so far this year; profit opportunities in semiconductor stocks and software companies appear to be on the upswing.
But are we becoming too dependent upon having technology at our fingertips? Are we spending too much money on new "toys," especially after a recession that left many households on strict budgets?
The impact may be even wider than most realize. Indeed, experts say the excessive stimulation from electronic devices is actually affecting the way our brains work by interrupting our ability to focus because we have adjusted to getting sudden bursts of information. The habit of receiving a message that creates excitement leaves us bored without the trigger and less able to fully engage in face-to-face situations.
"The technology is rewiring our brains," said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world's leading brain scientists.
Computer users who sit in front of a screen all day at work change windows or check e-mail about 37 times an hour, according to a study.
"We are exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things we weren't necessarily evolved to do," Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, told The New York Times. "We know already there are consequences."
This prompted last week's installment of Money Morning Question of the Week: How has your lifestyle changed with recent technological advancements? Do you want to own every new gadget or do you long for a simpler, less technologically dependent time? What do you think about the options for investors and consumers in the tech world: Are we in a good place or have we let ourselves become too enamored with "the latest-and-greatest" new product?
Here are reader responses describing experiences with tech trends, and some reader comments from previous technology articles.
Too Tech-Reliant Already
Most friends (I'm 33) have told me they agree that the Internet has done a lot of good for humanity, but it's probably done more harm.
I'd prefer to live my life pre-Internet. In fact, I think the Amish have it "figured out" – but I'm too spoiled to join them at this point. Probably. I do consider it often. Presently things are a mess.
Our brains aren't the only things changing; our culture is also.
Moreover, where do we go from here?
Will children of the future exit the womb and instantly begin "training" with electronic screens and gadgets? Neuro-implants? Will our lives amount to artificial experiences delivered from the cloud because of equality and governance choking off a real-world life culture? Probably not totally, but probably so in sufficient numbers and to sufficient degrees as to consider it a disgusting perversion of human life.
In other words, not much will change except more effective means to the ends humans already find.
"Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal " – Einstein
– S.S. (Sent from my iPad)
Apple: Keep Up the Good Work
I had gotten back to even on my stock investments primarily due to Apple, but, alas, lost it back when the market took its last dip.
I own an iPhone and would love to have an iPad. I love all the new gadgets and tech products. Hope they keep them coming!
– Debbie H.
Tech Has Its Perks
In terms of office software, technology has definitely benefited me. E-mails, documentation and communications with other parties can't be done without it.
In terms of the latest and greatest product, my observation is that technology is used as a toy if you are talking about the latest mobile phone, etc. To catch up with such technology, aren't the consumers wasting more money than necessary?
But as investors in the big companies selling those latest products, you should share the benefits. [P]rovided of course their CEOs are not taking away 60% or more of the revenue as their golden compensations. But have you received any good dividends from Google?
– Ken L.
Gadgets a Distraction from Development
Most gadgets will later be found to not be in the path of future technological development. It is just as important that I avoid such gadgets, as it is that I adopt those that will help me do the tasks I want to do now, or the tasks I will want to do tomorrow.
– Huron S.
The Apple iPad, like iTunes, and the iPhone may be profitable, but they are terrible for user freedom and rights. The Apple products are heavily infested with DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) that prevents users from having the freedoms that they should have, and do with a non-Apple PC. Apple has dedicated itself to denying user freedoms and rights, including the ability to perform actions explicitly allowed under law.
If you enter the "Apple Restriction Zone" you give up the right to control your computing and your data. You cannot install applications of your choice, only those that have been "blessed" and made available through the "App store". You can't download and install software of your choosing from the Internet. You are not allowed to install free software. You are not allowed to play open content formats such as Ogg Theora or Vorbis files. You are not allowed to share your content with others, even when the content creators explicitly want you to be allowed to. Apple can at any time it chooses disable any of your applications, and erase your data (The Amazon "Swindle" has the same ability, and has used it.)
I do not see why people would want to purchase a product that is so thoroughly defective by design. I choose not to buy products from or hold stock in a company with such a demonstrable lack of respect for the rights of its customers.
See http://www.defectivebydesign.org/apple for more information.
[Editor's Note: Thanks to all who responded to our latest installment of the Question of the Week feature regarding technology trends. Be sure to answer next week's question: Is the $1 trillion mineral wealth good or bad news for Afghanistan? Does this remarkable discovery mark the beginning of a thriving, mineral-rich natural-resources powerhouse, or will greed and corruption short-circuit the transformation before it ever gets started? What role do you think such countries as the United States and China – each with an established presence in Afghanistan – should play? Given their involvement, should either or both of those countries be able to profit from this discovery?
Send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Is there a topic you want to see covered as a Question of the Week feature? Then let us know by e-mailing Money Morning at email@example.com. Make sure to reference "question of the week suggestion" in the subject line. We reserve the right to edit responses for length, grammar and clarity.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to participate – via e-mail or by posting their comments directly on the Money Morning Web site.]
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