Does anyone in tech pay attention to unemployment numbers? Hard to buy that new gizmo when you don't have a job, right?


Writing about tech is so peculiar. On one hand we’re expected to be enthusiastic about the things we cover; no one wants to see us being negative and dismissive about every little thing. That’s no fun. On the other hand, you don’t want a bunch of ninnies bleating on about how great this year’s piece of plastic is compared to last year’s. How is that useful to anyone? A bit of skepticism is necessary so we don’t come across as cheerleaders for this or that company, or for this or that device. You can’t be objective if you worship the ground that the two Steves—Jobs and Ballmer—walk on.

I bring this up not as a condemnation, but rather a recognition: much of this is quite silly. The Motorola Droid comes out today, and my first reaction was, “Eh, so what?” That’s not a popular opinion, of course, and a quick trip to Techmeme will confirm that for you. (Techmeme is a king-making Web site that’s really, really influential for some reason. You can’t fight city hall.) I just can’t get excited over the launch of a device that should have come out years ago. I can recognize its importance to Verizon Wireless (the Droid being the first non-BlackBerry smartphone worth its salt that’s available on VZW), and its place within the wireless industry, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit here and be all, “Woo, a phone is available! Hooray for the corporations behind it~!”

Look at the unemployment numbers that the Department of Labor released today. A full 10.2 percent of Americans are out of work right now. That’s a big deal, and will most certainly affect consumer electronics’ companies bottom line this holiday season. How many of these people (or people in similar, dire economic circumstances) are looking forward to a new smartphone? Or a new HDTV? Or a $150 video game?

I’m actually surprised that I haven’t seen more made of these unemployment numbers. The holiday shopping season starts pretty soon (if it hasn’t already!), and I really do wonder how many of the companies we write about will fare. Not to pick on the Droid again (it’s just in the news today, so it’s in my head), but how many people are prepared to buy the phone for themselves or a family member, and then commit to paying a minimum of $70 per month just to use the thing? How many copies of DJ Hero will be under so many Christmas trees when mommy and daddy are having a tough enough time paying the bills as it is? I’m not saying these things won’t sell at all, but I haven’t noticed too many stories in the tech press that so much as hinted at the tough times these companies might have. Not everyone can swing $200 + $70 per month (for one line!) on a basic communication device. I mean, does a $200 smartphone sound any better than a freebie phone you can grab with a $40 per month contract? As impressive as Android 2.0 is, I don’t know if I’d say it’s any more important than putting food on the table for your kids.

(Incidentally, a comment over at TechCrunch made a similar point, that, you know, providing for one’s family is more important than having the latest version of Android in your pocket.)

I write about this stuff with a few things in mind, one of which is that this is all largely for funsies. It’s fun to see that latest super-thin netbook, or to see what new developments that are in the e-book front. It’s fun to tease the Apple TV for being a useless hunk of junk, and it’s fun to predict to what degree that Apple tablet will destroy its competition. But don’t think I assume that all of you have tons of disposable income to throw around to buy the latest widget, one that’ll be obsolete within six months.

I completely lost track of this some time ago, yes. I just sometimes feel that the whole tech world gets caught up in the hype of THIS THING or THAT THING without considering what’s happening in the real world. A tech bubble, if you will. Just know that I recognize it (as do the rest of the CG guys), and try not to get caught up in it. That’s all.

Image swiped from Drudge. Can’t beat bold, red font.