Hey people, good morning. Lauren is taking over for Steven Levy. Steven is not likely to write about dating apps in this week's newsletter. You will have to wait until next month to read about the dating lives of older people, because I have been asked to hold that story until then. Ownership of our devices and the philosophical discussion that has been forced by software into all of our experiences are two topics that are dear to me.
There is a plain view.
The heated seats made me sleepy. It wasn't easy to sleep on the news a few weeks ago that BMW had begun offering seat heating in some of its vehicles in South Korea. It's not clear when BMW started offering this, or in which countries outside of South Korea this $18-per-month service would be available, but the article noted that the auto industry is racing towards a future of microtransactions. The company said that new orders would need a subscription.
What do we own when we purchase a new car? Do you mean any piece of hardware? The conversation has been edited to make it clearer.
The report on BMW was seen as a turning point in the new era of un-ownership. Part of that may be because it is also ridiculous. This has been evolving for a while. What was the first instance in which something we own became a lease model or licensing model because of digital assets?
Digital media was the focus of the early work that I did on these questions. A lot of the trends have their roots in that area. Digital movies and books are different from traditional movies and books in that they play out differently. Part of what we're seeing is the import of strategies. Consumers were excited about the subscription models. Hardware and physical products companies saw the attraction of the renewable revenue streams that media companies were beginning to enjoy. The strategy here is based on the media space.
Is it still the same? There is a difference between paying for maps in your car and paying for your seats to be heated up. I wonder if the potential for negative impact is underestimated.
The question is whether consumers will be willing to follow this path in the physical good space as they are with digital media. Car makers have dipped their toes into these waters a few times before. The BMW heated seats have gotten a lot of attention over the past few weeks, but this isn't the first time car makers have tried this type of thing, and I think they're trying to get a sense of what the consumer backlash is going to look like before they move more
Three or four years ago, either Mercedes or BMW began to charge for access to Apple's CarPlay. If you wanted to use all of the wonderful features that are tied to the phone's hardware, you'd have to pay a monthly fee. That is just one example of a company trying out a strategy that is more software based than hardware based. They were trying to get more revenue from the car and phone hardware that comes with the feature. I don't believe that went well.
The idea of the "end of ownership" was different when you wrote your first book. When you were writing your book, you focused on streaming media, but at the time there was a lot of emphasis on services likeAirbnb, and the idea that you don't need to own your own home, or own your own car, because we're living in a service economy The moral value of this was that you just own less stuff. We have seen some of the flaws in those ideas over the past five or six years, so what has been the biggest evolution in thinking about that over that time?
I can relate to the optimism that we were seeing in certain places in that era. There is a certain level of efficiency in not owning things that you don't really need. I own a lawn mower. I don't know how often I use my lawnmower. I'm sure my neighbors would like to see me use it more. If my neighborhood owned a lawnmower and we coordinated in a way that allowed us to make more efficient use of that resource, would it be better for me to have it sitting there 24 hours a day, seven days a week? I think the value is there.
Consumers are starting to become more cautious of the motives of the companies that are giving us alternatives. People are starting to understand that the new offerings are designed to reduce consumer surplus. The person who sells us the product with the subscription attached or the person who sells us access to their employees-slash-non-employee drivers for their ride hailing app takes away the value from us as individuals.
Consumers have become more cynical and skeptical of many of these offerings. Going back to the car example is a good example. Even though we don't fully understand the details of how the services are going to roll out and what the pricing plan is going to be, this is another reason why the story about BMW had traction. It's similar to the printer companies that hold your printer hostage if your credit card expires. We have become more distrustful over time.
What will happen to ownership models in the future? How likely is it that there will be some kind of regulation around this?
It depends on how these programs are structured and communicated. I don't think the Federal Trade Commission or any of the other regulators will say, "You can't offer these features on a subscription basis." They are likely to say that you have to communicate this transaction in a way that gives consumers notice ahead of time and that is nondeceptive and fair.
The other question that I think is crucial here, and speaks directly to the question of ownership, is how these kinds of subscription programs interface with secondary markets. Does that lifetime access transfer happen if I pay a one-time fee for a heated seat? We don't have the contractual language that would answer that question, and it's incredibly problematic if a new owner has to subscribe to features that were already paid for. That is a tax on unused cars. Along those lines, I have concerns of my own.
Consumers may be able to push back in the meantime. More people are watching and canceling on the streaming services. I have been doing that for a long time. If it is heated car seats, you might want to cancel when it is winter time. Your experience is intermittent. It is inconvenient to have to pay for all of the services on top of your purchased item.
One of the first things that came to my mind when I read about the heated seats was that it was simple to subscribe when it was cold. I think the people in the accounting offices are smarter than me. Either there will be a set of restrictions on your ability to opt in and opt out, or this is just an experiment, one with a relatively low-stakes feature, to see whether people are willing to pay more to unlocks extra bells and whistles. The plan is to do this with the entire range of vehicle functions.
Companies want to develop revenue streams that go beyond a single purchase every few years. That is the reason Apple has all of these services. You need to buy a new phone every few years. Car makers are doing the same thing.
If consumers say, 'No, we're just not going to do it,' or 'We're going to figure out a way to game the system,' that could be a sign that this isn't going to be.
It's time to travel.
I went to the archives room in our San Francisco office and looked at the issue from ten years ago. WIRED had a cover story titled "Apocalyptic Not" in September of last year. A lot of people are starving. There are deadlines for certain diseases. It's time to get a grip.
Many of our promised Armageddons, the thresholds that cannot be uncrossed, the tipping points that cannot be untipped, the existential threats to Life As We Know It, have consistently failed to materialized despite our collective efforts. Why worry about Climate change? There are pending deaths from chemicals, disease, overpopulation, and dwindling resources.
A new global Pandemic is not growing as fast as it could. Mass migration to cities means the opportunity for viruses to jump from wildlife to humans has not yet risen. The most lethal water and insect-borne infections are declining, but only by being mild enough that their victims can survive with work and social engagements.
That's a bad word.
Even if a lethal virus goes global, the ability of medical science to sequence its genomes and device a vaccine or cure is getting better all the time.
ask me one thing
Jane asked what she was most excited for in tech. Is it possible to design new products and services while taking into account their bigger impact? Fortune asked what to invest in.
I am excited to see what Apple has up its sleeve with its rumored mixed reality headset. I don't think this is something we'll see at Apple's event.
The long answer is more complex than the short one. The tech industry is known for its obsession with scale. It's a word I hear a lot, whether it's a battery maker trying to build denser batteries, a social media company trying to enforce content moderation policies, or even a sweater maker trying to make more sustainable clothing They want to do better.
You can either grow less quickly, design more carefully, or just make less. The venture capitalists are expecting a fast return on their investments, but at what cost. How much of this is tied to our consumption habits and our desire to buy new things every year? I hope that the people who are building the next generation of products find a way to de-emphasize our fixation on scale.
At this moment, it's not the currency of choice.
We don't invest in companies we cover but we think a lot about the future here at WIRED. The last page of the old issue of WIRED was a mock up of the future of shopping centers. Shoppers were led to the "Soylent Julius" shop, the "Avon Five-Minute Rhinoplasty" counter, and the "Amazon On-Demand Printing and Fabrication" kiosk by a giant display at the bottom of the escalators. These ideas weren't completely off. The container for these futuristic experiences is the most disrupted part of the mall. As you think about your next investment, chew on that.
Questions can be submitted to email@example.com. In the subject line, write "Ask Levy".
It's not now, Superstorm.
It's last but not least.
It is relevant to my end-of-ownership conversation that you read the story on the latest antics out of Def Con.
On this week's Gadget Lab, we talked about the John Deere hack and DefCon.
The experience of searching for things on the internet has gotten worse. Information cards are sometimes incorrect and could lead the public on issues of grave importance to sustaining our democracy.
It's time for back to school and school systems might be snooping on your kids.
People don't care about my art. It's sad.
Get an office chair if you can swing it. Really? A good office chair has saved me, as I have experienced intermittent numbness and tingling in my hands over the last year. The gear team has tried a lot and they are not all $2,000 chairs.
That is a done deal for now. Steven will save you all from hearing about my dating app troubles when he comes back next week.
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