The Source of Craving for Apple’s Next BIG Thing

| John Martellaro's Blog

“It is not so important to be serious as it is to be serious about the important things. The monkey wears an expression of seriousness which would do credit to any college student, but the monkey is serious because he itches." -- Robert M. Hutchins


It's our technical life and times.

A surfeit of goods.

An embarrassment of riches. And apps.

Where have we seen that before? I am about to suggest some good old-fashioned heresy here.

Technical columnists—those who are well-funded and spend their lives playing with gadgets—spend way more time than the average person with gadgets. Every day is a wonderland.

In stark contrast, for many people of any age and geography, life is generally about getting something practical done. It's what one could call a few-on-few affair. Whether it's a small engineering team, a local charity, Habitat for Humanity members building a home for a family, or a clinic with doctors and nurses attending to the ill, for most people, life consists of getting something done with a few other people. Even though a company may have tens of thousands of employees, most work is done in reasonably-sized teams.

And then, when time allows, or when there's a stellar solution, mobile devices like iPads and iPhones are used for entertainment, communication and information access and management. It explains why some customers need some helpful tips from time to time, and the writers who author those tips were just born knowing everything. They really were because they live that life. Me included.

The Idle Rich

I think there's a basic human need to reach out and work with people. We are social animals after all. Yet, modern authors tend to work alone, often in home offices, in virtual companies. So their social interaction, instead of being few-on-few is, instead, one-on-many. Something has to fill the natural void. Boundless authoritativeness and opinion based on expertise emerges. After all, everyone wants to be needed.

An isolated life with an abundance of toys is very much like the life of the very wealthy. When one is rich, one can only have so many paintings, so many cars, so many ivory and onyx chess sets, so many $400 tennis rackets. Regrettably, for some, it's all too easy to fall into the idea that moving from a Porsche to a Lamborghini will bring fundamental happiness. But, as we know, it doesn't work that way. One gets listless, bored, irritated and hungry for...

are you ready?

...the Next Big Thing.

The question changes from: what can I do with what I have in a few-on-few relationship to how can the one-on-many relationships I have bring me something new and exciting?

To put it more bluntly, writers who become easily agitated and needle Apple because it hasn't suitably stimulated them are like a spoiled teenager looking for the next thrill.

It's all too similar with some writers. There are 800,000+ iOS apps. 800,000 Android apps. Hundreds of smartphones. Dozens of tablets. A continuous, dizzying change in mobile OSes. Lawsuits and patent wars. Incoming tweets by the second. New revelations and new products appear every day with a numbing effect. There is, it seems, no coherence, no closure, and so, as with any addiction, ever larger doses are required to satisfy.

Apple's Way

It's amazing to me that some observers of Apple can lead a double life. They recognize, intellectually, that Apple's vision is to make our lives better in a fundamental way. But then they turn around and claim that Apple is doomed because it hasn't matched other companies in the gadget-of-the-week contest.

This is what I think Apple means about a product when it asks the question in its vision statement: "Does it deserve to exist?" Filling a human need with grace and style is a different process from daily technical agitation. It requires devotion and patience.

Don't get me wrong. There are many insightful technical columnists who have earned our respect with their experience, reasoning, perspective and professionalism. We pretty much know who they are.

But is it any wonder that a surplus of writers, hungry for continuous stimulation, exhibit all the characteristics of the supremely spoiled? The frenetic pace in lonely isolation leads to the pretense that one is serious, in charge and trailblazing for the masses. However, in the end, the surfeit of riches, whether it's money or technology, has the same ill effects on any human being and creates the nagging feeling that something is missing.

The curtain of high technology can only hide our wizardly foibles for so long.


Monkey and road sign via Shutterstock.

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Lee Dronick

Which is why every now and then it helps to take a retreat. Camp in the desert or forest, lonely coast, something like that. No gadgets, take walks, swim, read printed books, journal, create some artwork.


Agreed. wink

The tech press (or Wall Street analysts, take your pick) has got to be the most knee-jerk-attention-span-deprived journalistic (used loosely) institution since the inception of scrawling words on things.


Ride through the desert on a horse with no name.

There’s your earworm for the day…

Lee Dronick

“Ride through the desert on a horse with no name”

Name! I thought that it was a horse with no mane.


Very nicely said, John.

This clearly speaks to a definite subset of tech writers, pundits and commenters on Apple.

What some of these writers appear not to apprehend, perhaps as a function of their comprehensive immersion in the tech, is that there remains so much undiscovered country amidst the tech we have, whose discovery by the nameless masses may itself spawn the next big thing (e.g. podcasts on the iPod and the dawn of an entire hitherto undreamt of industry, simply because a plucky few figured out how to tap a deeper level of their new tech; and had they been distracted by yet a new gadget, might have delayed that discovery). Many of these ‘next big things’ come quietly and unheralded in unassuming guise, not from the major tech companies, but from users, most of whose names we never hear or celebrate. These in turn, through their genius, guide the companies towards that next major step (e.g. the iTunes Store, featuring podcasts) in an ongoing and essential dialogue between company and client base.

It’s that dialogue through which consensus is reached between producer and consumer about the best way forward, that itself defines what will constitute ‘the next big thing’ - at least those big things that are valued by the client base, and not merely the product of company core capacity (e.g. The Surface), or idle pundit passion (e.g. an Apple television set, bigger iPhones in multiple colours).

Lee: a horse with no mane should stay away from deserts.

Lee Dronick

No doubt that a horse’s mane serves an important purpose, otherwise it wouldn’t be there. Anyway, what about the need to periodically decompress, destress, and detech.



I’d assign premium importance to destressing and decompressing, with or without de-teching (for some the latter is a means and an aid to the former); so much so that this should be part and parcel of one’s daily routine.

The principle here is balance, including between work and play, effort and rest, tension and release. For everyone that balance will require a different formula, but its success is measured in the joy with which you start your day and the sense of satisfaction and equanimity with which you end it.

Lee Dronick

Spot on Doctor! I no longer get out in the remote area as much as I used to, but I garden and enjoy the local parks, woodworking, cooking. I do like my my tech stuff too.


I’ve found detachment (and perspective) in long-distance, deep-water sailing (though not racing). There is nothing, nothing like the feeling you get when all distractions are removed; when there is only sea, sky and your ever-shrinking boat.

The only other thing that comes near, is flying a small plane at night.


Props to John Martellaro for always taking the eagle’s eye’s view.
It’s surprisingly rare.

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