SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS ON BUSINESS, TECH, AND POLITICS
Finally, after dreaming all my life and saying "one day", next Sunday, May 24th, I will complete one of my bucket list items and going to see The Rolling Stones. Wheel chairs and respirators aside, that really got me to think about how much music has changed over their career during the past 50+ years.
In the 1970's, television had a real big impact on music. Shows like Saturday Night Special put faces to the stars that only previously were known by their voices. You knew Elvis's voice, but could you pick him out of a line up out of costume? The invent of the TV really changed the way that we consume music.
Skip forward another decade to the early 80's and MTV took what started in the 70's to a whole new level by putting music videos, twenty-four hours a day on TV. The industry was changing. As the song goes, video killed the radio star. This was true. It was now harder for ugly, overweight people to become "rock stars". You had to take care of yourself. Now you didn't have to look good just for a photo shoot, but you had an image to keep up all the time. It was a different world than it was just 15 years prior.
Finally, we reach the tech era. Ever since Aerosmith released the first commercially available song for download back in the early 1990's with CompuServe things have been spinning at points out of control. Just as television and video technology shook the industry a decade earlier, I don't think that anybody could prepare the industry for what was ahead.
The digital age is probably the biggest game changer that the industry has seen yet. Napster really set the stage with connecting millions of people through a dial-up modem to any song their heart so desired. Slowly but surely, physical media was dying out. Change was impending and the music industry had a big choice in front of them, embrace it or ignore it.
My personal belief is that while they dabbed into messing around with tech, they never really embraced it until the 2010's. Instead of suing Napster (thanks Metallica!), they should have embraced it and worked with them closely to develop a better product and a new digital market. Maybe they did try and Napster was unwilling, but they should have started an alternative at minimum. The music industry is a very strong lobbying force and with very deep pockets. They could have took control of the market and drove the market the direction that they had wanted. If they had done that the current market could be totally different.
One could argue that it was best for the consumer that they did ignore it. During the 2000's after all the definitions were define of what is and what isn't piracy with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), piracy still ruled the world. People were downloading even more. Why? Not because they didn't want to pay (OK, in some cases) but mostly because the music industry failed to adopt to the market and find the solution that users wanted. Purchasing $20 albums when really all you wanted was one song was not the solution that consumers wanted.
Anybody that knows me, knows that I am not an Apple fan, but what they did was really change the market and made the marketplace that the RIAA should have made years ago. Being able to purchase high quality, secure songs for $0.99 cents each online was the answer most people were looking for and it showed because Apple made billions with iTunes over the year. For as good as the industry is with picking out music that people like, they were really tone-deaf to the actual conditions of the market.
That leaves us to today where we currently are. You have stars like Taylor Swift complaining that she isn't getting enough royalties for her music. Artists should not work for free. They deserve to be paid. They deserve to be paid a pretty penny. Unfortunately for Ms. Swift, she is suffering the consequences of the music industry to not be able to adapt to the current market or the technology that was available.
The all-you-can-consume music buffet services that all streaming services seem to offer is the future of music. The industry may not like what the free market picked as the result of their lack of vision and guidance, but to look on the bright side of things, people are once again paying for music and not downloading it for free.
I think the television industry needs to take note. Things are changing for them as well. They have been able to weather the storm so far and did a far much better job of adapting than the music industry did. Services like HULU and other streaming services offered by almost every TV station has saved the industry so far, but eventually people will want only a-la-carte programming. The cord cutting movement is growing.
One last random thought on the whole music industry. How hard is it to get a song played these days? In the 70's and 80's you had songs from only a few decades to compete against. We are now starting the last five years of the 2010's and most radio stations, especially rock stations have a catalog of songs that spans over 60 years! You could have a Beatles song from their first album in 1963 followed by a song that just came out from Royal Blood. How many songs from our past are being forgotten on the radio waves? That's where we come full circle being in the digital realm and with streaming, you can create your own station to focus on those forgotten gems. Let's hope the music industry embraces the digital age this time and works with consumers to find a good middle ground to where everybody wins.
Not too long ago cell phones were having a race to the top. Every week it seemed like one cell phone company was trying to out do another one. While the competition was great on the outside as it sped up development of getting really good and useful smartphones, it was also frustrating. Smartphone frequently bought a cell phone that was considered "top of the line" just to find out about a week or two later that the new Galaxy or iPhone just came out and beat your new phone hands down.
Those days are over. Most cell phone companies are on an equal playing field. There is little to differentiate between a Samsung or HTC. You can even stretch it and claim besides the operating system that there isn't much difference between Apple and Samsung. The differences between manufacturers is little anymore mostly falling down into implementation of technology rather than what technology it has that will make or break the device.
While the big companies have been racing for the top there has been a race to the bottom as well. Companies like verykool (Infosonic from San Diego) and Blu amongst others are creating awesome devices for small budgets. These companies are all fighting it out to see who can become the king of cheap devices.
The devices that they are creating aren't that bad either. They aren't the cheap, "generic" devices that were created a few years ago. These are actually really decent phones with pretty decent specs. Recently I had the honor to review the Spark II made my verykool and to my amazement this device was probably one of the best sub $400 devices I ever laid my hands on.
This device was a quad-core device with a super bright screen that had a sleek touch of sophistication in the design. Somehow this device only costs $169.00 on Amazon. That is amazing considering that it not only came with the usual extras of a charger and headphones but also a screen protector, a case, and did I mention that it had a dual camera flash for the rear camera and a flash for the front facing selfie camera? Really? All of that for $169?
It isn't just verykool who is doing this, others are too. They are jamming the most specs and biggest bang for your buck into the smallest package available. The race is on, especially in developing countries where phones with these specs are a hot ticket item. In the long run it will be very interesting to see how this race to the bottom of the pricing barrel will impact the pricing for those flagships on the top of the pricing food chain.
The busiest border crossing in the world, the San Ysidro - Tijuana border crossing located on the San Diego, California border is a binational megaregion that deserves more attention than what it is currently getting.
To understand the issue, it needs to be in perspective. What is the San Diego / Tijuana Megaregion? Think back during the aftermath of World War II when you had Berlin split in two by a wall. That is the reality that we live in right now in Southern California and Northern Baja. San Diego and Tijuana are literally one city split by a border that separates it into two different countries. Just as you can find a taco shop on every street in San Diego you can find a hamburger shop on every street in Tijuana. The two cities are fused together at the heart and have been for over a century.
Trillions and trillions of dollars is spent between the two countries annually. Many people lack understanding this due to their extremist views (both left and right). Due to the high cost of goods in Mexico, many are forced to cross the border into San Diego to do their "compras" where they can save anywhere from 20 - 40% and get higher quality goods. If the border was completely shut down, San Diego would suffer greatly. A good portion of the purchases made in San Diego County, especially South County, come from money earned down south. San Diego is prospering mostly in fact due to these purchases whether they want to admit it or not. It is a fact.
The same can be said about Tijuana and the Baja State as a whole. If the border was shut down the State of Baja California would suffer great economic losses. The State depends dearly on the American tourist money coming in and also benefits greatly from NAFTA that has led to many factories relocating to the region like BOSE and Samsung among others. This provides a dual benefit of decent jobs in the region and cheaper products in the United States.
There are cutting edge tech centers like the HUB STN and the BIT Center in Tijuana. These places are hubs where startups and freelancers can mingle with each other and work sparking a great amount of creativity. There are even accelerators and angel funding companies located inside these locations to further help these companies grow. The tech that is happening in Baja is amazing.
Sound pretty cool, right? Well wrong. There are a lot of good ideas and ideas should not have borders. A lot of these ideas aren't even given a chance at life due to an archaic immigration and border system from both countries. In my opinion it seems that there are groups on both sides of the border that are against trade and open borders. OK, open borders is the wrong word, what we need in the area are smart borders. Borders that allow commerce to flow freely. Borders that do not hold up law abiding citizens in long lines wasting time and money just to cross the border. In recent months the border lines have spread to the south bound lanes into Mexico as well. These type of policies are anti-business, anti-people and anti-prosperous for both regions.
The problem is with both Washington and Mexico City. The people who control the border region are out of touch with the realities of the border. Tijuana isn't the Tijuana of the 1960's or even the 1990's. It is a fast evolving city that is quickly become a tech hub not only in Mexico but Latin America. It is quickly becoming a gastronomic center as well with award winning foods and wine.
I view that the United States brings experience and the mighty dollar to the table, while Mexico brings money, but more importantly creativity and ingenuity. In Mexico the old saying "where there is a will, there is a way" holds so true that you actually have to be there to understand the meaning fully.
Historically, the trade of business, culture and money has benefited both sides greatly and it is only growing. So with this in mind, why is there so much drama and hardship caused because of the border? Why can't an engineer from Baja California easily work for Qualcomm if they want just by registering at the border as they are crossing? Why can't a "gringo" open a factory on their own in Baja with ease and not a lot of red tape that exists with most "tramites" (transactions) in Mexico? People on both sides of the border are making it a lot harder than what it needs to be. There is a solution and the solution is simple... smart borders.
How do we implement those smart borders? How do we open up the Baja Cali megaregion to expand it even further? It starts by showing the people of both countries the benefits of friendship and reaching across borders. I sometimes feel we are friendlier with China than we are with Mexico. It drives me nuts. We have a willing and able partner south of us but yet we have to treat them like North Koreans. Mexico isn't innocent in this as well, Vincente Fox had many blunders during his presidency that I feel set the relationship back with the United States. The bottom line is whether you are PRI or the GOP, PAN or DEM it is time to have a mature adult orientated conversation on how our nations can work together and create smart borders. That is the fuel needed to energize the huge Baja Cali megaregion.
To get smart borders we have to open up the eyes of the politicians. Instead of them legislating from Sacramento, Mexicali, Washington or Mexico City they need to come and visit the border region on both sides. They need to start to understand how the two countries can work together to help each other prosper. Only by opening their eyes will they finally see and be willing to engage in change. The only thing I caution is to remember that you only lead a blind man to water, but you can't make him drink.
We are about 15 years into the 21st century. Everywhere you look you see “www” this or “http” that. It is safe to say that we are well into the digital age. Moving into the digital age means that traditional methods of gathering information just are not as effective as they used to be.
Things that used to be the standard are fighting for survival. Two prime examples are newspapers and encyclopedias. In 1990’s both were indispensable. To get your news you needed to read the morning paper if you didn’t want to sit in front of the television set at 6 p.m. to watch the evening news. If you needed to research an item for school chances are you had to research it in an encyclopedia that could have been written 30 years prior and rarely updated.
While not totally extinct, both of those items still exist today, the human race has evolved and found more efficient ways of getting news, entertainment and knowledge. The Internet has taken over. Websites like Wikipedia have taken over the need for most people to want to purchase an encyclopedia. The ability to find news to your taste in a heartbeat is replacing traditional news media outlets. The bottom line is how humans absorb information has changed drastically over the past 25 years all because of the digital age.
When you really think about it and how rapidly our technology is advancing, it makes you wonder in 25 years how many of the technological advances of 2015 will be considered obsolete?
Are kids being born smarter today? I am sitting here watch my just turned two year old navigate a tablet like a pro, only occasionally yelling because she gets stuck. Isn't that amazing?
For instance, lets give a caveman or even a more recent figure like Leonardo da Vinci or Cesare Borgia a tablet. Would they be able to navigate it and understand it with the precision that my two year old does instantly? I'm sure da Vinci could, but how much of a learning curve would there be? How long would it take him to master the basic concepts and functionality. Even my daughter knows when the screen goes dim its time to charge it, how easily could somebody from 1,000 years ago understand the concept of charging and electricity in relation to tablet functions?
I look at my nine year old and he hadto learn how to use a tablet or a cell phone much as I had trouble switching from a dump phone to a touch screen smart phone back in 2005 (Windows Mobile 5.0 anyone?). While my tech savvy son got a hold of it quick, it seems that my two year old was born with those skills and as she advances will probably eventually beat out my older son.
Being born in the 80's, I understood how a lot of things work and they just became part of my life. They were there from the beginning for me in my life. Just as my parents had to learn how to use a television, a computer, the Internet, and now mobile devices, today's children are being brought up with those items as their natural surrounding.
What does this mean? I think it is the easiest way to point out that humans retain knowledge and pass it on through generations. As we advance our children advance and are not very primitive at all. We do not have to reinvent the wheel for each child that is born, but yet only give a simple explanation of why it works and the child would understand where as if you gave the same explanation to a full grown adult before the wheel was invented they would not understand you at all.
This might be considered common knowledge to some, but really take a minute to think about it. I find it truly amazing of what the human race, mind, and DNA are capable of doing. I for one cannot wait to see what the future holds.
Is it time for America to add to our most sacred document, the Constitution? The Bill of Rights was added a few years after the Declaration of Independence in the year 1791. The last amendment to the Constitution was done in 1992, which interestingly enough took 202 years to be ratified. All the changes and additions were done well before the consumer digital age that we are now living in. Thus I must ask, is it time for a "Digital Bill of Rights"?
The Constitution is vague enough to where we can use it to interpret the laws even in today's complex world. For most things, I am OK with that, but my problem with tech is that much of this is new ground. We are essentially allowing the courts, whether it be a single judge or a panel of judges decide what our rights are. That is not how our country should operate which is why there were a Bill of Rights created in the first place.
Courts have ruled that suspects can be required to unlock cell phones even with biometric security as recent as this past November. Also if a cell phone is unlocked, it can also be searched by police, no warrant is needed. We have a law under the current Bill of Rights that protect us against unlawful searches and our right to privacy. As you can see, the roughly 215 year document is failing us in the court of law to protect our most private devices. Cell phones these days have everything, banking information, email, texts, contacts, and much more all in the hands of your local law enforcement.
Then there is the issue of Internet traffic in general. The very first right in my new proposed "Digital Bill of Rights" should be that "All traffic is created equal". Why? Well because all traffic is created equal, traffic is traffic and there should be no backroom deals or preferential treatment of traffic. If I pay my ISP $xx a month for Internet service, then it should not matter where I go, I should have fast, unfettered Internet.
There are probably about eight more rights that we could discuss on my proposed "Digital Bill of Rights", but I will leave the door open for your thoughts and opinions. As long as privacy and traffic are covered, I think that is a great start and a must be for any scenario. We just cannot keep allowing our rights to get determined by judges. It needs to be determined and ratified by the people. I wish we had a politician that would stand up for the people and start such a bill.
David Strausser is a graduate of Penn State. He holds a degree in Information Sciences and Technology and is currently seeking another degree in Business.
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