Big Tech hates quality

Quality has long been the enemy of Big Tech. The more quality a product has, the longer it will last, and thus the less money Big Tech will make. Sure, there is the service and repair opportunity. That’s not a bad business. It is not, though, the type of business that Big Tech has grown supersized on. Big Tech has mastered the branding of the new. You see, the juiciest and most spectacular profit is in the magical brand, the stuff you can feel but cannot touch, the religious stuff, the stuff that requires faith and belief. You can charge an awful lot for that ‘must have’ feeling, for that cool factor, for vanity, for the desire to show off, from that desire to be part of something bigger, from the gullible faithful.

Apple is a master brand deity. Apple stores are churches of brand consumption. In other churches they celebrate the birth of a baby. At Apple stores they celebrate the birth of the latest iPhone. They queue for hours to buy. The first ones to buy—those truly chosen ones—run out the door like they had got married, holding hands with their iPhone, as staff line the way, laughing and clapping and oohing and awing and throwing confetti.

That’s why all the 50-plus metals and materials for an Apple iPhone might cost Apple a couple of euros, while they can sell the ‘brand’ for a thousand. What does a smartphone cost the environment to mine and manufacture? That 140 grams of materials caused 60-90 kg of toxic mining waste, about 60 kg of CO2, over 100,000 liters of water, and a little nuclear bomb of e-waste pollution that will poison the soil, air and water for thousands of years. And that’s just to mine and manufacture it. By Big Tech standards, the iPhone is actually a ‘quality’ product and should last for about five years. How long should it last from an environmental perspective? Forty years.

Brand magic. For it is magic. Brand religion. This Big Tech brand magic works best with shiny, new products, with products that have intense and immediate visual and emotional appeal. You see, it’s not as sexy to bring your phone to have its battery replaced. (There was a time, not so long ago, when people could actually replace their phone batteries by themselves.)

If as a brand you can fuel that fantasy, create that ultra-high, you’re on to something big. However, if you want to hit the golden jackpot again and again, you need a functioning addict (someone who can still work and make money), who wants to constantly return to that shiny, new sensational high. Versions and models and models and versions. To keep this system of maximizing profit going, the hardware and the software must do their job in sync, one outdating the other. The hardware must be continuously becoming more powerful and the software must unleash that power in new features and possibilities. Careful planning is required so that the older products become obsolete, unusable. The best new features must be those that require much more code, much more power, so that the brand can say that only by owning this shiny, new product will you be able to benefit from the fantastic benefits of this new feature. In this sense, software code bloat—where software gets enormously, enormously bigger—is not because of laziness on the part of the programmer. It is a vital part of the brand design process that ensures that the wonderful new feature requires new hardware, thus giving that extra incentive to buy the newest, greatest, most amazing phone, AI chip, or whatever.

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