Tech Price ≠ Tech Value

Phones from the 1970s. These could have ended up in a suburban home, used by teenagers to organize dates or adults to set up golf tee times. By sheer luck, they ended up in the war office of the President of “Independent” South Vietnam; you can bet LBJ’s and Kissinger’s voices came down these lines.

So last night, I was at a party, and I ended up drinking wine with a guy wearing really beautiful shoes.  They were black brogues, with obviously well-cared-for leather, 20-something years old, custom made and re-soled dozens of times.  He turned out to be an Angel Investor in what he estimated were 200 startups, and, with our mutual interests, we ended up talking for an hour.  At some point, he admitted that he had an iPhone and a computer, but he didn’t really know how to use them beyond basic functionality; his value wasn’t tied up in their functions, but in his own ability outside of the technology.  I asked him about what he thought gave him an edge over others, and while he was answering, I was struck with a realization:

The price of a new phone – or, really, any new technology – is set by the company.

The value is set by the user – by how they use it, and who they are.

A 2003 Nokia may cost $1, but, in the hands of Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson or Warren Buffett – or my friend from last night – that phone could be priceless, because of what those people can do with  the phone.  A $1000 phone in the same hands may not be worth much more, just because it might not do much more for them.  (Does it matter to these people that they can’t play Angry Birds on a Nokia?  Do they need facial recognition technology?)

Similarly, our use of technology can make the technology more or less valuable based on what we use it for – or how we don’t use it.  Choosing to use technology for high-value uses makes it more valuable to us, and, consequently, makes us more valuable.  Choosing to use technology for mindless tasks, games, etc., not only makes the technology less valuable in our hands, but it makes our time less valuable as well.  If we’re willing to trade our valuable time and attention for something that is really only of value to someone else – for example, Instagram, or Pokemon Go – then we are selling these valuable assets far too cheaply.

I’m sure this is obvious to some people, but it struck me like a ton of bricks.  It’s like a hammer: in my hands, it might be good for hanging an Ikea frame on a wall.  To a master craftsman, like Mr. Fujimori (above), that same hammer, by itself, could probably be used to build a house.  The trick, for me, is figuring out how to get better with it – and not wasting my time just hitting it against concrete for free.

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