Right now as you read this, there are enormous supercomputers flying in space above your head. They beam signals to your TV whenever you ask for one (or more) of thousands of video streams. They talk to each other and figure out your exact location on earth, down to something like a million gabillionths of an inch, so a handheld device more powerful than most of our first computers can direct us to the nearest Taco Bueno.
“Well, sure, the Frinkiac-7 looks impressive, don’t touch it, but I predict that within 100 years, computers will be twice as powerful, 10,000 times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe will own them.”
-Professor John I.Q. Nerdelbaum Frink, Jr., circa 1977
You might laugh, and you should. This quote is from the Simpsons back when they still had something funny to say. But it’s also based on the real beliefs of the time. And why not? It’s nothing short of astounding that technology has led to quantum leaps in ability while also lowering power consumption, size, and price.
Given that many of our grandparents started life without TV or indoor toilets, we should be blown away by this unprecedented level of technology – but we’re not. Most recently, this has manifested in the new AT&T pricing for their data plans. To boil it down as simply as possible, you now get 2GB of data per month for $25, a few dollars less than the old unlimited plan. You also get a slight discount on additional GB’s of data at $10 each. Remember when just a 10% overage on mobile minutes used to double your bill? I do too, it’s called “three years ago”.
Still, many people are furious. As one astute writer points out, Netflix streaming will quickly exceed the limit. Are you freaking kidding me? Just because Jobs and Company made a device that makes wireless HD video possible, doesn’t mean the rest of the tech world has to make it practical. If I start selling mail-order swingsets, fully assembled, are you going to post angry tweets to FedEx for charging a small fortune for shipping?
I say if you want to tie up the bandwidth equivalent of dozens of phone lines for 90 minutes to watch the zany antics of Ferris Bueller on your daily train commute, you should expect to pay more than the guy next to you just checking e-mail. It is a luxury. According to AT&T’s numbers, 98% of users fall under the 2GB limit. For their reward, they’ll get a $5/month price break. It’s only fair that the other 2%, the bandwidth junkies, start paying their own way.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m nothing but obnoxious toward companies when I feel they’re out of line. When AOL went out of its way to only show you its version of the internet in the late 90’s, that sucked. When Apple makes you buy a proprietary video adapter that adds 30% to the price of getting an external monitor, that sucks. Just ask my friends, I never shut up about it.
Of course if you want to pin companies as being “greedy capitalists”, then you have a beautifully capitalist solution – don’t give them your money. I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t bitch – just switch. Then go camping for a week, to get a small taste of life just a couple generations ago.