June 2, 2016
Original Artcile Published on TheVerge.com
In the wake of this week’s launch of the preposterous Solarin phone, I got to thinking about the strained relationship between luxury and personal electronics. When was the last time a piece of technology was introduced that was truly luxurious, exclusive in its functionality and capabilities rather than just its unaffordable materials? The answer might be the Tesla electric car, but it too is now rapidly descending in price, trickling down into mass affordability like every other piece of technology tends to. It’s as consistent a phenomenon as gravity itself.
Being a luxury is a relative, context-dependent quality. Water and shade are luxuries in the desert, bananas are luxuries in Siberia, and time is a luxury to most adults. The defining feature of luxury is scarcity. The defining feature of technological progress? Precisely the opposite. Technology has been the most democratizing and egalitarian force of human history. Whether it’s the wheel, the printing press, or the internet, every time a major technological innovation has happened, some element of social exclusivity and privilege has been torn down as a result.
TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS START AS LUXURIES, BUT END UP AS MAINSTREAM COMMODITIES
Very few luxuries would exist without technology to create them, but that doesn’t prevent technology from being the thing that eliminates the luxury status as well. Just think about how much more you can do with your modern smartphone than Gordon Gekko could ever accomplish with his expensive carphone in the 1980s. Medical care today is orders of magnitude better and safer than it was just a century ago. The richest kings and queens could have spent all their wealth and they would never have had access to the basic vaccines, antibiotics, and treatments that we have developed in recent decades.