The Future is Unevenly Distributed – Tech Should Fix That

William Gibson famously said, “the future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” Nowhere is that more true than in the tech world where it’s easy to think that innovations, products, and services available to us are ubiquitous, even when their distribution is, in fact, very limited.

Square and Google Home come to the UK

Both Square and Google announced on Tuesday their products were coming to the UK. In Square’s case, this is its first entry into that market, but its fourth international market outside the US, after Canada, Australia, and Japan. In Google’s case, this is its international debut for the Google Home speaker and its Google WiFi routers. I have to confess, I was unaware Square hadn’t launched in the UK and was also unaware Google hadn’t made its new hardware products available outside the US until now. But I suspect that’s typical of those of us who follow the tech market in the US – we’re so accustomed to being the first to see new technologies, we rarely spare a thought for those who don’t have access to them yet, even in a neighboring markets like Canada (as with the Google Home and Echo).

Even within the US, Haves and Have-Nots

Even within the US, though, there are often haves and have-nots when it comes to new technology and Amazon’s footprint is a great example of this. Amazon just announced two new pickup grocery locations for its Amazon Fresh service but they’re both in Seattle (and currently only open to employees). It’s Amazon Go grocery store is also only in Seattle (and perhaps for a bit longer than planned, limited to employees). Amazon’s brick-and-mortar bookstores? All but one of the stores it has opened or announced are in or near big coastal cities, the latest in Chicago. Its Fresh delivery service is also limited to just a few markets, as are its same-day delivery services.

But this goes well beyond just Amazon. One of Lyft’s competitive disadvantages relative to Uber is the smaller number of cities (and countries) where it operates, even in the US, something it’s trying to rectify with a rapid expansion this year. I’m in New York City this week and am finding there are a raft of options for ride-sharing services (for someone who feels increasingly uncomfortable with patronizing Uber) but that’s not the case everywhere in the US. Even something as seemingly ubiquitous as the Apple Store is still missing from several US states.

Silicon Valley’s Other Diversity Problem

Diversity is frequently in the news when it comes to the tech industry and was again this week with the release of Uber’s diversity report. When we talk about diversity, it’s typically about underrepresented gender or racial groups but there’s also another form of diversity the US tech industry is missing out on — exposure to these parts of the United States and the world where many of the services Bay Area residents take for granted are simply not available. A tech worker living in San Jose can likely commute to work using Uber, Lyft, Waze, or a number of other tech-based transportation services, order lunch through Postmates, and get groceries delivered at night from Instacart, Amazon Fresh, or Google Express. But many of those services aren’t available (or in some cases relevant) in much of the rest of the country.

Living in such an environment and among other people who are benefiting from the rise of technology alternatives to traditional services, it must be tempting to think of these innovations as unmitigated boons to mankind. Of course, it’s often in the rest of the country where the negative impacts of these changes are felt, as jobs get sucked out of rural and suburban areas, either to disappear completely or to be replaced in high-tech zones. Engineers who only ever see the tech-infused version of the world they live in can have little conception of the impact it causes elsewhere or the way the other half, or more accurately the other 99%, lives.

Going Global is Tough but Important

That’s why going global with a product or service is so important, though it may in some cases be tough. If innovations are beneficial, they should be as widely spread as possible, as quickly as possible. It’s obviously much tougher where extensive physical infrastructure such as retail stores, warehouses, or even fleets of cars and drivers are needed, but we often see even digital products and services like Amazon Echo and Google Home restricted to just a few markets, even ones that share a common language. That’s why I was so impressed by Netflix’s global launch a little over a year ago and continue to be impressed by major digital services from Apple like iTunes which span the globe, or even Siri, which supports many different languages in more countries than any of the other major virtual assistants. Doing that work is hard – it requires local language support, cultural understanding, partnerships with local players, and more — but it deserves doing because the benefits of many of these technologies are worth spreading as far and wide as possible.

It’s also important for companies to put their people into more diverse places because only then can those employees more accurately understand and represent the needs of those they’re trying to serve and create products and services designed to help a much broader swathe of the population. I’ve also been impressed recently by Steve Case’s mission to grow tech hubs outside of the big existing ones as a way to bring renewal and growth to more places across the US.

More people in the tech industry should be thinking about how to distribute the future more evenly, both within the US and across the world. That applies to their own businesses as much as to the products and services they sell.

Published by

Jan Dawson

Jan Dawson is Founder and Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research, a technology research and consulting firm focused on consumer technology. During his sixteen years as a technology analyst, Jan has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. As such, he brings a unique perspective to the consumer technology space, pulling together insights on communications and content services, device hardware and software, and online services to provide big-picture market analysis and strategic advice to his clients. Jan has worked with many of the world’s largest operators, device and infrastructure vendors, online service providers and others to shape their strategies and help them understand the market. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Jan worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as Chief Telecoms Analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally.

12 thoughts on “The Future is Unevenly Distributed – Tech Should Fix That”

  1. Physician, heal thyself: reciprocally, stuff is happening outside of Silicon Valley that is / would be well worth analyzing ;-p

  2. This article made me rather angry. We benighted people who live outside the US have computers too, you know. We even have wifi! And, believe it our not, we have entrepreneurs of our own. Startups! Even (gasp!) internet based tech companies. We don’t have to wait for the kind benevolence of our colonial masters in the US to come to provide us with tech based services.

    And if the tech startups landscape is not as overgrown and overfull out here as it is in America, maybe that speaks not to our primitive backwardness or to how our government regulators are not as spineless and supine as America’s are, but to the fact that the US tech industry is in a massive bubble. Maybe we are better off without the malevolent influence of a world of startups invented by overgrown man-children who are trying to replace their mothers, or of tech giants run by Ayn Rand-worshipping sociopaths.

    Maybe the flyover part of the US is equally better off without that malevolent influence. Maybe we should just give the entire silicon valley startup culture a one way ticket to Mars, without any spacesuits.

    1. You seem to have rather missed the point of the article – clearly, there’s lots of innovation happening in other countries too, and this is a call to the US tech industry to do better in spreading its technology specifically.

      1. “a call to the US tech industry to do better in spreading its technology specifically.”

        So they can spread their corrosive sociopathy even more widely throughout the world? No thank you.

        You seem to have rather missed the point of my comment. Amazon, which you think it’s a great pity has not spread its tentacles more deeply into the American heartland, is an evil company run by an evil sociopath. It does not give to charity, its hiring practices for tech positions are so lopsided towards single white men that Seattle has a massive problem with prostitution now because there’s such a gender imbalance in the city. It immiserates its warehouse employees while working them to death, refuses to allow them to form unions, and it is single handedly responsible for gutting massive parts of the retail industry in every country where it operates. It’s a monopolistic company that ought to have been broken up a long time ago except that it benefits from the supine and dysfunctional regulatory climate of your government. I never buy from Amazon unless I have no other choice.

        But you and every other tech pundit I have ever seen pontificating on the Internet thinks that it’s the cat’s pajamas and loves it. You don’t care that it’s an evil company that has a corrosive and evil influence on everything it touches, you just care about being able to buy stuff cheap and have it shipped to you overnight for free. “Screw the rest of the world, I’ve got what I care about.” Hmm, sounds familiar. I mentioned that silicon valley is infested with sociopaths. And tech pundits are overwhelmingly part of the silicon valley culture. I’m not saying you are a sociopath yourself – maybe you’ve just been swimming in the tech industry cesspool so long that you’ve convinced yourself that sewage is fresh water.

        1. Americans really don’t seem aware that people living outside the US don’t actually think America is all that great. Nice place to visit once in a while but I’d never, ever live there.

          I’m Canadian and I think Canada is pretty cool, as do my friends and family, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of them say Canada is the greatest country on earth, because we’re aware there are a lot of really great countries. I don’t think it’s just the US tech industry in a bubble, I think America is in a bubble.

          1. The most annoying thing is that when you call Americans on their arrogant self-centeredness, they gaslight you and claim that they weren’t actually doing what they had just been doing, as Mr Dawson did in his reply to my comment just above.

          2. Do I dare make a parallel with the iBubble ? I feel that I should, but also that it would be pointless and in slightly bad taste… Oh well, that’s never stopped me.

            Hey, one could make a parallel with all those iFans who are utterly convinced that all innovation and all good things only happen in the iBubble, who don’t really know anything else (knowing sometihing takes more than a lay-over), and who use material success to define superior.

          3. I know lots of people that use Apple gear, none of them think that only Apple innovates and none of them think Apple is great just because the company makes a lot of money.

            The Apple users I know use Apple products and services because they meet our needs very well and deliver a lot of value. If Apple isn’t a good fit for you, great, use something else. Do you see me constantly whining and complaining about Android? Nope. Because I think Android, Windows, whatever, are perfectly good choices. Use what works for you.

            You seem stuck in the 1990s Apple hate bubble.

  3. Okay, sole American to post so far….

    Hubris? We have it in spades. Not always pretty… Okay, never pretty.
    Corporatocracy? Yep! It sucks.You all seem to support it.
    Hate on Amazon? Hate away! Good! Be critical!

    Yet with the exception of Obartelemy (and me, I’m a cynic), everyone is an Apple fan. There’s a disconnect.

    And I’m also reasonably sure that this is an investment crowd. This site is run by bookies, er..analysts, and many other bookies are often quoted. Safe bet, these are capitalists.
    So you can imagine how refreshing I find Mr. Dawson’s “Technological Socialism” post. I don’t mind, “feel the Bern!”…

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