No Longer the Apple of Our Eye: The Fall of Apple

I’ve been part of the PC industry since it began. Many of my friends remember me managing one of the first computer stores. I became a technology analyst and followed the industry for many years. I even wrote a college textbook on PCs as well as teaching computer science to college students. So, I do know something about PCs. I’ve not only been an Apple dealer, but I’ve owned virtually all its major computing products from the Apple II. That includes the first Macintosh, MacBooks, the iMac, iPads, etc.

So, it’s with a sad heart that I say what the financial press has already been reporting. The best years of Apple are behind it. Having said that, I have to also say that my wife and I are an Apple family. What I observed as a technology analyst was that companies that are led by visionaries and then turned over to bean counters lose their technology edge. Related closely to that truism is that once a company reaches a certain size, it struggles to maintain a decent rate of return because it continually needs new breakthrough products. To put it another way, Apple might make its products too good. They tend to last longer than PCs, and they require a lot less support. The result is that it has become harder and harder for Apple to convince its customers to upgrade. That’s true not just for its computers, but it’s also true for its iPhones.

Steve Jobs did fail on occasion, but he also had enough vision to create products people didn’t even know they’d want or need. Where is the next breakthrough Apple product coming from? Apple explored the TV marketplace, but there are technological constraints that prevent it from coming out with something that would revolutionize TV, especially since there is a movement toward decoupling cable channels and moving toward a wild west type free for all where people simply will decide on which Internet channels they want. How can you bring order to such a chaotic universe? I doubt Apple can.

Automobiles was another area Apple was exploring. Now we learn BMW is going its own way on electric cars and other major manufacturers are moving ahead in that area as is Google. Apple won’t be able to control this market because it is primarily a hardware company and it can’t mandate that everyone confirm to its standard and use its software.

I certainly lay part of the problem on Tim Cook. By all counts he’s a great guy—certainly much more human than Jobs and less likely to make his subordinates cry. He’s outspoken and apparently on the right side of all the current hot button issues from gay rights to computer privacy. But, his entire history has been as a supply chain guy, a person acknowledged as an expert in cutting costs and increasing efficiency. That’s wonderful, and every hardware company needs someone at the VP level with those skills, but it’s a forrest and not a tree CEO who is needed to give a company direction and keep it ahead of the curve.

What Jobs managed to do was to make Apple “cool.” Remember all the Apple fanboys who would line up whenever a new product was released. Now it tends to be people of my generation. The college age kids have moved on to Android products. Since Samsung has been in a long-standing battle with Apple over intellectual property rights, its no surprise that the Korean company’s products more and more resemble iPhones but cost less.

Now Apple is sitting on a lot of cash. What should it do and what is it likely to do? I suspect it will buy back some of its stock to maintain its price. I also suspect we’ll see Apple offer “new” products that offer a few new features, but that won’t be enough to maintain its leadership position. What it does need to do but probably won’t is to use some of its cash to buy new technology by acquiring some cutting edge startups. If it can’t come up with new visionary products from the CEO’s office, then it might have to do so from some of the young geniuses whose companies they buy.

The problem, of course, is that startups work quite differently from a company Apple’s size. They make decisions quickly and then create products rapidly. What happens, though, in a company Apple’s size when heads of different units compete for resources? Without someone like a Steve Jobs at the top who is capable of relying on some mysterious gut reaction to determine which product will be successful, Apple probably will rely on a bean counter who probably will create a very detailed spreadsheet that weighs the pluses and minuses of each potential new product. That might be an ideal way of narrowing a list of potential colleges to attend, but it’s no way to select the product that could make or break a giant corporation.

Apple will not disappear. It still makes solid products that its customers love. The problem is attracting new customers in sufficient numbers to meet its financial goals and satisfy the financial community. Its recent history has been to create products that cannibalize older products (Who needs an iPod now that there’s an iPhone and an iCloud?) When my generation finally rides off into the sunset, where will Apple be?

Two Days Answering Questions

I spent a couple of days recently sitting in the “Ask Me Anything” chair for the website. It was a fascinating experience. I wound up answering around 125 questions, plus answering some replies to my replies. It kind of reminded me of the Client Forums that Giga Information Group used to hold for its customers where I’d give a talk and then spend the bulk of the time addressing questions from a very knowledgeable audience.

The rationale for accepting this challenge was to alert the thousands of people who visit that website regularly to my new non-fiction book about the possibilities of first contact with extraterrestrial life (Extraterrestrial First Contact: Past, Present, and Future). I was astounded by the breath of knowledge exhibited by the audience. Many were scientists by profession or amateurs with extensive knowledge of the physics behind space travel. Most were huge science fiction fans who preferred science fiction that included hard science.

The audience had real concerns about issues threatening this world such as pollution, collisions with asteroids, war, plague, etc. I couldn’t help thinking about one of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. In that novel, Rosewater tells a group of science fiction fans how much he admires and loves them because: ” You’re the only ones who’ll talk all about the really terrific changes going on, the only ones crazy enough to know that life is a space voyage, and not a short one, either, but one that’ll last for billions of years. You’re the only ones with guts enough to really care about the future, who really notice what machines do to us, what wars do to us, what cities do to us, what big, simple ideas do to us, what tremendous misunderstanding, mistakes, accidents, catastrophes do to us.”

You could what Vonnegut said to include people who read science fiction regularly and think about the future.



An Analyst’s View of The Final Frontier

For more than two decades I made my living as a technology analyst. The closest parallel I’ve found are the mentats in Frank Herbert’s Dune. In other words, my job was to “drink” a torrent of information on a particular topic, analyze the data, and figure out what it all meant. In particular, I was looking for patterns that might be lost in the jumble of seemingly irrelevant data. Who wanted this type of analysis? We sold the analysis to Fortune 500 companies, stock brokerage firms, and government agencies.

Now that I have time to analyze what I want to focus on and not what my clients care about, I’ve turned my attention toward the skies. There’s a fascinating space race taking place beneath the surface. Did you know that the Indian government is planning a mission to Mars that will cost less than the cost of producing the movie Gravity? The Chinese are doing likewise, while we have a robot on Mars already.

Why all this attention to Mars and not to the Moon that is much closer? There have been persistent rumors as well as statements by some former astronauts that the Moon already is occupied by extraterrestrials who have made it clear we’re not welcome there. If this sounds silly to you, then you need to read some of the astronauts’ own words. There is enough discrepancies in NASA’s reporting as well as missing photos that it makes any intelligent person start to wonder what that agencies knows but doesn’t want to reveal.

What’s so special about Mars? There was a report a few years back of a meteor that crash landed here on Earth that appeared to have some fossils in it. The implication was that life as we know it might have started on Mars and then spread to Earth. Why is there a space race to Mars now?

I think what we see as a space race is really a modern version of the old gold rush that helped build California. Instead of gold, though, there’s a search for any alien technology that might give a country an advantage economically and militarily. Supposedly during the height of the Cold War, US and Soviet forces rushed to wherever UFOs were reportedly to have crashed. Once again, the motivation was to find technology well in advance of our own.

Today we have strange lights on Ceres that never have been seen before. Scientists are scrambling to come up with logical explanations, but so far they appear to be grasping at straws.

Besides a rush to find alien technology, there are other reasons why humanity views space as the final frontier and looks to the stars. We live on a very small planet revolving around a minor star.  One large asteroid on a collision course could wipe out humanity. So, there is an implicit understanding among some scientists that humanity will have to expand and colonize other planets in order to ensure humanity’s long-term survival as well as relieve the pressure on Earth’s environment. If alien races exist as I believe they do, there will be a space race of sorts to put Occupied signs on habitable planets. If we’re late to the party, we might find ourselves alone in a hostile universe. Think of the old Star Trek series. Even though the Federation’s mission was to explore new worlds and go where Man has never gone before, there was a race of sorts to develop friendships with new races and planets before the Federation’s enemies could do likewise. In political terms, you could think of this as a battle to enlarge spheres of influence.

Americans by their very nature are individualists with little faith in Government. Our ancestors fled here to live without the constraints they found in the old world. The streak of libertarianism that you now see to extremes in some politicians has very deep roots in this country. With that streak comes suspicion. So, when rumors start to fly about the Roswell incident, a possible treaty with an alien race, NASA’s private conversations with astronauts on private channels, etc., we find ourselves inclined to believe them.

From my perspective as a former analyst and “futurist” who was pretty damned good at his job, I think there simply is too many data points on the side of evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. Like a house of cards, all the official government denials will eventually crumble and we’ll have a public disclosure.

I’m sure you could tell that this topic fascinates me. My new non-fiction book, Extraterrestrial Intelligence, looks at the facts and comes to some conclusions as to what will happen when a public disclosure finally comes. I also have written a science fiction novel, Alien Love, that Booktrope will publish later this year. That particular novel includes one character, an old astronaut dying of cancer, who spills the beans on all the lies our government has spread over the years. What the novel reveals is that Earth is very much like Casablanca just before World War II with several alien agents (rather than Nazi agents as found in the movie) with their own agendas.

So, while we’re waiting for the official disclosures, let’s focus our attention on news stories about what is happening on Ceres, independent analyses of photos from the Mars rover, any unusual meetings with scientists and President Obama, and even UFO reports. By the way, have you noticed how UFO reports have increased over the past year?

SETI Politics and First Contact with Extraterrestrials

I’ve been researching the whole notion of first contact with extraterrestrials for a book I plan to write on the subject. I came upon a note written by SF writer and scientist David Brin that I found quite upsetting. Apparently a very small group of scientists control SETI; they’ve ignored advice to broaden their group when it comes to developing policies that impact the entire world. Instead, they’ve take the step of actively broadcasting signals into space to attract aliens, rather than listen passively.

Imagine, if you will, you were able to go back in time to the moment when Cortez first appeared. Let’s say you’re one of the Montezuma’s advisers. Montezuma invites a very select group of two advisers into his palace. You and several other advisers beg to be admitted to offer your advice. You think these foreigners might be dangerous –be cautious, you scream. Montezuma listens only to his two most trust advisers and accepts Cortez as a God. The rest, of course, is history as the Spanish men wiped out the Aztecs.

The point that Brin makes in his essay is that it’s better to err on the side of caution. Maybe there’s a reason why the airwaves are so quiet. Even Carl Sagan, one of the biggest believers in Alien altruism, urged caution.

I’ve been part of many large companies where politics played a major role. It sounds like SETI is no different from other organizations. A clique controls things and doesn’t want to broaden itself by letting outsiders into the inner circle. The difference in the case of SETI, though, is that the end result could be far more serious than making a wrong decision that results in lowered profits for the company. We could attract the attention of the wrong type of aliens.

Don’t Let Your Son Grow Up to be a Scientist

My title is meant to be an echo of the song about not letting your son grow up to be a cowboy. How could we possibly have gotten ourselves into the fix we’re in today? We have one political party that is reviving memories of the Know Nothing party of the 1920s when it comes to science and common sense. Freedom not to vaccinate your children because you “own” them? That’s what Rand Paul said the other day. Chris Christie said much the same thing and then backtracked a bit as he thought about how far he could step back from his original statement and still be a viable presidential candidate for the modern version of the Know Nothing party.

Remember the Know Nothing party? People proudly proclaimed that they “knew nothing” and they were proud of that as they expressed scorn for northern intellectuals. The implication was that good old common sense was far superior to stuff you learn in school. So, at the same time that a significant sector of the American people deny climate change, the value of vaccines, evolution, etc., America is having problems finding children interested in science and then educating them.

We can’t graduate enough scientists; in fact, America has been importing scientists from other parts of the world for years. Unfortunately, countries such as China and Japan are now creating lucrative opportunities for their Ph.D graduates from American colleges to return home.

Why can’t we grow our own homegrown scientists? The answer is that we make science very dull during the very years when kids might become intrigued enough to make science their career choice. I’ve been hearing horrible stories of incompetence  when it comes to teaching middle grade science. Teachers who didn’t even minor in science wind up basically staying a chapter ahead of their students. High school teachers are almost as bad. At the same time, parents and their children have to take some responsibility for the dearth of scientists. Lax parents don’t go over homework and enrich their children’s education by exposing them to museums and technology exhibitions. They also don’t monitor the amount of time their kids spend playing games. Students also have to take some of the blame because they choose easy subjects.

I remember when I majored in Chemistry in college I watched many of my friends who were business or liberal arts majors finish their classes by noon while I spent entire afternoons in labs. Many students today don’t want to work as hard as science classes require, so they take the easy way out. One major university not far from me has a racial divide with asians filling its science classes while others crowd into easier classes.

So, we have public figures ridiculing science and scientists while students avoid science because it’s hard. It’s not an easy time to become a scientist even though we never needed scientists more. I’m not sure what it would take to change the situation. Perhaps if we have a major show stopper such as evidence of extraterrestrial life or a major breakthrough in medical technology that increases longevity, maybe students will see science as an exciting place to go. In the meantime, we really need the same industry that complains it can’t find homegrown scientists to adopt middle schools and high schools and offer financial and manpower assistance. Picture a real live chemist coming into a middle grade science class and showing off some amazing results.

So, if you read this and you are working in industry, encourage your company to adopt a school. If you have kids who think science is not “cool,” then take them to some science museums and show them just how exciting science can be. I never regret all the science classes I have even though I now spend my time writing. Science knowledge helps citizens understand major political issues revolving around science so that they can push their elected officials in the right direction. If more citizens had more of a science background, politicians would not be able to lie about climate change or try to dismiss what is self-apparent by saying that they are not scientists and so can’t say definitively that the climate is changing.

Social Media & The Generation Gap

I’ve deliberately avoided joining Facebook for as long as possible. As an analyst, I harbored a good deal of distrust for that company and its attitude toward privacy. In effect, many of the company’s executives don’t seem to feel people deserve or need to have any privacy. I think there are two reasons for this; one reason is a generation gap. Many people under thirty live their lives on the web. The second reason is that Facebook makes more money if more people’s valuable info is available for advertisers.

Having sworn off Facebook, I found my publisher pushing me to join so I would have more of a web presence. I finally joined and began adding connections to friends and relatives. What struck me was how my old high school group reformed right before my eyes. First one, then a second and third, and then finally virtually the entire group re-established links, including hard-to-find women who had given up their maiden names and thus could not be found via any search engine.

At the same time that people like me join Facebook and begin tweeting on Twitter and establish blogs such as this one, younger generations are swearing off Facebook and even Twitter and moving to other platforms such as Instagram. I’m amazed at the time and effort one 13-year old spends sending out Instagrams. The number of Instagram followers becomes a badge of honor for people such as her.

I think younger people don’t want to be associated with a social network where the older people have taken over. Who wants their mother reading their Facebook page? So, they have gravitated to other social media where the response is even more immediate than with Facebook.

I imagine a time not too far from now (putting on my old analyst/futurist hat) when people under twenty will communicate via Internet chip implants that give them instant access to each other. Scientists are pretty close to translating brain activity into thoughts and words. Imagine simply thinking a message to your friends. The advantages include privacy since your parents can’t look over your shoulder at your screen and instant access.

Imagine now what happens if the web goes down. Suddenly kids will find a overwhelming, frightening silence enveloping them. Without any voices in their head (the subject of an unpublished novel I wrote), the silence will be disorienting.

High school is the most intense emotional period in most people’s lives. Many people never get past high school when it comes to their feelings of self-worth. Sociologists note how when people come together for a high school reunion, they immediately re-establish their old cliques which means there are insiders and outsiders. The former cheerleaders and football heroes basque in reflected glory while the nerds feel like nerds again even though they might have founder stock in Intel or Microsoft and can buy anything in the world they want.

Now it’s possible to recreate high school without having to travel to a reunion. No wonder Facebook is becoming so popular with the older generation while younger people are gravitating to other social media.

Disruptive Technology: Predicting The Future

For many years I made my living by forecasting what technology would be like five years into the future. Manufacturers would pay for reports that had my revenue forecasts and then use those numbers a number of different ways in their planning process.  Of course my numbers tended to be more conservative than those offered by  a lot of analysts. One product manager told me that he used forecasts from another analyst firm when it came to attracting investors, but he used my numbers for his actual planning work. What I learned over the years is that disruptive technology takes longer than people think to take over. Think of PCs, for example. It took several years longer than many people in the industry thought for PCs to become commonplace. Part of the reason is resistance to change, but another reason is that people need a specific reason such as an attractive application, to move them forward and make them change the fundamental way they do things.

Forecasting is one thing, but predicting major disruptive technology’s impact is another. It’s something that most people don’t do very well because it requires thinking completely outside the box. Remember the old Jetsons’ TV show? That vision of future transportation consisted of cars with wings on them. You have to break the mold for the way current things work in order to predict the future. So, here are some of my predictions for disruptive technology.

No More Smartphones: Thinking about investing long-term in smartphones? Don’t do it!. Much of the technology associated with a smartphone can be stripped apart into component pieces that you’ll wear (see my next prediction). There is no reason why a phone needs to look like a phone nor does someone have to hold a phone up to his or her ear to talk.

No More laptops, iPads, Notebook Computers: I know Steve Jobs would turn over in his grave over this one, but IBM Labs as well as other places have already developed wearable computers. Essentially you just need to place a small computing element in your pocket much like we now carry a key fob. What looks like an earring is in reality a receiver. As far as computing goes, why limit yourself to a tiny keyboard and and an even tinier screen. Most people will have a computer chip implanted that gives them 7/24 access to the Internet. They will probably use a version of a contact lens that gives them a virtual reality keyboard. Special coating on one’s fingers will enable the person to type on the virtual keyboard.

 Build it Yourself: Additive manufacturing will bloom as 3D printers become a basic home appliance. People will download designs the way they now download recipes. Does Mary want a new doll? The printer will produce one. Conversely, people who don’t have the inclination to print their own will be able to go to a neighborhood print center and pick up their manufactured and customized product.

The Cloud Becomes God-Like: As big data becomes even bigger, very complex databases containing images, music, etc. will become the norm. Do you see someone at a meeting and can’t remember his name? You’ll focus on him and send a message to your database in the cloud where all your contacts are kept, including images. The image of the person will be matched up and a name sent to you.

They Know Who You Are and What You’re Thinking: Some breakthrough research shows that scientists are just starting to identify brain patterns and match them up with specific thoughts. Thinking about a beautiful girl whose picture you saw? So, what’s the practical application of this technology in the future? Imagine if you’re walking or driving past a store. The store will recognize your IP address from your implant and match that address with your customer database entry. They will be able to end you an alert that a particular item you obviously like because you’ve bought it in the past is now on sale. If the store can recognize a specific brain pattern such as a sweater, for example, it could send an even more customized alert. Look for the civil libertarians to fight hard to keep our thoughts private.

Quantum Transportation: Maybe Star Trek was onto something when it showed people being beamed from place to place. The latest research on quantum mechanics shows that someday quantum teleportation is possible. Of course it will take many years for us to perfect it. Right now the best we can do is note the nature of entanglement. Old timers will approach teleportation the way people puzzled over fax machines. Remember the confusion over how you could send a report over a telephone wire? How could you squeeze it into such a small space? The same confusion will be found when it comes to the question of whether you’re sending a copy of yourself and whether that means there are two versions of yourself running around. Is the original destroyed? The debate will make the old debate over possible death panels and healthcare seem like child’s play. Still, quantum teleportation is a disruptive technology that will make traditional transportation obsolete someday.

Everything in the House is Talking but Me: Years ago Cisco Systems suggested the idea of a smart refrigerator, one that would keep track of what is being consumed and then produce a shopping list. Let’s take communications a lot further. Imagine all the appliances in your house in communication with one another and with your 3D printer. Imagine you decide you’d like a specific dish for dinner. You send a message to your home and then the real action starts. The master console checks to see what raw ingredients are found in the refrigerator as well as other areas of the house. The ingredients are assembled and the 3D printer uses its sophisticated synthesizing ability to take chemicals and build food molecules to fill in the missing ingredients. The final concoction tastes like what you ordered. Now, if you’re the type of person to become paranoid, imagine having to worry about what your appliances are saying about you.

Notice that each of these predictions has to do with breaking the mold associated with our current way of thinking about how to do things. That’s why the term “disruptive technology” has become such a cliche in Silicon Valley circles when it comes to attracting investors. Who wouldn’t want to get in on the ground floor when it comes to a truly disruptive technology? Smartphones and iPads broke the mold and created new ways of doing things. In the future, these devices someday will seem as antiquated as buggy whips and TVs with rabbit ears.


The Thin Line Between Science, Science Fiction, and 3D Printing

As some of you know, I am about to publish the first ebook from Schatt Research. The topic is 3D printing. Remember Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation? Frequently he uses his replicator to order a fresh cup of tea. In some episodes the replicator produces various alien dishes.

What if there really were something like a replicator? Imagine the impact on various industries. Why would we need as many transportation companies if we can produce goods where we need them? Why would we need as many warehouse companies? Why would we need as many retailers if people could produce the goods they need at home?

Imagine, also, the impact on the world’s economic order. China has built up a huge trade surplus because of its cheap labor. What if 3D printing and additive manufacturing eliminated that advantage and pushed that advantage back to the U.S?

Eventually we’ll reach a level of sophistication where 3D printers will be able to mix various chemicals and produce foods or even fulfill prescriptions. I’m not talking centuries here but only a few decades. Of course disruptive technology never happens as quickly as people would like it to take place. The PC revolution took two decades to develop to the point where people at multiple PCs in their homes and considered the device to be as necessary as an oven. The Internet took a few years as well. Not too long ago people were arguing whether to pronounce it “period com” or “dot com.”

That’s what makes science fiction so fascinating. The Circle is an example. The book could very easily be describing what will happen in a few years if we let the evil people at Facebook/Google take over our daily lives and our politics.

I’ll have more to say about 3D printing and its impact on our daily lives when the first Schatt Research volume is published in May.

Alone Surrounded by People

E. M Forester wrote a novella entitled “The Machine Stops” long before people thought about social media. The story describes a time in the future when everyone is isolated in their own homes but still connected to each other via a wall size display screen. People live their lives through their interactions with the machine. Forester goes on to describe the isolation people feel when the machine finally fails.

The New York Times recently published a review of a new book about how teens use social media. The book seems to be filled with the usual generalizations one would expect when describing an entire generation. Still, the review made me think about Forester and about how teens are using social media such as Instagram and Twitter. Apparently many of them are now deserting Facebook since the older generations have finally taken the plunge. Who wants to go to a place that’s so uncool that Dad and Mom reside there?

What strikes me is that it’s hard for teens to physically get together, particularly before they are old enough to drive on their own. Where can they go? We see malls filled with teens, but only until security people begin to roust them in fear that older shoppers will flee. Fast food places? Managers there don’t want teens and tweens congregating and occupying tables for hours after purchasing only a Coke and fries.

So, teens and subteens communicate now via social media. They spill out what’s happening in their lives almost on a minute by minute basis. “Reading XYZ and on page 42. Great read so far!” Friends provide instant feedback. If a teen reports he or she is sad about something, friends chime in with support. Of course, there’s aways the possibility that a bully will take the opportunity via social media to attack someone when they are most vulnerable.

So, symbols of various emotions color a teen’s tweets and Instagram descriptions. Communities and sub-communities form. It’s really quite a complex web if you think about it. I once knew an adult who was carrying on six or seven different concurrent instant message sessions. That pales in contrast to the number of social media interactions teens and subteens are carrying on.

Facebook has been looking at artificial intelligence software that can analyze not just faces but also social interactions. Corporations are salivating at the possibility of analyzing teen and sub-teen social interactions and determining buying behavior so that they can target advertising.

I wrote an unpublished novel once entitled “A Thousand Voices in My Head”. It described a time when companies would identify a person by their IP address and attached buying patterns. People routinely would have chips embedded in their heads that gave them 24-hour Internet connectivity. As people neared stores, these stores would broadcast targeted messages such as “Your favorite detergent now is on sale” or “We’re offering you a 25% discount at your favorite clothing store, only five minutes from your current location.”

So, I see a time in the not too distant future when teens and subteens will find their social media territory overrun by greedy adults who want to take advantage of the opportunity to sell to a captive audience. I almost feel like whispering to teens, “enjoy your friends and your time communicating together now, because in the future you’ll probably wind up having to communicate around dozens of targeted ads.” Just mention a pizza in your message, and suddenly you’ll find a targeted pizza ad. Talk about having sex, and a condom ad will appear. Big brother will be watching, and he’s out to make a fast buck.


Writing for Silicon Valley Readers

The New York Times Magazine has a long article written by a young Harvard intern working in Silicon Valley. The gist of the article is that there is a huge gulf between the young and the old as well as between the young companies and established companies. Young people in the 20’s feel they have little in common with older workers; hence, these older workers rarely apply. As the author points out, what older worker would want to spend a weekend bar crawling with colleagues in their twenties?

The author goes on to also point out that very rarely an older company retains a sense of coolness that still attracts the young. So, Apple is cool while Cisco and Microsoft are not cool or cool places to work. The startups attract young people willing to work endless hours and live on junk food.

Now let me add my two cents. I think very often it is easy to fall in love with technology or apps and lose sight of what is needed. Do we really need yet one more new app on our phones to prioritize our daily schedule? What about another dating app? Many twenty somethings in Silicon Valley and in other hotbeds of technology turn to dating apps because they simply don’t have time to go about seeking partners the traditional way.

What about reading? I get the feeling that outside of non-fiction including bios and stories of tech figures who became rich, a large portion of the tech-savvy twenty somethings in Silicon Valley don’t read much and certainly don’t read much fiction. It’s funny, though, because Hollywood writers spend so much time and movie producers spend so much money developing movies set around characters who are in the twenties.

What happens when these techies hit middle age and older? Let’s assume they keep whatever reading time they have focused on very small screens such as their phones and iPads. What happens to fiction as a profitable industry? Even if it’s possible to write and produce an ebook for under a couple of hundred dollars, why bother when readers are focusing on other things?

I’m afraid that when a generation reads less fiction, it has less range of emotional experience. Why say that? A study of what happens to readers’ brains when they read shows that they actually produce the same brain patterns of people who are living through the experiences described by a writer. So, when someone reads about a character who falls in love. In effect, the reader also falls in love. When the novel describes the breakup of a romance, the reader’s brain reflects the appropriate emotional pattern of brain waves.

One way we learn to relate to a wide range of different kinds of people is by our reading experiences. Without that experience, people can become remarkably provincial. Many of us will only rarely face a situation where we have the choice to be brave and heroic or not. Yet, if we read widely, we have some definite notions about what bravery and heroism are all about. Of course we learn from movies as well, but books delve much ore with what’s happening inside us. Few moviegoers have he patience to hear a character’s interior monologue for more than a couple of minutes. Yet, we’ll read chapter after chapter of a character’s internal struggle.

Recently some Harvard students reinvented a version of Facebook, but one focusing only on helping students find other students who want to sleep with them. Users “spark” each other if they find the other person physically attractive. It saves hours of drudgery of having to meet, make small talk, get past first base, second base and third base, and try for a home run. Instead, two people just cut through all the romance and focus on the same physical goal.

Of course if people take that approach toward the opposite sex in their twenties and into their thirties, they fail to learn what it means to develop a meaningful relationship. If they haven’t taken the time to do it or even taken the time to read about characters in novels doing it, what happens when they are starting to hit forty? No longer quite attractive enough to “spark” a night of passion from someone else using the app. are they destined to spend their lives increasingly alone?

The recent movie “Her” describes a love affair of sorts between a man and his smart phone and the artificial intelligence within it. It’s a remarkable idea because it goes hand in hand with what is currently evolving in Silicon Valley. Soon this generation will go far beyond current science fiction and show us what life is like in a world where fiction is something you only read in school because it’s required and more and more people exhibit Aspergers like symptoms because they just don’t know how to relate to each other.