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The Future Is Good But Only For Those Who Can Afford It




About 7 yeas ago, I was still working as a salaried guy at this company. It was paying bills, things were alright and what not. Around that time, Microsoft (my favorite tech company by far) released (and they keep releasing interesting videos like all the time) a video depicting in the future. The video – Microsoft’s Concept Future Vision 2020-  is available here at this link, and I have embedded it below, as well.



It is the year 2017 now, and we are 3 years away from whatever the video thought would have happened. Unlike Hollywood movies such as Blade Runner (flying cars, humanoid androids, planet exploration and terraforming) or even poorly made Bollywood movies like Love Story 2050 (which for some reason copies everything from Blade Runner to Star Wars to X-men? What!!! Why god why!!!!) these concept videos are made by folks who are considering the future, trying to build technologies that they can sell. Not a movie audience but an audience that wishes to get work done. In fact, Microsoft has an entire website dedicated to future vision of productivity called Productivity Future Vision.

Thus, much of it is plausible instead of fantastical. I loved that video from 7 years ago, and of course, the website has a more recent vision of productivity and has a different video. A lot of things that are in the concept video are already here. For instance, I see a child write something in English and that gets immediately translated to Hindi, on a transparent wall, for an Indian child to understand. The video is obsessed with transparent screens ( transparent screens are not practical, at least not for everyday usage) but otherwise, everything that happens in the video can happen. Some of it, is already happening.

Skype already has live language translation. That means, two folks who don’t have a common language could (with conditions applied) speak to each other, and let Skype do the translation. In another scene, objects are dragged from one screen to another screen. The HoloLens from Microsoft can do it today. Move stuff from say the television screen to the portable screen. A lot of scenes use a ‘wheel’ type input device, which is exceedingly cool. Although the ‘non-physical’ wheel is not real, Microsoft recently started selling something similar called ‘Surface Dial’. For creative work, the thing is incredible and totally awesome. Of course, I will say awesome so many times when talking about the future.

In another video (with similar stuff, available at this link ) a woman steps down from airport and by the time she steps out, the cab is already waiting for her, and at the hotel, the concierge is already waiting for her, and she is already checked in. Then, we see a guy who scans a screen at the metro station and pledges some money (the photo interacts with him like it does in the Harry Potter movies) and then continues onward with his journey. Then that woman (who checked into that hotel) wraps up a report on her tablet, and then sends the finished work to her colleague who then proceeds to create a virtual conference room. This video in particular, almost everything that is done here is already possible.

I love such things because life is about technology and progress is measured by it. If not for the fire and wheel, humanity would have long gone extinct.

While all this stuff is already happening (except for borderless and transparent displays), there is something that the video will not say. Or perhaps, it is not supposed to. When all is said and done, Microsoft is a company that is essentially making advertisements for future products. As I have mentioned above, a lot of things in these videos are already available to paying customers. It may not be as cool as it is in the video but it is definitely a future come true.

Now, this technology is awesome but as with everything, we live in a world that is mostly driven by capitalism. Money helps make more money. That is how the world is designed. Instead of going on and with imaginary examples, I will use my own work desk as an example. Although I hail from a poor family, due to a combination of luck, wanton recklessness and lack of respect for my father’s feelings, I was able to get round the clock access to computers and internet, early on. This was the year 2005, in a small city such as Mysore. People here were paying 60 rupees per hour (an amount that is worth almost 200 rupees today) to use a computer with an internet connection. I had it at my disposal like all time. By default, I had access to technology that a lot of my peers did not have.

The access to technology (and adult entertainment, obviously) completely changed the way I perceive technology. I was already slightly smarter than the average engineering student (yes, totally self bragging here) and this access to information completely changed things for me. I would spend hours and hours pouring our thousands of online articles. Much of this knowledge was organic and without purpose. In some unconscious way, I am probably still processing all that information. Yet, this access to knowledge (thanks to access to technology) completely changed the way I perceived the world around me.

Now, I never wondered why my peers did not have access to the same technology. Most of them had access to a computer, sure. However, most of them were not connected to the internet. Heck, all they did was watch movies and play video games. I did the same but for some reason, I was always obsessed with reading and now, I had the entire world at my disposal. There was so much to read. Eventually, I realized that the reason many of them were not connected was because internet access, back in 2005 was incredibly expensive. It was my reckless behavior and uncompromising stance and dozens of fights with my father that got me access to internet. My father resisted so much (although he eventually gave in) because it was costing him thousands of rupees every month just to get me basic internet access. Other fathers did not wish to spend thousands on internet. My peers did not wish to go reckless and fight for internet access.

At the end of it all, I figured out that, it all came down to money. Back then (unlike today) internet access fell into one of those things that you only buy with discretionary income. In my case, I forced my parents to giving it to me, possibly causing a lot of hardships to them in the process. In fact, the money thing just keeps coming back to haunt every aspect of our lives. I could talk about how better money (most of the time) leads to a better life but I am (as always) limit myself to technology.

The Microsoft videos are about productivity so I will go into the role technology plays in our daily. As mentioned before, the access to internet, completely changed my mind, and the way I look at everyday things. I was using online banking before most people knew what a website was. I was getting products delivered home before folks knew that such a technology was science fiction. That trait that started in 2005, continues in my life, with me almost always using productivity stuff that my peers aren’t using.

One of the first things I do when any assignment starts at a client location is to get a second monitor. I have worked on some assignments in some seriously large companies. It is always disappointing to see people not using a second monitor. Three monitors are almost a rarity. When I discuss with the IT guys, they tell me that second monitors are not offered (I did get mine, and always get because it’s part of my contract) because of cost. The lack of a second screen means a loss of productivity, so imagine the loss of productivity in a team with 200 developers all because the IT has been advised to save some cash? I don’t blame them. Every company (just like individuals) has their priorities and if a rupee can be saved if it can be done.

The same applies to wireless keyboards and mice. Wires indirectly lead to fantastic reduction of property and sometimes even injuries. Then there is the effect of poorly designed keyboards themselves. I spent close to 7000 rupees on my wireless keyboard and mice combo. I had to endure some amount of ridicule from my work colleagues (of course, not directly into my face because I am a senior developer and the architect. They better not openly mock unless they want to lose their jobs) and others who would claim that for the same amount, they could buy 7 wireless ones, or some 20 regular ones. However, my Microsoft Business Keyboard and Mouse comes with tiny enhancements (like the push back buttons on the keys that push back after each key press, the tickaty tackaty sound that makes me feel like a real typist, the clear spacing between the keys, the small size that keeps hand movement to a minimum reducing hand movement and the steel weight that keeps the keyboard in one place) that takes my productivity to a whole new level.

Essentially, this access to improved technology (which comes at a hefty price) allows me to work better and save time. Time that can be utilized elsewhere for something else. I could be saving as little as 1 minute, but that is still 1 minute saved. There is also the major side effect. Expensive productivity tools such as these last way longer than basic keyboards and mice, and they also endure less wear and tear and less downtime due to repairs. Of course, these bad boys don’t even need a dongle so when I am working across multiple PCs and tablets, it is so much easier to use them. Again, massive improvement in terms of productivity.

If I were to extrapolate this experience (expensive keyboard and mice equals improved productivity) imagine what people with access to technology as depicted in the above futuristic productivity videos depict can achieve? Imagine what you and I could do we had a 50 inch touch screen enabled monitor that can also be written on. Imagine being able to use the Surface Dial to switch between multiple menus using natural gestures. Imagine what is possible if we could teach essential programming using HoloLens and sharing that view with hundreds of other students.

Then, I realize, the only thing standing between us and maximum productivity is access to the right tools. The right tools, well, the better tools are the ones that cost a truck load of money. By extension, when the future technology arrives, and it will, the only way that anybody can experience it is if they have access to necessary funds. That means, an ability to earn such money, and then getting access to such tools, which in turn increases productivity, which possibly helps you make more money.

All this seems very apocalyptic but there is a bright side though. Technology usually trickles down to everybody. I had internet access in 2005. People finally started getting internet access a few years ago. However, I had the first mover advantage which I might have taken advantage of. So, when the above futuristic tools become available, the person who gets it first gets to take full advantage of it and the cycle will continue.

The challenge here is a simple one. Can we really be the ones who have the first mover advantage?

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Essential Economics and Online Movie Tickets



I realized very early on (perhaps even before I reached high school) that most of the stuff taught in schools (and by extension, the pre-university college, engineering college and MBA education) was perhaps not so useful. In its place, I discovered that these schools and colleges were a place to meet other brilliant minds – students, faculties, elderly scholars and university experts – from whom we can learn so much. It’s like going to a movie theatre and realizing that the movie snacks are better than the actual movie.

I found that the education system is flexible and allowed me to gather the knowledge I want even if much of it never came from the books. For that, and so much more, I continue to have profound respect for our education system, and the people who are part of it. Without them, I do not think I would have achieved whatever limited success I may have achieved today. 

One of those things that I discovered in my MBA days was economics. Over the years, I kept thinking, why isn’t economics taught to us as part of basic schooling? It is so essential to understand life, I think that is one of those they missed out.

As of now, I am in the fifth year of being an independent income guy. If I don’t figure out the economics of things, I have noticed that things seem to go very horribly for me. Over the years, I have become better at it but I feel that I have barely touched the surface. Today, I thought, I will simply write about economics using online movie tickets as the McGuffin.

I became a tax payer in 2008 and the first thing I did was demonetize my life. I went full online and that is when I discovered online movie tickets. The luxury of picking the exact seats (I am a big believer in sound acoustics, and take into consideration the size of the movie hall, the type of seats used and all that stuff to decide where I wish to sit and watch movies) is what really makes paying that extra amount of money to get the tickets online. Also, it totally beats standing in queue at the box office.

Movies fall into one of those services which can only be paid for with ‘discretionary income’. I have been watching, analyzing and understanding the movie industry (and its finances) for over a decade now and I have learnt that it is possible to understand a lot about any nation’s economy by looking at how much money the highest grossing movie has made on any given year. The more money a movie makes in any country, you can infer (with a certain degree of error percentage) how well off the people in that country are.

Discretionary income is directly linked to supply and demand for any service, and in our case, the movie service. Suppose, there is this super awesome movie that is simply the finest form of entertainment that cuts across age groups, gender groups, cultural groups and overcomes all language barriers. I am thinking of movies like Avatar and Titanic. Clearly the supply is of top quality, and the demand is there. For instance, when Avatar fixed its release date, movie theatres all over the world upgraded their projection systems to equip themselves with 3D. Thousands of movie theatres all over the world underwent fantastic renovations so they can feed off the millions of movie goers who want to watch Avatar.

Obviously, it happened in India too. So, there is a good supply and there is good demand with the super nice movies. That brings us to the fixed cost. A fixed cost is something that the owner of the movie theatre must pay irrespective of how many people are sitting in the movie hall. In fact, movie theatres have some of the highest fixed costs when compared to how much money they make when there are literally no customers. To understand this, imagine you are living in a big house (like in one of those Sooraj Barjatya movies) with ton of people. When everybody is at home, all the lights are burning and kitchen is being utilized and that is perfectly fine. That’s maximum utilization. Suppose all these people went for vacation and you are staying alone. If so, you could limit yourself to staying in a small room, so only that room’s light is burning. The food will only be prepared one person. The water will only be consumed by one person. By extension, the cost is directly connected the number of consumers. One consumer equals say, one unit of cost.

In a movie theatre, though, it does not work that way. There could be only one person in the movie theatre, or the movie hall could be full. Either way, the entire hall must be powered on. Fixed cost allows an individual to figure out so much about how the economy of an entire nation or city or individual is faring. When you connect to the earlier fact about discretionary income only, so many things become clear.

For instance, understanding this allows one to realize why the movie food is so overpriced. A tub of popcorn that costs barely 30 bucks (half a dollar) costs at least 200 rupees ( 3 to 4 dollars) inside the movie theatre. Water bottles are marked up by at least 200 percent, and that’s perfectly legal because the MRP label indicates it. Of course, this is also the reason why the water cooler (which provides free water) is almost always tucked away in some far corner where its impossible to find.

This extends to the several offers and all the stuff that the online booking service does. The service which sells these tickets online also has a fixed cost which relates to its IT cost. Its revenue is tied to the overall movie industry, essentially acting like a huge movie hall. That is why, it is almost always possible to guess when there will be loads and loads of discounts offered and when there will be none. It is also possible to predict ticket prices and what movie will cost how much.

This further explains why the ‘service charge’ or the ‘internet handling fees’ can sometimes be as high as fifty percent of the actual ticket cost. By extension, this is another reason why you must pay hefty fees for the 3D glasses, and further reason why so many movies are shoddily converted to 3D (instead of being shot on 3D) thereby ruining the movie going experience and also ensure that we will continue to have a poor opinion about 3D as an effective story telling medium.

The movie industry is also facing a slow death because now, there are so many alternatives. Television has always been the easy option for a lot of people. More importantly, television is not directly linked to discretionary income since it becomes part of the monthly utility bills. Same goes to online providers such as YouTube and Amazon Prime and Netflix. These folks avoid the problem of discretionary income, something which the movie chains can never avoid.

The way I see it, I fully expect the movie chains (and the online ticket services) to ruin the movie going experience and do what is called as ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. They want to avoid going out of business, and do lot of tricks and then, the same tricks will turn movie goers away. Almost all movie ticketing apps have turned into massive ad display banners. Movie theatres keep increasing the price of movie snacks (which has the effect of turning away people instead of making more people eat it) like every month. Then, there are these ads. Now, we are forced to sit through ads before the movie starts and then during the interval. Heck, last time I went to a movie, the movie just paused and an ad just started playing. The preceding scene was a dramatic moment and the ad just ruined the impression.

Essentially, in a bid to survive the movie chains and movie ticketing companies are both doing everything they can to put off to movie patrons.

As I said, its all basic economics, supply and demand, discretionary income and fixed costs. We must respect the invisible hand and play its own by its own rules. Trying to find short cuts will inevitably lead to drastic misfortunes.

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