New digital opportunities in the macro view

New digital opportunities in the macro view


In tech, it is always tempting to focus on the micro, but we forget the influence of the macro at our peril.  For instance, while countless words continue to be written on reassuringly easy subjects like iOS versus Android, less time is dedicated to understanding which innovations have the potential to alter long-term behaviour and categories of spending.

This led me to choose the chart above for my Friday inspiration, showing how Americans have been spending their money for the last 75 years (from this Howmuch.net article, which uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

It’s worth taking the time to download the original, zoom in and explore.

  • Inflation adjusted housing costs, for instance, have risen from a little under $8,000 a year in 1941 to just shy of $18,000 in 2014.
  • Transportation costs rose steadily from 1941 to a peak in 1984, but actually fell in the decade from 2004 to 2014.
  • Transport remains Americans second largest expenditure after housing, at about $9,000 a year.

So, where might we isolate ‘digital’ spend within this chart?  If I buy a new smartphone tomorrow, would it be recorded as ‘miscellaneous’, ‘recreation and entertainment’, ‘education’ or ‘reading’?

It quickly becomes apparent how small purely ‘digital’ spend remains in the grand scheme of things.  Yet, at the same time, just how pervasive it is becoming and how significant the disruptive potential across all these catgeories.

Consider the intersection of food, transportation and housing: about $33,000 a year average spend.  With an annual budget like that, what products and services might meet the needs of a digital nomad able to work from anywhere, once you factor in autonomous vehicles and sharing economy principles around food and housing?   I have a feeling it might be a rather more significant lifestyle change than whether you go Samsung or Apple for your next phone.

Part of Friday Inspirations, an ongoing MEX series exploring tangents and their relationship to better experience design.  We explain the origins of the Inspirations series in this MEX podcast and article.  Share your own inspirations on Twitter at #mexDTI.

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