Firstly, let me give a couple of examples of the good stuff. I've certainly benefited from the ability to achieve rapid price discovery. For one I don’t believe I’d be sitting on an investment portfolio, all tied up in wrappers, with total expenses of 0.27%, with all the benefits that brings, without the ability to trawl the offerings from many providers in a matter of minutes. Would I even know them all let alone know the cost to start with? The ability to talk to and see someone across the globe in real time for ‘free’ has also helped me hugely. The thing is that these possibilities are nothing new; the technology to provide them has been around for many years now and importantly is relatively unchanged. My rapid learning on how to be a successful investor has certainly been helped by fantastic sites like Monevator but here I would have also been more than ok with excellent books like Smarter Investing which requires no technology. I would have also been well educated on finance and investing with excellent books like When Money Dies: The Nightmare of the Weimar Hyperinflation and The Millionaire Next Door instead of the great internet.
Let me now jump forward to more recent times and see if new technology is helping me. This week our friends at Apple released some new products. Now I’m not an Apple fan boy/girl so if I have it wrong then please do correct me in the Comments below but all that I see is things that are bigger/smaller, slightly faster with more mega pixels. An iPad Air 2 with decent storage and Wi-Fi ‘only’ costs £559. Who knows what an iPad Pro is going to set one back but I’d bet it will be more expensive. Is this new bit of tech about to obsolete my Nexus 7 Tablet which today can be had for £141.11? In my case it certainly isn't as what I have today does everything (and more) than I currently need. What about a new ‘tasty’ iWatch which from what I can see tells the time unless you have it tethered to an expensive iPhone? Then as if by magic it does things that your phone can do... I think I’ll stick with my mechanical watch which I guarantee will still be running long after the latest iWatches are consigned to the scrap heap. I’d actually nearly bet that my watch will actually still be running and telling the time as well as any future iWatch technology long after I've popped my clogs.
How about the likes of smart phones and the rise of Facebook? Has that really helped us move forward in life. I was at a restaurant in the past week, and I kid you not, at least half of the punters were on their phones playing with Facebook or some other latest App. They were probably telling their ‘friends’ how great a time they were having. Now these were not lone travellers, they were couples and groups who were ignoring the company around them and instead choosing to stare into an inanimate screen. I really struggled with it. I actual wonder if in time it will actually lead to a loss in our ability to communicate with each other. Give me a face to face conversation with family and friends any day (as long as they don’t carry on with stuff that bores me).
Internet search has been around for a long time now. Is it better today? I certainly don’t find it any better. In fact I find it worse because I know that anything at the top of the search engine results has been paid for by a corporation via a pay per click offering. I now need to filter through that to get to the good stuff. It’s certainly not helping me because if I wanted what they were touting I’d be searching for it myself.
Another issue I see is the now crazy levels of data harvesting combined with Big Data analysis that seem to be going on. I can hardly move, and I'm careful with what I give away, without being targeted. I’d hate to see what those who aren't so careful are exposed to. Let me give a trivial example. I have never given my home or work address to a large faceless well known corporation but I do have a ‘free’ email account with them. Specifically, I also haven’t told them how I commute to work but each day they ‘generously’ now tell me how long my journey to and from work will take. Clearly knowing the time of day, the fact my tablet has a GPS onboard or my network location plus an active email account is sufficient for the algorithms to piece it all together. If I was offered product/s that were guaranteed not to data harvest would I go for them? In all honesty probably not because the targeted advertising/peer pressure that I then receive doesn't cause me to consume (I'm a Living Well Below My Means type of person) and I know my products (‘free’ or otherwise) are then being subsidised by the many who do. It’s a bit of a sad situation where a clean product couldn't win my business because of the very thing I dislike.
Has the rise of electronic and internet banking improved lately. 5 years ago it wasn't bad but today after many enhancements I don’t seem to be able to move without having my account frozen for ‘fraud protection’ reasons. This month I was again not allowed to transfer credit to my savings account. Oh and if you’re an Executive from a large UK bank that was heavily involved in the Libor scandal the reason I move all my money from your current account rather than transferring it into some of your products at the very first opportunity (and on a regular basis so I don’t know why your algorithms are so surprised) is not because of fraud. It’s because your products give derisory interest rates, have costs I don’t like and ongoing expenses which are just not competitive. I know this because rapid price discovery means that today I can find a better offer in less than 30 seconds.
On second thoughts I think it’s time to head to the kitchen and grab that tinfoil...