One place where call of the new iPhone goes unanswered
INNOVATION TALK:I WAS STROLLING through the largest shopping mall in the United States a day or two after the new iPhone 5 went on release on September 21st. The King of Prussia Mall to the west of Philadelphia is more like a medium-sized town given the 259,500sq m of shops and eateries available there and as a consequence this two-storey, sunlit monument to commerce seldom seems busy.
Things were different, however, at the mall’s Apple store where people spent hours queuing for an opportunity to buy the new phone. Barricades had been set up to channel the customers and maintain some level of calm, but the shop still filled to the gunwales and people jostled and shuffled as they awaited a chance to buy.
The queues persisted for several days, so clearly there was some level of determination to be amongst the first few million to take the phone home. One can also assume that they knew exactly what they were waiting for, what the technology would deliver and why they were determined to have it.
What a contrast then a week later and 70km further west from King of Prussia to walk through a time warp that jumped from the 21st century back to the 18th. The strange thing about this particular time warp was it allowed for a parallel universe, one where people sped down route 30 in air-conditioned cars while passing out families clip-clopping along in distinctive black horse-drawn carriages. This is the dichotomy that is the Amish country of Lancaster County Pennsylvania. Large numbers of German settlers arrived in the area in the mid-1700s to settle the rich, rolling farmland, but also because the state’s founder, William Penn, had promised religious tolerance.
The descendents of these settlers have stuck to their traditions, wearing plain clothing mostly black or blue, conducting long Sunday religious services in High German and perhaps, most importantly, they shun all modern technology. The Amish do not connect to the electricity grid and their farms are readily identified by the lack of power cables. They don’t drive cars, sticking to their buggies instead, and only horsepower and manpower is used to plant, cultivate and harvest their money crops including corn, tobacco and potatoes along with other produce.
Tourism also delivers a mixed blessing benefit, with visitors buying up Amish hand-sewn quilts and oak furniture as they drive along scenic route 340 through towns with quaint names such as Intercourse, Bird-in-Hand and Paradise. The downside of course includes the copycat tat found everywhere in the “Dutch” country and the increased risk of collisions with the buggies as they try to negotiate their own neighbourhoods.
The Amish who live in settlements in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Iowa do not, however, represent the generality of Americans who readily embrace technology of all sorts. No one questions the benefits of modern transport, advanced medical treatments or electronic technology. In part this comes from a widespread public understanding of science, or at least a readiness to accept the benefits arising from access to technological advances.
In this regard, Americans tend to be more willing to accept new technologies that the “experts” say are safe than the Irish or Europeans. Acceptance of genetically modified foods is an example with the US having no difficulty in applying the technology compared to Europe. Fracking, the extraction of natural gas by hydraulic fracturing, is another example.
A deeper public understanding of science and technology should never, however, lead to unquestioning acceptance. When confronted with new technologies, people should always scrutinise claims and come to some decision on whether to accept or reject a given technology, for example one being promoted by vested interests. It is wrong to reject an idea based on presumptions, but also wrong to accept one without some level of scrutiny.
It is important for the public to be engaged with developments in science and to try and understand the implications. One area where this doesn’t seem to happen relates to the strength of creationism in the US and deep misgivings about the validity of evolution. A Gallup poll earlier this year indicated that almost half of those polled accepted creationism while only 15 per cent supported evolution as an explanation for life on earth.
Before signing off, I have to get my retaliation in first before complaints start to arrive. Some will say the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, is the largest shopping mall in the US with its 258,200sq m of retail space available under one roof, while King of Prussia is spread out under two buildings. Bloomington’s also offers a built-in amusement park including a roller coaster that flashes past unsuspecting customers as they meander through this palace to commercial enterprise. I am taking the purist’s route, however, and going only on retail space.