Take Off the Blinders
Mark Zuckerberg’s social media empire continues its buying spree, spending $2 billion for a manufacturer of virtual reality goggles, which Facebook hopes to turn into another platform for connecting people through the next generation of techno devices. It sounds like an in-home version of 3D glasses—the idea is to make you feel like you are face to face within the other person’s environment—their home, office, backyard, sports event, store, where ever. If you could only add a touch and smell feature you might as well be there. But that’s next… Or is that what Google Glass will become?
The 3D glasses thing never panned out beginning with the 1950s Vincent Price vampire movies and apparently the Oculus goggles, in which Facebook just invested, give some wearers motion sickness. Whatever… the relentless march of technology continues to assault economy and weakens demand for commercial real estate space. Armed with smart phones, smart pads, and wireless connections we can work or shop from anywhere. Skype lets us video conference… potentially Oculus can up the experience level. You are your office… Smart companies will continue to shed space as various applications let managers keep tabs on their employees wherever they are with greater scrutiny and security... And retailers get wise—not only does the convenience factor make online shopping increasingly compelling, but also the improved experience of finding what you want online eats more consequently into bricks and mortar market share. Why pay for space in too many malls and hire all those sales clerks, which eat into bottom lines?
The chronic high vacancies in many commercial markets is reason for concern, but the really scary part is all those disappearing jobs. Add sales clerks to cashiers, secretaries, receptionists, mailmen, messengers, operators, travel agents, and on and on. Cars and trucks may be driverless soon (woe the Teamsters), while robots takeover more manufacturing tasks. Yes, we bring back more factories from overseas, but not necessarily enough new jobs with them.
And so while Mark and the gang are social networking us together, more people will be unemployed or under employed--making less and having less to spend. And that means all those companies trying to connect into people with ads on all the social networking and information aggregating sites will be having less success selling as many products for as much they may want either in shopping centers or online.
Zuckerberg and the social media industry need to come to terms with extending what may be a short half-life for their original business models. If the real jobs based economy is threatened by technology based shrinkage, the mostly vacuous info sharing on their sites may have less currency and value. And the social media wunderkinds must be pondering how long users will "like" their every click tracked by "Big Brother"-style marketers and information aggregators, who seek to manipulate every individual's buying habits? Maybe the answer is providing virtual reality.
The reality—virtual or just in your face--is we all need to pay attention to how technology is rapidly turning life as we’ve known it upside down. It’s great to see how much fun Carol had skiing today in Vail or where Hilary had dinner tonight in DC. But understand what really is going on…
Take off the goggles and the blinders too.
For an irreverent take on the macroeconomic environment, check out GlobeSt.com's Chief Economist authored by Dr. Sam Chandan.