Friday, January 13, 2006

outmoded technology: how long do those sunk costs last really?

After an online tech hiccup re applying to a graduate institution in the US, I now resort to completing a good old paper application. That is not the story. No. The story is that I thought to send the 20+ pages via fax, and unbelievably it will cost less if I send it via the proverbial plane, train, and automobile, than if I send it via fax from the local postal company. It costs, with DHL, 32.60 euros to send a package (A4 envelope of documents) to the US from Spain (East coast, West coast - doesn´t matter). It will cost more (12.50 + (19 x 3.50)) for me to send the same via fax to the US. Madre mía.

If the Internet had not existed, would I be willing to pay this cost, and just accept that things get more expensive (as a consequence of cost of living)? Is it that I am unwilling to pay because unwittingly with the ease and relative reduced cost of Internet technologies, I expect that network effects should apply, and therefore the cost of faxing (an outmoded technology in many regards, but it works so who am I to argue, right?) should get less as the years go by? How can these costs be justified? Sunk costs (for those who aren´t sure), are those which are made as an initial investment in infrastructure, and theory holds that companies accept these sunk costs and recoup them via providing service x at price y over years z.

But then, consider the actual cost of sending same via courier (where actual humans, scarce gas/petroleum resources, other old infrastructure (roads, airplanes) are involved), and where I expect that network effects should not pertain, then where does that leave me? Why does network effects (when considering price) seem to apply to couriering and not to faxing? For sure, if I felt remotely inclined to part with mucho dinero, I would send the fax, but simply as a matter of principle I refuse to pay all that money to send a communication.


Speaking of outmoded technology. I had occassion to visit the Telefónica Telecommunications museum probably more than a month ago. I was passing by in Gran Vía, had no plan to go there, but the street was so full of people that I hopped in the direction of the museum and thought "hey, what the heck, I´m here so I might as well visit." Which was not such a bad idea after all as when I left the museum the street was less crowded.

It was an audiovisual and photographic exhibit of the development and expansion of Telefónica in Spain sometime between 1925 and 1930 (at the latest). I liked the video footage (old news reels), all digi-preserved as the plaque explained. Then also an instructional video of "how to make a call" with a suitably serious/pretentious-looking man smoking a pipe and making a call. 1) Pick up the handset 2) Wait for the dialtone 3) wait for operator or dial number (? can´t recall). ...Use the telephone directory; be sure to leave the directory close to the phone when done (as a matter of courtesy). Fascinating. Quaint.

A photo of people in a queue, waiting to listen to what a dialtone sounds like. Video of a group of men (at least 8) installing one telephone pole with lots of effort. Looking at the video is exhausting, and you wonder, they had to do that across the country? Pobrecitos.

When I see such photos I always think: that´s someone´s great-grandmother, or relative of some sort. I wonder what it must feel like if you walk into a museum and see an ancestor. Is it a proud moment, or a confusing one? When in Castelló d´Empuries last week, Imma, Helena, Pepa, and I visited an old medieval awaiting-trial prison. But it was also the prison where Imma´s grandfather had been incarcerated during the Spanish Civil War. We didn´t really talk when there, but I do wonder what it felt like for her when we were there. Some questions are best left unasked as a matter of respect.


Post a Comment

<< Home