Note — Oct 27, 2019

Bundling and Unbundling

Seen in → No.100

Source →

Drew Austin for Real Life with an excellent revisit of the “mythical” bundling and unbundling à la Silicon Valley. He gives a good overview of what the concept entails and, more importantly, of where it goes wrong, on the sum-greater-than-it’s-part value that some old bundles carried, which is simply disintegrated by so many disruptive tech plays. Austin also makes an important parallel with the “machinations of the private equity industry.” In some ways, the piece is similar to Norton’s above; nothing radically new but a valuable, well thought out and presented perspective.

The rationale of convenience helps disguise the fact that many unbundling efforts offer no particular benefit to end users and proceed according to a purely exploitative logic. When the tech industry sets its sights on existing bundles that people like and that are still financially sustainable, this suggests that the desire for profit has usurped the pretense of consumer welfare. Without that alibi, unbundling appears as naked greed, delivering increased returns to a select few without necessarily improving anything for anyone else, and quite possibly making things worse. […]

But the texture of everyday life is still mostly made up of such contiguity — the incidental context that surrounds specific goals and tasks in the form of human relationships and aesthetic pleasure. […]

The apps and services that replaced the newspaper are now bundled on iPhone home screens or within social media platforms, where they are combined with new things that no consumer asked for: advertising, data mining, and manipulative interfaces. […]

Instead of accepting a false teleology in which technology makes life ever more convenient and efficient, we can get better at recognizing and appreciating the obscure but valuable aspects of existing bundles, which are most likely at risk of vanishing when the next wave of unbundlers come, and not certain to be re-created once rebundled again.