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Should RIM BlackBerries Be Rented?

Is the U.S. Mindset Fundamentally Different From Europe's?

So I was sitting under the hot lights at SYS-CON Media’s headquarters in Montvale, NJ recently, trying to mind my own business but expecting to get hit with some sort of surprise question by my SYS-CON.TV colleague Jeremy Geelan.

Jeremy, who serves as Publishing Director of SYS-CON, brings a wealth of journalistic and technological experience to the game, backed by the sort of elocution one would expect from a former BBC producer. And as a European, he often speaks from a viewpoint that, simply, can seemingly be designed to rub a solid U.S. citizen the wrong way.

He also likes to spring things on me. He and I were taping a SYS-CON.TV segment and talked of several recent developments in the IT business that particular week. Several minutes into the discussion, I could see by our clock that our time was almost up.

Then it came. “As an American, Rog,” he says, and the rest of his question became a blur. I dislike being characterized as “an American” or any other subset of humanity, be that subset aging bald guys, sports fanatics, or left-handed dog-and-cat owners.

As I tried to listen, I divined that Jeremy was talking about the increasingly popular concept of renting things of everything from bicycles to Blackberries in typically pioneering, savvy Nordic places such as Scandinavia and Finland. “Would such a concept work in the U.S.?” he wanted to know.

Or, listening between the lines, I think he was asking whether I would feel such ideas to be utopian, EuroWeenerish, even Communistic down to the depths of my red-white-and-blue being.

I couldn’t give him a short answer to this question, but did point out that new ideas are often adapted in the U.S. just as quickly as in, say, Finland, but usually in select places. The tiresome blue state/red state stereotype has some merit, and one can find what many Americans consider to be radical ideas being freely adapted in resolutely blue citdadels from Greenwich Village to Madison, Wisconsin to Berkeley.

That doesn’t make the ideas wrong or impractical. The first bans on smoking in San Francisco and Berkeley were considered lunatic fringe at the time, as were countless other issues and trends, some controversial, some not so. This will continue.

But the larger point that I failed to make, being as blessed as anyone with the ability to say the right thing a few days after it should have originally been said, was that the U.S. (and the U.S. market) should never be viewed monolithically.

Big Country
It’s a big country with a very large economy, and one can succeed by appealing to a very small percentage of it.

For example, 5% of the total U.S. market still represents a GDP that would rank in the Top 20 Worldwide, in between Taiwan and Australia. And appealing to only 1.3% of the total U.S. market lands you a GDP the size of Finland’s.

So, surely the idea of rented Blackberries—which despite my non-aversion to rented cars or flying in the same well-warmed airline seats as who knows who—sounds to me a bit like rented bowling shoes (yuck), could very well succeed in the U.S., even if almost 90+ percent of the population thinks it’s a bad idea.

The variety of opinion in the U.S. on all matters is diverse (or divers, as Jeremy would have it spelled), much more so than most people (including many Americans) think. This is due not only to the country’s multicultural stew and capitalistic orientation, but also to its federated nature.

By federated, I don’t mean the federal, unifying aspect of the U.S. government, but the fact that the country is a federated collection of states, which are in turn a collection of townships and counties, which in turn are broken into endless numbers of local and regional governmental and regulatory entities. In other words, an amazing percentage of the country’s laws and regulations are decided at various local-leaning levels.

Try explaining to an international visitor sometime why it may be OK, for example, to possess marijuana according to a city ordinance, sort-of OK by state law, and definitely not OK by federal law, and don’t forget to factor in littering laws that might be in effect if you try to consume said weed in a regional or county park that falls within the jurisdiction of a unified fire protection district and urban sanitation zone, or worse, in a business park patrolled by private security.

So as I said, it’s a big country. Lots of jurisdictions. And this "loosely coupled" mindset extends to the business world, with lots of segments, sub-segments, niches, and segmented sub-niches within almost any product or service category. Knock yourself out if you want to start a service to rent out Blackberries. Just don’t expect to take mine unless you pry it from my cold, dead hands!

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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