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West Michigan Diary: I, iPhone

Recently I spent several weeks in western Michigan, the part of the world where I lived the first 30 or so years of my life. Today starts the first of a series of commentaries based on that visit.

If a geographic region is going to thrive, it needs to “export” something to the outside world. For metro Detroit, it’s been cars. One thing that western Michigan “exports” is its natural beauty, based on rivers, lakes, and sand dunes. From New Buffalo in the south to Petosky in the north, cities along the lakeshore attract visitors–from metro Detroit, Chicago, and even beyond–in search of experiences in the beautiful outdoors.

During my trip, I spent plenty of time walking on the beach, taking in the roar of the wind, the crashing of the waves, and the changing of the skies.

Like many people, I find that sunset is my favorite time of the day on a lake. Lake Michigan remains my favorite spot to “catch a wave,” at least visually.


(Photo credit: John R. LaPlante)

I’m always on the lookout for lessons in politics and business, so here’s one about this photo: Private companies engaging in commerce can do remarkable things if we let them. When I packed for my trip, I didn’t bother to bring my camera. Instead, I relied on something called the iPhone 4S. You may have heard of it. It offers a higher resolution than my camera, plus it offers many other benefits.

Many other people have used this device as a replacement for a point-and-shoot camera, as well as a portable device for accessing the Internet and email. Oh yes, it makes and receives phone calls, too.

The iPhone (as well as other smartphones) was not designed by a panel of political experts (see: Medicaid and Medicare, both of which are bankrupting the the country). It was not marketed to a few thousand specialists employed by government agencies, each trying to comply with a set of complex rules laid down by government (see: curricula sold to public schools). Its specifications were not set by people gaming the political system (see: federal standards on what makes for an “acceptable” lightbulb). Instead, the numerous decisions about smartphones are the outcome of the decisions made by millions of people engaged in a dance between private sector managers, engineers, marketing experts, et. al, and consumers. In other words, what we have to thank for all we do with our “phones” is the active planning of government, but the “invisible hand” of commerce.

(See I, Pencil if you didn’t catch the allusion in the headline.)