It seems the new CEO of Blackberry was being anything but ironic when he declared this week that tablet computing will be all but dead in five years.
"In five years I don't think there'll be a reason to have a tablet any more. Maybe a big screen in your workspace, but not a tablet as such. Tablets themselves are not a good business model," Thorsten Heins was quoted by Bloomberg news service.
In some ways, it is uplifting to hear such confidence, gusting to braggadocio, from the head of a company that was itself deemed all but dead a mere five months (or is it five hours?) ago. Still, even the most casual reader of business or technology news could be forgiven for expecting such a forecast to be made with full frontal irony in mind.
Blackberry's attempt to get into the tablet game was, after all, among the worst corporate howlers of the century. In two years, it has reportedly shipped a scant 2.4 million of its woeful Playbooks worldwide. Apple, for whom I have slight emotional preference, has sold almost 50 times that many iPads, and generated nearly $60 billion in revenue as a result.
A poor business model? Ummmm . . . that would seem to depend, a little bit anyway, on which business is doing the modeling. Or else Mr. Heins must be smiling behind his hand and having us on, no?
No, apparently not. Apparently he is entirely serious in his assessmenta of his own ability to predict the future of mobile technology and the preferences of buyers thereof. Even factoring for requisite CEO bluster, he appears to believe just as strongly that the future will fall his company's way because . . . because . . . well, because he and his company need it to fall that way.
When I was young (proto-birds were right on the evolutionary cusp of developing feathers) cranky pants priests and knuckle-rapping teachers would scorn such a habit of mind as faith corrupted by wishful thinking. Today, it seems an intellectual necessity to conduct oneself as though, through the sheer power of intention and bulging veins on the temples and by disregarding the dastardly impediment called reality, whatever one wants will—Hey! Presto!—be so.
We see this not just in business but equally in sports where, oh, just for example, simply declaring oneself a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs demands obeisance to the misbegotten belief that a team without a playbook can miraculously outplay their betters and somehow contend for the Stanley Cup. It requires a blissful misconception of the realities of hockey but also of the reality of miracles which, as C.S. Lewis so famously argued, must be an extension of reality, not a substitution of delusion.
Alas, such delusional imagine-it-as-real thinking is ubiquitous among us. It finds perhaps its most perverse form in, of all places, our encounters with the physical world. Every year I welcome spring, yet every year I also cringe at the onset of happy-clappy, chippity-bippity, sing-song conversation about how wonderful the weather is and how refreshing it is to have the buds and the blooms and earthen squiggly wigglies and the chirping birds back again.
I'm all for chirping birds. So is Abu the Master Cat. The difference between us is that while I enjoy avian choral contributions wafting through the window of the breakfast room as the rosy-fingered dawn breaks apace in the east, Abu likes to bite their heads off. He loves, just loves, to leave them in neat little stiff-corpse rows on my front porch. As I step out the door to the sound of the song bird's tweet, I am fully aware that the dust puffs of feathers billowing up around my pant cuffs are Nature's price for being too slow when a Master Cat is on the prowl.
I keep hearing and reading things on my iPad that I am supposed to scold Abu or have him in therapy or in some way dissuade him from doing what he naturally does. I do not. On the contrary, I accept that hoping to remake him into a cat who only wants to play and read books with birds would be ludicrous.
No amount of wishing will make it so. Reality, at least in the form by which a certain set of stone tablets were brought down from the mountain, doesn't stretch that far, not even as irony.