Back in April at Popular Mechanics, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit lamented what he saw as the tendency of today’s science fiction authors to write depressing, dystopian stories instead of the grand exploration epics of old. To look at this another way, Glenn wrote, you’ll notice that many smart young people these days are putting their energy into websites instead of building cool new stuff:
It seems that too many technically savvy people, engineers in particular, are going to work for Web startups or investment firms. There’s nothing wrong with such companies, but we also need engineers to design bold new things for use in the physical world: space colonies instead of social media […]In the 1950s and 1960s, scientists could cite antibiotics, nuclear energy, and moon flights as evidence that science just plain worked […]Facebook doesn’t have the same impact—it’s fun, but even its users don’t see it as an achievement on par with Apollo.
Perhaps this is starting to change. The WSJ reports:
A long-shunned Silicon Valley technology sector—consumer-electronics start-ups—is showing some surprising signs of life.Entrepreneurs in California have quietly launched dozens of small hardware companies, designing everything from smart wristwatches to digital thermostats […]Venture capital for consumer electronics remains scant compared with the plethora of cash available for Web companies, but investments into hardware start-ups are rising. Venture capitalists put $262.6 million into consumer-electronics companies last year—a fraction of the $5.2 billion that went into consumer Web firms—but that was up more than 50% from $130.4 million in 2010 and $108.8 million in 2009, according to VentureSource […]Idan Beck, CEO of Incident Technologies, said as more small hardware companies have grabbed consumer interest through Kickstarter, they are proving there’s a market for newfangled devices.“We used to have to spread a much wider net [to raise money] because of an aversion to funding hardware,” he said. “But now there’s a congregation of people interested in the product category.”
There have been notable success stories, like Square Inc., a company started by former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, which offers a credit card reader that plugs into iPads and iPhones for small businesses. Square has been valued at over $3 billion, according to people familiar with the company.But just as with web startups, there are many failed hardware companies no one has heard about. Raising money and interest in a product and finding buyers and manufacturers can be far more difficult than just starting a website.Will the trend toward making stuff—interesting, useful, valuable stuff—be a growing part of the technology world in the future? We hope so.A new moon program this ain’t. But maybe it’s a start.