$80 Billion of Technology

Penn & Teller’s “Fool Us” is classic feel-good television, bringing family-friendly magic and magicians back into the mainstream in an entertaining format. On a recent episode, what looked like a simple trick led Penn Jillette to note that while the audience enjoyed what appeared to be a simple, seamless trick actually required complex behind-the-scenes mechanisms and apparatus to execute, meaning that the audience observed a trick very different from the one Penn & Teller were able to see.

Knowing can lead to seeing.

Along these lines, there was recently a short, fascinating article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek about the infrastructure investments the big technology companies are making, many of which seem geared to secure their places into the future, come what may with their changing business models. The infrastructure elements large technology companies are creating include dedicated undersea fiber optic to speed international transmission of Instagram and Facebook and Spotify and Apple Music.

This level of infrastructure spending puts technology giants on par with telecommunications companies, auto makers, and oil companies when it comes to the amount spent annually on infrastructure.

So, the magic of getting that song on your phone or that email or text from a colleague or child? It’s not magic. It’s major infrastructure and massive spending. This is why open source and other tepid approaches to technological advances are ultimately like peas pelted against ocean liners — they just don’t have the heft and scale of major technologies.

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. There is no magic. Penn and Teller know. Now, you do, too.