An Open Letter to Best Buy CTO, Robert Stephens - This 8-Bit Life
I read an article today that referenced a comment you made at the Android Open conference. From what I am hearing you said something to the effect that you envision a day when the DVD section of Best Buy stores might be replaced with a section dedicated to Arduino development boards and homebrew electronics. That Best Buy, one of the largest retailers in the country might actually start selling easily accessible technology that allows the user to create and learn something. I must admit that when I think of Best Buy I think of camcorders, MP3 players, cell phones, tablets and TVs. And the over-simplified image that I have of the customer base is largely uninformed consumers who have little interest in how their devices work. I will be the first to tell you that this is my nerd bias and that while it may be right to some degree it is certainly not true of all of them. After all, I shop at Best Buy too.
I have a feeling that this statement was mostly a pipe dream of yours but let me tell you sir that it is a great one. Most visions of the future start out as pipe dreams; wild-eyed, crazy dreams that probably won’t work but just might. Ideas that have the capacity to make a real impact. I know that I am getting awfully grandiose here, but hear me out. As a boy, (young nerdling?) I was obsessed with electronics. I would take apart everything I saw from the time that I could hold a screwdriver; unfortunately I had no idea what I was doing so the object was usually useless after that. After enough tinkering, a little bit of reading, and a lot of breaking things I started to understand the world around me more. My interest in electronics made me want to understand basic math more so that I could work with more complex circuits, it made me more interested in physics and chemistry because I needed to know why and how these things functioned. And I learned a lot about the kind of person I wanted to be because I realized that there is always another question to be asked, and another puzzle to solve.
I did not come from a particularly wealthy family so-to-speak, so most of my parts and components came from the dumpsters and curbs of houses near our apartment. I kept these things in what was supposed to be a toy box, these were my toys. Eventually I realized that I needed raw components and quality tools to move further with my understanding, but I lacked the money that I needed. I would ride my bike to the shopping center near my home and window shop at Radio Shack and this nifty bulk electronics reseller. Around this time I started to receive a modest allowance from my mom which I would save up to buy comic books, tools, and electronics kits from these stores. I would stay up into the late hours of the night (very often on school nights) working on these kits or tinkering with the electronics that I had amassed in my toy box from dumpster diving. I learned so much and so quickly thanks to those kits.
Fast forward 18 years and Radio Shack looks almost completely different with only a tiny fraction of the once staggering selection of components and kits they used to sell. And the used electronics shop, with its tote tubs full of old motherboards, discarded memory, and odd bits of tech, is gone. Luckily for guys like me, there has been an amazing boom recently with maker/DIY culture, companies like Spark Fun, Adafruit, and Make Magazine have kept the tradition of tinkering alive, albeit online. One of the most successful products that companies like this sell is the Arduino. I have to say that if 8 year old me had access to something like this; I would never have left my room. Hell I probably would have stayed a virgin into my twenties!
What I am saying to you sir is this. This concept could completely fail. It could end up making almost no money. Maybe there isn’t enough public interest to support such a drastic leap for Best Buy. But what it could do is inspire a whole new generation and even the current one to learn about how their world works, and even to improve upon it. It could give so many people easy access to knowledge. It could drastically improve the image that the average and niche consumer alike have of Best Buy. And it could make a lot of money. I initially read that article and didn’t think twice about it, but then I started to think about what that idea could do and I got very excited. I hope that I haven’t sounded over-zealous or too nostalgic here sir, I just want you to know that you have a great idea and I think you should run with it.