Can you identify the object I photographed on my desk? It is a 30pin connector, more generally known as an Apple Dock connector. If you worked in the computer business, you will recognize it as one in line of many types of cables and wires that we need to know to allow various devices to talk to each other. If you're a kid in the local affluent highschool you know it's what you need to charge your iPod Touch. If you are a parent of said kid, you know it's that stupid expensive thing that always gets lost and so now you have to share yours.
Fortunately, there's East China. Over in East China, they're making these things by the million because that's how many we need. And they have managed to squeeze some costs out of the manufacturing process, or there's maybe a price war going on between Northeast and Southeast China. The penultimate time I went to Amazon, they cost $15 from Apple and $5 from Hong Kong. Last week I could get them for a buck each. Sweet.
I want you to think about several other dimensions of this object, besides its price, its function, what it looks like and how it makes you feel. I know this may be difficult but bear with me. I want you to think about what it's made of. Is that metal part aluminum or steel? Did you know that is a USB connector on one end? What does USB stand for? How many wires are in a USB connector? What is the standard electrical current that goes through a USB connector? If there are fewer wires than 30 in USB, then which wires are not connected on the 30 pin side? How thick do the wires have to be in order to carry the normal current? What material besided copper could do the job?
What kind of machine is used to map the wires? How many different kinds of plastic are used to build the connector? How do you get that plastic in exactly that color? How long should this construction work before failing? What kinds of failures should you expect, after what period of time?
There are certainly hundreds of other questions that could be asked and answered about this particular object, but the salient one in my mind is whether or not kids in public schools are able to ask the ones I mentioned above? And if they asked their teachers those questions could the teachers respond accurately? In other words, is this object, being one of the very basic staples of the information age, in which there remains low hanging economic fruit, a mystery? I'm confident that the answer is yes - that a majority fraction of highschool students would graduate without understanding amps, ohms and volts, or basic manufacturing.
There is not much lament in this observation. The global market, the world, is what it is. And just like with any other enabling tool since the beginning of history, there will be those who have them and those who have not. Swords. Horses. Cameras. Catheters.
BTW. Here is the pinout guide for the connector.