The urchin followed me down the street, cajoling. I was backpacking through Hanoi, and this poor kid living on the street had latched onto me with his broken English, claiming that no matter what it was I wanted, he could find it and sell it to me. In fact I'd been looking for a particular book written by Vietnamese writer Bao Ninh, and in those pre-Amazon days I asked the kid if he could find an English-language copy, as there were no bookstores I could see on Hang Bac Street. I was shocked when he returned with a faded copy of the book in an hour, and I gladly paid him the asking price: US $15.
I'd become friendly with Quang, the young Vietnamese manager of my hostel and showed him the book. Quang was surprised I wanted it and asked how much I paid for it. When I told him, he became incensed: "That book is $1.50, not $15," he said. He barked something to a cyclo driver outside and the two of them set off. Thirty minutes later they returned and pulled me out into the street, where a crowd had gathered.
Quang knew the urchin, had tracked him down, and bloodied his nose. I was horrified. Quang stood up on a box, cupped his hands to his face and began yelling an explanation in Vietnamese to the passersby, which caused more of them to stop and listen. The cyclo driver translated for me: Quang was telling everyone that this kid was a thief who had ripped off a visitor to their country. The crowd grew visibly disgusted and a small queue spontaneously formed. People—housewives, day laborers, people carrying stuff to the market—each took a turn approaching the urchin and unleashing a one-sentence verbal smackdown before departing. At the end, despite my protests, they forced the kid to apologize to me.
Coming from a then-high-crime neighborhood in Brooklyn, where my neighbor's apartment was robbed so thoroughly that they took the sheets off of her bed, this was astonishing to me. My limited experiences in Communist countries like Vietnam or Cuba has shown me that things weren't about the money there, because there was no money to be had. And when people are not motivated by profit, they instead adhere to whatever moral code they were raised under. Nowadays the economic structure is different in Vietnam than it was sixteen years ago, and you can legally earn an American buck, as young game developer Dong Nguyen has done with his Flappy Bird app. So it probably seems shocking to us Americans that after raking in US $50,000 per day with his app—this in a country where most earn just US $2,000 per year—Nguyen shut the app down.
"Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed," says Dong Nguyen, in an exclusive interview, his first since he pulled the plug on the app. "But it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it's best to take down Flappy Bird. It's gone forever."
...Nguyen has several other top app store games, including Super Ball Juggling and Shuriken Block, which are currently #6 and #18 on the iOS store, respectively. Nguyen says that he has no plans to remove those games, which he termed "harmless." If he thought users were getting addicted, however, he said he would not hesitate to also take them down.
If you had an app, or a product design, or an unhealthy Cronut that was garnering you 50 large a day, would you pull the plug if you realized it was actually bad for people?
I still have the Bao Ninh book, by the way. It's a riveting account of, well, what the title says. Sadly it will probably never sell $50,000 worth of units in a day.
I'll never sell my copy or give it away because of what it reminds me of, and I wish I'd kept my damn mouth shut about the price.