OK, so now when we board a plane, it’s pretty much no food, no movies, no free tickets for frequent fliers, no free aisle seats, no paper tickets and no free baggage checks. But you might be able to connect to the Internet, watch cable TV, play trivia games against someone sitting in 27C, or use your cell phone (if you’re flying to France). So much for the basics; but, wow, what technology! Does someone have his priorities confused?

Companies continue to expand their technology as a distinctive competitive factor—from airlines that allow you to scan your cell phone screen in place of a boarding pass to automotive companies that equip vehicles with voice-activated command centers to hospitals that will send a robot to your bedside. But for heaven sakes, given our druthers, we’d really prefer just a little bit more seat and leg room on those regional jets, a car that we can afford to drive and a healthcare plan that we can reasonably access.

Technology is absolutely essential for the growth of any business, but it’s important that—while persuading consumers that they need our advanced products—we don’t overlook their more basic needs and how technology can help resolve them. Actually, airlines are doing a much better job these days of getting the right bag to the right destination (a basic need resolved by technology), and auto companies are striving feverishly to produce alternative-energy vehicles (more technology trying to meet our basic transportation necessities), and emergency rooms have slashed waiting times to just minutes instead of hours (with technology-enhanced triage). As they say in politics, they’re working on it. But, in times like these, let’s be sure we invest in helping Americans feed their families (milk is still more expensive than gasoline) before developing another feed from Twitter.

Whatever business sector we operate in, this should be the time that we re-examine the fundamental needs of our market and ask, what are the underlying concerns or issues that my customers face in life and how can I assist them? Chances are that you’ll find a technology solution that can help do the job.

When oilman T. Boone Pickens recommends high-tech windmills over oil drilling, you know the market’s thinking has changed, and yours may need to as well. Apply technology to the basics first and you’ll be much more likely to advance your standing.

— Steve Friedman