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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A trip to the epicentre of consumerism

With the recent release of the iphone and now the Macbook Air (only 1mm thick! ... ok maybe a bit more, but not much!) I found myself thinking about Apple's modern dominance of technological innovation and the effect of its interaction with the normal everyday lives of normal everyday (read: affluent western) people.

When Apple brought out a computer with no floppy disk drive (remember those!) everybody had a nervous breakdown. "But how are we going to transfer files! God damn it Apple! How are we going to transfer our documents! Tell MEEEEE!" Ah hem.... anyway, the new Macbook air similarly does not have a cd rom drive. What does this seemingly innocuous innovation tell us about Apple's idea of the future?

For Apple, our future is one in which we do not have music in hard copy form at all. As itunes has already indicated, the days of going to your local "record shop" to buy the album of your favourite band, to slobber lovingly over the photos of the band in the sleeve or the cover art are numbered. Now, music is a title that you click on... after which sound is heard.

Apple's intention is that film follow a similar path. Apple has reached agreements with all the major Hollywood studies in order to release Dvd's of films online, saving you the trouble of have to go to your local dvd store, saving you the trouble of have to talk to the pimply faced student behind the counter, saving you the trouble of getting a fine for forgetting to return your DVD on time, (access to the DVD just times out, meaning the computer is responsible for "returning" your film, not you). But does this envisaged form of entertainment access also save us the trouble of being inquisitive, of spontaneity, of happening upon an aisle in the video store with a film you've always wanted to see, of running into someone you haven't met, of creating a relationship with you local pimply faced teenager behind the counter? (who's name is actually jason, an arts student exhibiting at the local modern art gallery, or stephanie, who's a graphic designer trying to start her own business, or Dave, a pot head, but a good bloke all the same who invites you to join his footy team that have a run in the park on saturdays) Click... DVD menu. Play. And... give me my agreed entertainment baby!

Innovation is great. But there is something slightly sinister about where Apple is taking us. Already, Apple has changed the way people interact. People are "plugged up", listening to their ipods, saving themselves the hassle of perhaps being spoken to in a public place by a stranger. We cling to our ipods while on public transport lest some undesirable try to make eye contact with us and start a conversation. I know I am a culprit of such behaviour... wait a second here comes someone I know. Turn up the volume, look the otherway, act normal. If really necessary sing along with the words to show how little you notice the world around you. "Fly me to the moon, let me play amongst the stars."

I was recently in New York for New Years Eve. One of the people I was with wanted to buy an iphone for her friend. As such, we traipsed off to the New York Apple store to do what you do in an apple store... consume. The experience was enlightening.
We descended the spiral staircase into a dungeon of products. Computers lined tables with people hoarding around them, clicking, checking email, slobbering lovingly over the keypad which can scroll just by sliding two fingers seductively over its silken plastic casing. Ipods lined the walls. Everywhere was light. Everywhere was simple lines. Everywhere was easy to look, easy to read. The place screamed, "look life's not that hard, just get on board!" I couldn't help thinking that even the music that played in the background was easy to listen to.
So... how do you buy an iphone? I looked for the product itself on the shelves. Couldn't seem to find it. You can tell the people that work at the Apple Stores in New York from the customers, because they have what seems to be a type of palm pilot around their neck (probably to enable them to more easily count the number of sales they make... or maybe they are electronically charged and if the assistant doesn't make a sale in a ten minute period he or she is zapped into action... -ok James, now you are just being silly. Look! You're alienating your readers! You've lost all credibility in this post now!)

Anyway, the pimply faced assistant (not Jason, Dave or Stephanie from before... a different one) indicates for me to get in a queue to pay. "But I don't have the product yet?" I say. The poor guy obviously doesn't understand the concept of buying and selling. "Don't matter, they'll give it to you later." OOOOO-kay. I get in line. A big black burley New York woman moves along the line repeating an incredibly sincere monologue about how, "Apple appreciates the fact that we have chosen to shop in their store and hopes that we will have a wonderful day". Her smile stops abruptly with the end of her sentence. I think to myself, I'm not shopping. I'm waiting in a queue with a bunch of people who want to buy something they know very little about. All they know is that they feel they should have one. As far as Apple is concerned, that's all they need to know.

I'm at the front of the line now. Big black burley woman asks me what I want. "iphone." Syllable count = Two. She puts a hand in my back and pushes me towards a sales counter while screaming, "IPHONE FOR THIS GENTLEMEN!" Like clockwork I'm guided to a counter where I see a pimply faced assistant disappear below the desk, as if he had been waiting for orders from big black burley woman. He resurfaces with a box in his hand. I arrive at the counter. "Name?" He taps away into a hand held cash register. I look at the brand. It is a "Pocket PC". I laugh internally at the irony but decide not to share my joke with Darren (I've given him a name now - he knows mine, why shouldn't he have one!). "Sign here." He interrupts my internal monologue. "We'll send you the receipt by email. Thanks for shopping at Apple. Next!" Oh... but I didn't even touch the box yet. It's an iphone in the box right? By the way, do you know if there's a café around here? "Next."

Big black burley woman has already launched another customer to my sales counter. It's clear that I need to move on before the next customer lands. Just don't hold up the line! I shuffle off to the side of the register, only vaguely aware that we've just spent almost 500 dollars.

Back up the stairs, as if in fast motion. If it were a film there would be a woooshing sound and action behind the main character would be double speed. Rising, rising and bam.... back on 5th avenue... back into reality... I can see the sky again. I look down and in my hand is a box with an apple label on it. Inside, the iphone. It's as if it's the only proof that it was all real.

Welcome to the future of consumerism. We don't need your face, in fact we don't need you... just your credit card if you please.

Where do I sign?


Lima said...

Oh my god, how creepy and impersonal is that? After years and years of avoiding the iPods, my dad dragged me to help him get one for my brother (actually a ploy to make me choose an iPod for myself) And it's quite good really, but at least the people at JB Hi-Fi are friendly and we got into a good conversation about working in retail during christmas time, I don't want to ever lose the random conversation part of shopping, It makes it that much more bearable.

gah, wall of text. Summary: Creepy...

James Pender said...

Talking of walls of text... congratulations for being one of the few to read all the way to the end...

Sorry about the mass post. Got a bit carried away. Won't happen again... I promise.

Nick said...

Sorry but you lost me when you kept referring to the manufacturer/retailer in question as "Mac", Mac or Macintosh is one of the products/brands that Apple markets, Apple is the company.