Posts Tagged ‘iPod’


October 7, 2011

2011 – Steve Jobs dies and the world of Apple loyalists expresses their loss.

This summer during one of my trips to China it seems to me that everyone in China has an iPad. I mention this to some of my Chinese friends and they say it is because they are trying to be trendy, not because they need it. It is conspicuous consumption, they say. But why?

I was always a Mac, even though I used PCs at work from 1983 through 1996. Here are moments in time iRemember:

1984 – I saw the “Big Blue” ad during the Superbowl and loved it. It certified that Macintosh and Apple were about independence, in action and thought. It was cool, like all the computers and devices to come, and it resonated with a fundamental American idea that you didn’t have to go along with the crowd. Somehow Apple and Jobs kept that resonance, even as Apple became briefly the world’s biggest corporation – it was still anti-corporate in some way, and today we have the odd confluence of people protesting the influence of corporations on government and the economy while offering flowers to one of the biggest corporate leaders of this generation.

1987 – I bought my first personal computer, an Apple 512ke, because Apple was the creative kind of computer, because even though it was more expensive it was better for graphics and artists and somehow it was not as corporate as a PC. It was creative and alternative. I knew I was a Mac.

1988 – I met my wife, who also had an Apple and in fact was an Apple certified technician, which gave her both artistic validity and street cred although of course it was not called street cred in 1988.

1991 – Felicity is buying the latest Apples and Apple clones. Often they are quite expensive, but she is teaching the School of the Art Institute’s first digital photography classes.

1996 – We are sitting in Viejo Vallarta with a two-month old daughter at dinner while people at the next table are discussing Apple, which is trading at $8 a share. They say the company is dead and its attempt to overtake the PC a failure. I feel a combination of inchoate anger and powerlessness in the face of injustice. I don’t buy any stock, but my brother did, to his credit and great advantage.

1998 – I get my first laptop, a black Apple that is quite large and heavy by modern standards. We take it to Ireland.

2004 – I get the 12″ Powerbook that is still my favorite computer. I write most of a book and a dissertation on this compact little beast.

2006 – I love the “I’m a Mac” ads because they confirm the cultural boundaries that have defined us Apple types since at least 1984. We are the good guys: cool, creative.

2007 – I rant in this blog about my brief experience with the iPod, which was quickly stolen. I fail to understand the nature of the consumer economy, which is a fundamental human nature, and think that iDon’t Need it. But of course that is the wrong question.

The Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal writes “Steve Jobs determined long ago that his imagination, and that of those working under him, far outstripped ours, and so Apple devices were introduced to do things most consumers couldn’t conceive of until he demonstrated what was possible.”

Even beyond these devices which define the modern world and erase former political and cultural boundaries, Steve Jobs and Apple proved the lie that there is a rational consumer. What people buy for themselves, from houses and perfumes and shoes and cars and electronics and fancy vodkas, can not be understood by any sort of needs assessment. They are cultural products, items of self-identity and group identity, and when we thrive we thrive because we want this stuff, not because it makes us healthy or wealthy or popular but because it makes us feel the way we feel when we have those dreams where we can fly, soaring impossibly above the earth, or those moments of love that redound through every fiber of our being. This man who died gave us cultural products but more than that he gave us a new economy of culture. As I said in this blog recently, the tricky reality of technology is not THINGS, but RELATIONSHIPS.

this is a relationship
Others can worry about what will happen to the company now that its guru has passed on. As a historian, I only know that this new relationship, this new cultural economy, will never end.

Technology Dependence

November 1, 2006

One of the principles of Time Tells (this blog) is that history – the ongoing saga of humans – is not terribly linear. One of the best rebuttals of that position is, of course, technology. Here you are in the middle of something you could not have been in the middle of 15 years ago.

So how do you feel? Is technology so completely OTHER that its progress has not affected your affect? Or, are you now completely technology dependent and your list of items to have on a desert island starts with Blackberry and Apple (dessert island)?

I wrote two months ago about how little I need a car, thanks in large part to the location of my home and my work, neither of which are accidental. I have been sucked into e-mail as much as anyone, although (as I wrote about three months ago) I have hardly succumbed to the cell phone.

This makes me an old fogey, of course, but the more I think about it, the more clear it is that people have always been hopheads for technology, and when I say “hopheads,” I mean it in the most derogatory and abusive way. The iPod is a gun.

In May I wrote about our trip to China, the first time in five study trips that I brought electronic devices, and I brought plenty – computers, digital cameras. We were burnin’ coal like crazy. Our project was reliant on one student, Ryan Oh, who made an iPod into a symphony conductor of technology. It was the end of the good old days when my study trip sheets told students to leave their electronics – hairdryers and electric shavers, etc. behind. Alas, those days are over and now we are burning coal at every turn.

But then I thought again about those study trips and how everyone ignored my advice and brought lots of electronics. Because, you see, you can be as dependent on a hair dryer as you can on an iPod. In 1986 when I backpacked around the world, the CD Walkman was the latest thing and everyone had a cassette Walkman – even me. The iPod revolution is basically postwar
transistor technology revolution applied to the Walkman – smaller but more versatile.

I actually disdained Walkmans when they appeared sometime around 1980 because I was a young punk and I thought the traditional boombox was more appropriate – why should you be cocooned with personal music? You should inflict your music on the general public with a boombox – awaken them from their fatty bourgeosie slumber with “Holiday in Cambodia” blasting on your shoulder! Sorry – there goes the old fogey talking maudlin again.

But the point is that the 1985 Walkman and hair dryer were as essential to people as the iPod and Blackberry today. Not because of what they did (although it was hard to get big hair without it – the hair dryer I mean) or what they do: They don’t have to do anything. All they need is the mass market to insist on their existence and ownership. They become an item of identity, and their actual functioning –what they do – is entirely secondary to the fact that you need them with you all of the time. Cell phones are not used for emergency calls or even necessary calls – they are used for identity establishment and as relationship dummies.

“She sat in the crowded train car, hoping one of her friends would call and all the strangers around would be impressed/amused/dismayed by her ringtone.” I suppose I should have Holiday in Cambodia for my ringtone – might teach me a lesson.

For most of human history, fashion has been a means of identifying status. Scythians were well-known hopheads with a biker-like passion for bodily adornment. A Guptan Buddha’s accoutrements and raiments bespeak his earthly and otherearthly royalty, as does the asymmetrically seated pose of his Mathuran cousin. A medieval scholars gown conveyed his erudition. Closer to our own era, we have the associations of bling (I am as rich as the man but still a thug) and fashions that help identify or advertise our sexuality (you always know when ILM is in town). Furs and feathers and fedoras are rich in symbolic content, and the ads that make us want iPods are shadow puppet versions of those Guptan Buddhas – a few lines to indicate clothing, an ethereal pose to indicate enlightenment.

The counter argument to “technology is only a fashion statement” is of course that technology is a pure thing corrupted by advertising, which must sexualize it. Yes, we must trick it out – like all the flab in Microsoft Word – to sell it, but No, it ain’t pure. (actually some crapforbrains function just grabbed that word to Spotlight it – I don’t know what that is, but I know it slowed my workflow significantly)

Our current economy is pretty well dependent on new technology and the rapid obsolescence of old technology and we all know that economics is a driver. Don’t matter if the technology is better or just fatter and more colorful. We have to buy it if we want food and shelter.

What staved off the late 90’s recession? Y2K. Hard to remember now, but back then everyone (at least in the Windows/IBM platform) had to rebuild all of their technology. It was, from a logical point of view, massively unnecessary, expensive and wasteful. That means, of course, that it was fabulous for the economy. The only thing better than buying one is buying two – this is why we have seen so many versions of the iPod – change is driven not by technological progress but by economics. Economists like to see the economy as efficient, but it’s greatest efficiency is creating, and then satisfying desire. That is only efficient if your goal is burning endorphins – and coal.

Technology means tools and tools help us do things we didn’t even think of, like Ryan
Oh and his iPod in Yunnan. But just as you shouldn’t confuse heritage with history, you shouldn’t confuse the marketing of technology with real technology.

So how do you feel?