Gnawing on Apple
Gnawing on Apple
Shane BarnhillMonday,9 March 2015
Like a lot of Apple fans, I had started today with an extra spring in my step, eagerly looking forward to the live stream of Apple’s latest event for showcasing new products. New MacBooks! Finally, details about the Apple Watch! After weeks and weeks of rumors, the big day was here. When the clock struck 10am PT, I was excited and happy as Tim Cook strode onstage to kick things off.
But as the event went on, I began to feel a slight pain inside my stomach, which eventually became a mix of unease and nausea.
Despite my discomfort, I watched the event until the end, and then hopped in my car and drove to Whole Foods. I don’t remember anything about the shopping experience there, but I must have shopped around, because suddenly, I found myself in line to pay, and my trancelike state gave way to sensory overdrive. I winced as I realized my teeth were grinding, my brow was furrowed, and my fists were clenched.
“Fuck,” I whispered.
“May I help you?” came the reply from the cheery Whole Foods cashier. An image flashed in my mind: I’d drop my items on the counter, and walk out of the store. Just leave, and not come back.
But that’s not what happened.
Instead, I pulled my still-shiny iPhone 6 Plus from pocket, and used Apple Pay to pony up for a $4 bottle of Kombucha and $4.50 bag of neatly pre-packaged, overpriced raisins. Organic, of course. I glanced at the receipt on my phone, and stumbled toward the door, as the mix of nausea and discomfort rose again in my stomach.
“Fuck,” I said again, this time in a more audible volume, as three key moments from the Apple event came into focus. I recognized them as the source of my stomach pains.
The first moment was the unveiling of Apple’s new, gold 12″ MacBook. At a time of rising inequality that is dividing communities, Apple comes out with a computer that is specifically designed to help rich people flaunt their wealth as ostentatiously as possible. Seriously? People can buy whatever the hell they want, of course, but I felt all yucky inside just thinking about all the golden computer bling shining throughout coffee shops all around the world. Hey guys, see how the gold from my $1600 computer highlights the caramel drizzled over my $7 latte? See that? I paired those colors on purpose!
The second moment came shortly after the MacBook announcement, just prior to Tim Cook trotting out supermodel Christy Turlington Burns to help promote the new Apple Watch. Before Turlington took the stage, Cook called up a video of her using the new Apple Watch while training for in a half marathon in Tanazania. You may have heard of Tanzania. It’s among the world’s poorest countries, with a Gross Domestic Product that’s approximately 1.3% the size of America’s GDP. It was, frankly, a little shocking to see the juxtaposition of a Tanzanian woman lying in bed while seeking health care with a supermodel smiling away with her luxury smart watch (see photo, above). And really, Apple, you played the “poor Africa” card? Sick people lying in bed, followed by giraffes, elephants and sunsets.
The third moment of queasiness came when Apple announced prices for the new Apple Watch models. The Apple Watch Sport ranges between $349 and $399, the standard Apple Watch costs between $549 and $1,099, and the 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition starts at a whopping $10,000 and goes up to $17,000. Fusion’s Kevin Roose termed these price points, “Class anxiety, brought to you by Apple,” and they have a point. I’m not going to re-write Kevin’s article; you should go read it after you’re done here. But the summary is that while Apple’s products are luxuries, their owners have always been on somewhat equal footing. Warren Buffett can’t buy a better iPhone than a regular guy like me who just happens to put a portion of each paycheck into a special account for buying gadgets. He can only buy the same top end iPhone as I can. But the Apple Watch changes all that; the Apple Watch Edition introduces a new stratification of iOwners. Are you a Sport person? A standard person? An Edition person? Apple Watches are the new cars in the school parking lot. I’ll be dropping off my kids at school in my beat up minivan with 182,000 miles on it, wearing my Apple Watch Sport. In front of me, there will be a sea of Tesla and Mercedes drivers making damn sure their left wrists are dangling out their windows so that I can see their Apple Watch Editions. I’m a “C Class” Apple owner now.
In short, I had expected to come away from Apple’s big event today feeling excited about the future of wearable technology, but instead, I just feel sick. I was certainly aware before today that Apple long ago became a luxury brand for relatively well-to-do people, but today’s experience was jarring, and I don’t feel good about myself as a rapid consumer of all things Apple. Yes, I’m going to buy a new Apple Watch when it comes out next month–as a tech enthusiast who always wants to be on top of emerging platforms, my curiosity will inevitably get the better of me–but I suspect I’ll feel a heavy dose of buyer’s remorse, mixed in with a dash of feeling somewhat slimy.
So, I’ve resolved to match whatever I spend on Apple products going forward with donations to charitable organizations. Next month, it might be my employer, the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation. When I enviably go back to pick up accessories, perhaps charity: water, the Global Fund for Women, or Donors Choose will benefit. Hell, maybe I’ll just give directly to my kids’ schools, so that their teachers don’t have to use their own money to buy the art supplies required for my kids to make fun projects that I’ll photograph with my iPhone and then show off to people on my Apple Watch.
You might want to consider doing the same, especially if you’re considering both a gold MacBook and a gold Apple Watch Edition. Yes, we’re just assuaging our guilt, but there are some real societal ills underlying that guilt, and Apple just put a heavy spotlight on them in a unique way.