Ah, you’re thinking, ‘an article on the iPad. Just what the world needs.’ And, obviously, you’re quite right.
Steve Jobs’ new gizmo is, by many accounts, underwhelming. The response to its launch was, paradoxically, overwhelming. The Guardian, for example, gave it a double page spread on the day of an inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War. This is hard to justify.
The technology may be, as Jonathan Ive says, “magical”, but, in my opinion, it is not more impressive than Nokia’s own-brand wizardry, not by an order that should naturally skew the news agenda [for Malcolm Garrett’s alternative view, see here].
The really newsworthy thing about the iPad is the advertising story: one of the most successful branding campaigns in history being used to sell something that no one thinks they want. Yet. That we will want it seems inevitable. Why does that gently glowing apple cause otherwise reasonable people to behave like this?
Consider the difference between the iPad and an indisputably newsworthy piece of technology – the Large Hadron Collider. The latter is the biggest machine ever built, employing 9,000 scientists, many of them pre-eminent in their field, to explore the origins of the universe. The former an over-priced tablet pc that will be used by you to explore the internet while the kettle boils.
Apple’s products pander to the dreams of the individual, to the exclusion of the community. You could imagine Communism building the lhc, once they’d finally worked out how to feed the population, but only late capitalism could have come up with the iPad.
That appended ‘i’ is the flattered ego, the private fantasy indulged. The internet encourages this behaviour. I myself admit to being a low-level Apple fanboy. What I mean is I will visit the Apple website, fairly regularly, and pimp out an iMac with 16gb of ram, which, after seriously considering an instalment plan at £35 a month for the next 15 years, I will not buy. It’s pathetic, I know, a form of escapism marginally less demeaning than masturbating over the Ikea catalogue. But I can’t help myself.
What I’m buying when I buy, or even don’t buy, an Apple product is the idea that there are things that will make me happier or more creative. It is the advertising fantasy at its most basic – totally untrue and impossible to dismiss. If any product did what I hoped, I wouldn’t need another one. But I can’t really own the latest Apple device because they’re always just about to launch a new one, which will immediately become the one I want. They’ve made waiting three months to replace my two-year-old computer, seem like an act of prudent self-denial. I ask for the latest thing and I’m given the most imminently obsolete.
Herein lies Apple’s diabolical temptation. I’m not buying a computer, or phone or an mp3 player. I’m buying the only thing people believe in any more, technological progress, embodied, like a tribal fetish – a piece of wood that contains the god. It’s mine. I carry it with me and stroke it to cure unhappiness.
‘Gordon Comstock’ is a London-based copywriter and blogs at advertanon.blogspot.com