Monday, June 4, 2007
I turned my phone off for the weekend and felt free again. Then I woke up this morning to the announcement that the much anticipated iPhone will be available for purchase on June 29th. No doubt that eager customers worldwide will line up to grab the latest trendy accessory put out by the world's leading brand marketer of post modern cultural aesthetics. (Un)fortunetly, I won't be one of them.
For a technology guru like myself, the features of the iPhone are undeniably appealing: a hand-held multimedia device that functions as phone, iPod and MacBook all rolled into one. I'm skeptical about whether it'll really pose stiff competition to such brands as Blackberry and Trio since the buisness world remains stoicly PC-based.
However, Apple's stiffest competition when it comes to marketing the new iPhone to a broader audience is itself. The company has done a genius job at marketing a lifestyle to a young, trendy, media-savvy audience. Yet that audience is a very exclusive, niche market, consisting mainly of people under the age of 35 and media-related professionals. This, of course, has its advanatages. The young consumer market is huge, and advertising to younger folks will inevitably lead to brand loyalty for years to come.
But there are pitfalls. Above all else, Apple sells an aesthetic. It's young, it's hip, it's urban. It's also white, hipster and yuppie . Apple products are just as closely associated with film and music production as they are with the aesthetics of gentrification. On any given day, my local Apple store is filled with working class black and brown youth lined up at free internet-equipped computers checking email and myspace accounts. On more than a few occassions , Apple store empoyees have stood to the side, mean muggin' and impatient with the kids' playful and defiant breach of private space. Products remain outrageously priced, so the employees' gripe's usually have to do with the idea that the kids are taking up space on products they have no intention of buying. The validity of that claim is open to debate, but there's a direct link between technology and gentrification. It usually has to do with who has access to what, and where. In an increasingly technological society, Apple sells products that value the private domain: the insular world of iPods, do-it-yourself movies and music. Working class communities of color often don't have access to the spaces, let alone the products, to control their representation. And since technology is the latest metaphorical reference to the globalized American apple pie, the extent to which you don't have access to it is one of the truest measures of powerlessness in our society.
So, back to the iPhone. It's chic and trendy, and at nearly $600 retail price, way too expensive for my tastes. It's undoubtedly a priviledge to actively choose not to be a part of something, I know that. My inner nerd can't deny the allure, but every racial justice activist bone in my body wants to resist this latest installment in multimedia colonization.Besides, I kinda like the idea of leading a life that's still somewhat free from the constant demands of being wired and accessible.