iToy Indulgence

What I’m about to write isn’t really about design. Or maybe it is; I haven’t decided yet. What it most definitely is about is perspective. As in, we’ve lost it. It is this lost—or maybe just general lack of—perspective that originally frustrated me as a design student. I guess not much has changed.

With Apple’s recent release of the iPad, and now the iPhone 4, I find myself once again turning sour on humanity, against our excessive consumption, against our getting caught up in whatever is new and shiny and sparkly. I’m amazed—and kind of appalled—at how much time people spend talking about these new products, as if they’re some kind of vital life force.

It’s not my intent to get righteous about belongings; I have a couple nice things of my own. But when I think about an iPhone, its pervasiveness, and the fact that bazillions (yes, I said bazillions) of current iPhone users will continue to buy the latest and greatest model—I have to ask: What does it really do? And I guess if this post has anything to do with design, here it is:

What does the iPhone really do that makes it so necessary?

In my casual observance of its use, I’d say what makes it so great to its owners is that it gives them 24/7 access to the internet—and likely—to tell the world what they think, via Twitter or Facebook, for instance. Huh. Just as I wrote the previous sentence, I had a little epiphany of sorts: the iPhone allows people to feel connected to something. To have someone to talk to when no one is around. To communicate their thoughts to everyone, or no one, or the universe, or whatever. Huh.

So tell me this: How much new technology does it take to reconnect a bunch of humans who are excessively disconnected from one another? I ask this question because we humans have designed ourselves into this scenario. And now it almost seems we’re trying to design our way out of it. It blows my mind.

I am a user of both Twitter and Facebook, but I’m not currently an iPhone user. Maybe someday I will be; I’m not sure. It’s not that I’m automatically opposed to new technology, nor to our new methods of communication. But I occasionally get a bit disturbed by the lack of substance and the lack of real human connections that, in my opinion, are at least partially inspired by our über “connectivity.” We are digital and electronic phantoms—constantly connected, but in a fantastically disconnected way.

Excessive discussion about the state of our technologically inspired communication seems somewhat futile. It is what it is. But being a Twitter user has allowed me to bear way too much witness to how people react when a new “toy” is released. Basically, Twitter goes nuts whenever Apple releases a new product, or makes any kind of significant change to a current product. In that sense, the designers at Apple are controlling us like the brainless robots we apparently are. Dangling a shiny new toy in front of us, making us salivate, making us numb ourselves to the reality of the human condition with a new piece of technology to get excited over.

Am I the only one who finds this disturbing? Am I the only one who sees it this way? Am I reading too much into this? Am I asking pointless questions? Should I just buy a damn iPhone?

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4 responses to “iToy Indulgence

  1. Audrey, I doubt you’re the only person who is bothered by marketing hype or consumerism, but I’m personally not. First of all, as I type this from my old iPhone, I think back to the days before I had one. As a high tech worker, the iPhone has been indispensable in numerous situations. So I don’t think being excited about an improved model (the 3G I have could definitely use improvements!) makes me a brainless robot.

    But what really came to mind when I was reading your post was the question, “what’s wrong with consumerism/materialism?” you made a comment that people feel connected because of technology, but that it’s not real. If it’s a feeling, why isn’t it real? Isn’t “connecting” about feelings? I don’t doubt that technology has had substantive effects on social behavior and culture, but iPhone worship seems just like any other major cultural phenomenon, such as the world cup. Which make me think of all the people living in different parts of the world, trying to make a living away from their loved ones. Isn’t it great the new iPhone will have video chat so those people can feel more connected?

  2. I understand where you are coming from, and I disagree with all people who buy a shiny new toy like the iPhone 4 when they aren’t in the financial position to buy it.
    But, if you think the money is worth it: go buy an iPhone.
    What does is add you ask? Simplicity to your everyday life!

  3. I have no problem with the new iphone stuff – it was voted in some poll as one of the top five most important inventions in history – behind the printing press and the lightbulb probably.

    I love that it allows me to forget phone numbers,birthdays, holidays, deadlines, it allows me to forget how to navigate streets using my own senses and observation, it allows me to even forget why and how I know the people I know. It’s the cure for my mnemonic societal desire that begs me just to zone out and forget, it affords and exports all that small “useless” information into a nice small computer that is more powerful than the electronic behemoth that first put men on the moon. And I know, like all good objects – it will not fail to deliver my information back to me.

    I like that there is a certain mystery as to where this information goes – I like that I can attain immediate gratification on knowing my checking balance or remembering that my sister’s husband’s brother has a hair cut scheduled for tomorrow. I love it, it’s like OCD with buttons. And I love this. I walk down the street, once having to use sunglasses and a sulk at dusk to avoid friendly strangerly interactions. The nightly news does not fear me any more – because my world is very very small – my world is a very small mirror with which I can look into and…. see me….. my music, my calendar, my lightsaber noise maker, my address, my photo of me and my dad…… and look for exotic tangible escapes in far off lands with it – because that is really what I’m like, and yet where I will immediately begin to crave my social network and my fail.com’s…….

    Or, maybe I’m a slave to myself in that very very modern aesthetic.

  4. I agree on the social disconnection part, it seems more of a critique on social networking and the devices that aid us to further disconnect from reality and connect to a digital reality like facebook or twitter. I do own the iPhone 4, it is nice having a small computer/phone/iPod I can carry around everywhere. Yet devoting a significant amount of your attention/time to a palm sized device can be bad for your mental health.
    I miss being forced to communicate with people on a more natural basis, or having to figure something out on my own than having an app do it for me, we are unlearning ourselves.
    Yet, I could look at it as a device that simplifies the things I have struggle with so I have more time to engage in real life.
    Anyways, it occupies the dead space of life, on the bus, waiting for somone, allowing my employer to be in constant contact with me. There is a threshold for when these devices rule our lives and unfortunately that time isn’t too far away.

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