The Brink of Assimilation (Part 2)

iPhones are great, I think. That's what everyone who owns one tells me. Nobody seems to know how to arrange its produce to catch the customer's eye better than Apple. Musingly, how does a fruit company get people to go grape over its particular crop of apples ? Today it seems we jump even more readily into individuation as gratification, as self-realization, than we did at the first rumblings of mass consumerism many years ago. Commercials are updated for the times, but the essential message is the same. Buy this brand, it will differentiate you. You'll be special, look special, feel special.

I recall while walking outside one day, a young friend seeing my 4-year old Nokia cell phone and practically laughing. It wasn't hip enough, current enough, modern enough, Apple enough. I was not making the correct statement. I suppose having been born into the personal computer revolution at its genesis, I was destined to be prematurely old-fashioned. My Nokia handheld was indeed "my father's cell phone", and my father was me. Oddly enough, I felt quite comfortable in this role. The 'younger' generation was admonishing me for not being with the program, and I felt quietly amused with their readiness to discard all of last year's toys.

I'm writing this accompanied by several other laptop users in a dark cafe. Glancing towards the floor in my immediate field of view reveals no less than three small, rounded white boxes, each about two and a half inches square. Having lived above the earth's surface for the past few years allows me to quickly recognize them as Mac power supplies. They're identical, attached to long white cords that snake upwards to 3 equally similar laptops. This brand of computing freedom, individuation, and expression has me surrounded. Cool ? Ironic ? Ironically cool ? Am I surrounded by the Borg, or am I being shown the path to liberation if only I would take the colored pill ? And what will the fruit company grow next ?

Sigmund Freud's nephew Edward Bernays, who was to modern public relations and marketing as Col. Sanders was to Fried Chicken, would have been proud. Bright, shiny new objects. People throwing buzzwords around, or casually deprecating themselves as being not "tech savvy" ...as if their estimation in others' eyes depended on such. The "groupthink" to be hip, cool, and current is on full display in spheres such as the iPhone release. Hordes of people lined up in the early hours of the the morning to spend several hundred dollars on a device they'd never used or even knew if they really wanted. They wanted a new toy, I suppose. More than that, though, they wanted both participation in the group dynamic and (paradoxically) ego recognition as being somehow differentiated, powerful, individualized. Freud's nephew understood this well, but the toys still seem so cool. And they probably are.

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