So Tell Me What You Want, What You Really Really Want
About two weeks ago I sprung for a new iPhone. The reasons and justifications for this purchase are not important and, to be honest, largely suspect. What is important is that I have traversed the chasm between “God, am I sick of hearing about iPhones” factions and landed squarely in the “have you heard about my awesome iPhone” clique.
But, what I love best about my iPhone is not the apps, the cool swipey interface, the 3G networkativity or any quite so tangible or understandable feature. So far, what I like best about my iPhone is being seen having an iPhone. It is through intense efforts of will that I don’t constantly point out to people who do not have an iPhone that, unlike them, I do have an iPhone.
I am not proud of this, but neither am I alone. As I had suspected all along, one of the best things about adopting the fancy new tech, though not quite so fancy and new as it once was, is being part of the cabal. And, lest you feel inclined to hop onto your high horse and ride around bespeaking the greatness of you for not being such an ego driven chamberpot of self-satisfaction, I daresay that this is almost certainly a driving motivation for virtually every technophile.
As you sit there thinking what a fool I am for buying into the cult of Apple, and how your Zune has so many better features without being a badge for conformity, I dare you to stand there and deny that one of your favorite things about not owning an iPhone is not being a person who owns an iPhone.
When I show you my iPhone, and you show me your Zune, you will almost certainly derive only pleasure when some disheartened and stormy expression navigates the landscape of my face upon discovering some function that my cult-box can’t do. You derive joy not from the application alone, but from my lack of access; from your own perceived superiority. Just like me.
It’s not like I’m cracking some hidden and heretofore unexplored psyche of the human mind. To have where others have-not is as fundamental to the human condition as men thinking about breasts or women wishing men would stop looking at their breasts all the time.
I just don’t think we technonerds have historically been quite as willing to accept that our meat-brain flaws are the same ones shared by BMW owners and pharmaceutical executives. If you have ever wanted an easy explanation for why console war is even a meaningful phrase, I offer you the best possible evidence. The deep and entrenched desire to identify superiority through possession. This isn't cortex and cerebellum humanity here, folks, this is down and dirty amygdala kind of stuff.
Despite everything people might say, I think those proselytizing Xbox owners, the evangelists who seem to invest themselves in ownership, really do on some level want PS3 owners to feel bad about their purchase, or vice versa. It is as plain and obvious a thing as a sunrise or an episode of Two and a Half Men.
I hate to be all Molly Ringwald from the Breakfast Club, but let’s face it, sitting at the cool-kids table of technology is a weird kind of power trip. When it comes right down to it, there’s no good reason, for example, to rush out and buy the latest $600 video card or the fanciest new mp3 player, except to be able to say that you have it. When it comes right down to it, there’s pretty much no reason for me to have an iPhone instead of a sensible base model except status.
We don’t talk much about geek status, but don’t kid yourself. It’s there. Hell, chances are if you’re reading this then you’re already in neck deep.
I have this strange daydream. Should you encounter me on the street with an unfocused wistful gaze aimed nowhere in particular, perhaps absently looking at women's breasts, there’s at least a reasonable chance I’ve been consumed by this particular musing. In my mind’s eye I travel back in time to, say, 1982. I show this person what the future of technology looks like, maybe a really cool game cutscene or an app on my phone. They are dazzled and amazed. Their eyes bulge with desire and their mind is literally blown by the crisp visuals, the furious bending of data and the sheer efficiency of what they have seen. And then, they are forever ruined on the substandard technology of their own time. Mission complete to my satisfaction, I return to my own era and leave them with unfulfilled dreams of what will be.
I do not think I’m the only one who has dreamed up this impossible scenario, and if I am then maybe all of this says more about me than it does about every one else. I’m sure most people will want to rise above the degradation of what I am suggesting. No, you may say, I am more elevated than that. I derive my pleasure from the purposeful ownership of equipment that facilitates my professional and recreational desires.
Thing is, I just don’t buy it. I think ownership is as much a source of our desire as the function of objects themselves. I don’t even necessarily believe that it’s such a bad thing.
I’m just saying, the next time you buy a new piece of technology, or lust after some amazing gadget that has little practical application in your life, give yourself just a moment to consider. Is it that you want the thing, or you want a thing that others do not have?