Why Silicon Valley is all wrong about Apple’s AirPods
Chris Messina

“ Isn’t jewelry about attracting the attention of your companion?”

Well, yes, Chris, I think it is. And these new Apple cash-grab Battery-Investor-Bailout-Act of 2016 ear things are a sure sign that you’re probably not paying attention to your companion. At the very least, you’re not listening. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that — could you repeat it?” Is that the kind of attention one wants to attract and retain?

(Disclaimer: I am not a Luddite. I started programming when I was 16, and I’m well past that age now. For the past two decades I’ve been working to make air travel easier for passengers, and I have a sincere appreciation for what technology can do for people — after all, I’ve invented some of it [alongside a team of extremely talented people, I’m compelled to point out]. It’s what people do with that tech that I find so galling.)

Fifteen years ago I’d already seen four (apparent) co-workers from some office arrive at a lunch venue (whose name was and is a fancy way of saying “bread bread”), bring their trays to the table, and then turn away from each other to have phone conversations — and one assumes, not a conference call with each other. That is not a social activity. That’s four separate lunches in the same 64 square feet.

In that same year, a new co-worker of our complained that we’d never asked him out to lunch, so we did. Because we couldn’t decide on a restaurant, we went to a nearby mall to the food court (people went to malls in those days), and once we regulars had all gotten seated, we discovered the new guy at the next table over, conversing with a friend via his phone. That conversation lasted the entire meal. All we’d done was give him a ride to lunch and back again. We never asked him to go with us again. Why? Because he (as a harbinger of what was to come) didn’t understand the meaning of “with.”

Let’s look at that. When you shop at H&M, or Wal-Mart, or — well, you choose, it’s not up to me to tell you where to shop — there will be other people there. Are you shopping with them, or are you shopping at the same time as them? (Contrast: when you buy from Amazon.com, you’re certainly not the only person doing so, yet you never think of those other people, nor consider the notion of “with” in that context.) There are both semantic and functional differences between “with” and “at the same time as,” but thanks to iPhones and Android phones, those lines are blurring out, and not in a good way. (Blurring — and melding, I suppose — in much the same way as “acquaintance” and “friend,” thanks to Facebook. That’s an entirely separate discussion, on which I won’t be starting here.)

That’s where all this tech has gotten us. Thanks to Apple and its ilk, we can now be the star of The Movie About My Life, Starring Me, complete with personalized sound track. Thanks to Apple, et al., we can now retain our teenage insecurity practically forever (or return to it), while never having to come to terms (or manage, or overcome) the noise in our heads. We just replace a sense of personal self-worth with an endless stream of of selfies, an eternal mirror-gaze of self-absorption and self-worship — a digital navel made up of a small highly-portable computer that only incidentally makes phone calls, but which we still call a “phone” — while ensuring that we have absolutely no situational awareness by saturating our ears with anything but ambient sounds. As Doug Henning used to say, “reality is the illusion and illusion the reality.” That was stage patter, not a worthy basis for a personal credo — but hey, Pokemon Go, right? Standing in front of the thing that people ought to see, taking a photo of you blocking it with your face, with a camera that deliberately makes it look as if you’re staring into a mirror.

Through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole — nothing but ‘Net.

The punchline to the joke is that Apple has built a system on which it’s now possible (unless these ear pods are powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators, like some deep-space probe) to pay 160USD just to replace a set of batteries. Well played, Apple — well played. How’s that for environmental responsibility?