Apple’s Brave New World

Apple’s annual pre-holiday season big-reveal has become an institution. If only Midnight Mass was as popular. This year’s event was no exception, speakers excitedly jogging on stage, grinning with delight or donning looks of earnest worthiness — showing off ‘amazing’ and ‘magical’ new devices. Everything shiny and slick. Every surface a mirror-like reflection. Your old iDevice. Garbage. Throw it away and order the ‘amazing’ and ‘magical’ new one. Everything pristine and perfect — all you could possibly desire.

The annual pre-holiday iEvent is a celebration of getting things right, a celebration of success. A simple purchase provides membership to Apple’s ‘ecosystem’ and permission to become a ‘fanboi’ and participate in the sycophantic ticker-tape parade. In a post-patriotic world, corporate driven excitement is the new worship. Buying your iProduct is a smart choice: which makes us smart iPeople. Every year—better products, even more seductively reflective surfaces (more fingerprint magnets), and bigger profits. Shops used to sell stuff. Browsers wandered around the dusty shelves glancing at the dishevelled stock — books that had been fingered through, clothes that had been tried on and rejected. Grumpy shop assistants lurked in the dim corners, shirking customer contact, loitering in-between their extended tea breaks, avoiding eye-contact with shoppers until the safely of closing time beckoned. As annoying as grumpy shop assistants are, we tolerate them, knowing that they have low paid jobs and, have to politely tolerate annoying customers, and probably the odd manager or two who imagines him or herself as the next step in human evolution. How would we be if we were working there over the Christmas holiday? Not much different probably.

Now the dusty shelves, the dank and shadowy niches that typified the nooks and crannies of old-school shops are all but extinct. The science of the retail experience has banished them into oblivion — an out-dated vestige of a previous century. Smelly carpets and gnarled fittings have been replaced with fastidious, OCD neatness: a bright and pristine interior of the Apple store resembles an art gallery. Squeaky clean, filled with Apple t-shirted Geniuses (bearing an eerie resemblance to the colour coded crew of USS Enterprise — but no red shirts in the mix here, hopefully). Every Genius comes pre-programmed with more scripted prompts and response loops than the androids in Westworld. The Geniuses talk in pleasantly quiet tones, echoing the algorithm of their genetic base code: Johnathan Ive 2.0 — cranking out rehearsed prompts, affirmations, and redirected attention. They inhabit a peculiar landscape known as The Grove: part Guggenheim, part Zen garden. This relentlessly Modernist savanna — there for the browsers to roam, their native ecosystem, is a respite from the immaculate product tables. The Grove is a place of comfort, a place where the anointed heal the sick and confused. It is permeated with magical power, something akin to ‘the zone’ in Stalker. All in all, the Apple store is no longer a store. It’s the ‘Town Square’—sculpted with premium materials, marble stairs, glass, light coloured wood, and clinically clean trees growing in oversized containers.

‘Yes, it’s amazing…’ a Genius reassures a browser. ‘I have one in white. It’s really great. I love it.’

It’s easy to be lulled by the trees and the marble, the neatly arranged tables and the helpful advisors who police the Town Square. Everything is slick and seductively pristine — a shop without cash tills or queues. The whole store could have come out of a shrink-fit wrapper that a Genius ripped open at 6.30AM this morning. The ‘Town Square’, a big iDevice box. You might expect it to smell of ‘brand new’, like a new car — that strangely pleasant chemical whiff. But this smells of something without any discernible whiff. Success. It’s truly Modernist in every way, very Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1931) very H. G. Wells, The Shape of Things to Come (1933) which is an interesting comparison in a Post-Modern world. All that beautiful design, the calm Genius voices corralling anxious browsers off the product tables, shepherding them to the safety of the Grove; like the android policemen in THX-1138, guiding the passive, medicated-masses with their babified commands:

Everything will be all right. You are in my hands. I am here to protect you. You have nowhere to go. You have nowhere to go.