Enormous media hype around the “Jesus phone” proved it once again, there is only one leading company in consumer technology, and that is Apple. In current times there is probably no other company that is more capable of selling a piece of the future than these Californian dream-weavers. Once bought, however, the great promise turns out to be quite a normal thing – certainly not as good as the futurists promised you. But it is already too late. So, why do we keep forgiving them for selling overpriced products that are just not quite there yet?
To get some answers on that question, I will talk you trough three ways of how the future is used as an excuse to manipulate us.
- First, the future is used to force us to change our habits for our own benefit. To be able to live in the future they say you’ll have to change the way of working and living.
- Second, the future is used to keep us from complaining: although the present is not that good, it will get better once the future has arrived. So, be strong, keep on going, and everything will be all right.
- Third, the future is used as a shared dream of humanity: one day we’ll all be united, so if you want the best for the world stay with us.
As you can see all reasons have some overlap and can be found in both business and governmental ways of explaining their choices for the future.
An example of changing our habits for the best is the different way the iPhone uses for text input. David Pogue of the New York Times writes: “Text entry is not the iPhone’s strong suit. The Blackberry won’t be going away anytime soon”. Not only that iPhone is slower than the Blackberry, it’s also different. The multi-touch interface of the new iPhone is a good example of getting something new, and losing some good features from the past. On one hand, you get a larger screen and a more flexible interface to operate your phone. On the other hand, you lose a way of feeling with your fingers what you are doing. If asked, many 14 year olds are capable of typing text messages on their phone without even looking. This mastered skill is mainly based on the fact that they can actually feel the shape and location of the buttons they are pushing, and without any physical buttons to hit this skill will soon be one of the past.
Later on, Porgue even falls for the “In the future everything will be better” dogma. After writing about some errors and flaws he ends his article on the iPhone concluding that things may not be so good at the moment, but the will get better soon.
On the other hand, both the iPhone and its network will improve. Apple points out that unlike other cell phones, this one can and will be enhanced with free software updates. That’s good, because I encountered a couple of tiny bugs and one freeze. A future iPhone model will be able to exploit AT&T’s newer, much faster data network, which is now available in 160 cities.
Just beyond the horizon lies a land of milk and honey, where Internet is fast, photos are sharp and interfaces are workable.
Apple is not really selling you a product that is created for the current times. When you buy it, you merely get a beta version of the next model and pay Apple for their research and development. My point, however, is not that Apple makes bad products, but that we should judge them (just as almost any other product) on their value for money on this moment, and not how good they might become someday.
Then again, if you look at it from a more sociological perspective, the use of the future concept can also have a positive side. Historian Allan Nevis wrote in his research on American history that we are, although also bound by history, even more bound by our hope for the future. And despite the fact that Apple is not keeping up with their promises in present-day, it does succeed however in structurally promising us a better future.
Which leads me to the following conclusion: if we would not believe in Apple’s branding strategy and judge their products like most other products, we would have to live without the shared hope for a brighter future for all. Quirks saw it already coming in the last century. Whenever the future failed, as it often did during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, appeal was made to yet another new future patching up the miscarriage op previous predictions. (Quirks, 1989, p.178)
Nevins, A., 1971:398 in Quirks, J.J. The history of the future
Pogue, D. “The iPhone Matches Most of Its Hype”, 2007
Quirks, J. J. “The history of the future”. in Carey, J. W. “Communication as a culture”, 1989, Unwin Hyman
iPhone video: Lenart J. Kučić