September 12, 2014

With the smartwatch, Jobs' gay successor has undermined Apple's conformist aesthetic and obsession with gadgets

Leave it to a homo to so fundamentally misunderstand Apple's appeal to its zombie cult audience. (Gays are at best culture-bearers but more often destroyers.)

They want gadgets that double as fashion accessories, not fashion accessories that double as gadgets. Look at how much time, money, and effort went into designing not the gadget per se, but the forty-thousand variations intended to cater to a rainbow of unique design aesthetics. Except that geeks have no strong aesthetic preferences — they just want a gizmo that looks design-y, so they don't feel uncultured while they channel surf on BuzzFeed in public.

And they don't want all those forty-thousand looks and feels to choose from. Not only because they lack a set of aesthetic values that would move them toward some and away from others. It's missing the whole point of these gadgets-as-status-symbols — bystanders must be able to instantly recognize that you've got one of those things. Once they come in so many different shapes, colors, materials, and textures, onlookers will have to spend an extra ten seconds to recognize your watch as an Apple-branded product. And the watch face doesn't have a bigass Apple logo slapped on top of it like their laptops do. Just think of how many lost recognition points that could mean in practice!

The smartwatch can only succeed as a fashion accessory, not as a proper Apple device. Techno-geeks aren't very into fashion, so it's no surprise their reactions have been tepid. Even if you were into watches as fashion accessories, you're probably going to go with something from a company that specializes in designing and making watches. Lord knows hardly anyone will use them to tell time, if they're already tethered to their smartphones.

The fact that the project has gotten this far goes to show how terrified every person who works for Apple still is of questioning anything that the leader and his appointees propose. Any halfway observant person could have told them what I just said, and pointed out how contrary it is to what made them so successful. And not in a trial-and-error, experimental way, where it may fail but may become the next big thing. It's not experimental at all, just a 21st-century take on those geeky calculator watches from 25 years ago.

Then again, maybe someone did try to raise a stink but felt the weight of the authority structure reminding them how replaceable they are, if they insist on acting disloyal to the leader (even if loyal to the larger interests of the company).

In either case, it will be joyous to see the Apple megachurch disintegrate after the death of its visionary guru, as the midnight launch pew-fillers become disillusioned with increasingly more desperate and ridiculous successors. It sure has been a long time coming.

21 comments:

  1. Contaminated NEET9/12/14, 5:40 AM

    "Culture-bearers?" "Culture-destroyers?" Somebody's been reading the Big H. Am I right?

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  2. No, but those are handy terms to describe the roles that groups play in cultural change.

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  3. That is interesting. I guess that techies tend to be brand conscious.

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  4. that probably has something to do with being abstract vs. corporeal. those who are more corporeal have better instincts, so they can judge each product individually.

    Someone who is more abstract, and less instinctual, can't waste a lot of time reasoning if each product is good or not, so they just pick a brand or a company and stick with it. such individuals are more likely to consume bad products.

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  5. Abstract people will buy worse products, but I don't think they mind so much. Compared to corporeal people, they don't value how well it's built, if it'll hold up over time, performs well, and so on. They value "the idea of" something.

    Google that -- "I love the idea of" -- and marvel at how airheaded everyone is these days. You wonder why you can't buy anything halfway decent in stores anymore, they are the reason.

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  6. I always get the impression technical people prefer Android phones and devices to Apple.

    Apple's audience is like high income, but technically inept people, preferably who want to signal both those qualities. People from high status, high capability, but non-technical work sectors.

    Perhaps people who think of themselves as romantic, sentimental, imaginative and people oriented, who understand ideas and concepts quickly and thoroughly and don't rely on senses, authority or experience, while also tending to be driven, practical and conventional, holding nothing sacred (Liberals, of a cutthroat and conquering sort?).

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  7. This post on can't be complete without a link to this year's fashion week with Jimmy Kimmel.

    Scott Locklin's Vessyl rant is also instructive. (Really, "Duck Dynasty goes to a TED talk" would be a ratings bonanza.)

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  8. "ho understand ideas and concepts quickly and thoroughly and don't rely on senses, authority or experience, while also tending to be driven, practical and conventional, holding nothing sacred "

    I would say that all seems accurate, except for them being people-oriented.

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  9. ""ho understand ideas and concepts quickly and thoroughly and don't rely on senses, authority or experience"

    I see what you are getting at, but I don't think that this distinction correlates with corporeal vs. abstract. Maybe that has more to do with open to new experiences vs. closed to new experiences - which determines the level of conceptual ability, which I don't see as being the same as being "abstract".

    Someone can be more instinctive(corporeal) yet also be able to juggle a lot of concepts in their head and learn mostly through self-reflection, the difference is that they will determine the right answer through instincts and then reason back why that is the answer. Conversely, you can have limited intellectual ability, yet still be more "abstract", meaning lacking in instincts - those people will just accept whatever authority tells them.

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  10. Asian culture, for instance, is very hierarchical and based on authority, yet is more "abstract", meaning it emphasizes abstract ideas rather than personal experience or feelings.

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  11. A trend in music I had noticed (at least when I hear oldies stations) but hadn't thought much of: the decline of the fade-out. Apple's iPod is one of the suspects blamed.

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  12. I know many of the fans of bands I listen to aren't huge fans of the fade-out. They think it's lame and a sign that the band ran out of ideas as to how to end the song.

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  13. The fade-out was the flipside of the build-up intro. The fade-out is more than just dialing down the volume, there's usually a slightly different take on the main riffs or melody. Ditto for the build-up intro -- not just playing the main riff for awhile before the first verse, but luring you in before the first riffs and melody appear. They serve to ease your brain into and out of an unusual state-of-mind. It's less jarring than a cold beginning or a cold ending.

    Take "Rio" by Duran Duran -- nice teasing intro that sets the mood without giving up the main riffs right away. Uptempo shimmery synths sound like sunlight sparkling off of the ocean. Then during the fade-out, there's a mini saxophone solo to wind things down (the first, main sax solo is more frenetic), and a new series of vocal riffs -- "doo doo, doo doo-doo, doo-doo..."

    These bookends add to the complexity of the phrasing. It's not just verse-refrain, verse-refrain, like it was in the early stages of rock 'n' roll ("Hound Dog"). There are dedicated little phrases just for the beginning and just for the ending. You might think of them as opening solos and ending solos, less intense than the climax solo that plays around 2/3 of the way through.

    So, it follows the general rise and fall of complexity in phrasing. These little beginning and ending solos are gone -- and so are the main climax solos. Verses and choruses don't have their own distinct feel, and the bridge is gone too. Pop music is a lot less "through-composed" than it was in the '80s.

    The decline doesn't have anything to do with tech changes. That's most apparent with the disappearance of the climax solo. What does that have to do with iTunes, mp3s, Spotify, etc.?

    It follows the cocooning-and-crime cycle. As people sought higher and higher levels of excitement, the pop music that they chose became more and more complex in its phrase structure. Once people wanted calmer and calmer social lives, that no longer appealed to them, and pop music writers stopped supplying it.

    Simple structure allows you to not get too attached to the music, like it's a disposable fungible thing. Complex songs sound more distinct, but simple songs don't have as many "degrees of freedom" to stand out from one another -- only two (verse, refrain) compared to six (verse, chorus, bridge, solo, intro, outro).

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  14. This one from the early '90s also comes to mind for pleasing intro and outro that sound distinct from the main song, and that allow your brain to transition into and out of the state of following its performance (or participating if you're singing along).

    "Linger" by the Cranberries (1993)

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  15. Great choice, Agnostic. That song brings back a lot of memories.

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  16. 'It follows the cocooning-and-crime cycle. As people sought higher and higher levels of excitement, the pop music that they chose became more and more complex in its phrase structure. Once people wanted calmer and calmer social lives, that no longer appealed to them, and pop music writers stopped supplying it.'

    This is kind of analogous to how people, particularly women who are more trendy/conformist, stopped wearing bright colors and patterns in the mid 90's as people slowly disengaged from each other and the outside world. I guess people could only deal with so much stimulation after the heady 1968-1991 golden age of good times that they needed a break from visual and sonic styles that demand engagement.

    On a slight positive note, I recently heard a drawn out, impressive sounding synthesizer note during some commercial. With all of the drowsy, low tech music that's been boring us since 1992 it's a cool bonus to hear a synthesizer or wailing electric guitar now. Back in the late 70's/ 80's any time you turned on the radio or saw a movie you could count on hearing pulse pounding electronic instruments adding some striking, even haunting energy to a song or scene.

    Knowing Agnostic's appreciation of synth sounds, I recently bought Sorcerer from 1978 and Thief from 1982 on Blu Ray. Both movies have mesmerizing synth scores from Tangerine Dream. They are both great examples of how compelling art was in the New Wave age. Judging by enthusiastic recent reviews, maybe some people are finally escaping the dorky, 'uughh leave the synths back in the 80's' attitude.

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  17. I'm not into synths as musical instruments, but I thought that kind of score was very effective in Beyond the Black Rainbow. I've also enjoyed odd instruments and sounds in Brian Reitzell's score for "Hannibal", even while I'm not particularly interested in listening to the score by itself. Michael Nyman's stuff on the other hand...
    I suppose a common element is that the synth is "colder" and more inhuman sounding, and a lot of Reitzell's stuff is not quite pleasing to the ear. It puts one on edge, which can be appropriate for the disturbing imagery that accompanies it. Nyman might also be scoring scenes of death & decay, but because he's going for a different effect it can still work on its own.

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  18. "This is kind of analogous to how people, particularly women who are more trendy/conformist, stopped wearing bright colors and patterns in the mid 90's as people slowly disengaged from each other and the outside world."

    You can already see the beginning of the anti-color trend around 1989-90, which links it more to cocooning than to falling-crime (which began only in '93). There was a popular black-and-white trend in all sectors of the visual culture -- clothing, advertising, graphic design, music videos, and so on.

    It was still high-contrast, which linked it to the outgoing period that was in its twilight phase, but it was colorless, which heralded the arrival of calmer, unplugged social lives. Already by '93 or '94, it was all-black that was leading the way, and not only among yuppie urbanites but also among blue-collar metalheads.

    The goth-y grunge-y '90s was an overshoot, like how you have a really heated bitter divorce, before being on at least lukewarm terms with each other. At least by now you can wear colors, but nothing too loud unless you want to attract attention.

    Back in the '80s, though, everyone was dressed louder than today, so it didn't make you feel self-conscious. Little kids and grown men can be found in old pictures sporting yellow shorts and pink t-shirts. Not as some kind of deliberate uniform, a la the gays today with really loud colors, but just because they had a wide variety of colors in their dresser, and today their random choice happened to be yellow shorts and a pink t-shirt.

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  19. 'Already by '93 or '94, it was all-black that was leading the way, and not only among yuppie urbanites but also among blue-collar metalheads.'

    I'm a big metal guy myself and judging from 80's concert photos, band photos, performance videos etc. the whole dark look was quite common in the 80's, albeit with black or white t shirts sometimes adorned with colorful band logos/album covers. I read a book released in the late 80's about the metal subculture witch noted that metal was an outgrowth of 60's counter culture but the music had gotten so dark and the audience so disaffetected by the early 80's that the fashion also changed in kind.

    AC/DC in 1980 and Metallica in 1987 both adopted black attire with the odd white shirt after the death of a band member. Metallica has stuck with it, not sure about AC/DC (not a huge fan). Motorhead had it's origins in colorful, psychedelic Prog/Hard Rock but Motorhead proper always had a menacing biker look. Judas Preist began wearing black leather around 1979 and it was Priest and Motorhead that basically were imitated by damn near every 'real' metal group of the 80's.
    Queensryche's first two releases from '83 and '84 show the band all in black.
    To show their distance from the preppy types young metal guys back then often dressed like the bands or bikers (Harley stuff was also worn back then when Harleys were for outlaws and misfits, not aging boomers with too much money to burn). In that book the author said that the only metal fashion item that was shunned by the audience was spandex pants. I don't think i would got to a metal concert, even in the 1980's, wearing khaki pants and a Hawaiann shirt.

    Also, wasn't black/grey sort of hip in general in the 80's as sort of a reaction to how popular earth tones were in the 60's and 70's? Were the 80's the first decade where confused, angsty teens dressed in black? Like that weird girl in the Breakfast Club.

    Anyway, as always I appreciate your blog.

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  20. Agnostic,
    I just wanted to drop a quick note to let you know that you were even more right about something than I even knew at the time and to confirm, again, the correctness of your instincts, understanding, etc.
    Awhile back, with little said by me, you asked if I was part Mediterranean and I pointed out my grandmother was mostly Czech and that while I took after her only a little, her dancing, perhaps you were discerning some Southern Slav instead.

    My father, mostly a clone of his German father (mostly blonde family, highly intelligent), nonchalantly dropped a bomb on me today. I brought up getting us 23 and me kits when he suddenly says "Your grandfather always said much of his family was from the east, the Balkans".
    The Balkans!!! Who is from the Balkans!?!
    I've always heard about the Balkans, never met anyone from there, just a romantic, legendary far away land whose existence has had nothing to do with me up until that point.
    I'm stunned, shocked. You had said the Balkans were very similar to the Mediterranean nations so your instincts about my heritage were spot on. Maybe I should just save the money on the DNA kit and send in autobiographical paragraph or two to you instead :)

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  21. It was when you confessed to loving the Bee Gees and went to the trouble of pasting a link to "Night Fever". East Europeans don't have dance fever at the popular / folk level that way, they're more structured and practice ballet or figure skating instead of cutting loose at the disco. (They also do well at composing classical music, but not pop music, the opposite of the Celts.)

    So if you were part Slavic, it would have to be Southern.

    And you were a free spirit / hippie type as a teenager, and still socialize with folks like that every now and then. Definitely Mediterranean rather than Baltic.

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