Last night I had an iPad in my bed. It was a sexy piece of kit: slender to hold and so beautiful to look at you would catch yourself open-mouthed and salivating. But when I woke up in the morning I felt dirty. This was not because of the news of overworked employee suicides inside the Chinese Foxconn factory. Or the fact that British consumers are paying around 25% more for their gadgetry compared to their American counterparts. I felt dirty because just for a second, I desired an object that symbolises patriarchal commodity fetishism at its capitalist worst. To me, the iPad is just another object of male desire. Unfortunately, too many are iGullible enough to fall for it.
Many of the conversations I have witnessed on Twitter have been between men encouraging each other to go to Dixons, or inviting friends round to play with their new toy. Their reasons for buying? ‘I have wanted one for ages’ ascending to ‘I just woke up this morning and felt like I needed one’. Advertising breeds on the concept of turning wants into needs and desires into necessities, but the spin machine has been rotating and expanding virally since Steve Job’s presentation on the 27th January earlier this year. Ever since, the gadget has been a constant trending topic on Twitter, the subject of countless blog posts, press features and now every other website is giving one away. No advertising is needed as we come to worship technology like a religion. We follow trends like loyal disciples, desperate to be the first to obtain and show off, as the first customers to the Apple store were welcomed to applause by Apple staff.
Take a look at the photographs of people queuing to get their hands on one. All over the world, men pattern the streets in a linear fashion outside flagship Apple stores. In all the footage, very few women were vying to get their hands on this new must have technology first. Germany is the exception, where the first person to acquire an iPad was a woman. But why is this so?
I have a theory when it comes to technology. Women are relegated to use technology as a tool to accomplish tasks, while men posses the understanding to use it as a plaything. Look at women’s working history; gadgets aimed directly at women were made solely to improve their domestic or working lives, through inventions such as the typewriter and the washing machine. The only social invention that truly benefited women’s ability to communicate with each other was the telephone, yet women were still manning the switchboards as we became the PA in all manners of work. Men have been allowed to appropriate technology for their own creative and entertaining needs, with video games being the most prominent example.
Asking my females friends why they would desire an iPad, spoke of their mother who didn’t understand computers but loved her iPhone, so her purchase was a technological compromise. Therefore, the world’s most expensive rectangle adopts a strange position between an iPhone and an iMac with no real purpose other than the ability to consume electronic media in a handheld format. Not only is the iPad likely to create more creative hindrances than possibilities due its interface and need for add-ons, but its social possibilities are no different than on a computer or a phone, with some reporting the instability of such programs. In short, this product does not save time, increase productivity or allow us to interact with each other any differently. It can only be a craze that will one day be known as Apple’s Etch-a-Sketch. But hey, it sure does look pretty. A trophy girlfriend that everyone lusts after but in reality is too high maintenance.
I am no luddite, I love technology and the way it improves life, but the iPad will be nothing more than a glorified status symbol. Walk into Starbucks on Monday morning and note how many are reading the Financial Times via an electronic screen as opposed to print. Where a sports car before before may have indicated the (un)size of manhood, the iPad will be nothing more than lifestyle lubricant to indicate your frivolity toward consumerism. As our identities are formed more through the objects that we consume, the iPad is a gizmo with no other function than to make you buy other unnecessary things. Don’t fall for it girls.
Note: I wrote this over a week ago, but was holding onto it in the hope that a site I submitted it too published it. It wasn’t, so I decided to post it here instead: slightly out of date but hopefully still entertaining all the same, when web hype has now transferred to the new version of the iPhone.)
Note 2: This 2010 blog was quoted an an article in the Independent by Paul Vallely about Apple and commodity fetishism, published very shortly after Steve Jobs died, and I believe has been read by some university media studies classes. You can read my thoughts on being quoted in this independent feminist blog post.