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So, that Apple conference happened the other day. They took out the headphone jack, like tech journalists rumored for years and years, and are now selling you a $9 dongle or forcing you to get Bluetooth earbuds, which are bad, to anybody who cares about audio quality or battery life or actually use their phone to listen to music. Whatever.
Point being, is that Apple announced their special Bluetooth earbuds, and for $159, well, you can look like a colossal fucking dork. And looking at Apple as one of the leaders in this dry, corporate future dystopia were being dragged down into, Im forced to beg, and grovel: please, for the love of god, can we at least make this future look cool?
Photo Credit: Lance Ulanoff of Mashable, who is a raddude
Like, nobody likes this! Nobody! Not a single person thinks this is good, or even minimalist design! You have a giant tube hanging out of your ear because thats where the five hour battery goesand you have to wear two of them! Apple has been doing this for years now, and the rest of tech has quietly followed after them, for the most part. Do we need to talk about smartwatches?
You have an entire generation of what looks like cheap plastic toys with screens on them when we were promised a future with risk, innovation, the fantasies of Trek and Inspector Gadget laid out in front of us, and instead were left with well, I can put a TIME TO FUCK.jpg as the background of this watch and use it to harass women wearing headphones. Also it tells the time? And maybe I can reply to a text message on it, and save the precious two seconds of pulling out my smartphone, which does all of these things that my smartwatch does, but better?
On a planet with so many artists, so many visionaries, who are forced to broadcast their art online to try and make a living in a brutally unforgiving economy, its so heartbreaking to see so many young visionaries who can clearly see taking a bold step forward with technology ignored, for this mass, focus tested aesthetic of minimalism, with its dry, unfeeling plastic and lack of characterand you wonder how we strayed so far from the bold visions of masterpieces like Blade Runner and Akira.
Instead, we have strayed. Weve strayed to whats safein my last three flings (is that what we Millennials are calling it now?) Ive mixed up my phone with my partners because we all had the same white iPhone 6S with a black case around it, because thats just something you have to buy to protect the phone, not having the time or resources to really find something that enhances the profile of this thing I have to have, because the scientists tell me I have an emotional attachment to this fucking phone I need, to get a job or find a gig or go on a date or avoid people I dont want to talk to anymore or get the news or play a really bad wrestling gameas such, Ive committed to having this burden in my life, which Ill have to upgrade in a few years anyways.
Remember this thing? This motherfucker, right here. That godforsaken Matrix: Reloaded tie-in Samsung phone, that had the special earpiece which slid out like a freakin blade every time you needed to talk to somebody. It covered the screen and made the phone smaller, but also it was obnoxious as hell looking and god, goddamn was it cool. Unlike the blank oppressiveness of modern tech aesthetics, it was this brilliantly anti-minimalist statement that said lets make it obnoxious, and before you can put it away, you have to slide down the earpiece like youre reloading a freakin gun, and it even had all the ringtones that were used by the characters in the movie, because why not go all-out?
Or better yet, can we talk about the iDroid, from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain? While it was a hilarious piece of futuretech in a cyberpunk 1980s that featured holographic weed vaping, they went out and made an actual iPhone 5 case for it, and my god is it great. Its obnoxious, its big, its got a giant light and an antenna on it, theres buttons and dials, and heavens does it scream I am a portable device that allows me to communicate with the entire world and also run complicated, important software to accomplish important tasks, like blasting the goddamn head off a bipedal mass of flesh and bone from over a mile away.
Look, I know that some of you may laugh at the examples above, and yes, I did intentionally choose some of the more ridiculous concepts, but look at the leaders in the field, look at Apple, who we once saw as the fingertip to God with their design brilliance, and look at what theyre doing now. Look at the things they want you to do with your devices and how much they want to charge you for them.
Yes, jab a fucking smart pen into the bottom of your iPad, thats smart, thats really smart. Thats totally convenient and not at all obnoxious as hell. It also just looks depressing. Were in this wonderful future of endless technology and we havent figured out how to match the wondrous cyberpunk and utopian dreams of our imaginations into our reality, and good god it shows.
Our devices should be making a statement about who we are and what we do, instead of having white tubes of lithium battery hanging out of our ears, looking like goddamn wageslaves to some delusional corporation which thinks meal replacement shakes are the solution to food stamps. We need to bring art into the product design space, and we need to dare I say it we need to make tech rude again.
I want guys like Jonathan Jacques-Bellette and his ridiculous vision of a black-gold neo-Victorian future designing the companions to our everyday lives, I want more ridiculous neon against darkness, I want VR applications that dont seek to simply recreate ordinary videogames, but instead drive the user into an existential crisis that challenges their mortality.
The truth is that we live in ridiculous times, where our reality is fiction manufactured to forward the interests of an elite few, much like the fiction that has largely become the reality of our shared world. The dystopia we were promised by Gibson, Scott, Dick, and so on has come to fruition: wealth disparity turning poverty into a death sentence, neverending war in faraway lands killing millions as the Leader of the Free World arms tyrants to the teeth, and an inevitable destruction of human civilization as we know it are the cornerstones of our modern reality.
Instead, were expected to pay $159 for awful looking dongles to hang out of our ears in order to forget this. Oh, and dont even get me started on how embarassing biohacking is, the modern equivalentyes, you too can jab a magnet under your skin, or make your hand glow with LEDs, because those are totally imagine going up to someone at a party and being all, look! I put lights in my skin! No, you wouldnt do that. Because thats awful.
My final plea is this: if were destined to live in a future where we are all fucking dorks, can we at least look like cool dorks instead? Sick trenchcoats and neat suits and loud colors and obnoxious, overdesigned devices strapped to our bodies, instead of these blank, empty plastic molds containing tiny computers within them? Or are we destined to an indefinite eternity of blandness, our only release being our own self-destruction?