Losing Apple


I didn’t watch the WWDC keynote.

Okay, that’s a lie. I watched a few minutes of it. I watched enough to realize with some bemusement that I didn’t want to watch the rest.

Bemusement because, objectively, there was a smorgasbord of very cool things announced. A year ago I would have been enthralled, delighted. I mean, after the last keynote I wrote five pages about the gradient behind the Safari icon. Really. This year, there was a new language. Significant OS X overhaul. iCloud Drive. Continuity! iOS 8.

For some reason, whilst I can recognize new shiny when I see it, it left me cold. I’ve been trying to work out why ever since.

This is not a piece about the Doom of Apple, or how they needed to do more to win me over, or how they’re “just not innovating”. This is about how something that I used to take immense joy in has — within a measureable amount of time — become just plain boring to me.

If you’re an Apple fan, your internet kneejerk is probably already flailing wildly in the direction of this piece being in some way an attack on you. It isn’t. But if you’re into that sort of thing, feel free to hate-read this and the rest of my site. (Smiley face.)

I’ve been reading about and pontificating about and straight-out wallowing in Apple since about 2008. That was when I got my first MacBook. I became a platform evangelist almost immediately. I’ve been responsible for more than a few people switching to Apple products. The company from Cupertino has saturated my life to an almost unhealthy extent, an extent usually reserved for things like faith, relationships, career.

One day I looked up from the clustered sentences floating in front of me and found that I’d fallen into company with a host of others, and on all of our parched lips were the same words. Apple. Jobs. Cook. iPhone. Macbook. Above, the clustered buzzards bore standards for our slow plodding and moaning, and our emblem was a giant white X on a background of cropped Californian nature photography.

How did it come to this? Time was I loved poetry, literature, art, music, cheap wine and the smell of an old book. Now my spare moments are spent rubbing glass: from the latest $AAPL share price, to the wildest speculative mockup, to the newest analysis. Levels upon levels of inconsequential meandering in flat prose that I’ve rolled and wrapped myself in like a musty felt blanket till I almost forgot the taste of fresh air.

Of late the fruit techosphere has started to weigh on me, in the way that such things do: lightly at first but increasing, imperceptible. Heavier and heavier, until my forehead scrapes the ground. Thinking about WWDC and my non-reaction gradually revealed this weight to me.

I’ve become a frog in the hot water of my own self loathing and intellectual angst.

But I’m convinced that i don’t want to just throw up the whole business, delete my twitter account and clear my RSS feeds out, because I can’t believe I’m faced with a dichotomy. In 140 character bursts, or in 600 unedited words, everything becomes absolute. In life, almost nothing is that way.

There is so much still to love about Apple and their products. But here are some things I’ve grown an unexpected dislike for.

Steve Jobs was just a man. A man who was good at business and had a pretty sizeable amount of good luck, yes. But just a man, all the same. I have a sort of anti-Pavlovian laryngospasm almost every time I read his name now. I don’t have anything against him as a person. I’m grateful for the way that he was instrumental in bringing to market some things that I’ve enjoyed using. But his gargantuan stature as a kind of Nerd Messiah (and his lesser form, Business Messiah) is preposterous. For years I scoffed at the term “Apple faithful”, as used primarily by anti-Apple tech press. But oh my Jobs, it’s close enough to sting. We’ve elevated the guy to heights way beyond the things he accomplished. What did he do? Made Apple the most financially successful company on the planet, and sold a bunch of nice computers. He’s a dubious business role model — most companies don’t have the product and personnel advantages that he was working with. Beyond that — his publicized persona, at least, is a terrible model for how to treat other people. I can think of hundreds of people that we’d be better off imitating.

It’s just marketing. Marketing, marketing, marketing. Apple is amazing at it. They run subtle, highly effective campaigns that get people to feel something positive about the things they sell. That’s fine — a perfectly valid reason to buy something is how it makes you feel. But can we just acknowledge that’s what it is? There’s so much sappy nonsense written about Apple commercials. If you want to get all weepy there are a million alternatives which celebrate more noble aspects of the human condition. Not this fake “bringing people together to create great things” that’s been sculpted to perfection in some PR laboratory. “Write the code. Change the World.” Ugh, get the hell over yourself. It’s meaningless common denominator jargonry.

It’s just money. This is the most sickening aspect of the whole arena for me. Why the hell should I care how much Apple has in the bank, or how much they paid for Beats, or how much money I’d have if I’d bought Apple shares years ago? I’m not saying you’re a bad person if you care deeply about this stuff. Be my guest! What I’m saying is that I think “making money” has become the ultimate virtue in our society, and that disgusts me. The rich are celebrated — but net worth is an awful metric to judge anyone by. It’s just numbers. Flush the Quarterly Earnings Call down the toilet — I don’t care. I don’t even keep proper track of my own quarterly earnings!

Rumor is pointless. A lot of people have already said it. Do I even need to repeat it? Apple will release what Apple releases, when they release it. The speculation is just vapid mouth-flapping. We could leave it at that except if you’re anything like me you still click most of the linkbait nonsense that pops up every day. When I read Carl Holscher’s recent piece Copy of A I realized that although I’d previously actively turned away from following rumor, it keeps creeping back in. Because everyone’s still promulgating it!

I’m just so sick of it all, because it misses the wood for the trees. The good things about Apple are these: they pioneer cool technology, they inspire great design, they make tools that let other people make brilliant things. The rest of it is just offgassing. We’re like little children, giving equal attention to the box that our Christmas present came in.

I really am not trying to condemn anyone for having a lot of interest in the above stuff. I am speaking from a place of sympathy and empathy. My main feeling here is just one of confusion. How did I end up so interested in this? And why would anyone be interested in this?

Like Carl says, “nothing is worth the level of scrutiny devoted to Apple.”

Well, I’m done scrutinizing. At least, that’s my fervent hope.