A photo in the New York Post this past Sunday of an iPhone with bloody fingerprints on it lying on a blood-soaked patch of street in the West Village seemed to nail the new zeitgeist so perfectly that I felt compelled to repost it on social media and write about it here. (Although iPhone envy wasn’t reported as the cause of the crime, it was recently reported that thefts of iPhone and iPads in NYC have risen at ten times the rate of other crimes.)
It also coincidentally corresponded with an email notifying me that my new iPhone 5 had finally shipped after a grueling two-week wait (I was approximately 2894th on my carrier’s waiting list), thus also making the photo for me a symbolic representation of the not inconsiderable guilt and anxiety I felt for ordering the most coveted smartphone ever, which I probably don’t really need. My current iPhone still works perfectly well except for the irritating stickiness of its “home” button that forces me frequently to press and repress it multiple times to get it to respond, probably owing to a case of the same nefarious “planned obsolescence” that has obliged me to replace my stupid PowerBook cord three times over seven years at close to 100 bucks a pop. Its 32 GB capacity (actually 28.5 according to settings), the highest available for the iPhone 4 I got in 2010, is also beginning to feel inadequate (my new phone will have a whopping 64 GB) as I insist on keeping it jammed with years of photographs, videos, and music, thus making it impossible for me to upload my complete iTunes library, which is supremely irritating. How can I be expected to leave my apartment if Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” or the Velvet Undergound’s “Ocean” are not highlighted in my song list and thereby unavailable for instant play? There are only so many sacrifices I’m willing to make.
These are what you might safely call “first world problems.” But the symbolism of the image did hit on a lot of cylinders, not the least of which was the fact that the old reliable Post chose to show the bloody iPhone on the street rather than the bloody human ear that lay not far away. (Apparently a quick-thinking cop covered the Van Gogh’d appendage with a coffee cup, but I’m sure any Post photog worth his salt could have lifted it to sneak a snapshot.) The point is, it’s not much of a stretch to speculate that a lot of people these days would rather lose an ear, or even a hand (or perhaps a more private portion of the anatomy), than their precious iPhone, which has become in some profound way every bit as much an essential extension of the human body, and probably soul. After all, you can’t listen to iTunes on your hand, unless of course your smartphone is embedded in it, which is possible in the future predicted by the substandard if still vaguely enjoyable remake of Total Recall. (Which reminds me of a dream I had a while back about a futuristic epidemic of “hand harvesters,” but I digress.)
I acquired my first iPhone, a 3G with a measly 8 GB capacity, when it came out in 2008. It now sits inertly on my desk, its offensively rounded back and lack of front-mounted camera making it seem like an ancient relic from a bygone era. Two years later I upgraded to the iPhone 4 with four times the capacity and HD video recording capability, although I can’t really recall my life making an analogous upwards shift. When the iPhone 5 was announced, I dutifully did my online research, and much to my dismay discovered the enormously irritating caveat emptor: that presumably in order for technology to deliver the “fastest, lightest, thinnest” phone ever, Apple was forced to change its clunkily-named “30-pin connector port” to the much sexier “Lightning port,” which apparently has the enormous advantage, according to one of many Apple apologist sites, of allowing the user “to flip the connector and plug Lightning into an iPhone 5 in either orientation.” Well, thank God. I was really worried about that added capability. It could conceivably add seconds to my day. (This is what you might call a first world concern.)
Conveniently for Apple, the same site goes on to point out that “third-party [read: cheaper] cables that have appeared for sale online out of the Far East” must be “steered clear” of because they are basically not “functional.” In addition, the Lightning adapter for all your docks and dock alarm clocks and various other ancillary devices is retailing at 30 bucks, 40 with a bit of cord attached. Now do we really believe that making the port smaller was the only possible way of accommodating the sleeker design and longer screen, or are we going to keep on sucking Apple’s dick with our eyes blindfolded and pretend we’re not being led down the garden path? I know I am, but not without a modicum of guilt.
This doesn’t even address the far more important environmental factors, which are increasingly difficult to sort out. Much like Democ-rats and Republi-cunts both trotting out questionable experts to defend either side of environmental arguments, some are saying that the iPhone 5 is significantly greener than its predecessors, utilizing far less hazardous chemicals and rare earth metals than previous models and many other phone brands, while others argue that a toxic rose is a toxic rose, that there’s no such thing as a green smart phone. (For both sides of the debate, go here.) Some people even have the chutzpah to believe that the environmental impact of mountains of obsolete accessories will be minimal (owing to recycling and second-hand usage), although more concerning may be the phenomenon of other small devices getting discarded in favor of newer versions that will be compatible with the Lightning connector. This is what you might call first world problems creating third world problems. (If you really want to give your conscience a browbeating, you can read an extensive account of the exploitation of workers, riots, suicides, etc. at the factories in China that produce iPhones here.)
Ultimately, I’m just as much a willing victim of technology as the next person, with the possible excuse that as a photographer and filmmaker I have been obliged to keep up with technology in order to remain relevant in the business in which I’ve chosen to work. But the contemporary extreme imbalance of style over substance (as the recent US presidential debate so alarmingly demonstrated) is also a contributing and unquestionably less defendable factor. As Camille Paglia astutely pointed out recently in the Wall Street Journal, “There is no spiritual dimension to an iPhone.” Unless, of course, you count worshipping at the Apple altar.