Ten years later, the iPhone owns us

We fell in love with hard­ware that was our op­po­site: shiny, cold and un­yield­ing.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - Vir­ginia Hef­fer­nan co-hosts the “Trump­cast“pod­cast and is the au­thor of “Magic and Loss: The In­ter­net as Art.” She is fill­ing in for Doyle McManus. By Vir­ginia Hef­fer­nan

Steve Jobs un­veiled the first iPhone in Jan­uary, 2007, be­fore an ador­ing con­gre­ga­tion, in his sig­na­ture “Ser­mon on the Mount” style. On June 29, it be­came avail­able to the pub­lic. Ten years later, the phone has spread like Chris­tian­ity. The de­vice rep­re­sents “the pin­na­cle prod­uct of all cap­i­tal­ism,” as Brian Mer­chant ar­gues in his new book, “The One De­vice: The Se­cret His­tory of the iPhone.” Mer­chant calls the adop­tion of the iPhone a “rapid, civ­i­liza­tion-scale trans­for­ma­tion.”

Happy birth­day, iPhone. Time for a re­turn to its ori­gins.

In the stage show that in­tro­duces the phone, Jobs has no doubt he’s mak­ing his­tory. The Ap­ple logo is ren­dered, tall as a man, in what looks like onyx ganache. Jobs stands on the dais, haloed in the logo’s glow. He ex­plains the nov­elty of touch-screen scrolling. He flashes the al­bum art from Green Day’s “Amer­i­can Id­iot.” He plays a good-luck voice­mail from Al Gore. He speaks of magic, of rev­o­lu­tion.

And, then, at length, he talks smack about the hor­ri­ble Black­berry but­tons, which he in­tends to make ob­so­lete with the glabrous min­i­mal­ism of the iPhone.

Yes, glabrous: “hav­ing a sur­face with­out hairs or pro­jec­tions.” Mer­chant doesn’t use the word in his book, which chron­i­cles his search for what he calls “the soul of the iPhone.” But glabrous may be the per­fect way to de­scribe the pin­na­cle fetish of cap­i­tal­ism. I heard it first from Ma­rina Warner, the Bri­tish mythog­ra­pher, in a lec­ture she gave that likened the iPhone to Venus de Milo and de­pilated porn ac­tors. Those ide­al­ized fe­male forms, she said, look and feel alien, the way the iPhone does, and all three sug­gest that ter­res­trial hu­mans — in our stub­born hairi­ness — chron­i­cally fall short.

The iPhone is also “oleo­pho­bic”: It fears oil. Hair­less and oil­free, the iPhone holds hu­man bi­ol­ogy in con­tempt. “We have de­signed some­thing won­der­ful for your hand,” said Jobs on that first day. But the iPhone is to hu­man hands like cold chrome is to warm, yield­ing fruit.

Sigh. We fell in love with hard­ware that was our op­po­site.

I watched the Jobs key­note in­tro­duc­ing the iPhone, and — like many oth­ers — I was charmed by the de­vice’s sleek­ness and as­pi­ra­tional price tag. But I put off buy­ing one. For all the Green Day it could play, it also seemed aloof. Mean­while, my beloved Black­berry worked bet­ter than ever. The key­board worked so well that by 2007 I could write long emails on it in mixed cases and full para­graphs. I didn’t use SMS or its goofy short­hand in those days. De­signed for lawyers seek­ing rov­ing bill­able hours, the Black­berry made it pos­si­ble to ac­tu­ally work and write while on the go.

But sud­denly, when the iPhone ap­peared, ev­ery phone but Ap­ple’s started to look like a fid­get spin­ner for the dan­druff club. I couldn’t shake the idea that there was some­thing un­sightly and un­cool about a raised “non-dy­namic” key­board, so when my T-Mo­bile plan elapsed, I switched to iPhone­friendly AT&T, and took home my first iPhone.

For months I thought of it as the Greta Garbo of my per­sonal ef­fects. It wouldn’t mix with my warm leather wal­let or bat­tered Filo­fax. It seemed to leap from my hands as if it would be alone or get cracked try­ing. No more writ­ing long emails on the vanishing key­pad; with my new clum­si­ness I be­came less lit­er­ate, and found text abbreviations and emoji eas­ier. I started tak­ing thou­sands of rolls of point­less pho­to­graphs for which I ev­i­dently needed yot­tabytes of space in the iCloud. I blamed my­self when its bat­tery drained too fast.

Over these 10 years, two mo­ments in Jobs’ iPhone bap­tism have stuck with me. The first is when he com­pares the iPhone to all other smart­phones, say­ing, “It’s way smarter and su­per easy to use.” The pri­mary Ap­ple prom­ise: We are smarter so you can be dum­ber. That’s been true for me. I used to reg­u­larly open my Black­berry and even had some sense of how it worked; now I have to trust Ge­niuses for my iPhone’s sim­plest re­pairs.

The other line I think of is a Jobs throw­away. He’s deep into rhap­sodiz­ing about the phone’s fea­tures, and men­tions the sen­sor that keeps your phone from hang­ing up if you brush against it. “You don’t get spu­ri­ous in­put from your face!” he fairly shouts. The word “spu­ri­ous” — bo­gus — stood out. That stuff your face says, those “in­puts,” are not true in­puts, in Jobs’ world. What’s true are only the in­puts the phone has been pro­grammed to rec­og­nize. For the iPhone, ev­ery­thing else —hu­man skin, faces, emo­tions, warmth, long para­graphs of real prose — can­not be said to ex­ist. It’s all spu­ri­ous.

And that’s how in a sin­gle decade nearly a bil­lion of us came to own the iPhone, and the iPhone came to own us.

Photo il­lus­tra­tion by Wes Bau­smith Los An­ge­les Times

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.