Duncan Bell is wrapped in plastic
“There are aspects of fetishism, but there is also inhuman precision and spiritual devotion”
Opening a new gadget is a very 21st century expression of sexual desire. As millennials turn their backs on bonking, to spend more time with their avocados, inducting a new bit of tech is filling the hole that leaves. You don’t agree? Consider this...
When you buy a new bit of tech, the box is swaddled in shrink wrap, stretched taut across its body. Everything is visible, yet prophylactically covered. With fumbling hands you must ease your way through, then tear it off. Inked text and logos hint at the excitement within, like the neon signs on disreputable bars of yore.
Prise off the lid and what you desire is finally visible. The next layer of plastique is not transparent but translucent – sometimes near opaque. Rather than being sealed tightly like the outer layers, this is suggestively loose, held together by easily found tabs. This must be carefully, lovingly peeled back.
Beneath, the soft plastic, the vulnerable glass and the hard, unyielding metal of the gadget’s construction seem to yearn for your touch. Finally, on the most sensitive area, the screen, there is one final sheet of plastic. You peel it back. Now, at last, you can gaze upon its true face, and let your fingers work their magic, bringing it to life.
You get the subtle subtext of what I’m getting at here, right? Come on, we all know why people love unboxing videos…
I need a shower after that
Not surprisingly, it was an Apple product that recently made me have all these rather feverish thoughts about plastic. The Series 3 Apple Watch, which I bought as a present, is perhaps the most well wrapped device of all time.
First up, the watch comes in a shrink-wrapped box that even the shop assistant at the Apple Store described as “over-sized”. Honestly, it’s about the size of one of those massive packs of cigarettes you can buy in duty-free shops, or luggage for a rabbit. Then the inner packaging is plastic on top of card on top of plastic. Even the straps, which are
entirely made of plastic, come wrapped in individual bits of more diaphanous plastic.
I’ve played up the sexy element of unwrapping tech here because that’s the way my mind works, but it is, of course, much more complex than that.
There are aspects of fetishism but there is also inhuman precision, spiritual devotion and, more prosaically, protection and preservation of the new tech as it moves up the supply chain from factory to the clammy embrace of your sweaty hands.
With the Apple Watch, for instance, the vacuum-formed inner tray is like a perfect tech bento box, fussed and thought over to the nth degree by Jony Ive and his monkish acolytes. The way Apple has taken some of the tropes of luxury watch packaging, but applied them to a more explicitly ‘tech’ product, is also clever if you’re in the know. However, how long can this level of packaging excess continue?
Given how upset people now get about plastic drinking straws and single-use shopping bags, it seems inevitable that there will be a backlash against this school of packaging. It’s so beautiful, so OTT, so perfectly plastic and... So absolutely destined to be immediately sent to landfill.
I’m not picking on Apple in particular here. I’m aware that, in recent years, the company has worked hard to reduce the amount of plastic it uses in its packaging, and that much of what it uses is actually recycled (though this is problematic in itself as recycled plastic has usually reached the last of its nine lives) or is recyclable. Probably other brands have too.
Even so, realistically, our precious tech must surely all start coming to us in corrugated cardboard and ugly pseudoplastics based on starch. That’s probably great for the planet, but I admit I will miss this era of perfect icons of glass and steel, impeccably dressed in sexy, sexy plastic.