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Is Apple’s aesthetic fundamentally inhuman?

By Memrise Blog

Somewhat foolishly, I recently fried my Macbook while strolling in a rainstorm. It’s the kind of set-back that can seriously interfere with one’s self-esteem, and it was several days before I found it possible not to scowl at the sight of children playing, at contented lovers or at other jarring signs of nature’s bounty.

In the middle of this depression, I ventured to the Apple Store to see whether they might be kind enough to fix my computer. Someone quickly iPadded in my appointment with a Genius, and left me on a stool to marvel at the elegance of the scene. Everything in the store naturally shared the same breathless smoothness as Apple’s storied hardwear. I basked in it as I waited, and was reminded of the atrium of my old Yoga club, where I felt obliged despite myself to strive for spiritual perfection as a basic concession to the sheer zen-ness of the people sipping herbal tea around me.

Once my Genius appointment came round, I explained my predicament at the counter to the grey-pony-tailed man behind. He responded to the story of my computer’s death with a series of comforting “ahuhs”, while looking clean through me as if he was savouring the taste of some delicious morcel of food. This would have been ok if he had been taking an order for a scented candle and the paperback version of The Power of Now for a healing-retreat I was off to on a Norwegian fjord. But I must confess I was expecting rather fewer approving “ahuhs” and rather more sympathetic “poor you”s. In any case, after a moment of calm reflection, he took my computer off out back to see what was going on under the hood.

After a surprisingly and indeed suspiciously brief period away, he returned and with perceptible jollity informed me that there were “no dice”. I asked what he meant. He explained, as if having spotted a curiosity of nature that might be of interest to an amateur naturalist, that there was some corrosion on the centre-board. I asked if he could fix it. He smiled in benign condescension. Can anything be done? He related tenderly that the fix plan was 1450 dollars. I said that sounded like rather a lot of money. He responded with a look of beatific peace. I pointed out that the computer new would cost me less. He confirmed this to be the case as if this was the most logical thing in the world.

I asked whether, if I bought a new computer, he would perhaps as a matter of courtesy switch across the hard-drive from my old one. He said he’d need to check the hard-drive and went back out again into the void of the behind of the store. He returned in three minutes to inform me that the data was in tact. I repeated my question, and he informed me that there was a $99 plan that would give me full access to some convoluted Apple “Care” plan all year. I told him I didn’t want Apple Care, I just wanted a simple transfer of my data, something that would, presumably, take him about five minutes. He proceeded, as if not having been present to any moment of the conversation thus-far, to blandly explain the pricing plan of the Apple Care plan. I began to feel like I was being punched repeatedly in the head by a giant first cut with lasers from a single piece of aluminium in an eastern sweat-shop.

Out of curiosity, I asked directly whether he saw how I might find Apple’s level of service for someone in my position somewhat troubling. It was just too easy for him, though, to side-step my attempts at such human dialogue, as he entered this time into a cult-leaderishly empty stare into the middle distance that was in point of fact occluded by my forehead, and dreamily asked which would it be- would I rather have my computer fixed for slightly more than the cost of a new version or buy a new version?

The most awful thing about this, was that having entered the Apple store committed to the idea of not buying a new computer, I was now beginning to subside into an apathetic stupor. The cleanliness of my surroundings, the inability of my Genius to connect in any way to an actual human emotion, the atmosphere of complacent consumerism: all of these things were conspiring to channel me, a broken and degraded man, into ponying up the cash as a way of redeeming my sad day the Apple way: with the purchase of an expensive new computer. This is, of course, exactly what then happened.

Reflecting on this experience, it seems to me that the psychopathy of the Genius’ behaviour and the design of Apple products more generally are intimately connected. Apple’s integrated hard-ware, soft-ware solutions, which do not tolerate break-downs or hacks; their iron rule over their app store; the awesome control they have over all aspects of user experience; the cold and sterile minimalism of their design; all of these things have in common that they exclude any sense of the human in your interaction with the object. Apple makes products, including the Apple store, where your path is completely uncluttered by any sense of fragile, error-prone human endeavour.

And the scary thing about the over-whelming inhumanity of their overall aesthetic is that I actually like it.