Think Different

Nyc 14Th A cold New York night. December. The line snaked city blocks. Feet cold. Bodies bushing and the smell of naked greed permeates the air: West 14th Street Apple Store Opening, December 7, 2007

The odds (percentages? probabilities? I’m a little fuzzy on the differences between the terms) were good to win something expensive like a Macbook or an iMac. But odds mean nothing in the moment you are handed a winning $10 iTunes gift certificate four hours of waiting, of feeling vaguely nauseous at your own capacity for greed, of promising yourself that, if you win you will go do at least four hours of community service at a soup kitchen or something like that . . . all of that means nothing when the boy smiles and says iTunes gift certificate like it means something.

“Are you excited,” he asks. I mumble something unintelligible, walk away.

I don’t even check out the store because I can’t afford to buy anything.

The people I am in line with are there for free stuff. So am I. Buy why? Why am I there I mean. I have a 6 month old Macbook Pro that is more than enough computer for my needs. I have a 60 gb iPod that, while it doesn’t hold all of my digital music and audio, certainly holds the bulk of it and is definitely all I need for even long trips. I don’t need a damn thing from an Apple Store. I hate crowds. I haven’t eaten much for lunch other than a couple of free donuts that were in the office kitchen. I stand in a crowd, cold and hungry for four hours. Why?

Odds. We all try to beat the odds. This cigarette won’t kill me. I can get through this yellow light before it turns. Nobody will notice if I skim a little of the top, if we use sub-par materials, if I cheat. Odds of a 24″ iMac are better than 1:2000. That’s freakin’ good odds on expensive stuff. And that’s why I am there. Trying to beat the odds. Get something for nothing.

Finally, we enter the store. Feet cold, nose running, head aching. Been needing to piss for about an hour. Pushed, crowded, watching people cut in line, ready and wiling to take advantage, to game the system. We enter the store and a dozen very cheery, very excited boys and girls–none older than 22 is my guess–are shouting, and clapping, and attempting high-fives, and shouting “thanks for coming.” Now, the interesting things is that their excitement is not fake. It is, on some level, genuine. But generic. Honest but not sincere. An excitement and welcome that is bright, shiny, plastic and disposable. All of it in the service of a retail store opening. A retail store for a corporation. A corporation that, despite making a number of products I like and use, operates and perpetuates a culture of materialism, disposable goods, exploitation (of both natural and human resources), and a style of capitalism that demands economic inequality for its very existence.

All that is true. But then again, nothing in language is ever all the truth. And the truth is that I do really like Apple products. I like their computers and their media player. I like much of their software and, let’s be honest, if I had walked out of there with a computer, hell, with an iPod Nano, I would never have written this account. I would have swallowed my dis-ease, my ethical questions would be forgotten and I would just have been psyched to have won something, to have gotten something for nothing. I would have sold, just a small portion of myself, perhaps even a microscopic potion, to the Gods of Cool New Gadgets & Computer Stuff. My purpose in waiting in line at the opening of the West 14th Street Apple store was narrow, selfish, vacuous and frivolous. My reward, a t-shirt, a poster and $10 gift certificate for iTunes actually, upon reflection, seems pretty appropriate, especially because the whole process has raised issues and questions about how I want to live my life and my relationship to stuff.

And just for the record: the t-shirt & poster are being given away to someone who responded to a Craigslist ad. Given away for free. The iTunes gift card will probably be given to someone in my family as a Christmas present this year because, after last night, I am going to be looking at the things that I own, or the talents that I have, or the things that I can make for holiday gifts instead of buying things. Next year, I hope to convince my Grandparents to forgo giving me things and, instead, make donations to charity on my behalf–I may or may not win that particular battle completely, we’ll see. I’m not really talking about going primitive or Luddite here. I’m more interested in readjusting, mentally, my relationship to the marketplace and hopefully to stop wanting so much, so stop seeing joy in a new toy or gadget. To step back from the emotional precipice that is today’s economy of manufactured desire and say, simply, “no.” Apple’s slogan was once “Think Different.” I think I’ll try that for a while.

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