Ryan Daniels | Hungry for Apples
Daniels, Straight Up | Why our constant craving for the next tech breakthrough is out of control
September 16, 2013, 10:21 pm · Updated September 17, 2013, 11:09 pm·
Daniels, Straight Up
Last week, another annual cycle came to a close. After months of speculation, Apple officially announced this year’s new iPhone models.
Now comes the criticism, then the consumption — first frantic with long lines and insufficient supply, eventually slowing into the holiday season — and finally we’ll return to speculation over the next release.
The criticism phase has been growing recently, spinning last week’s announcement as a celebration of pointless modifications.
For many, the announcement seemed to confirm a theory that we’ve witnessed the end of innovation’s “Golden Age”: a period of incredible breakthroughs from various companies, beginning with Apple’s iPod in 2001 until its first iPad in early 2010. Since then, the story goes, wave-making product announcements have been replaced by ripple-making product adjustments.
But our expectations for innovation have spiraled out of control. We are setting unfairly high standards and ought to question them. Technology companies are continuing to develop at an astonishing rate that maintains progress, all the while polishing up existing creations.
Beginning in the early 2000s, Apple — closely followed by similar companies — churned out an innovation almost every two years that seemed to shake the world.
These products challenged the way people interacted with technology, oftentimes teaching us entirely new behaviors. We were instructed to ditch compact discs and cable TV, read from tablets and liberate our phones from buttons.
Many of these inventions were so radical they first elicited disbelief and cynicism, before nonetheless altering daily life substantially. After years of this, it’s no surprise that we became used to dramatic advents. But somewhere along the way, we began to really crave and expect them.
I remember my own burning impatience during the days leading up to Apple’s product unveilings. And while I fostered a larger obsession with gadgets than the average person, everyone loved watching Steve Jobs perform magic on stage.
His presentations, characterized by removing unprecedented devices from unlikely places — for example, the MacBook Air from an envelope or the iPod Nano from his jeans’ inner pocket — were fit for a circus.
Now that many product launches more closely resemble models already available instead of science-fiction gizmos, we are perpetually underwhelmed.
For example, last week we were let down when Apple’s speakers exaggerated relatively small upgrades: speeding up processors in ways we can’t process, sharpening images in ways we couldn’t imagine, perpetually expanding battery-life, charging forward (pun intended).
Many, myself included, complained that last week’s conference felt sarcastic. A room full of excited men, marveling and applauding over buttons slightly shifted and more available colors.
It seems to me, however, that the company’s excessive excitement surrounding these alterations serves as an attempt to quench our expectations for the next best thing. Technology companies are constantly improving and refining their products, but our incessant desire for a game changer has forced them to market touch-ups as turning points, ameliorations as achievements.
Our hunger for headway has set unfairly high standards and bred a technological realm that often feigns grandiosity in order to sell. We shouldn’t completely lower our expectations — they can be useful for nudging progress along — but we need to be more realistic.
The Apple products announced last week contain perfections that make them an objectively better option than models currently available. They’re going to be sold for the same price, so why are we so discontent?
On top of this, ingenuity abounds. Samsung recently unveiled a smart watch and Google continues to turn heads with its computerized glasses. We are a far cry from a world lacking technological advancement.
Additionally, consumer hype tends to cloud our judgment. Some products may not be purely good things — already we’re witnessing inventions that are overly intrusive, others that are more impairing than useful. For example, Google Glass, which may soon contain a constant Facebook feed over your eye, can withdraw users from society.
However, an unchecked need for the novel will no doubt obscure this. Wrestling our desire for development back into reality will help us see both the good and the bad in breakthroughs.
By definition, we can’t expect a revolutionary product every year. The ground can only be broken so many times. So don’t dismiss every innovation — after all, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy it.
Ryan Daniels is a College senior from Philadelphia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Daniels, Straight Up” appears every Wednesday.