Apple’s view of society was clearly expressed by Tim Cook, its CEO: “There’s always a large junk part of the market,” he said a few days ago in an interview with a journalist from Bloomberg Businessweek: “We’re not in the junk business.” goldenappleIt’s the same tone and almost the same words that Mitt Romney used to utter his infamous remarks about the 47%: “My job is not to worry about those people,” he stated at a fundraising event in May 2012. Like the Republican party, Apple values only those who are successful or at least pretend or desire to be. The rest is junk.
I can imagine Cook looking down on my cell—and on me—with contempt or disbelief. Junk, he would proclaim, and it wouldn’t matter that the phone works very well and doesn’t lack anything that I need. Too bad for me if I don’t need what corporate America decided that is cool to need. Now, it is obvious that Cook and Apple should decide their market strategies and choose their customers. It is also clear that they will continue to produce overpriced tablets and phones, and that people will continue to purchase them. But why did Cook have to antagonize those who can only afford cheaper devices? Why did he have to use the junk word?
Two reasons. The first one is that, facing a year-long decline in Apple’s stock price, he intended to reassure both his investors and his customers that the iPhone is not just an efficient and well-designed device but also a status symbol. Status symbols are meant to dig an unbridgeable gap between those who can afford them—the winners—and those who can’t—the losers. It is easier to boost self-assurance that way, taking pleasure in other people’s disappointments: that is, not conquering their admiration but only their envy. Apple’s new iPhone lunch was a record-breaker: 9 million were sold during the weekend, 80 percent more than last year’s first-weekend sales of the iPhone 5. Bloomberg Businessweek‘s explanation (in another article): this year there were two iPhones newly on sale, the top-of-the-line iPhone 5S and the premium-economy iPhone 5C. However, “while it seems that offering two models instead of just one did juice sales, it did so in an unexpected way: it appears to have made the more expensive model more attractive.” In this perspective Cook’s remarks might have been a clever publicity stunt.
Second reason. This is how the 1% rules and exploits the rest of us: making us compete for status symbols and thus promote the very inequality that we ourselves are victims of. In Cook’s vision Apple products are, or should be, golden apples of discord, similar to the one that Eris, goddess of strife, tossed in the midst of a banquet to spark a vanity-fueled dispute. Divide and rule, said the Romans; and this is what corporate America does best. Consumerism is not just about volumes of consumption; it is an ideological tool to prevent people from realizing that cutthroat competition and extreme individualism are not in their own best interest—solidarity and a strong sense of community are.
I think that there is a third explanation for Apple’s CEO derogatory statement. He lives in a bubble. He doesn’t know and doesn’t care of what most people think, feel, worry about; he hasn’t got a clue about how they live. Today rich people dwell in entirely different places than the rest of society: they breathe different air, eat different food, learn different notions, build different bodies. They mix only with others like them—or with their servants. Acknowledging difference is a sign of openness: immuring oneself into difference is lack of empathy.
So it was not just a clever publicity stunt. It is an ideology. For Tim Cook ordinary stuff is indeed junk, and so are those who are content with it—or must be, which for him is the same. The same snobbish lack of sympathy and curiosity for the lesser people affected the French aristocracy two centuries and a half ago—until they stormed Versailles and burned down their castles.


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