The iPhones of Fall

These days, Apple is more properly thought of as a fashion label, not an electronics company.

When Apple launched the iPhone 4 in 2010, the company’s website featured large images of the device with the text “This changes everything. Again.” Change has been a constant refrain in Apple’s marketing over the years. The famous 1984 Macintosh ads framed the computer as an agent of revolution. And the “Think Different” ads of the 1990s implied that purchasing… read more

On the iPhone: The Anxiety of Openness

The openness of web applications demonstrates the real treachery of the iPhone's closed platform

This is the first in a series of short editorials on the iPhone, which I’ll be writing occasionally. Now that the geekqueues of iDay have come and gone, perhaps we can start talking more seriously about the device without all the fanboy ardor. For some of us who have not (yet) adopted the iPhone, one major disappointment is its status… read more

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Future Ennui

As we march onwards towards wearables and alerts on our wrists, we're no longer shocked by technological progress, but rather exhausted by it.

It’s been seven years since the first launch of the iPhone. Before that, smartphones were a curiosity, mostly an affectation of would-be executives—Blackberry and Treo and so forth. Not even a decade ago, they were wild and feral. Today, smartphones are fully domesticated. Tigers made kittens, which we now pet ceaselessly. Over two-thirds of Americans own them, and they have… read more

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My Phone is Dying

On elderly iPhones

Everyone knows that iPhones are manufactured with planned obsolescence built in: processors and RAM allocations that can’t keep up with operating system upgrades purposely designed not to account for earlier models. Apple makes too much of its profits from hardware sales, so handsets have become akin to fashion seasons. Hardware upgrades entail power and capacity. The new activities made possible… read more

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What Do We Save When We Save the Internet?

We cannot champion Network Neutrality without admitting that the Internet is no Utopia.

Think about regret as if it were sin. Some regrets are mild, but acute. The regret associated with choosing the wrong supermarket checkout lane, or buying an outfit that you notice goes on sale the next week—these seem woeful. They chafe, but their pains are pin pricks that soon subside. These are venial regrets. Regret is more severe when it steeps… read more

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The Future of Luxury: Avoiding People

Services like Silvercar, Uber, and pay-to-play airline VIP programs help keep the new aristocracy away from the rabble

When I power on my phone upon landing at LAX, a text message is already waiting for me: “Hi Ian, Silvercar here! We have your res at 1:00pm today. Let’s roll!” Silvercar rents a fleet of silver Audi A4s at airports in Austin, Dallas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. A slogan speaks plainly on the company’s behalf: “car rental that doesn’t… read more

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The Squalid Grace of Flappy Bird

Why playing stupid games staves off existential despair

Games are grotesque. I’m not talking about games like Grand Theft Auto or Manhunt, games whose subjects are moral turpitude, games that that ask players to murder, maim, or destroy. I mean games in general, the form we call “games.” Games are gross, revolting heaps of arbitrary anguish. Games are encounters with squalor. You don’t play a game to experience an… read more

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Hyperemployment

or the Exhausting Work of the Technology User

In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes famously argued that by the time a century had passed, developed societies would be able to replace work with leisure thanks to widespread wealth and surplus. “We shall do more things for ourselves than is usual with the rich to-day,” he wrote, “only too glad to have small duties and tasks and routines.” Eighty years… read more

The Rudeness of Importance

Op-ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution

Everyone’s been there: you’re having a face-to-face conversation when your interlocutor reaches for her smartphone. Just as often you’re the culprit: pawing your iPhone at family dinner, stealing glances at Facebook during a business meeting. It took fifty years for computers to move from office basements to handbags, and scarcely five more for them to enter our pockets. Now we… read more

Announcing Object Lessons

An essay and book series on the hidden lives of things

Earlier this week we launched Object Lessons, an essay and book series on the hidden lives of ordinary objects, published by The Atlantic and Bloomsbury and edited by me and Chris Schaberg. We’ve been working on getting this going for months, and I’m excited to finally be able to unleash it on you. Here’s how it works: Object Lessons invites… read more