Friday, September 21, 2012

i-phone irony

If the sight the other day of global throngs of greedy humanity lining up to grab the latest i-Phone have you feeling disheartened, take a little subversive comfort. The very first consumer in the Big Apple to score the latest Apple gadget also happens to be the inventor of an app that lets people who still cherish their privacy anonymously send messages to their fellow human beings. Big Brother will still be watching you, but he won't be able to track you down to serve you a subpoena.

Capitalism, meet Occupy.

Hazem Sayed invented the Vibe app in March 2011 after observing one of those pre-Occupy marches on Wall Street that got zero corporate media attention even though thousands of protesters attended. So it's nice to know that while he is helping make an obscenely wealthy outsourcing corporation even richer, he is also doing his bit to fight obscene wealth and social injustice. Twitter does not work well for demonstrators, since prosecutors have successfully been able to wrest the IDs of users from the company. Even though the Vibe app is not encrypted and police can easily monitor communications, anonymity is preserved. At the height of the Occupy protests last year, more than 1000 messages a day were broadcast using Vibe. Sayed was there with his iPad and a projector to magnify all the messages on walls for everybody to see.

Sayed had waited in line for days to purchase the i-Phone 5 at a cost of about $800. As the first person to possess the latest piece of electronic gadgetry, he was immediately declared celebrity du jour and thronged by reporters. The crowd roared every time a new person emerged clutching the piece of plastic made for relative pennies at various Asian sweatshops.

You'll be happy to know that no arrests were made during the relentless march of commerce. Free speech was protected, happiness was pursued, as millions of dollars flowed.



d12345 said...

I was struck by the following..

Iphone much...let's say 800

According to Apple,

Materials 200

Labor 8

Yes 8 dollars in labor on an 800 item.

Really cool guys....the "folks" at Apple...!

Rereading the link, I see that
the 8 is "manufacturing." Not just labor!!

What a world!

Pearl said...

Does it mean that the anonymity of this new i- phone 5, permits people to
send death threats to others, or pass out confidential information about
someone, or pass around someone's intimate photos without being able to be stopped or apprehended? If so, protecting one's privacy has a dark side to worry about.

Jay - Ottawa said...

A somewhat discouraged father (in France) wrote me today to describe the ache of seeing his children drifting mindlessly into a crazy world. Herewith, a part of his letter (names deleted, of course). The last paragraph looks like it’s about to end on a rosy note about hope until you get to the last line. What good are all our virtues if we lack the most essential one?

“ …I’ve found great contentment living simply, and getting off the consumer treadmill. My oldest, [X], has an appreciation for this, I think. But [Y], and [Z], especially, are fervent shoppers. I-phone 3 is no longer enough; he must have the ‘4,’ for example. As I peruse the journals they bring home, they’re all about buying and selling stuff. Very little about developing ideas, or living sustainably. We had a cousin visit for a week from the states a few months ago. Immediately on joining us at the airport, [Z] was showing her his stuff (go pro camera, etc) and she was doing the same thing. It’s no longer about who you are; it’s about what you have that defines you. This is the fundamental fault, or lie, that keeps people frustrated, never satisfied, whetting their appetite for ‘that without which they cannot be happy.’ It’s so big, so pervasive and rooted in our culture, I don’t see industrial capitalism bowing to reason or the common good anytime. As I say to the kids, the world now evolving is so much less hospitable than the one in which I grew up. So few think long term, like the American Indians. It’s all about immediate profit and self gain, so perfectly embodied in the ‘yet another puppet’ candidate from the extreme right.

“That being said, I believe one person can make a difference, or a few of these, who remain faithful and attentive, hopeful even in the face of such madness. I don’t know what the choreography would look like, but I imagine there is a scenario where things could reverse themselves. L’abbe Pierre, Dorothy Day, Gandhi, Jean Vanier, weren’t seeking fame, or success, when they humbly began their journeys. They sought to remain faithful in a lived manner; I imagine them watchful, attentive and, of course, courageous. I like the expression, heard long ago, that without courage, all the other virtues are ours only by accident.”

James F Traynor said...

Think about it. What do they remind you of ? Consider the 1%. The resemblance is uncanny. Sheeple: rich sheeple, middle class sheeple, poor sheeple. As a species, are we worth saving? Really?

Denis Neville said...


As I look at the photo of the crowd lined up for iPhone 5, I mourn the death of letter writing.

When was the last time anyone received a handwritten letter? I cannot remember it has been so long.

Letter writing was once a beautiful communication platform. Today it has been replaced by instant messaging.

Going through my mother’s things, I found my handwritten letters as I traveled the world over the years. Each foreign stamp and postmark made each piece of mail treasured and special to her. That’s why she kept them.

I am part of a fading generation.

Catherine Field, “The Fading Art of Letter Writing,” wrote, “Will this fading generation, I find myself quietly asking, also be the last to write letters? Messages crafted by hand rather than bits of binary code? Writing that carries emotions rather than emoticons?”

Letter-writing is one of our most ancient of arts. I have always enjoyed reading the letters of great historical figures, as well as those written by ordinary men and women during our Civil War and WW2, for the insight it offers into their lives and the very feel of history. Francis Bacon wrote that “letters, such as written by wise men, are, of all the words of men, the best.”

Some people say the art of letter writing should be a lost art in today’s world.

But, alas, while this technology is amazing, we are witnessing the decline of literacy with the speed and easy access of instant messaging.

"My concern is, though, that what we gain in speed we lose in language - and, just a reminder, we are the heirs of a resplendent language. English is curvaceous, complex, and beautiful. Fluent and fierce. She is the lover you will always adore but will never fully know because there's too much to know. She is a true seductress-devious and overt, offering endless possibilities." - Samara O'Shea, For the Love of Letters: A 21st-Century Guide to the Art of Letter Writing

And not only in letters, but also in our social gatherings. I see very few people talking to each other anymore. They are all texting or talking on their cell phones. So many today are incapable of critical thought and reasoning, and are lacking in spelling and grammar and writing skills.

Newspeak was the language in Orwell's 1984. It was the deliberately impoverished language promoted by the state. It had a greatly reduced and simplified vocabulary and grammar. The aim of the Party was to prevent "crimethink" by destroying any vocabulary that expressed freedom, free enquiry, individualism, and resistance to the authority of the state. As Syme said, "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."

Unlike Orwell’s dystopian future, we are, as Huxley predicted, doing it to ourselves.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

And if the lines of sheeple waiting to purchase the new iPhone aren't enough to disgust, one can tune in to Charlie Rose's show, which had a segment with him and a couple of people around a table admiring/fondling/rationalizing that new technological "must-have", rather than substantively critiquing what it all implies with regard to the broader values and priorities of too many people and our economic system.

As antidote to brain-dead commercialism, I've previously recommended the classic science fiction story "The Space Merchants", by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth; also its sequel "The Merchants' War", by Pohl alone (Kornbluth had died). Both were later packaged together as "Venus Inc.". Like most science fiction, they aren't written with Shakespearian eloquence, nor are they at all substitutes for proper social/political/historical analysis. But they are entertaining reads with a worthwhile message, and could be a potentially thought-provoking gift for a teenager oblivious to the important issues of societal structure and manipulated consumption.

And a tip of the hat to @Jay - Ottawa and @Denis Neville for particularly relevant comments that remind that our social, political, and economic problems are due to more than simply the issue of money controlling the political process, which too many focus on to the exclusion of other vital factors.

Zee said...


I have observed the same phenomenon at social gatherings, at least those which have included a significant number of people 20-40 years my junior.

We recently attended a reception for a young jazz musician—the daughter of good friends of ours—upon her graduation from the University of New Mexico with a degree in Performing Arts.

The reception was populated about equally between people of my generation—near-geezers—and the newly-minted graduate's generation, viz., early twenties.

Only those of my generation really indulged in face-to-face conversations. Those of the graduate's generation all had their mobile devices out and were busy texting or doing who-knows-what-else. Playing games, maybe? They engaged their peers verbally only occasionally, and then in clipped sentences or phrases, almost as if to say “Don't bother me now, I'm busy.”

As I reflected on these observations later, I became even more puzzled. The new graduate's friends are mostly musicians and artists like her. This is the supposedly “sensitive,” artistic segment of our society, who, one might expect, would be more “people-oriented.” Yet, they seemed pretty much detached from one another. These are the people who will be deeply involved in the evolution of our culture in the near future?

Another time, Mrs. Zee and I met friends at a Middle-Eastern restaurant down in the university district. As we conversed and caught up on our various comings and goings over the past few weeks, I observed a college-aged couple at a nearby table, a young man and a truly beautiful young woman. Were I that young man and single, I would certainly be trying to engage that young woman in something resembling meaningful conversation. (I know, I know: both sexist and shallow of me.)

But instead, while waiting for their order and then, even while eating, both were immersed in their mobile devices, speaking only occasionally to one another. What gives? Maybe they were just brother and sister, but I don't think so.

I do not understand today's fascination with consumer electronics. As a scientist, it has been my experience that whether at work in the laboratory or at play elsewhere, Murphy's Law will always win out over the engineering genius behind these gizmos, especially and inevitably at a time of crisis when one most needs one's electronic gizmos to function well.

Ironically, such has been the case for Mrs. Zee and me over the past two weeks, life in consumer electronics hell, but fortunately, we have fallback positions.

Yes, I like my e-mail, the ready access to information afforded by the Web, and the ability to participate in forums like these, but I still prefer a good old-fashioned book or newspaper for my entertainment or education, face-to-face encounters and experiences with my friends, and plenty of outdoor activities.

Lots to do even when the electronics spark and fizzle out.

I wonder what the younger generation does?

Denis Neville said...

@ Zee

I attended a wedding rehearsal dinner not long ago. At the table where I was seated, I was a minority of one, i.e., the only person without my cell phone. A surprising number of the guests were busy alternating between each of their two cell phones; one even with three!

When I had the temerity to inquire as to his need for three, I received a rather incredulous look and that “Don't bother me now, I'm busy” clipped response. The others appeared envious of his third device with its apparent “very serious person” granting status.

There were few face-to-face conversations at that table despite my attempts to initiate them. People's disrespect knows no bounds.

Pearl said...

Zee: I was very interested in your description of how the younger generations communicate. I have three very bright, involved in activities granddaughters , l7, 20 and 23 finishing and going through university with whom I have never been able to have real conversations with. They reply when asked direct questions (which I try and keep toward their interests) only in limited fashion. When I rarely receive a report via computer they do for class they can write very well so the brain functions are on a high level.

They seem totally uninterested in my own activities which I consider important and would imagine they would want to know more about (politically and socially). This has been true since their childhoods and I had hoped as they matured would improve but has not. Part may be the parenting which is laissez faire and even hinting that I might want to hear from them more often, seems to be ignored.

It took me a long while to recognize that this was not a rejection of me, but something to do with the way the younger generations communicate via electronics, etc. Although they do have all the gadgets they do not use them continually and even though I try to reach them via e-mail, that is not their usual way of communicating.

It is very hard at an advanced age, without a spouse, to not have the emotional and communicative connections with my grandchildren which would make my life so much more comforting. Talking with other women in similar age situations indicates I and others are not alone in this situation.

I am trying to find out via some articles that occasionally appear, how prevalent this phenomenon is in our culture but not enough articles seem to be available. I wonder how others of our group are viewing this situation and how prevalent it is. Canada seems to be not much different in this regard although I suspect it is more apparent in the U.S. I also wonder whether it is different between the brighter or average young students in high school and university (my sociology training is coming to the fore) as it will have a great influence on how the wind blows politically in the future.

Thanks very much for your interesting comments, Zee. It validates my personal experiences which I find very sad all around.

Pearl said...

And Denis, thank you also for similar comments along these lines (one just appeared) of your experiences socially. I think if I was having dinner with people who spoke only to their gadgets, I would politely excuse myself and go home but that might mean never eating out with others again!
As to letter writing, I have boxes of letters my father wrote to us all as we were growing up which are priceless. They recalled those different years of the past and family events I had forgotten about and his comments on the political situations of those days only seem to be a warning for the future.
All we can do to preserve our present is to copy important e-mails and file them for future reading, but then our children and grandchildren might not be interested.

Trurl said...

One of the biggest problems in America today is the idea that government doesn't work so we should get rid of it. We've all heard stories of government waste and overregulation. Some argue that we should therefore get rid of all government workers and regulations and let the free market work its magic. Of course in biology there's a name for the condition where regulation of a complex organism has broken down. It's called cancer. It's misguided to think that the cure for an imperfect government is cancer.

Your rant today is similarly misguided. In treating all corporations as equally evil, you are tearing down capitalism. Just as we have no choice but to fix government, we also have no choice but to fix capitalism. Tearing it down is easy but is destructive and unhelpful.

Using Apple as the face of evil capitalism is particularly unjust, since they try harder than most to be just, and they make useful devices. In fact, the device people are lining up for is not a phone and not a piece of plastic. It's a small and very capable mobile computer, and these kinds of devices are transforming the world in a rather positive and democratic way. Universal relatively low cost access to information and computation puts people everywhere on a much more equal footing.

It's also worth noting that the technology that you belittle costs about $400 overall per device (Apple's margins on these devices over the past two years are a matter of public record, because of litigation). Not pennies! It's true that some financial-industry parasites make a million times more than an ordinary laborer -- that doesn't mean that all corporations charge crazy amounts for worthless crap. Making such erroneous assertions is just tearing down all of capitalism.

As for the Chinese workers who assemble these devices, Apple is better than 99% of the companies about requiring good treatment of workers from their contractors. But even for the average company using Chinese labor, what started off as sweat shops and exploitation has lead to a middle class and rapidly rising standards of living. The initial advantages of low wages and lack or regulation that allowed these industries to develop in China have quickly eroded as competition for skilled labor has exploded. Meanwhile these workers have been rescued from picking garbage or dying of hunger in poor rural villages and given a chance to join the developed world. This is something that do-gooders haven't managed to make any real progress on using charity and moral suasion.