THINK SIMPLE, AGAIN
On Saturday, a lark. I attended my first Mac Expo, billed as the largest outside of San Francisco. The info-harvest was bountiful. The subtext, bountifuller.
Let’s start with who was there. Not the folks in Apple ads–those attractive, informally dressed (mostly European-American) young people cradling iPads in their laps. No, to my surprise, most of us had lived enough years to have graying (even whiting) hair and not do anything about it. Seniors ruled. Why? Everyone agreed that the under-30 crowd stayed away because they were bottle-fed on computers, weaned on iOS. Why on earth would they sit in cramped rooms listening to tech-bedevilled presentations that may or may not address their particular concerns when they could dial up anything and anyone on the comfort of their sofas while watching Andrew Luck re-define quarterbacking for Stanford? That was a no-brainer.
But we were there, Apple. Your young-minded, older cohort flocked. Grizzled, loud and proud. At least, that’s what you’d notice if you looked at a still picture of us. But a movie would tell another story. Because the energy among us–the irritable bustle of know-it-alls, the mental over-drive of timeless wonks–was decidedly adolescent. How much did I love ultra-nerds in the audience who collaboratively (but insistently!) corrected their moderators? How fun was it to have trivia contestants challenge the “right” answer by pointing out that it derived from the wrong question?
We were/are a bunch of sharp cookies, slow of step but not of mind. And yet, judging by the collective shrug that our questions seemed to elicit among the Expo’s various guest panelists, we’re beside the point. Mere users. Mere buyers. The journalists, sales folks and tech preachers who presided–all were helpful. But where were the anthropologists, the field biologists? We were committed enough to show up for a nerd fest. But no one in those conference rooms brought any curiosity to bear on us.
I did. And I learned a lot. I learned that some of your loyalest customers, Apple, are struggling with contradictions inherent in your core principles. Your promises of elegance (in all that word’s meanings) and ease are perceived to be in conflict with its equally compelling promises of creative customizability and participatory development. How will you address this, Apple? Some of your acolytes want you to maintain at least one well-defined area where there are fewer choices, where there aren’t 20 apps required for a single workflow across platforms. Anytime now, iCloud may gallop in and resolve this. But all we heard last Saturday was a byzantine litany of third-party apps and interfaces, each of them proclaimed “cool” and guaranteed to get us in way too many steps from A to B if not Z.
Mind you, I love that stuff. I’m jazzed about fizzing out crazy new worlds as fast as I can with a bucket of tools. I like the sprawl, the welter. But I “feel” my brothers and sisters in Macdom. This isn’t about their hair-color. This isn’t a function of age. The values that brought them to Apple 30+ years ago (there were Lisa-owners in the room!), have not changed. They’ve always wanted elegance and ease. They fear those values have eroded. They want them back.
Once upon a time, your advertising said, Think Different, Apple. Time to think different about us. You’re a dazzling company that toggles (simultaneously!) between innovation and continuity. You’re also, now, a built-to-last company with cradle-to-grave users. Yours is not a family of products but a family of customers. Including, for the first time in your history, grandparents. We are you, Apple. We were young together. Now we’re “maturing.” Together we’ve got generation gaps to bridge and the tricky task of winnowing enduring values from the shape-shifting we need to morph our way into the future.
So among the toy-peddlars and gadget-worshippers who shape these crazy Expo gatherings, you might want to seed in your own listeners and observers. Time to send folks up into the trees with binoculars and notebooks to watch us circle around the watering hole. In all of our anecdotal fussing, there are patterns of response that will tell you something about yourself, Apple. About how and what you are in our hands. We think that’s a beautiful thing. Do you?
Coming soon, part deux–Apple: What.
© i.e. ideas expressed 2011