You Are Not Your Phone

Is there anything the typifies the sybaritic complacency of the American consumer more than feeling personally slighted when somebody criticizes your phone? Put away your slings and arrows, mailroom pundits, and remember these fuckers work for us.

Heard the one about Gizmodo and Apple? It goes like this: Gizmodo gets its hands on a leaked prototype from a company that treats the media like its own press corps, a company run by a spacetime-bending egotist who believes he knows what customers want better than they do themselves. In a tragic but hilarious cycle of confirmation bias that executive is often right—until he isn't.

It turns out it was the prototype of what is currently the best phone in the world, more or less, and Apple sells record numbers of them.

But then there's this little problem: There's a design flaw—and it can't be fixed by software. Hold the phone in a certain way and it'll drop calls. Poetically, the very same thing that gives the new phone its otherwise excellent reception can occasionally be shorted out.

So Apple issues a recall, allows customers to swap their old phones for ones with a fixed antenna, and lets those who don't feel the issue affects them too much to get a free "bumper" case instead. Apple shows they still have industry-leading customer service and are a brand that can be trusted for quality.

Sorry, that was the wrong punchline. Here's the one I meant: Apple's chief executive writes a terse email to a customer affected by the flaw in their Apple product to tell them to suck it up, to work around the flaw by changing their habits.

Is capitulation fun? Is that why you buy things? To be less than completely satisfied? If you are completely satisfied, is it beyond your ability to comprehend that maybe others are not? And what is it about paying money for something that makes so many of you unflinchingly willing to defend a corporation that treats its customers with open disdain?

I'll tell you why: It's because Apple makes the best stuff. Or at least that's the magical feeling that supercharges the objectively fantastic design of most of their product line. But that feeling of loyalty to a company? It completely erodes your right as a customer. A company is only as good as its last product—especially when they don't own up to their own mistakes. Toyota has made some of the world's finest vehicles for the last thirty years, but it just took one ghastly mistake to erode that trust. (Not that a minor, if legitimate reception issue is of the same scope as deadly acceleration.)

It's facile to attempt to criticize a company's entire product line, but that's what the childish attempt to do every single dreary day on the internet. Apple sucks! Microsoft rules! That's the discourse that keeps fanboy bonfires flaming, too distracted by the entertaining heat to realize they're burning up their own collective power.

Things are things. Companies make things. Some things perfect. Some things not so perfect. In a society based on selling things, it's expected that those imperfections will be corrected. If you don't want the media to report those imperfections because it personally offends your own sense of satisfaction in owning a product, that's on you. It's not our mandate to ignore any company's missteps—or be afraid to pile bundles of praise on a product when earned—and if that's what you want from your news outlets, I envy your ability to be so easily satisfied.

Image: Brian Boyd