(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, October 11.)
A COUPLE of years ago I was taken aback at the sight of a lunchtime queue stretching along Lambton Quay. It turned out they were standing in line to buy the latest Apple product, which was being released that day.
It must have occurred to them that they could return the following day, by which time the rush would have subsided, and buy the item without having to wait.
They must also have known that if they waited a few months they’d get it 50 per cent cheaper, which is always the way with cutting-edge technology. But the compulsion to get their hands on it right there and then was obviously too powerful to resist.
Last week we saw another outburst of Applemania with the release of a new Apple phone called the iPhone 4S. The event was anticipated with much the same eagerness as a fervent Jehovah’s Witness might await the Second Coming. But oh, dear – the new model wasn’t quite what the Apple faithful were hoping for.
They were expecting an iPhone 5 and all they got was a “refresh” of the iPhone 4, said one. Another complained that it wasn’t as sleek and curvy as he’d hoped, and wouldn’t let people make credit card purchases by waving phones in front of sensors. (I ask you – how primitive is that?)
The sense of disappointment – betrayal, almost – was palpable.
The parallels with religion are striking. There has been much comment in recent weeks about rugby being elevated to the level of religion, but here’s a segment of the population for which technology is the new God.
On the other hand, it’s tempting to make comparisons with drug addiction. The tech-heads constantly crave a bigger fix. The iPhone 4 doesn’t do it for them anymore (though it was released only last year) and the 4S, which they were counting on to recreate that exhilarating rush, has let them down. They demand a more potent hit.
But what happens if and when the information technology industry can no longer satisfy the appetite for ever-faster, more powerful devices? The desolation of the Apple devotees in that event can only be imagined. Life will cease to hold any meaning.
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RETURNING home after spending time overseas, you often see New Zealand in a new light.
Coming back from a trip to Japan years ago, I was struck by how big and ungainly we dairy-fed New Zealanders seemed. Compared with the grace and delicacy of the Japanese, even our women had the appearance of front-row forwards.
What struck me on my latest return, this time after six weeks in America, was how drab and sombre we all look. Killing time in Auckland Airport while waiting for my flight to Wellington, I watched a constant procession of people scurrying past clad in what appeared to be funereal garb – all blacks and dark greys.
And it wasn’t only the clothes; it was their demeanour too. They looked a thoroughly joyless and anxious lot – brows furrowed and no one talking, still less smiling or laughing. I’ve seen happier faces in waiting rooms at VD clinics (just fibbing, but you get my drift).
What is it about us? We seem perversely proud of our gloominess. How else to explain the dark, bleak tradition in much of our art (what other country could celebrate the despairing works of Colin McCahon?), our films and our literature?
Even the much-acclaimed movie Boy was deeply depressing, and it was touted as a comedy.
America’s economy is stagnant and its normally irrepressible self-confidence is wavering, yet Americans still seem to enjoy life. In the streets, shopping malls and restaurants, the mood is buoyant and people are smiling. But we New Zealanders seem to need a Rugby World Cup - a once-in-24-years-event - to induce any joie-de-vivre.
* * *
IMMIGRATION officials aren’t employed for their conviviality, so I wasn’t surprised by the stony-faced look from the officer checking my passport at Auckland Airport when I commented brightly on the speed with which the passengers on my flight from San Francisco had been processed.
I was, however, slightly taken aback when he wanted to know how long I had lived in my home town. Now why would he need to know that? It almost sounded like an attempt to catch me out on some irregularity.
His manner reminded me of the coldly officious American border security officer who had pulled our car over near the US-Mexico border, examined our passports and interrogated us about our recent movements. But at least the US border official had the excuse that we were foreign nationals in an area notorious for people smuggling.
Perhaps the Auckland immigration officer was trying to be sociable, but he didn’t seem the sociable type and the question wasn’t asked in a sociable way.
Then again, perhaps I’ve just seen too many films where Gestapo officers stop people in the street and demand to see their papers.