The Pursuit of Appiness

As the iPad prepares to launch, it’s time to consider Apple’s strange—and perhaps pernicious—incursion into our psyches

“You want to know one of the dirty secrets of modern life?” said an Apple store employee. “People shoot endless amounts of footage on their fancy video cameras and then they never bother to edit one minute of it. Why? Because it’s too hard.”

It was a recent Thursday morning, and the staff member—let’s call him “Bob”—who had a round face reminiscent of King of Queens actor Kevin James, was standing in the spacious auditorium on the second floor of the Apple store in Soho, delivering a tutorial on iMovie, the Apple video-editing software.He said he had a brother, “God love him,” who was one of these people, who shot a ton of video but never learned how to edit the stuff. As a result, Bob explained, over the years, he and his family had been forced to watch countless hours of boring, unedited vacation footage. Don’t be that guy!

For the next hour, Bob demonstrated the effectiveness of Apple’s video-editing software: slicing and dicing some stock vacation footage of a snowboarding trip in Aspen and a day at the beach in San Diego into a snappy little narrative with seamless transitions and a banging soundtrack. Along the way, he used a tool that Apple has dubbed the “precision editor.” Everything was so simple, Bob explained, yet also so advanced. He showed off the Blair Witch function (which stabilized shaky handheld shots), the Ken Burns effect (which allowed you to pan out from a still shot) and the green-screen tool, which, he said, Jon Stewart uses all the time on The Daily Show.

In this recession, Apple stores, like Barnes & Noble branches before them, serve as workday sanctuaries for the white-collar unemployed—a near perfect place to bask in the buzz of mental activity without any undue requirements of productivity, cost or scrutiny.

On Saturday, April 3, the Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple is set to introduce its latest life-editing device, the iPad, into our ecosystem. The arrival of the sleek tablet comes at a time when conspicuous consumption is a no-no in New York. And yet the imminent arrival of the eye-catching gizmo (suggested retail price, $499) has touched off a seemingly citywide bout of exuberance. It will save publishing! Free us from the tyranny of the keyboard! All this before we’ve even so much as tickled a tablet.

Credit the early swoon, in part, to Apple’s ingenious marketing, which positions the iPad (and the entire holistic Apple experience) not as the self-absorbed hedonistic pleasure that it is, but rather as a rewarding route to self improvement in the service of your job, your profession, your city and your family. It’s a powerful pitch, in no small part because the desire to, say, precision-edit our siblings runs deep in all of us.

The gospel of Apple, like the teachings of, say, yoga, promises to take the disjointed limbs of our personal and professional lives, made stiff from too many pulls in too many different directions, and set them straight again. The restoration of order, we are promised, is a preliminary step that will lead eventually to a substantial increase in power. The arrival of the iPad takes this promise of personal reordering and magnifies it. Among other things, the iPad promises to simplify the messy entanglement of advertising and what is now called “content”—the unraveling of which in recent years has left so many members of the media tied in knots.

“As a former magazine maker, I always remember the collective groan when we first saw our precious book mucked up with a random assemblage of ads,” said Andrew Essex, the advertising executive and former Details editor, recently told The Observer. “As someone who now works on ‘the dark side,’ I often hear the groan of marketers who see their precious ads inelegantly inserted like uninvited guests at someone else’s party. Though you’re going to see lots of cool interactive ads, I predict that the iPad will ultimately end this increasingly artificial pas de deux and allow engaged readers to buck up for ad-free books. Meanwhile, the brands that subsidized all that content will start hosting their own parties.” Aside from appealing to personal vanity and professional hope, Apple products are remarkably effective at swallowing whole the nuclear family. The decision to buy one Apple device can soon lead from conversations about cell-phone minutes, to discussion of music libraries, to possible reordering of photo collections, until eventually, the whole family has converted to Apple.

The day of the iPad’s coming-out party, Apple stores are scheduled to offer a series of workshops on how to operate the new devices. But as of five days before the rollout, according to our source, no demo devices had yet arrived in the stores, creating pangs of anxiety among the rank-and-file staffers charged with translating the tablet to the masses. Typically, executives at Apple headquarters provide store employees with a script, outlining the basic capabilities and social imperatives of each Apple device. It’s up to the Apple workers to humanize it.

Just as Apple lust is a powerful driving force, so, too, is its counterpart emotion: Apple disgust. Fall out of love with Apple and you tend to fall hard. Last August, after breaking her third iPhone in roughly two years, journalist Amanda Fortini wrote a piece for Salon titled “My Evil iPhone.” “This allegedly revolutionary item, this magical gadget that promised to change our lives, fails at even the most elementary tasks,” Fortini wrote. Afterward, Apple zealots went wild in the comments section, and Apple haters responded in kind.

“Apple is very polarizing,” Fortini said. “The people who love Apple, it’s not just loving the aesthetics or the technology of it. It’s philosophical. There’s an idealism that surrounds it and a sense that it makes you a better person. On the other hand, there are a bunch of people who feel like they’ve been duped by Apple. It’s like being in a bad marriage.”

Divorcing Apple is a tricky business. There are lots of entanglements. And perhaps, as a result, temper tantrums on the part of irate customers (see Richard Belzer) occasionally disrupt the Apple store bonhomie.

“There are plenty of times people get pissed off,” our Apple store employee in New York said. “I’ve seen people lose their shit on the floor and start yelling until you have to bring over a manager. … It’s largely because Apple has done such a good job at customer service and set the bar really high, that people’s expectations jump even higher.”

So what happens if an entire industry sets its expectations for an Apple device too high?

Back in the Soho auditorium, the possibility of backlash was not even remotely palpable. Bob was wrapping up a presentation on how to turn your iMovie into an iDVD. He showed how to make a splash page that really popped, told an allegory about the importance of organization and reminded everyone that you had to make things simple sometimes for the sake of your mom. He told one last story about the time he used his Apple software to make a killer slide show for his cousin’s wedding. Despite all the forethought and effort, the whole thing almost fell apart because he forgot to allocate time for burning the family biopic onto a DVD. So don’t wait for the last minute, he warned. Think ahead! “Now have a nice day,” he said. “Be creative.” And with that, Apple’s latest batch of Precision Editors were free to go forth and multiply.

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