It’s 5 a.m. and I’m dozing on a cold sidewalk in Philadelphia. Bleary eyed, self-conscious of my surroundings, a bit ashamed. I commune with others of my ilk, sharing stories of our alienation from society. The few early birds out this morning either avert their eyes as they pass or look at us with a mix of bemusement and contempt. They go about their business without any concern for us. We made our beds, now we should lie in them. On the street, if that’s what we deserve.
We’re iPhone campers, awaiting the latest overpriced bauble from Cupertino. And I’m acutely aware that, nearby, there are other people sleeping on the street under very different circumstances. Once or twice a year, our lives overlap in embarassingly parallel ways. In fact, actual homeless people come by every few minutes to ask us for help. They get the cold shoulder. It’s breathtakingly callous of us.
Nowhere is the gulf between haves and have-nots more apparent than on a Launch Day, the periodic tech events that bring out the pampered and privileged — like me. To buy the unnecessary — like an iPhone. While we wait, enthusiastically chatting about which model phone to buy, clean-cut young men from a nearby shop give us free coffee. Free! To people who are patently capable of paying for such things. The homeless guys across the street get none.
So, as I sit on the sidewalk waiting for the Temple of Technology to fling open its doors and let us acolytes join in the worship rituals our modern-day gods demand (silicon wafers having replaced communion wafers), let me remind myself of what I truly have to be thankful for.
• Freedom of assembly. The police won’t come and roust my fellow gadget geeks and me, thanks to a pretty handy amendment written into the US Constitution 224 years ago, about a mile away from where I now sit. Very many countries in the world do not give their citizens this fundamental right. Thanks for doing me a solid, James Madison.
• Safety in public at odd hours. If I weren’t male, I’d worry about being raped. If I weren’t white, I’d worry about the sidelong glances from people who think I’m a threat to them, and the cops on patrol who could stop and frisk me without probable cause. These are both non-issues for white males, and those of us who won the genetic lottery that allows such complacency ought to acknowledge that once in a while.
• Disposable income to buy disposable items. My current phone is fine. A little worse for wear, but it does its job. I don’t need another. Our relationship with technology has become schizophrenic in recent years — so essential and yet so frivolous. I use my iPhone constantly. It does tons of things. I need almost none of it to survive. In a few minutes, I’ll pay several hundred dollars for something I don’t really need but can’t live without. The price tag barely even registers with me. It’s new, it’s cool, I want it, I’ll have it. But all this conspicuous consumption is giving me indigestion.
• The job security of a white-collar worker. I’ll show up late to work today, and my boss won’t mind. Hell, he won’t even notice. At other jobs, I could be fired for being just a few minutes late. There’s a level of trust and freedom in the white-collar world that makes an indulgence like today possible. Oh, and the company pays my phone bill. Thanks, guys! So, maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to malign people who get a free “Obama phone.” I’m on the take as well. (Yes, it’s part of my compensation — but it’s icing on the cake and I know it.)
• An abundance of innovation. The corporate grudge match between Apple and Google/Samsung for bragging rights to the innovation crown assures that every year I’ll get a new phone that does some nifty new tricks. This year’s model takes great pictures and scans my fingerprint, sparing me the abject horror of having to type in a four-digit code once in a while. For 80 or so years, phones had one function, and houses had one phone. Now, my phone grows in capability every year. It has replaced about a dozen consumer electronics products in my life. I try to remember to marvel at this amazing good fortune, especially when the online tech discussion boards turn vitriolic in the debates between the pro- and anti-Apple factions. We’re all winners in the end.
It’s now late September. Before you know it, the retailers will be pelting us with Christmas messages. So, my fellow iPhone early adopters, heed the words of sourpuss extrordinare Ray Davies, from the Kinks’ annual radio staple “Father Christmas”: Have yourself a good time. But remember the kids who got nothing while you’re drinking down your wine.
The last word: I wrote this on a $630 iPad 3 — sitting outside in the pre-dawn hours with no fear of getting robbed. It works just fine. I’ll replace it next month for an iPad 5. The next Launch Day awaits. So, perhaps, does absolution.
Follow Jack Persico on Twitter at @jackanape.