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Why Apple’s Launch Event Was "Creepy As Hell"

Submitted by Doug Litowitz

Apple's Launch Event Was Creepy As Hell

Yesterday all eyes were on Apple’s product launch.

This is because Apple has become a bellwether for the stock market as a whole.

Legendary short seller Jim Chanos spoke candidly to CNBC, explaining that institutional investors and hedge funds are treating Apple stock as a “hedge fund hotel” where they can buy a single name and ride it upwards as opposed to concocting complex trading systems as they did in the past. Indeed, SEC filings by hedge funds bear this out, and so the product launch attracted a huge audience, generating play-by-play reporting on CNBC and Yahoo Finance.

By the end of trading, Apple stock declined nearly 2%, indicating that investors were not impressed.

To paraphrase poet Horace, the mountain shuddered and gave birth to a ridiculous mouse.

I too watched the entire product launch. The Apple Watch doesn’t do much more than other devices and it looks ugly next to a Rolex; the new iPhone has a few tweaks that don’t amount to much; the new iPad Pro tablet is unwieldy with a humor-inducing stylus; and the Apple TV box is interesting for voice-activation but not that different from what others are already offering in streaming content.

That would be the end of my story.

But I am feel obliged to confess that I found the event creepy as hell from a psychological and cultural perspective.

After two hours of watching their best and brightest, my mind was reeling with associations of cults, lifestyle gurus, and new-age hokum.

The Man At The Helm

Let’s start with the venue, which was the first thing CEO Tim Cook mentioned in his opening remarks. It was held in San Francisco at the Bill Graham Civic Center. Stop right there. What makes Apple so “civic” that it needs a public forum, instead of launching products from its own headquarters? 

Apple doesn’t seem particularly “civic” to me, and not to the Senate Subcommittee that has been investigating how they avoid paying taxes while sticking you and me with their tab. They move corporate entities offshore to avoid taxation that would benefit the civic community, and they run sweatshops in China instead of hiring Californians drawn from the, uh, civic community.

So it’s a cheap trick to hold the launch in a civic center named after a man who launched free health clinics and free festivals to celebrate the counterculture against big corporations like, well, Apple. You cannot squeeze out some kind of imprimatur of good citizenship by holding a product launch in a “civic” center.  I’m not buying it.

The second problem is that Tim Cook took the stage dressed – or rather underdressed – in blue jeans and an ill-fitting blue shirt with a plain belt.  The outfit looked like it was thrown together at the last minute from the clearance rack at Kohl’s. This man is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and runs the most profitable company in the world. I refuse to believe that he is too busy (or too cheap) to stop at Nordstrom Rack and drop $800 on a pair of Armani slacks, a Zegna dress shirt, a Hugo Boss tie, and Allen Edmonds’ belt and shoes.

Cook recently came out as gay, which took courage, and I applaud that. But that only makes his choice of outfit more bizarre. Is he playing against type, to make the point that gays can be slobs too? Or is he saying that gays are harmless and will conform seamlessly? Regardless of his sexuality, there is no reason to dress that way except to brainwash us into thinking that he is so laser-focused on product development that ‘clothes be damned.’ Again, I’m not buying it.

Steve Jobs could get away with wearing a turtleneck sweater because he had a maverick personality to back it up. To put it crudely, when you watched Steve Jobs, you knew that he was an SOB on some level, that he wasn’t there to impress you as much as to impress himself, and he knew that you knew it. He had demons. But sometimes a bad guy is good, so to speak. We all knew that Jobs’ refusal to dress ‘appropriately’ was the flipside of a loner genius with a unique vision who wasn’t going to conform. He was half-crazy but headed to unexplored territory. The first guy who does that is authentic; the second guy is not. CEO Tim Cook is the second guy.

Cook’s persona is creepy, almost mortician-esque. He has an unconvincing forced jubilance, wedded to a lurking, hunchbacked rigidity. His body seems superfluous, a nuisance. The white hair and nerdy glasses round out a kind of depthless, mealy look that betrays a measure of cruelty. His arms hang useless, as if he has to exert every ounce of willpower to raise them when the script calls for mock exultation.

I watched him closely for 30 minutes and then it hit me.

Cook IS a computer.

Or at least, he’s more like a computer than a human.

Intelligent, desexualized, emotionless, disembodied, apolitical, steely, gimmicky, and lacking in charisma. He wants us to become cybernetic, to sync our entire lives to Apple so that we become computers like him.  The technology does not have some higher purpose like social justice, or eradication of disease, or ending poverty. The bar is much lower: you can now get the weather and read CNN headlines on your watch – what a great day in Western Civilization! Cook and his ‘team’ (as he refers to the thousands of people who do the actual work under extreme stress) don’t have any appreciation for the downside of technology.  

Missing Apple's Man Upstairs

Steve Jobs understood minimalism.

Sometimes less is more. And he had a weird belief system that made him something of a Luddite – he would not let his own kids use the iPad, he forced them to talk face-to-face, and he ridiculed college kids who wanted to go to Silicon Valley just to make money.  For all his eccentricities, he knew that there was an outside world and that bigger things were at stake.

Cook is the other extreme – he thinks that technology improves everything, and that every little gimmick is noteworthy. In his world, the Apple Watch and the new iPhone are miraculous contributions because they let you change the channel on the Apple TV without getting off your butt and fetching a remote.

As an illustration of how the Apple Watch changed people’s lives, he tells us how the watch helped a man keep to an exercise schedule. Does he think we’re so dumb we believe this was never possible until the invention of this watch?  Also he showed how a doctor could tilt the watch forward and check his daily schedule of rounds; ironically, this task was something that my own father could handle with a small notebook and a pencil in the 1960s, as a doctor at San Francisco General Hospital no less.

The Apple Launch soon became a drone-fest, with Cook introducing another man who was dressed virtually identically to Cook, who introduced another guy dressed the same, and then a woman dressed similarly, then again another guy, like Russian matryorska dolls popping out of each other. They were all in the same uniform, or rather anti-uniform, in some kind of California-forced-conformity/anti-conformity. The last time I saw so many people looking like that, it was the mass suicide at Heaven’s Gate.  

They were all being ‘authentic’ by wearing the same thing and telling us that we were ‘revolutionary’ by consuming their products. It’s the same line used by the guy at the mall who sells Anarchy T-shirts for $20. Soon, these words lose their meaning: authentic people dressed alike, humans wearing machines to supposedly make them more human, freedom by buying more products. Do they believe this stuff themselves?

And then there is Siri, who featured prominently in the show.

"SORRY... I DIDN'T GET THAT..."

To all the idiots in the audience, let me remind you that Siri is not a human person.

It is a search engine with a voice. To attribute wisdom to Siri, or to think that Siri is your servant or your friend, is to mistake a THING for a HUMAN. Apple shamelessly encourages this category mistake by having its spokesmen talk to Siri as a person, in the same way that a psychotic ventriloquist converses with his dummy. There is nothing more pathos inducing, more cringe-worthy, than a grown human being asking a machine what is the meaning of life.  

I have saved the most disturbing phenomenon for last. The audience spent most of its time looking at computers and smart phones on their laps, and taking pictures of each other and the event. They were present, and yet they weren’t. What a spectacle. Thousands of people celebrating how the computer will set them free and let them connect to anyone and anything, but each lost in their own computer world, incapable of connecting with anything outside themselves.

Mercifully, it ended with Cook giving a shout out to the Apple workers in the audience, who responded like cult members fed sugar and gumballs all week. And then, in a fawning introduction, he introduced the band One Republic, who gave a kind of generic performance that would offend nobody, in a hall that hosted revolutionary bands like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead.

Lest I be called a killjoy, let it be noted that I am typing this on a MacBook Air. I have an iPhone 6, and an iPad Mini. I am an Apple person, as it were. But just because I buy the products doesn’t mean that I buy the mythology surrounding them.

I know that for every connection I make online, there is a connection I lose in the real world. For every song I can record playing guitar and singing into my MacBook, there is a place where I could be playing with real people. And I have been to China and seen the factories, so I know that for every machine I buy, there is someone getting rich, someone getting cheated, someone unhappy, a miserable executive, a ruined life in a dirty dormitory. For everything there is a trade off, that’s life. And there are limits to what technology can do. The Apple Watch can show my appointments today, and the Apple TV can find all the movies starring Jason Bateman, but I am not going to stand up and clap for it, for the simple reason that it cannot help us end violence, or reduce poverty, or provide health care, or spark an economic recovery.  I don’t clap for my refrigerator either.

The Apple Launch is a closed circle of fawning sycophants, thrilled with gimmicks, adapted to computers, programmed, a throng of identical authentic individuals chained to their machines and congratulating themselves on being ‘connected,’ led by a human that resembles a robot.

Two hours of watching the Apple Launch actually made the Manson Family seem homey.