I’m sitting in a bar, taking in a basketball game and a beer, when a stranger ambles towards me. “You actually use that?” he asks, condescendingly pointing towards my Blackberry as if it were a fossil. And a bomb.
“Yes, I do,” I say, drafting an email from my functional keypad, “I try not to buy all of my tech products from Apple.” I pay little attention as he rants about his preference for the iPhone, because I’ve heard this speech before. During the last few months, I’ve suffered an increasing number of judgmental exchanges in which people criticize my technology choices rather than engaging me in friendly debate. Why does our society tolerate technology discrimination at a time when bullying is receiving well-deserved attention on the national stage?
People love to complain about tech dinosaurs, using vague justifications for why older services are inferior, and some actively discriminate against us. In an article on Daily Worth, one CEO stated, “If an applicant applies for a job with us and is still using Hotmail or Yahoo for email, they’re immediately eliminated.”
Critical thinking and independence don’t seem to bode well in today’s tech culture, a virtual Pantheon to Apple and Google. Combined, these two companies possess 78 percent of the American smart phone market (Bloomberg, March 2012). According to the same source, Apple enjoys 73 percent of the tablet market.
Insulting, much less questioning, the Apples and Googles of the marketplace results in social stigma, which is interesting when one considers that Americans were historically wary of excessive power. Although I don’t expect people to consider anti-trust regulations when calling Siri from their iPhones, I struggle to understand why they insist that I adopt their preferred forms of technology. It would be one thing if Apple products could only communicate with other Apple products, but this is not the case. One might argue that people are simply enamored of their gadgets and platforms: they want to share the wealth, so to speak.
This line of thinking resonates but doesn’t justify the harsh, often judgmental, manner in which people speak about their choices. Perhaps bullying considerations only arise when sensitive issues are at play. Do cell phone providers and email accounts qualify? I don’t see why not. I may have grown up without Gmail, Facebook and MP3 players, but I have to imagine that today’s teens are as concerned with tech services and brands as they are with those pertaining to clothing and cars, and I don’t recall an occasion when a person justifiably mocked another for wearing non-designer brand clothes or driving a used car. Why, then, do we allow it in the tech arena?
Vanity Fair recently published “You Say You Want a Devolution.” In it, Kurt Anderson explored the ebbs and flows of pop culture, noting few advancements and plentiful recycling during the last few decades. His explanation? “In some large measure, I think, it’s an unconscious collective reaction to all the profound nonstop newness we’re experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts. People have a limited capacity to embrace flux and strangeness and dissatisfaction, and right now we’re maxed out.”
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the non-stop, globalized state of affairs, and perhaps it explains why we cling to certain trends, occasionally imposing them on one another without considering the individual’s decision to accept or reject them. For many, comfort lies in the mainstream. Those of us lingering on the fringes risk feeling alienated, which feels like a double blow since our tech preferences are fast becoming obsolete. So the next time you see me reading a magazine or book, making notes with a pencil, or renting a DVD, just remember: I made a choice, just like you.