“I want to be different, just like everyone else!”
I was in a Phoenix coffee shop when it happened: I finally realized that Image truly is everything.
And the Companies know it.
More importantly, they know how to sell it.
“As you can see, Frank, sales of Image are through the roof!” “Mm-hm. Mm-hm. And what’s this down at the bottom?” “…That’s your thumb, Frank. Just like last time.”
The coffee shop was a long room, almost a feast hall, with tables lining each side.
In every occupied seat, without exception, there was a self-identified individual typing on a Fruit Company laptop. Walking the lane between these rows of tables was like facing a double-sided gauntlet of scuffed mirrors, each embedded with a small, glowing logo.
The renaissance was absolute. Once you stepped through the door, you either had a Fruit Co. laptop, or you were too embarrassed to pull out anything else and stared at your phone instead.
IT’S A TRAP.
I ordered syrup in my coffee.
With only the minutest of hesitations, the barista expertly conveyed his pity for my plebeian taste buds. I wanted to tell him I usually chewed my coffee beans right off the plant and then didn’t waste water by showering, but I figured he heard that all the time.
I imagine myself going in there with a circa 2005 Dell Latitude — AKA The Brick.
First, what little conversation is going on between Users falters. Then the music stops.
“Do you zink zey notized?!”
Steam from the espresso machine hisses indifferently in the gravid silence which follows the plastic creak as I open my screen. My headphones are not produced by the Fruit Company, but at least they’re white. I brandish them with a flourish so everyone who’s staring can see I’m trying my best.
It sort of works with the new converts, those of the brightest-gleaming laptops who are just getting a feel for their new tribe. They slowly look away with a chuff or a chortle.
“What? This is totally a laptop just like yours. And I am totally concentrating hard on words.”
Theirs is still a mild ambivalence, perhaps even a shallow amusement at the unconverted.
Through some dark voodoo I will never grasp, they somehow continue to do their serious work despite the aural bombardment from either their Fruit Co. headphones or the fresh music stabbing down from the too-loud ceiling speakers.
The true scrutiny of my intrusive presence comes from the Lifers, those who are committed in every aspect: fashion, hair, tattoos, and Product. They have bought in. They have assimilated.
“We’re all unique TOGETHER!”
It’s nice to have a club. It’s nice to belong.
It took me a long while to admit this, but it’s true. Yet being in a club means that some people aren’t, and one of the first priorities of club business can be to disillusion potential applicants of their welcome.
And it works like a charm.
Guess that means me.
Listen: the Fruit Co. makes a great laptop.
I might be buying one soon. I have one of their mp3 players, and I love it.
But apparently I stumbled into a den of true believers, because they could smell the lack of fanaticism the moment I walked through the door.
My tattoos are hidden. I have no facial piercings. I don’t look like the type of person who did a lot of experimenting or protesting in my formative years.
I guess I look a little too much like The Man, which the Companies tell us is very, very bad indeed.
Pitching conformity as individuality is one of the all-time genuine masterstrokes of marketing genius.
“Coffee shop? Check. Laptop? Check. Purpose?……”
But also listen: It IS important to belong.
People like clubs for a reason. We’re tribal by design. The practice goes back to…oh, to before I was born, anyway. It’s ancient.
And hey, guess what? You don’t appreciate the club you’re in? Go join another. Or create your own. Church, sports, whatever. Part of the beauty of clubs is that people are always making new ones.
Like I said, we’re hardwired to be in groups. How else do you take down a mammoth?
“I think I got him!” …STOMP STOMP STOMP
Should I not buy something for the exact reason that I have been told to buy it?
Just because I’m a ‘rebel’? Should I eschew a good product because it has been adopted by elitists?
Perhaps they have become elite as a direct result of their adoption. I should watch a few ads to decide…
Whatever the case, my instinct usually tells me to turn away from the flock.
That’s me there, in the front. The handsome one.
Yet if the flock were lapping from clear water, and a separate nearby puddle was thick with scum, how strong would be my conviction to deviate? Isn’t it sometimes better to tag along?
It’s almost never a distant thought.
O blessed Ignorance, where art thou?
Perhaps it was simply not being a member of the club that got to me in that moment.
I hadn’t paid the dues. I hadn’t committed. I smelled like everything else but the inside of that coffee shop.
Condescending neon sign is condescending.
I wonder what kind of work was being done on those laptops. I always wonder about that.
I’ve been in maybe one quiet coffee shop, ever. The rest were a mixture of conversations and inescapable vocal music. How are the occupants producing anything of value?
I’ve never been good at multitasking. Or maybe I just don’t “get it”. I’m completely willing to make such an admission.
Walking into that Phoenix coffee shop was like breaching the wall of teenagers at the Fruit Co. store in the mall (which should please the Fruit Co. to hear).
The air was different.
It raised a frustrating question in my own mind about whether or not I could join the club if I truly believed.
“You’ll want to click this icon here, then throw your computer away and buy a MacBook.”
In the end, I left unconverted.
Those who never looked up from their screens doubtless felt a sour shift in the air when I entered, a disturbance in The Force, and were subconsciously relieved when the door closed after I left.
I doubt I’ll go back, mostly because I can’t figure out if avoiding the place is the right thing to do on principle or if I’m ashamed of my imitation headphones.
Either way, the coffee was pretty good.
A guy that kind of looks like me enjoying coffee and pretending everyone else in the shop isn’t shooting anti-pretentious lasers at him with their eyes.
If you’re ever in Phoenix, look for the cafe where everyone jumped out of the pages of a Fruit Co. magazine and you’ll be in the right spot.
Just remember to stock up on Product before you visit.