The first two sentences of Katie Hafner and Brad Stone's "iPhone Owners Crying Foul Over Price Cut" humorously (and mockingly) point out the folly of crass materialism. The theory many technology analysts and aficionados use to explain the intense consumer backlash triggered by the $200 price drop in the iPhone is that it is the collective anger of a technical avant-garde to their premature regression. Basically, when Apple dropped the price of the iPhone by more than a third, nearly one million people who had paid for the privilege of being known as people who had paid for the privilege found that their materialistic elitism was revealed for the hollow consumerism it really was.
Undoubtedly the situation is more complicated for many individual iPhone owners. Generally, however, iPhone owners upset about the price drop are experiencing buyer's remorse, where the remorse is not only about having "overpaid" for a consumer product. The remorse is also affected by the realization that self-esteem predicated upon conspicuous consumption means one wants (and so deserves) to have one's money taken for no reason other than having it taken. When Apple dropped the price of the iPhone by $200, iPhone owners no longer were separated from the chintzy hordes by the velvet rope of consumer elitism. Now, they can only claim they had once belonged to a club that cost $200 for a two-month, one-time-only membership.
What interests me in particular is not the chumpiness of these angry iPhone owners, though chumpy they are.1 I am much more intrigued by the schadenfreude evident in, for example, the first two sentences of Hafner and Stone's article. This mocking attitude to me seems to be a symptom of a much more important feeling, one that is in part driven by disgust for consumer culture. It is a disgust that I share, making me deeply ambivalent about my own participation in that culture.
Triumphant Apple customer.
People who know me well, have heard me complain that the obsessive attention to consumer culture evident in the dozens of websites dedicated to tracking and promoting the products and services of publicly traded companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Sony, Yahoo!, and so on, can be compared to the mythical figure of Nero fiddling as Rome burned. Such venues promote the illusion that in the face of global strife exacerbated by multinational corporate interest, some people have nothing better to do than to build monuments honoring the very conglomerates responsible for degrading our shared existence.
Some part of me can't help but be sympathetic with writers who nurture such dark pleasure for the minor misfortunes of others, especially given scenarios such as the one depicted in the photo to the right. A young man holds up before a crowd of Apple employees an iPhone box as if it had been a fiercely contested prize. And so it was. He has won the competition to spend his money on a mass-market consumer product and is congratulated for his efforts by retail employees. Months or even years later, he might even see this photo and recall the trials he endured to be the worthy recipient of such congratulation.