#Apple: We Gather Here Today to Celebrate the Most Banal Thing

By Megan Garber

The tech world's Super Bowl moment is the announcement of a new iteration of a consumer tech product.

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After yesterday's big political primaries, the tech world its having its own Super Wednesday: Today, Apple will make another Big New Product Announcement. And the attention we pay to Apple will spike. During the product announcement itself, certainly ... but also before and after the announcement, whatever it is, is made, via the flurry of content that will spring from the news.  

There will be specs! There will be analysis! There will be watermarked photos from a nosebleed seat inside the auditorium! There will be cost comparisons and screen-resolution-side-by-sides and here's-what-this-means-for-Amazons and 5-ways-this-changes-everythings and commentary on Tim Cook's charisma and commentary on Tim Cook's clothing and commentary on Steve Jobs's legacy and, overall, wretched disappointment and awestruck wonderment and boredom and duty and enthusiasm and irony all tumbling out of a San Francisco auditorium and into the world in one throbbing burst of creativity and redundancy.

And! There will also be a lot -- a lot -- of commentary making fun of the whole to-do. Like this. And, wonderfully, like this.

The mockery will be, to some extent, deserved. Distance-via-dismissal is tech writers' way of reminding each other that Apple Inc. is a company, that Apple is a brand, and that whatever gadgets and software are presented unto the world, Simba-like, via a webbed-out auditorium in San Francisco are just that: gadgets, software, things. One of Apple's slickest moves as a marketer has been to convince the press, professional and non-, that it is somehow more than just a company to be covered, somehow more than just another tech brand. It's the religiosity of it, yes -- Apple as a cult and a prophesy and a metaphysical system -- but it's also something much more banal (and, for that, much more brilliant): Apple is selling itself not just as a producer of products, but as a producer of events. Splashy events that are staged in an auditorium but that take their life in the approximately 2,475,918 pieces of content that will radiate from beyond its walls. Vaudeville for the consumer-digital age.

We talk a lot about the markets Apple has found through its products -- about the fact that, say, no one knew they needed an iPhone until Steve Jobs came along to inform them of the necessity. It's more accurate to say, though, that Apple has created its markets. As Evgeny Morozov points out,

Apple is in fact a textbook example of "consumer engineering" -- a concept eagerly embraced by the American advertising industry in the 1930s to try to get America out of the Depression. "Consumer engineering," wrote Roy Sheldon and Egmont Arens in their classic work on the subject, "is the science of finding customers, and it involves the making of customers when the findings are slim." The motto embraced by Regis McKenna, Apple's p.r. firm, in the early 1980s was not all that different: Markets are made, not won.

What's notable today, on this High Holy Day of the Cult of Apple, is how readily the company has applied the principles of consumer engineering not just to products, but to time. Apple has taken the most banal thing in the world -- an announcement of a new iteration of a consumer tech product -- and turned it into a Super Bowl for the tech world, a singular happening that brings people together, in the same moment, in an explosion of commentary and analysis and communion. Appointment viewing for the gadget-conscious. Apple's genius has been about more than retina displays: It has also been to recognize that within the tech world, just as within the worlds of politics and entertainment, there is a market to be made from community.

As Reuters's Anthony DeRosa summed up today's proceedings:

#apple. Exactly.


Image: Reuters.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/-apple-we-gather-here-today-to-celebrate-the-most-banal-thing/254128/