In 1906, Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, cast a warning about the new technology of the day: automobiles. "To the countryman," he said, "they are a picture of arrogance of wealth with all its independence and carelessness." Nothing, Wilson declared, would spread socialism more quickly than cars' adoption by the wealthy.
The opposite, of course, proved true: Cars, perhaps more than any other technology, helped to democratize the country. What Wilson got right, though, is that cars were not simply, even in their earliest days, about transportation or convenience. They were, and have always been, status symbols. And that fact has been a significant, er, driver of cars' technological evolution. As Michael Berger notes in his The Automobile in American History and Culture, "At first, just owning a motor vehicle was sufficient to elevate one's station in life." But "as car ownership became more broadly based and car manufacturers began to produce individual makes and models aimed at members of specific socio-economic classes, social status came to be associated with a particular vehicle than ownership of a car per se." Enter the luxury car.
I mention all that not because of a new car, but because of a new phone. The next model of the iPhone is, apparently, set to launch in mid-September. And, according to rumors, the phone will be, at least in one of its versions ... gold. Not figuratively, mind you, but physically: GOLD. "Champagne gold," to be precise. With a case that is metallic and shiny and bringing a crazy new meaning to a "brick phone." Apple, if the rumors are to be believed, is going full Midas on us.