Leaving the mainstream. How the iPad became uncool.

Speaking to a friend today who told me she’d been banned from getting an iPad by her girlfriend as it was too ‘corporate’ and uncool. What? How did this happen? Is it true? If so, my last ditch grasp on counter culture has been broken and i’ve firmly slipped into middle age and the mainstream. Oh my God, i’m going to have to buy a BMW.

Or maybe that’s an over reaction bought on by to many aspirational lattes. Like it or not, we have a tendency to anthropomorphise technology. Some technology is sociable, suitable for the home and ‘friendly’, whilst other technology is hard, antisocial and best suited for work or the garage. Manufacturers are well aware of this and design accordingly, which is why every Dell laptop looks as though the 1980’s have been captured in plastic and moulded into your briefcase.

Apple have always played in the creative space, aiming at the liberal, artistic community with an interest in graphics, photography and writing. Indeed, just by owning a Mac i have, up until now, been more creative, more liberal and better looking, just by association. I had taken to apologising for my laptop whenever it made an increasingly rare appearance.

But maybe the tide is turning. Maybe Apple have crossed over and accidentally become so big, so mainstream, so commercial that Mac is the new IBM. Maybe Silver and white will be the new black and plastic? Maybe the youth will start purchasing widescreen laptops and nylon suits just to show us how uncool we are, sitting here with our aluminium accessories and sandals.

Well, maybe, but not quite yet. True, the technology we choose has always been aspirational to a degree. They didn’t call them ‘Inspiron’ or ‘ThinkPads’ for nothing, even if the most inspired you ever were was to ‘do a PowerPoint’ on marketing. Everything we choose to wear, our tattoos and our lipstick, our shoes and our hair, all of these things form an outward conscious projection of our worldview. We dress to impress, or at least to be noticed. Or at least to feel comfortable. Our phone says as much about us as our shirt.

Almost inevitably icons from the periphery will, occasionally, become mainstream. Counter culture is just the manure where we grow tomorrows culture. There was a time when being ‘Green’ was a badge worn with pride by people with ponytails and allotments, but now even the energy companies are green.

Maybe the rebellion succeeded. Maybe we shouted so loudly that someone listened. Or maybe a consumer society enables me to buy my way to cool for the price of an iPad.

Understanding the dynamics of culture help us to understand how best to use the channels of communication that permeate it. Look at Facebook. The runaway darling poster child of the social media generation. But where else can it go as it matures? Almost inevitably the only way is down. As niche becomes mainstream, change becomes harder, you can no longer define yourself as being ‘counter’ to anything.

We can gain an advantage in aligning learning solutions with the ‘cool’, the ‘social’, the engaging areas of technology, but there needs to be a quality there to substantiate it. Just making learning ‘social’ by putting up a forum won’t cut it. People are wise to the game. The true wins will come by understanding the technology, understanding the culture and understanding what people want from it all. You can’t just piggyback along for the ride.

So for the time being, i’ll stick with my iPad and take my chances with cool.

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About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Creative, Culture, Design, Identity, Innovation, iPad, iPad 2, Learning Design, Learning Technology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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