We were in a Phoenix coffee shop when it happened: I finally realized that image truly is everything, and that the Companies know it. More importantly, they know how to sell it.
The coffee shop was mostly a long room, almost a feast hall, with tables lining each side. In every occupied seat, without exception, there was an “individual” typing at 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, white, glowing logo.
The renaissance was absolute. You either had a Fruit Co. laptop, or you stared at those who did not.
I ordered syrup in my coffee. The barista knew, with only the minutest of hesitations, how to convey his pity for my plebian taste buds. I wanted to tell him I usually chewed my coffee beans right off the plant, but I figured he heard that all the time.
I imagine myself going in there with a Dell Latitude, circa 2005 — AKA The Brick.
First the conversation falters. Then the music stops. Steam from the espresso machine hisses indifferently in the gravid silence which follows the plastic creak as I open my screen. My earbuds 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 works with the new recruits, those of the gleaming laptops who slowly look away with a chuff or a chortle. Theirs is still a mild ambivalence, perhaps even a shallow amusement at the unconverted. They somehow continue to do their serious work during the aural bombardment from either their Fruit Co. earbuds or the fresh music stabbing down from the too-loud ceiling speakers.
The true scrutiny comes from the lifers, those who are committed in every aspect: fashion, hair, tattoos, and product. They have bought in. They have assimilated.
It’s nice to have a club. It’s nice to belong. Yet being in a club means that some people aren’t, and one of the first orders of club business is to disillusion hopeful applicants of their welcome.
Works like a charm. I hated that place.
Listen: the Fruit Co. makes a great laptop. I might be buying one soon. Apparently we stumbled into a den of true believers, because they could smell the lack of fanaticism the moment we 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 in my formative years.
I guess I look a little too much like The Man, which the Companies say is very very bad indeed. Pitching conformity as individuality is one of the genuine masterstrokes of marketing genius.
But also listen: It IS important to belong. People like clubs. You don’t appreciate the one you’re in? Go join another. Or create your own. We’re hardwired to be in groups. How else do you take down a mammoth?
Should I not buy something for the exact reason that I have been told to buy it? 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. Whatever the case, my instinct tells me to run away from the herd. Yet if the herd were lapping from clear water, and a separate nearby puddle was rife with scum, how strong would be my conviction to deviate? 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. I hadn’t paid the dues. I hadn’t committed. I smelled like everything else but the inside of that coffee shop.
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 in all my years. The rest are a mixture of conversations and inescapable vocal music. I’ve never been good at multitasking. That could be the reason. 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 barrier of the Fruit Co. store at the mall, which should please the Fruit Co. to hear (not like they didn’t already know). It led to a quietly frustrating battle in my own mind about whether or not I could join the club if I truly believed. In the end, we left uncommitted. I wonder if they would have even taken me in.
I doubt I’ll go back, mostly because I can’t figure out if avoiding the place is the right thing to do or if I’m ashamed for not inspiring a group hug upon entering the building.
Either way, the coffee was pretty good.