Opinion: Humans Love Apple Events Because Humans Love Spaceships

Dan Lyons, the guy who used to be Fake Steve Jobs, has a story today that asks, "Once upon a time we put a man on the moon. Now we pee our pants over retina displays. WTF happened to us?" The answer is really easy: We're the same as we've always been. We love to watch things change.

Lyons bemoans what has happened to us as a culture, citing how once we sat rapt and watched space launches, but today the world waits at its desks, forgetting to breathe, while Apple talks about operating system enhancements. Or as he puts it, "So many great minds, devoted to such trivial bullshit."

The thing is, human beings are hard-wired to watch for change. We love to see new stuff, things we haven't seen before. And of all the things we get to see change in technology, Apple certainly has the best sense of theatre and drama. Apple events almost never fail to surprise. We may have some idea of what's coming, but we never know. All we know is that if we tune in, we're going to see something new. And humans just naturally love, love, love new things.

Our predilection for the new explains why we love sports — live games are always new and unscripted — and shun re-runs. It's why so many of us consume video games until we get to the end, but so few of us go back and play them again. It explains why history can be both fascinating (I am learning something new!) and dismissed out of hand (that's ancient history!).

And moreover, we should be fascinated by Apple's latest creations. To suggest otherwise is to lose sight of the age of wonders we live in. Travel back in time, and a new MacBook Pro with retina display would be a prize worth killing for. Its computational power would have saved untold man hours in getting us to the moon. Impossible physics speculation aside, it is inarguably an extremely powerful tool that could, for example, help mankind calculate another moon shot, a mission to Mars or a journey to the centre of the Earth.

It's one badass hunk of amazing hardware.

You could make a case (and I think this is what Lyons is doing) that our fascination with Apple means we are captivated by the wrong new stuff. That groovy new computers are not the change we should believe in. That we should be more ambitious as a society, striving for moon shot worthy technology, instead of operating system upgrades. But the thing is, we do have that. We still have massively ambitious, world-changing projects underway. They just don't tend play well live, in a way that caters to our desire to see things change in real time.

Clearly a new MacBook is less important than the hunt for Higgs Boson. It is less of a technological feat than the Marmaray tunnel. It is a minor blip compared to new cancer treatments. Our great achievements as a society have not ebbed. They just are often too big and complicated and far-reaching to offer a compelling drama that we can all sit down together and view at the same time.

Like Lyons, I also remember being enraptured by live launches. Sure, I was watching shuttle missions, not Apollo. But I was no less amazed. Back then the shuttle was new and unknown and wonderful. It was changing things. It was dramatic,to the point of tragedy.

And then, it wasn't anymore. The first shuttle took off in 1981, and the last some 30 years later. It flew into outer space 134 times. It was utterly, mind-breakingly amazing. It suffered two horrible disasters. But despite that, it became routine. It didn't seem to be changing. It lost its new. The same goes for ISS launches, when the most novel question is: Will a private contractor be able to pull off what was once the lone right of nation states?

But I promise you, when we do fill a spacecraft up with human beings, and try to send them somewhere new — to another planet, to rendezvous with an asteroid, to do anything hugely ambitious and new that really changes things — people will watch. They always watch.


Comments

    I agree with the premise of this article - humans love to see change as it happens, to see technological progress in ways that are meaningful and mindblowing, to see how our lives are going to be improved in a way that we had previously thought impossible or out of reach.

    The Apple event yesterday was none of these things. In terms of technological progress, I don't think we saw a single thing that had never been done before, or would enhance lives in any meaningful way.

    A slightly thinner laptop with a high-resolution screen - a sexy looking bit of kit, but by no means a breakthrough of any kind. The screen is just a bigger version of the smartphone screens of a couple years ago. The rest of the body is just a scaled-up version of the Macbook Air. Basically, they just combined two of their recipes from a couple years ago, polished it up and called it ground-breaking and innovative.

    A number of tweaks to iOS - nice, but nothing that hasn't been done before. Maps that are basically re-inventing the wheel that a number of other companies have had for years. Declining calls with messages, using a music track as an alarm clock, integrating a social network into contacts and messaging, video calls on a mobile network, browser tab syncing, .....all things that have been well and truly done before.

    The announcements yesterday were nothing but iterative progress. There was nothing ambitious or ground-breaking, nothing that will truly change our lives for the better, honestly nothing that was even amazing.

    I would argue that people watch the Apple event for a different reason: it's the closest thing the tech world gets to movie premeires, with film stars and celebrities turning out to show off the latest fashion and celebrate the creation of art. It's all marketing and glitz, and the substance is somewhat less than the hype.

    "Our great achievements as a society have not ebbed. They just are often too big and complicated and far-reaching to offer a compelling drama that we can all sit down together and view at the same time."

    I have to disagree here - the importance of Venus crossing the Sun and experiments with entangled photons are not reported dramatically because there's no money in it. No iDevice to make crazy profits from. Spin doctors who work with politicians would find it super-easy to make real achievements appealing and relatable.

    The thrust of Dan Lyons point makes sense. MacBooks or Samsung Galaxy IIIs or whatever are ONLY consumer crap- this years turnover of stuff you buy to make a few people richer, make your friends envy you for 5 minutes, and do all the things you already did before on your old device exactly the same way on your new device.

    The technological "achievement" is in NO possible way equivalent to a moon landing and should never, ever be compared in that sense. That's idiotic. One is a massive jump, the other is a minor iteration. The cultural effect IS slightly similar though in that marketing people tap into the same sorts of emotions and the more shallow among us or the more ardent product/brand followers become over excited, but not to the heights of the moon landing.

    " Humans Love Apple Events Because Humans Love Spaceships "
    Wrong .. again.. I HATE apple.. Especially these so called "events"
    LOVE rockets / space / science etc. though, so connection failure here methinks!
    No, (some) people are interested in Apple events because people can't actually go into space yet.. Still ... after all these years.. So what will the masses turn to?
    The next shiney thing to come along that they CAN get their mitts on..

    Blah, blah blah... I'm sure it makes you feel good to be the kind of human you think you all are but the reality is that you are way off the mark. Far from being creatures who "love to see new stuff", humanity is terrified of anything new. What they DO like to see are old, familiar, safe concepts dressed up as something new. Nothing I can think of fits that criteria better than the new MacBook Pro. It looks like the old one and it works like the old one. The change is incremental, at best, and teh new stuff is safely hidden away where it can't scare anyone. Everything about it is safe and familiar - we've seen Retina screens in other devices, Ivy Bridge has been around for a few months now and the rest of it is completely familiar.. Humans love it because it doesn't challenge them in any way.

    At the other end of the scale, Microsoft are trying to unleash something truly new and innovative and are being met with massive resistance from every quarter. So far we have seen just the tip of the iceberg - the catalyst for change, Windows 8, and a handful of amazing devices shown at the recent Computex in Taipei and, just as has been the case with Windows 8 itself, properly innovative, amazing devices like the Asus Taichi are being met with a wave of negativity, based entirely on ignorance and fear of the new.

    Of course, its not just in the technology arena, we see it everywhere today. Young sheeple listen to what is essentially the same music their parents, and even their grandparents, listened to in their youth. e.g. What, really, is the difference between Madonna and Lady Gaga? Lionel Ritchie and Usher? Coldplay and The Eagles? Even beyond the mainstream, alternative music is simply a pale imitation of the real stuff. Where the original 1876 Punk Rock actually meant something, today's version is totally devoid of anything even remotely rebellious.

    The big question that needs to be answered is what has changed since 1969 that has brought this about? I believe it is the slow, inexorable change of our society from patriarchal to matriarchal. Females value security above all else. They are risk-averse in the extreme. If today's society was anyone I know, it would be my mother. The society that sent Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins to the Moon was much more like my father.

    I'm seeing a trend in backlash against Technology, and rightly so.

    First off, the Macbook Pro is amazing and Apple is a pretty solid company with great progress. Though for the world's largest corporations sitting on such wealth and resources, their achievement is extremely disappointing, their efficiency is comparatively poor, but that's free market capitalism, utterly inefficient when monopolies take over and goals align with the shareholders short term quarterly report for consistent short term profit growth.

    The thing is, we're only just starting to understand what Technology actually is. Many of us have a biased view of Technology, we don't realize it neutral. We're starting to realize that even though most people have the computational power that NASA in the past, that fact alone is pretty worthless. None of us individually put a man on the moon, most of us don't even expand our space knowledge. Instead we stay in internet ghettos of our chosen topics, the news we inject is more focused, less democratic than traditional paper, our minds narrowed. We spend half our time in the distraction culture, games , porn and social media, feeding our arousal addictions with light entertainment. We are soo engrossed and distracted that the State need not invest in manipulative public relations and indoctrination anymore. We are subjugating ourselves with great pleasure. Like that hamster who in the science experiment keeps hitting that excitement button until collapse or death, leaving all around him to rot. We increasingly embrace extrinsic values at the cost to the intrinsic values, leading to a culture of destruction. A culture where we pass up the present and the valuable in-exchange for the future and a desire that is insatiable, never to be met. A techno-religion of singularity, or at least, the never ending wait for the solutions to our problems. The thing is, we have all the Technology we need to fix our biggest problems we face, and there are many. We have the Technology, but we lack the application, the desire, the organisation, we have had the Technology for a long time now and soon the guilt of inaction will take us down to our empathic reality. We're smitten with Technology and we're afraid like young lovers, that too much talking might spoil the romance. But its time to talk. What are we really doing here? what are we achieving while an increasing number of people drop dead from starvation every day and the planet loses an insane amount of biodiversity by per day.

    ...wait. Is he trying to say that the entire world sits down and watches Apple keynotes? In the same way they watched NASA launches?

    Hate to break it to you, but tech enthusiasts watch these things. That's it. Lyons gets paid to write stuff like this?

      Great post Sam. Amazing to consider the unused power that sits on people desktops or laps these days and you're dead on with the lack of application. Imagine what you could do with something as simple as the internet, bit torrent and distributed computing. Just know one's willing to ask the question.

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