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Posted at 12:50 PM ET, 09/24/2012

The iPhone 5 sells millions but disappoints

How much do we want to avoid talking to other people?

Well, they’ve sold 5 million iPhones 5 already.

There are two things that people will line up for in Georgetown: iPhones and cupcakes. Both are equally good at enabling you to evade conversation with strangers, either by talking into them or by shoving them in your mouth — although iPhones taste a bit metallic and addressing your cupcake as Siri is generally frowned upon in mixed company.

On Friday, at the Georgetown Apple store, people waiting to buy a new iPhone were in good spirits. Whenever someone emerged from the store, brandishing a new phone, the whole line cheered. Sure, now everyone is complaining about the iPhone 5, but you have to own one first. To explain: I cannot complain about how bland the caviar is at the Ritz-Carlton, but Mitt Romney probably can.

They are the luxury necessities. You don’t need them to survive, but what's the point of life without one? And if we’re restricting ourselves to the things we need to survive, then — well, we might as well be scraping radishes out of the frozen earth! We might as well be dressed in burlap sacks! We might as well still be living in caves, with AT&T!

Apple has brought us to that point — that longed-for pinnacle of human existence, when the only time we need to speak to other humans is to complain about the new iPhone.

And we have right to complain. The prior iPhones all offered the opportunity to avoid a new category of random human interaction. The first iPhone came with the wonder prepackaged. Every new app and upgrade obviated another Traditional Human Interaction. Sick of asking strangers to take pictures of you? Put a camera in the front! There are even apps that send out mating calls to eligible humans in your vicinity for you.

With the advent of the 4S, Siri was there to eliminate the queries that no app quite settled. Want to ask a question out loud but hate the idea of posing it to another person? Apple understands.

But the iPhone 5 actually requires you to interact more with humans — for instance, to ask for directions after wandering lost for several weeks and discovering that you are still in Manhattan and not, as your phone assumes, on the outskirts of Bogota.

This will not stand! It was supposed to keep pressing forward, remembering to ask our wife how her day was and play catch with our children.

The iPhone’s appeal has always been that it enables you to avoid these human interactions. Getting information used to be an involved process that required you to address total strangers and occasionally check out books from libraries under the disapproving eye of women named Marian. Now, you can do it without staring up from your hand.

On the whole, this is progress. You used to talk to people at the dinner table. Now, you sit there tapping a screen under the table, occasionally looking up and agreeing with whatever Grandpa just said.

You used to talk to people on public transportation. Your taxi cab driver would tell you his opinions of things. Strange individuals would approach you on the bus and press pamphlets into your hands. Now you have a screen to stare at. It is amazing how readily people will defer to someone staring into a screen. “Well,” they say with a nod, “I mean, I was going to try to talk to you, but you’re clearly checking e-mail or catapulting animated birds somewhere, so I can wait.” This is harder to pull off with books. “You’re reading static words on a printed page?” people say, with a shudder. “What do you think this is, the Precambrian Era?” “Well, obviously not — ” you begin, but by then it is too late. People are willing to go up against static text, but no one tangles with the Birds.

You used to talk to people on the phone. Between the apps and the reception, thank God, iPhones have done away with that.

Really, the only opportunity you have to talk to people these days is waiting in line to purchase another iPhone. Or complaining about it afterward. Perhaps that was the goal all along.

By  |  12:50 PM ET, 09/24/2012

 
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