COLUMN: I have seen the future — in a mall

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, May 1, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. I feel a little sheepish putting this out there after last week’s episode of South Park, but what can a guy do about that?

I have seen the future – in a mall
By Aaron J. Brown

We recently broke loose of our parental responsibilities to visit our state’s prominent metropolitan area, a cauldron of relative population and splendor. We saw a play. We ate steaks. We learned freeway tricks to whisk from our hotel to many fancy places, such as malls.

We honed our urban driving skills before forgetting them on the long journey back to our north woods dirt road which breaks up rough in the spring. Big trucks and buses get stuck out there on our dirt road sometimes and I stroll out there to call out, “Stuck, huh? Need anything?” And they don’t because they need to not be stuck and I don’t own anything with a trailer hitch, which makes me an especially frustrating kind of looky-loo. In truth, I am neither country nor city mouse, but just a mouse who spends a lot of time on the internet with like-minded rodents.

Which brings me to one of our stops in the big city. Christina was having a problem with her laptop’s power supply cord so we had to visit the fabled Apple Store at the Rosedale Mall. I say fabled because you’re either aware of this place and what goes on there or you aren’t, and your position in this debate would closely mirror your opinion of “the world these days.” A recent post at the Hunch Blog ( explains the demographic tendencies of Mac and PC users. Older, conservative math people would prefer PCs. Younger, liberal language people would prefer Macs. Naturally, all data comes with variables.

A bright-eyed attentive hostess greeted us at the Apple Store, asking us our business before we entered. Did we have an appointment at the “genius bar?” No, we did not. She whipped out an iPad, flittering her fingers over its surface. We would need to talk to Futura. (Her name wasn’t Futura, but it is now). Futura also tapped at her Starcorder and told us, we’re in luck, there would be an opening at the bar in a few minutes.

This is, in fact, what happened, but is in no way a full description of what was going on around us. Walking deeper into the store the walls seem to close into a tighter, illuminated square. Oh, the square glasses and cargo pants in this place! Nerds, yes, scads of them, but more: an epic spectrum of Apple product stereotypes teemed up the walls and over the displays in this store. We could have gotten Ira Glass elected to Congress. That is, if any of us were willing to make eye contact, which we weren’t.

The bustling crowd on an otherwise mundane Thursday afternoon, the sleek decoration, the glistening products, none of that bothered me. The staff was friendly and knowledgeable, as was expected. No, the alarming part of the experience was the shear zeal of everyone there. The staff not only wore uniforms, but uniforms layered in a way that with every flutter of clothing a new way to display the Apple logo became revealed. I wondered if they wore Apple underwear, attempting to do so in appropriate ways. Where most stores have interlopers wandering in, the customers here were like fetishists begging for the up sell. “Tell me about the iPad 2. Please. Tell me, again.”

The Apple Store is really just a specific, rarefied manifestation of the attitudes you see from people who own and operate Apple hardware. These devices are technological marvels, sure, but perform a function similar to many other computers that do not enjoy such reverence. Why? Form is function. Brand identification allows us to make the objects we use part of our own identity, which is really what our modern lives are all about.

Once, people identified with objects they made themselves or that were passed down through the generations. While I doubt my iPod Touch will make it down to my grandchildren, I can’t help but marvel at the way human minds are changing with technology. I can’t tell you whether or not to go to the Apple Store. You’ve already decided, haven’t you?

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and college instructor from the Iron Range. He is the author of the blog and the book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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