August 25, 2011

Apple looms large in Twitter’s collective brain; I reckon 75% of the people I know there and on Google+ are Macheads. Today’s news – Steve Jobs steps down due to what is probably terminal illness <grim pun face> – makes me sad, because he’s a person with a family, facing really bad things.

But this whole business around The Succession – remember this has been going on for at least 3 years – reminds me that my relationship with Apple has always been mildly dysfunctional. Apple is an exercise in making people sell things to themselves, and there’s something about the way that brand tries to be a brand without being, like, “a brand” that makes me want to cry.  Here’s a piece I wrote a few months ago but which, for various reasons <discreet>, didn’t get published.

Apple Compound: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

So Apple’s unveiled its plans for a super-duper new HQ. The building, Steve Jobs told a meeting of the Cupertino planning committee in one of his trademark this-is-where-you-all-do-wild-applause presentations, will house up to 12,000 employees on a humongous 150-acre site that Apple bought from HP earlier this year.

There will be trees, lots and lots of trees –  and it’s got its own power-plant! And look, it’s in the shape of a giant circle – could there be a more yingy-yangy metaphor? A gathering of 12,000 like-minded souls in a nurturing-of-innovation environment which expresses its egalitarian drive to functional creativity through its circular form? Who the heck wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Damn, I want to believe, I really do. But I can’t shake the feeling that, instead of being the architectural expression of Apple’s boundless energy and optimism, the building looks an awful lot like the bricks-and-mortar embodiment of their customers’ journey of disillusion.

Let’s unpack the allegory! You approach the building through that gorgeous landscaping. It’s minimal, but simultaneously really, you know, organic.
Through the sliding doors: boy, this first space is startlingly well-composed, so light and airy – it’s like no-one’s ever got the relationship between humans and buildings before!

Onto the next section. Hmm, the layout means you’ll have to make some awkward adjustments to your workflow – but still, in comparison with the last place you were at (a collection of ugly silos) it’s pretty cool! And look – the next space just along from here is just perfect.

And on, and on, as you move round Apple’s circular compound; alternately, spaces you love, and spaces with flaws so fundamental that, if it weren’t for the fact that you’ve already told all your friends that this place rocks some serious awe, you’d consider hurling yourself through one of those giant plate glass windows. Damn, the air-con is on the fritz again.

Back at the start of the circle: instead of exiting as you intended, you somehow find yourself herded, with a host of other souls, towards the up-escalator (there doesn’t seem to be a downwards one). Onwards you sail, up to Level iCloud, where, you finally understand, you will be locked for the rest of eternity. Going round, and round, and round.


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