Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How Apple Attacks Women

Obviously, Apple hates women. A woman with long fingernails spoke out in the L.A. Times:
"Considering ergonomics and user studies indicating men and women use their fingers and nails differently, why does Apple persist in this misogyny?"
What misogyny, you ask? The one where Apple engineers conspired to confound millions of women by designing the iPhone to be impossible to use with fingernails.

She's not the only one. The Times quoted another woman:
"Why are they still discriminating against those of us with fingernails? Guess it's a Blackberry for me."
Misogyny? Discrimination? Isn't that a little extreme? It might be closer to sexism (not misogyny) if long fingernails were a legitimate sex difference and not merely fashion.

Welcome to the age of consumer entitlement. People think that every product on the market must be perfect for all users, and they -- we -- get indignant when we feel shut out. It's not an oversight. It's not that all products can't be perfect for all users. It's a deliberate slight. It's discrimination, a willful act.

What puzzles me about the reactions to the iPhone is the that they frame the issue as attacks on women and not as a design problem. As the Times notes, it isn't just long fingernails that hinder the use of the iPhone's touch screen. Fat fingers do, too. So maybe we could call it the product anti-overweight. But then that would leave out people who are merely big.

So if you're the woman who thinks this is misogyny, what would you say to someone who suggested you trim your nails? "It's the machine's job to accommodate its users, not the other way around."

This is actually true. I imagine the iPhone would look very different if it were invented by people who always had long nails. Hell, computer keyboards might look different, too.

A stylus won't solve this problem -- not unless it's an electrically charged stylus. The iPhone's touch screen responds to the minute electrical charge in our skin. Which is an advantage in some ways -- it means you can't accidentally make calls by putting the phone in your pocket. It also makes the sliding, scrolling and two-finger motions possible on the screen.

But wait! There is an electrically charged stylus on the market. Isn't this an ideal solution? Or as one of the consultants interviewed by the Times suggested, nail polish that activates the touch screen?

But technology and design are not the issues here. It's how we react to it. Do we personalize everything that runs counter to our experience, or do we look for possibilities outside our own small sphere? Do we assume men who prefer Obama to Clinton aren't ready for a woman president? Or that whites who prefer Clinton aren't ready for a black president? If a shoe company doesn't make wide sizes, are they discriminating against me and my wide-footed brethren?

Or take this post from the shopping blog Racked, in which a reader expresses indignation at the long lines and sold out shelves at Manhattan's only Trader Joe's location:
A 75-people-deep LINE just to have the pleasure of shopping in the wide expanse of 14th Street's Trader Joe's. At what point is TJ corporate going to acknowledge/realize that the demand is wayyyyyy higher than the supply and they aren't exactly selling exclusive couture? OPEN ANOTHER STORE PLEASE!!!!!
You're killing the good people of Manhattan, Joe. We're crying out to you, for the love of God, save us as only retail can.

I don't know. My reaction to the crowds at Trader Joe's is to simply avoid them. I don't shop there because it's not convenient. Rest assured that Trader Joe's corporate is aware that there is a much bigger market here for them.

When things seem to block our progress, do we see it as evidence of a conspiracy against us, or do we look for a way past the barrier?

I blame Pat Buchanan.

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