The Fashionable Thing

Neil Leadbeater

The most important question sociologists are asking these days is “where were you when company X launched the i-phone?”

“Oh, I was halfway between Queen Street and Wellington Square when the red ribbon snapped and the crowd surged forward in a sea of expectancy…” somebody said.

“Yes, but where were YOU?”

“I was in a dilemma.”

“I was over the moon.”

“I was off-limits.”

The answers came flying back in a virtual continuum.

“And what were you wearing?”

“A smile.”

“Lipstick.”

“Dolce and Gabbana.”

“Were you aware that this was going to be an historic moment?”

“Oh, yes, definitely. A defining moment. Although it was only later that I learned that universities had re-shaped the curriculum to coincide with events: European History from 1650 until the time when company X launched the i-phone; Language and the i-phone; The Politics of the i-phone; Economics after the i-phone.

Life changed that day. The sociologists say so. Everyone remembers what they were doing They all know what they were wearing. Now we divide every aspect of our lives into the time before and the time after THE BIG EVENT. Even the mannequins (who were not wearing anything) walked out of the shop fronts and wiped the smile from their faces. Yes, they acquired a life of their own because everyone else was giving theirs up in order to buy the i-phone. Conversation died that day. The quiet contemplation of nature slipped by unnoticed.

“Who were YOU with that day?”

“Mary Quant, Vivienne Westwood and Yves St Laurent (metaphorically speaking).”

“What were YOU doing that day?”

“I was going for a job interview. I wore a mini in midnight blue and spent most of the interview crossing and uncrossing my legs. It was the best dialogue on offer and they bought it wholesale as they always do. They gave me the job.”

“What were you driving?”

“A hard bargain.”

What did you say to the interviewer?”

“I said I know how to use the i-phone…would you like to see my i-phone?…He really liked it.”

Face-to-face contact lost its connectedness that day. Reactions to sights and sounds were nullified. The wider wonder of the outside world shrank to the counterpane and the art of living was reduced to a few digital routine manoeuvres, heads bowed down in subservience to that all-important phone…

“What did you have in your handbag?”

“Estée Lauder”

“Estée Lauder”

“Estée Lauder”

“And what did you do next?”

“I remember walking into the opticians and asking if I could select a pair of glasses. I had to explain that I didn’t want an eye test, that my vision was 20/20. The glasses were just for wearing on top of the head – a sort of fashion statement.”

“We get a lot of requests like that,” they said. “I take it you just want the frames?”

Now for a moment of reflection.

Our i-phone, which art in our hand, your time has come. Your will be done. Give us this day our connections. Forgive us for not paying attention to anything else when it is now no longer meaningful; lead us not into the temptation of buying the next version and the version after that (whenever that will be) and deliver us from technological failure for this is the only thing that is important to us anymore – the power and the icon. For ever and ever, O.K.

Next month, it will be so last year.

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