What I learnt from crotch-rubbing: you can condition people into anything
Apple invented expensive wristwatches and free U2 but I invented NostrilTime
Today’s column is late because I got sidetracked by a Guardian headline that asked Why is British R&B being ignored?
Well I thought the answer was obvious: because R&B is sodding dreadful.
You can excuse Americans loving R&B since they don’t have much choice – all their great musicians are dying of old age or rightly withdrawing their catalogue from odious streaming services. For them, there’s nothing left to listen to. But British music is a bit odd, often surprising and always the envy of the world. Who in their right mind who lives in Britain would go out of their way to buy shit like R&B when they don’t have to?
I guess us Brits have been conditioned into expecting something more than the same old bollocks day in and day out. In the States, however, the music industry is so calcified, it keeps giving the same award to the same person every year. It has no choice because all their music sounds identical at the moment. Conditioning, right?
This reminded me of something I wrote about conditioned musical tastes nearly nine years ago just after Apple invented the wristwatch, or at least that’s how it came across at one of Tim Cook’s early attempts at delivering a Jobs-style keynote. Besides, didn’t Apple previously invent the personal computer, the internet and other stuff? – you know, er, the motor car, trees, pizza, kittens, that sort of thing?
Take a trip back with me to September 2014. Here’s what I wrote…
Ah, Peter. Did he shag last night?
We would know when Peter had scored the evening before because he’d walk into the office rubbing his crotch. The “lucky” girl to have been the subject of his special favours would invariably trot in a few paces behind, beaming smugly at her colleagues.
These were the 1980s. Today everyone is obsessed with arses – Miley Cyrus’s arse, Kim Kardashian’s arse, Rhiannarse’s arse – but back then it was the Decade Of The Crotch. It wasn’t just uncouth scaffolders and Traci Lords who rubbed their crotches, either: Michael Jackson did it, child-friendly Five Star did it, and while Larry Blackmon didn’t, you couldn’t help staring at his.
Defining himself by his virility rather than his appreciation of post-modern feminism, Peter enjoyed a variety of casual relationships with willing members of staff. And over time, we came to associate Peter’s 9am nob-kneading to mean that he’d had sex with the very next person to enter the room behind him.
Often the rest of us in the open-plan office would sit in anticipation of his arrival, wondering whether he’d scored the previous night. If he turned up while rubbing his crotch, the excitement would, er, mount further as we looked around to see who was missing from their desks and tried to guess with whom he’d scored before she walked in a couple of seconds later. Sometimes, bets were placed. And if Peter wasn’t tackle-tickling on his arrival, the room would resound with a communal sigh of disappointment.
On one occasion, his dramatic arrival was inadvertently hijacked by Andy, who was suffering from the previous night’s curry. Exiting the toilet at precisely the wrong moment, he managed to step between Peter and his latest girlfriend as they entered the building and passed through reception.
Imagine our delight to see Peter striding onto the floor, proudly rubbing his crotch, followed by Andy, gingerly picking at his backside, followed by the girlfriend, looking confused. There was uproar as the entire office pissed themselves with laughter.
The theme of this anecdote is classical conditioning. Through repetition, we expected a specific series of events to take place, and even though there was an interruption of these events, we interpreted them according to our conditioned response. We knew Peter had not had sex with Andy – believe me, you’ve not seen Andy – but it was amusing to have the thought automatically pop into your head that he might have done.
They say you should never analyse comedy.
It is also my clumsy way of trying to interpret the negatively conditioned response to Apple’s mishmash presentation this week [Dabbsnote: Remember, I was writing this in September 2014] . I say “mishmash” because it was made up of a launch, a promise and an incoherent musical freebie.
The new bigger iPhones need no comment from me, or indeed from anyone else in the whole world. They were iPhones. They were new. They were bigger.
Now, the Apple Watch – that’s interesting. Why, you ask? Why should such a disappointing, shiny turd that looks like the kind of cheap crap you buy from the ‘Jouets Cassés’ section of a French supermarket to keep the kids quiet during a long continental road journey be interesting, you ask?
Well, conditioning had prepared me to dislike the Apple Watch regardless of its merits… and yet it made me yearn for a return to wrist-wearable tech.
Whoever first thought of strapping a clock to their arm was definitely on to something. Before that, people had to fish a fob watch on a chain from a pocket or the dark recesses of their petticoats. Waistcoat-wearing hipsters and posho Victorian Tory politicians aside, no-one really wants to do that any more because it makes you look like a dick.
Instead, tech fans have tended to get into the habit of checking the time using their smartphones – which, if you haven’t realised, still makes you look like a dick. No, really, it’s clumsy and fussy and makes you look like a no-mates checking social media every two seconds to see if your last post went viral, you sad, sorry bastard.
Put some of that smartphone tech on a watch, and it’s more convenient to use and cooler to operate.
There are some important limitations, however. It was noted that Apple did not slap FaceTime into its watch. Want to know why? Well, here’s me talking to you on FaceTime on my iPhone:
You know what they say about holding the camera high for selfies? Chin up, brow down. That’s the way. Now imagine I put that camera on the back of my wrist. This is what I’d look like making a video call from a wristwatch:
If it was a personal call, I might lean in to whisper into the microphone, in which case I’d probably look more like this:
They could call it NostrilTime. This is not how Brains and Mr Tracy communicated, that’s for sure.
Forget all that videowatch nonsense, it’s dead in the water. What I liked about Apple Watch – and what most people hated – is that it’s really nothing more than a remote control for the proper computer already located on your person: your smartphone.
To me, reaching for a smartphone and fiddling with it for every single brilliant little thing it does is ungainly and uncool. It’s like the day you invited your friends round to see the VHS video player your parents had bought, and you spent the entire afternoon crawling back and forth between the sofa and the TV just to operate the massive cash-register-style keys every time they wanted you to demonstrate FF, REW, PAUSE or PLAY.
Wow, you say, Apple Watch is one damn expensive remote control… and you’d be correct. But what is a remote control other than a convenient user interface to a bigger system? We’re surrounded by these interfaces and we’re already prepared to pay lots of money for them.
What is a TV other than a remote screen interface to someone else’s broadcast transmitter or online video library? So you’ve paid your TV licence and bought a Netflix subscription, does this mean you’re going to start complaining that you have to pay for the TV set as well? It’s the quality and usability of the interface, not the raw tech, that makes the whole product lovely to use.
Ah, but then the Internet generation has been conditioned into expecting everything for free, or at least ad-supported. Fine, get yourself a free watch that flashes up ads for Mac Defender every two fucking seconds. Enjoy.
More conditioning was in evidence at the end of the Apple keynote when U2 turned up on stage, played a bit and gave away their new album on iTunes – for free. That’s a free album given away within a software program that Apple also gives away for free.
Yet people still complained.
These people tell me that U2 are old and corny and that Apple must be out of touch if they didn’t understand that people LOVE or HATE bands with a passion. By giving away a U2 album, I’m told, Apple will alienate millions of customers who HATE the band and everything it stands for.
Well, this might be true if you’re a seven-year-old. Grow the fuck up, eh?
Oh no, as soon as U2 took to the stage, the interwebs were full of trolls furiously demanding to know why Apple hadn’t struck a deal instead with Cradle of Filth or Half Man Half Biscuit.
They reminded me of a rich dickhead I met in my student days who wouldn’t speak to his mum for two weeks because the new car she’d bought him hadn’t been delivered with the personalised number plates he’d asked for.
One theory that arose soon afterwards, as people blew blood vessels at Apple’s effrontery in putting 11 free tracks in their free iCloud accounts accessible with their free copies of iTunes, was that Apple was testing fresh ways of pushing unsolicited sample music at customers en masse. Nice conspiracy theory, guys, but there are cheaper ways of running user acceptability testing… unless perhaps Apple wanted to get into the Guinness Book of Records for the most expensive UAT project ever.
That’s not to say I did not suffer from my own conditioned response to the Apple presentation. When Tim Cook returned on stage to thank U2 for playing their song, it was exactly like a head teacher congratulating Year 9 after the school play. For dads around the world, this lame-o, cringeworthy part of the show was justifiably hilarious.
Not quite as good as the tale of Peter’s groin and Andy’s arse, but perhaps that’s just as well for Tim and Bono.
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. His sister-in-law once bought him Achtung Baby on cassette tape but he feels U2 never surpassed their rain-drenched performance at Red Rocks in 1983. He is also curious to know what Americans would have made of it if Apple really had done the deal with Half Man Half Biscuit instead. Surely a match made in Birkenhead.
Don't forget Crap (the 'c' is silent). That's dreadful, too.
I was watching TV just now and a ski advert came on. And they'd used bloody rap as the background music. It just doesn't work. What next, Slipknot selling sanitary products?
Mind you, it doesn't bloody work on Planet Rock, either, when the ads come on and they keep playing that Just Eat one with annoying R&B, or that summer holiday company which has used 'Most Wonderful Time of the Year', only for it to break into R&B half way through. And the more annoying the ad, the more likely it is to be played at the beginning and end of each ad break.
Christ Almighty, it's Dorian Gray's selfies.