Steve Jobs, wherever you are, if you can read this, please don't take offense; I really do appreciate all that cool stuff you've built. Actually, this has more to do with how we tend to turn popular consumer goods into symbols that proclaim our financial status.
It's nothing new, really. We've been doing it ever since the first Neanderthal bragged to his homo erectus co-workers about how his new iRock5 could spark fires when synced to his iRock Touch. It may have been just a lot of grunting, but everyone around the tar pit knew he thought of himself as being more evolved.
My issue, rather, is that owning the newest, coolest gadget does not elevate someone to a level where they're somehow better than everyone else. This is a concept I've been trying to instill in my children, despite the tidal wave of influences to the contrary.
The primary method for this is not running out and buying them the latest, greatest whatever as soon as it hits the shelves. (Heck, we're still using a plain oldXbox instead of its 360 upgrade.) And when any of the kids offhandedly mention how much they'd really enjoy having a -- fill in the blank -- after seeing it in a commercial, I respond with the same answer my parents gave me: "You can totally have one... as soon as you get a job and buy it yourself."
The reactions to this are interesting. Most of my five kids mumble something under their breath, but for my oldest stepdaughter and middle son, both nine, this suddenly becomes an opportunity for them to display the same entrepreneurial spirit that made America great.
After scheming, they'll announce their intentions for a new startup -- an in-house candy store, neighborhood dog poop removal, a house cleanup service. These never go anywhere, though. I think it's because their pricing model is out of whack. Five dollars to change out a roll of toilet paper? Sheesh! I can outsource it to the other kids for nothing.
Eventually, though, my oldest stepdaughter and her younger sister did managed to purchase a used iPod Touch from their uncle by pooling their "hard-earned" birthday and Christmas monies together. Yay Capitalism! My first thought upon hearing this from my wife was, "Here comes Armageddon." If there's one thing you don't do as siblings, it's enter in to joint financial ventures together. This would end badly.
In one respect, I guess you could say what transpired next is, in microcosm, similar to the disparity between the upper and middle classes in the United States. It was laudable that Big Sister had used her money, and then raised the additional funds by convinced Little Sister to invest, too. However, when it came to the Return On Investment, Big Sister was the only one benefiting from the pleasures of Angry Birds.
Hiding the iPod, emplacing a security code, and devising self-benefiting rules were only a few of the tactics she used to maximize her control. Although aware a problem existed, my wife and I didn't realize how wide the usage gap had become until Little Sister staged OccupyHallway outside our bedroom, where, in a frustrated voice, she protested the unfairness of it all.
The most irksome part of this was the sense of entitlement Big Sister flaunted in conjunction with her greediness. When talking about the iPod, she referenced it as her iPod, and she talked about it often. My iPod this, and my iPod that.
"Hey, guys, guess what my iPod can do now?"
Your iPod can shut the hell up, that's what it can do.
Being excited about a new toy is one thing, but to Big Sister, owning an iPod meant she had arrived. Now she could associate with the upper crust of the fourth grade who flaunted the iPods and cell phones they had smuggled to school in their backpacks. Suddenly, Big Sister was looking down her nose at the "iPoor," and throwing hissy fits when ordered to share with her sister. In parental oversight speak, this is what's known as "being a snotty brat."
Finally, with the situation nearing an iPlutocracy, regulatory measures were needed after Big Sister bragged about the durability of her iPod.
As opposed to the normal iPrattle, the odd nature of this observation caught her mother's attention. "Whadda ya mean, 'durable'?" she asked.
That's when it was learned that brainiac Big Sister and her brainiac friend had been dropping their iPods from various heights to determine if the protective cases were strong enough to keep the devices from breaking. What happened next can only be described as form of justice swifter thana Nancy Grace nip slip. The iPod was confiscated by Mother, who also administered a nice lecture on appreciating what you have and the consequences of abusing privilege -- in this case, Big Sister could kiss the iPod goodbye until after filing her first 1040EZ.
In the weeks that followed, Big Sister felt the sting in learning that, when it comes to material wealth, self-worth isn't measured in dollar signs, and shouldn't be confused with self-importance. But she wasn't the only one with a lesson to learn. Little Sister found out that you need to be careful about demanding that things be fair and equal.
As the ruling entity, my wife didn't simply turn the iPod over to her much maligned daughter, but rather, loaded up her own music and took it to work. Now neither of my stepdaughter's has an iPod. Fair and equal? You could say that.
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