The year 1984 marked a turning point with significant cultural and technological implications that set the stage for the trajectory of the 21st century. The iconic Apple advertisement during Super Bowl XVIII and the launch of the Macintosh computer marked the beginning of what is referred to as the “long 21st century.” The ad, inspired by George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, symbolized a techno-optimism that would shape the coming decades.
Apple’s introduction of the Macintosh represented a shift in computing technologies, offering a user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing design that hid the complexities of the machine. This design philosophy, established by the Macintosh, influenced subsequent Apple products, including the immensely successful iPhone launched in 2007. The iPhone, with its controlled and proprietary environment, exemplifies both the attractive and repulsive aspects of life in the 21st century.
While the iPhone provides access to various technologies, it operates within a sealed and controlled environment, masking the human labor and resources involved in its production. This move towards a design that conceals the underlying mechanisms has extended to other aspects of daily life, such as cars and appliances designed to resemble the sleek and iconic features of the iPhone. The result is a world where technology appears as magic, divorced from the human labor and conditions that make it possible.
The embrace of such designs has blinded society to the real conditions faced by many individuals globally, particularly those involved in the production of technology. The metaphor of a gated device parallels the concept of gated communities that gained popularity during the Reagan era. Both offer an illusion of security, exclusivity, and control.
Reagan’s re-election in 1984 established a commitment to market fundamentalism and technological optimism that influenced subsequent leaders, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The techno-optimism imposed by Apple and the dominance of neoliberalism shaped the global political landscape. However, as the 21st century progresses, questions arise about the promises of democratization and liberation through technology and free markets.
The article suggests that the simple narrative of progress and liberation sold by Apple and Reagan may not have led to the positive outcomes promised. Democracy faces challenges, networked computers impact relationships and communities, economies are increasingly stratified, and politics lack a positive vision for the future. The author contends that heeding the warnings of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four rather than succumbing to techno-optimism might have yielded different outcomes.