Status Flight and the Gendering of Google Glass

Status Flight and the Gendering of Google Glass

masculine-cellphone-original

Think back (if you’re old enough) to when very few people had cell phones, back when they were huge and expensive. When you picture someone using one of those cumbersome early cell phones, whom do you picture? Is it a white guy in a suit, maybe wearing a Rolex and 1980s sunglasses? Yeah, I thought so. When they first came out, cell phones—like pretty much every brand new, expensive technology—were status markers. A cell phone said, “I am wealthy, I am powerful, and I am so important that people must be able to reach me even when I am away from my home or office.”

Cell phones got smaller of course, and less expensive, and more common. Elites were saved, however, by the arrival of the touchscreen smartphone. Though not as pricey as the first cellular phones, the first iPhones were still expensive and hard to get; even with a $499 price point and a mandatory two-year contract with AT&T, people stood in line at Apple stores for hours to get their hands on one. The iPhone became an instant status symbol in 2007—but fast-forward to 2013, and what now? There’s roughly a zillion different touchscreen smartphone models on the market. The iPhone itself is available on all four major US carriers (without unlocking); from three feet away, a brand new $849 iPhone 5 is pretty much indistinguishable from a used $90 iPhone 4. Once an exciting status symbol, even the touchscreen smartphone has become plebeian and mundane.

Here’s a thing that happens: elites (and people in general) like status symbols, but when status symbols become too easy to obtain and thus lose their status-signifying power, elites begin to dislike those things—and to look for new status symbols to replace them.

An app that uses Instagram to find lobbyists.

An app that uses Instagram to find lobbyists.

This week, Justin Elliott wrote about new House Financial Services Committee chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) attending a weekend getaway with banking industry officials.

One of the ways he found out who was at the getaway was by using the Instagram photo sharing service, which turned up a snowy snapshot taken by Len Wolfson, a lobbyist for the Mortgage Bankers Association (which had contributed to Hensarling’s PAC). Wolfson has since set his account to private.

The Instagram site has no search function, so finding shots like this can take a lot of digging. However, Instagram has an API with a “Media Search” endpoint that returns data both by timeframe and distance from a certain latitude and longitude — a perfect way to see who’s at a certain place at a certain time.

How to be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity

How to be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity

via Meghan J

These kinds of experiences are difficult to narrativize. There is no story arc. In “On Being Ill,” Virginia Woolf writes:

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light…it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature. Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia… But no; … literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear.

This is, of course, the romantic view. Sometimes it’s not true; sometimes I’m the same asshole I was before I got sick. But as Susan Sontag once wrote, “illness exacerbates consciousness.” As such, my life has been irrevocably changed by the experience of illness. There is a lot of shame associated with disease. Disease is not polite conversation, and at my age, a career—not wellness—is the expected goal.

I give voice to this period of my life not as an inconvenient period, but as a profound one worthy of being shared. I want to valorize my time in ways that have nothing to do with work, to say a big “fuck you” to every person at a dinner party who has ever pointedly asked me, “So…what do you do?” because I haven’t “done” much in a long time. The story I’m telling here is equal parts a processing of the trauma of illness and an exploration of how the body is treated under the regime of capitalism. Stories of illness like mine should not be kept away in beds and in hospital wards. They should be written so that we can understand the body as something beyond a sheet of plain glass.