Community and Technology

Christine Whelan | Posted on 06/25/10

Social critics worry that technology separates us from real, interpersonal interactions. Maybe. But yesterday, as I waited in line for more than four hours for the iPhone 4 at the Apple Store in Pittsburgh, community was alive and well.

Initially, I arrived at 6:45 a.m., but bailed out after an hour of standing in line. At that point, somewhere between 150 and 200 people were ahead of me.

After my morning meeting, I rejoined the line at 10:20. There were a different 125 or so folks ahead of me. At first, I listened to Stieg Larson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest on my iPod Touch. But then, the skies got darker, and the guy next to me said something about rain.

Since I live a few blocks from the Apple Store, I offered to bring umbrellas for the group. I dashed home, got three umbrellas, and just before the short summer downpour hit, a group of five of us waiting in line made a tent of the three umbrellas and huddled under. We started chatting.

One guy was in line to get his daughter a new phone; he'd taken a day off of work. Another guy was getting a pass from his boss because he worked at a tech company, and the boss wanted to see the new technology himself. Another guy was a student with some time to kill. They told me about apps that they liked on their iPhone 3Gs. We chatted about our families.

Two hours went by fast as we made small-talk, swapped opinions on the iPad, debated the benefits and drawbacks of jailbreaking the iPhone and other topics of common interest.

I offered to get lunch. The father getting his daughter the new phone handed me $20 and off I went to fetch sandwiches. (I was happy to walk around a bit rather than just stand.) We ate in line and chatted some more.

Another hour went by.

When the bouncer gave me the nod, a sales representative shook my hand. It took about 20 minutes to correctly input and transfer my information from Verizon to AT&T, and then I was passed off to a perky, smiling woman who would help me download my contacts, and make sure the iPhone was fully operational.

She handed me the box. "You do the honors," she said.

With glee, I ripped off the plastic and reverently lifted the lid off the box. Minutes later, I was out the door, waving my new iPhone for the world to see.

Things to note:

  1. Community is alive and well: I chatted with perfect strangers for four hours. We had lunch together, shared umbrellas in the rain, and I feel sort of bummed that we never got to say a proper goodbye. Maybe this is why an online dating website for Apple aficionados isn't such a crazy idea. 
  2. Trust is alive and well: A perfect stranger handed me $20 and watched me walk away with it.
  3. The good folks at Apple understand consumer psychology: I experienced child-like glee as I opened the iPhone 4 box. And the sales representative knew to encourage me to open the box myself to experience that rush of "new toy love."
  4. Experiences are more valuable than things. Which is why I'm happy I spent the day in line for the iPhone 4. The payoff at the end was much more satisfying

And now I'm off to play with my new iPhone.

 

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