Apple iPhone Hype Seeds Kids Consumerism

iphone-hand-sfgate.jpg“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Adults chiding each other like spoiled brats to be the first on the block to try, review, diss, or blather about the iPhone makes me want to hang up on the blatant disconnect between what parents preach and teach about mass media.

Some industry brass were miffed they weren’t sent one for free, others cluck and strut about their ‘inside channels’ for procurement, and the average joe seems to be clamoring for this status symbol d’jour like black market goods on the Silicon Valley circuit. (or a kindergarten slot at a decent public school!) C’mon now folks; we really need to dial this down.

The haughty arrogance of the entitlement message is part of the ‘what you have is who you are’ zeitgeist we’re trying to shift here at Shaping Youth. When people go gaga over the latest gizmo it doesn’t do us any favors. (NYTimes iPhone Diary video is a hit)

Kids see that THINGS are powerful status tools lobbed into pop culture with must-have mania like The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmes book. Is it any wonder consumerism is being mirrored on the playground at ever younger ages?

Mind you, Gizmodo, the entertaining gadget guide carries the tag, “So much in love with shiny new toys, it’s unnatural.” It’s clever, upfront about its geek chic specialization, and helpful to boot, with this pithy iPhone Review Matrix of “Wisdom of the In-Crowd!” It reads:

“If you were too lazy to actually read the four iPhone reviews that came out last night, we’ve done the hard part and stuck the most salient tidbits into a chart, hoping to see both agreement and dissent among the elders…”

“…David Pogue of the New York Times, Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, Ed Baig of USA Today and Steven Levy of Newsweek. (What happened to Lev Grossman at Time Magazine? He usually gets the Apple stuff early too.)

That’s informational buzz…that doesn’t bother me a bit.

I’m more leery of kids’ hype.

Many KIDS can tell you exactly WHEN the iPhone debuts, which YouTube video or Apple ad they liked the best, who among their peers will be most likely to iPhone (yes, it’ll be a verb soon) and why it’s more than a phone, it’s an ‘experience.’

The high price tag leaves all but the most affluent youth market out of the loop, but the behavioral silliness of adults ‘camping out’ to stake their claim to the sleek touch screen sensation and paying homage to the Apple design gurus and brilliance sans everyday usability data is just plain ol’ media and marketing hooey, playing ‘hard to get.’

It DOES look amazing, no argument there, my point is simply this—

(warning, this sounds like a hackneyed ‘clean your plate, people are starving’ spiel from childhood)

…When we’ve got a war going on, sustainability issues, disease and genocide, somehow kids gobbling up the Apple iPhone hype as the “big news of the day” leaves a bit of a sour after taste.

As classic children’s author Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) said,

“There must be more to life than having everything!”

iPhone Photo credit:

June 29 update: In keeping with the tonality, just got an e-mail ping with the minimalist headline, “It’s here.” Again, beautiful brand marketing, but awfully warped when we start treating product launches as the second coming. And yes, it looks lovely and very, very cool.

Gee, let’s see, for $34, the UN World Food Programme can feed a child for a year…THAT might put the iPhone $500 hype in some much needed perspective for kids AND adults.



  1. I notice that you comment about our book, THE BERENSTAIN BEARS GET THE GIMMIES, in connection with the I-phone craze. You might be interested in our new book about the perils of consummerism, THE BERENSTAIN BEARS AND THE TROUBLE WITH COMMERCIALS. We have written other books on this theme, too:

    Mike Berenstain

  2. Mike, this is fabulous and fits with our mission at Shaping Youth! Let’s do an interview and get you into our consortium pronto, it’s a perfect fit! We’re using the power of media for positive change and building a force of media producers/marketers interested in shifting messaging to kids towards a more positive worldview.

    Click ‘about us’, Google me, or just e-mail for more… Excited to connect, thanks for the comment…

  3. Unrelated to the iphone…(I’ll repost this on your Kellogg’s/childhood obesity and body image sections) but wanted to make you aware of this asap, Amy! I just read an article that I found to be very disturbing…on “diabulima”..when Type I diabetics skip or reduce insulin injections to lose weight – these girls have to carefully watch their food/calorie intake anyways, and have found that if they “skip” injections their bodies lose their ability to process sugars, hence, weight loss to keep up with our “ultrathin” beauty standards! As we all know, it is a death sentence for them to skip these injections and to risk kidney failure….
    I found this to be so disturbing!


  4. Interesting post. I’m afraid I’ve contributed to this type of poor example in the past. Not with the iPhone, but certainly the Wii. I think Gen X’ers in particular are bad about this because we were the first generation to grow up with video games and gadgets. It’s become so second nature to my kids, and there is such an overwhelming number of products out there, they don’t seemed to be phased too much. In fact, most of the time they can’t figure out what all the fuss it about – it’s just another cell phone.

  5. Oddly enough, I’m working on a follow-up article about the Wii right now! had a heckuva commentary today in the paper and it echoed the same dynamic and coast to coast thrill pill of being the ‘first’ to acquire all the hip-n-happenin’ gizmos…

    I dunno…I guess we reap what we sow; just feel we need to dial it down a bit from a modeling standpoint and get kids thinking about what’s ‘really important’…

    I’m part of the Women Leaders for the World symposium coming up 7-22-29 at SCUniversity and I’m excited to expose my daughter to a media producer in Pakistan for some perspective on the whole ‘global’ snapshot of the USA’s consumerism (not to mention appearance-based culture) —should be insightful.

    Stay tuned…

    Um…so, er…uh…did you get the Wii?

    I hear they’re hawking on ebay for almost double…supply and demand scalping. sigh. 😉 —Best, Amy

  6. Mobile Insider just posted this article on the features capabilities of the beastie, so aside from the ‘kids-consumerism’ dynamic, I’ll add this to the comments section for those interested in iPhone usability issues:

    “IPhoning It In
    by Steve Smith, Thursday, July 5, 2007—MOBILE INSIDER, a MediaPost Publication”

    “I TOLD you so.I was sorely tempted to write this column from my iPhone just to demonstrate how hard it really is to type without tactile feedback for extended periods. Worse, Apple only lets you use the virtual keyboard in portrait mode, which makes each key an even tighter target. But I’ve already had to wait for YouTube, Google Maps and this column to load via the AT&T (rusty) EDGE network. How much pain can an aging critic handle? I only have so much time left on this earth, and I don’t plan to spend much of it typing on my iPhone.

    There, I said it. I did in the end buy one, and I spent a couple of days living with its technical wonders and befuddling idiosyncrasies. I will save the details for a full review in an upcoming issue of OMMA. For now, my biggest concern involves how closed a platform this really is. We complain about the walled garden some carriers erected around their decks, but Apple’s is for now the most restrictive deck of all. How are they getting a pass on this? As I started trying to use the iPhone as a media platform in the same way I have Windows Mobile, Verizon’s Brew and the various more open Java-based platforms, I started feeling restricted very quickly.

    Two days of iPhoning raise a lot more questions than they answer about what direct role this device and Apple will play in mobile marketing.

    To what degree can I customize this thing with generally available off-deck ringtones and wallpapers, for instance? So far, the iTunes store offers nothing for me, since it seems that the ringtone strategy wasn’t finalized in time for last week’s release. Enterprising Apple-philes discovered some indications in iTunes and in earlier Apple demos of a ringtone tool that will let you turn any song you buy from Apple into a tone. But how third parties push their branded or promotional tones to the phone is a mystery to me.

    Virtually all of the off-deck mobile video services I have been talking about in recent weeks, MyCorner, MyWaves, etc. won’t work. Right now I am having trouble getting simple WAP pushes for anything to show up in the SMS messaging service. Google’s push worked and pushed me to their WAP page of services formatted for mobile screens, but I have a lot of SMS messages out there waiting to show up on my iPhone.

    Many (and I do mean many) Web pages in this browser show up with big gaping white holes where the Flash marquee and rich media apps/ads are supposed to be. Welcome back to Web 1.5.

    What are the opportunities for brand advertisers to offer free applications on a deck that partnered with Google and Yahoo for maps, weather, and stocks — but no one else? I have tried the Web-based Widgets indexed at the IPhone Application List, but I am absolutely unconvinced that Web apps are a solution at all. The AccuWeather widget is the most mature branded one I have seen. Web-based widgets are not the worst idea, especially if the icon for it could be present at the top level of the iPhone deck. But as it is, these applications simply become bookmarks in the Safari browser — several levels down from top-of-mind presence.

    From a mobile marketing perspective, we have already heard many in the industry wax enthusiastic about what the iPhone represents: an elegant solution to the problem of mobile interfaces and unnecessary complexity; making the mobile data channel more visible to all; energizing the richer platform of the smart phone category. There is no doubt, this is a gorgeous piece of technology, and I can’t wait to see much of it show up in my next iPod, where I think it will matter to more people. All that being said, it is a very different matter to find the mobile marketing entry points into Apple and the iPhone.

    If there were a big question mark widget on my iPhone, that would be the query I would most want answered at this point.”–Steve Smith, Mobile Insider

  7. 7-6-07 Update from “Just an Online Minute by Wendy Davis/Media Post”

    “It hasn’t been the best week for AT&T. First, the company — the exclusive wireless carrier for Apple’s new iPhone — wasn’t able to activate service for some of the device’s purchasers. Since Apple designed the iPhone so that the music, video and Web services only work after the phone has been activated, those buyers were left with useless “iBricks” until AT&T could fix the glitch.

    AT&T eventually got people set up, but now faces another problem: “DVD Jon,” the same software guru who figured out how to defeat DVD copying restrictions, also came up with a way to activate the iPhone’s music, video and WiFi services without going through AT&T.

    As with his other workarounds, Jon Lech Johansen made the information publicly available, in this case in the July 3 post, “iPhone Independence Day,” on his blog, “So Sue Me.” The technique appears to work, according to today’s Wall Street Journal. The paper tracked down at least one user, Jean Sebastien, in Paris (where no wireless companies are providing iPhone service), who was able to use the workaround to browse the Web and use the phone’s iPod features.

    Sebastien isn’t alone, at least going by some of the blog posts on the issue. What’s driving people to turn to this workaround clearly isn’t thriftiness; after all, these are the same users who shelled out up to $600 for a new gadget. Instead, it seems that these users simply resent being forced to deal with AT&T, either out of principle, or for more practical reasons, such as the set-up glitches that occurred over the weekend, or the company’s relatively slow mobile Web network, or sometimes spotty reception.

    Some observers have already predicted that Apple and/or AT&T will update its software to defeat this workaround. Of course, even if that happens, DVD Jon and others will figure out — and post — ways to get around the new software. Ultimately, the only long-term fix is going to come from giving consumers the mobile service options they want.”

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