In a recent Time Magazine article by Lev Grossman, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivered a broadside against Apple CEO Tim Cook. However, the incoherent blast only served to clarify a bankrupt philosophy by the social networking magnate.
When an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product.
The context here is that Tim Cook has been making Apple's focus on privacy a selling point, and he's been reminding us that privacy comes at a cost via products that deliver genuine value. In contrast free services attempt to seduce us with no charges upfront, but attack our privacy, often deceptively and for profit. Deep into the Time Magazine article, author Grossman quoted a response by Mr. Zuckerberg to Mr. Cook's philosophy.
A frustration I have is that a lot of people increasingly seem to equate an advertising business model with somehow being out of alignment with your customers ... I think it’s the most ridiculous concept. What, you think because you’re paying Apple that you’re somehow in alignment with them? If you were in alignment with them, then they’d make their products a lot cheaper!
There is a modern school of thought that says people's needs aren't being served properly. As a result, there are business opportunities. If only a company can burrow deeply enough into people's psyche, learn their needs, the company can better deliver goods and services, Johnny-on-the spot. Presumably, the customer will be happier because they were exposed to just what they needed and then made an immediate purchase decision.
Tim Cook: Christmas Scrooge or Saint?
This is the modern advertising model. If you live on this plane of existence, then it's very natural to respond as Mr. Zuckerberg did. He's earned his fortune by learning about people's preferences, likes and dislikes, and delivering targeted advertising. This is all very good, from a certain perspective, because the merchant is more successful in acquiring wealth and the customer is more satisfied.
But when you're locked into that mode of thinking, it's hard to step outside it and consider things from a different perspective.
The Curmudgeonly Human
From my perspective, human beings should be, by habit, a bit contrarian. Not everything that is desired should be bought. Indeed, even things that people might even genuinely believe they need should occasionally be declined.
There is a frame of mind that most humans would think meritorious. Namely, a modest, considered, parsimonious, thoughtful approach to acquiring things. So often, people become manipulated into buying something they think need—only to find out later that it was wanting. Time and treasure were wasted.
The gulf between the child whose Christmas toy is broken an hour after the present is opened and the adult on Facebook who is daily maneuvered into wanting a material possession is not as great as they might believe.
And this is where Apple comes in.
Apple and Values
What Mr. Zuckerberg didn't understand about Mr. Cook's comment was that Mr. Cook was not slamming the respectable practice of advertising fine products for the benefit of company and consumer. Instead, Mr. Cook was subtly referring to a core value at Apple.
Apple, as we know makes products that change people's lives for the better. Millions of words have been written about the craftsmanship, tactile feel, quality and appreciation of human factors. All Apple customers know this. And they know they'll have to pay a premium to get it. A modern example is the iPhone 6 and Apple Pay.
On the other hand, free is as free does.
As a result, when Apple presents a product, it isn't trying to create an artificial demand. Rather, Apple creates products that stand on their merits as something worthy to be used, and used with a quiet, happy appreciation. Apple knows that the tremendous work they put into designing its products will pay off in terms of profits. But, as Sir Jonathan Ive at Apple has often said, profits are merely a happy byproduct—a consequence— superior design.
Regrettably, there are only a few kinds of products that Apple wants to engage in, and there a few products that merit this particular Apple brand of excellence. That's why Apple's product line is small compared to, say, Sony's.
The considered, reflective, responsible life dictates that one buys a few very good things that one can be proud of, acquires the necessities, and occasionally engages in an indulgence. However, to be subjected to an endless process of some other entity divining our every need and desire followed by a frenzied response with a materialistic mentality until the credit cards are maxed is not living life to the fullest, reflective of our partly spiritual nature.
Life is not all about money and success. It's not all about buying things. There is much work to be done on this planet, and sometimes, just saying "no, I won't buy that, even if I want it," provides for a pleasing, restrained state of mind, a recognition that there are other things expected of us than simply being consumers.