Today Apple announced the new iPhone 5s, available in three different metallic finishes, including gold, and the new iPhone 5c, available in an array of colorful plastics for just $99. The dichotomy between the two phones is striking, almost as if they were built for the 1 percent and the 99 percent, mirroring the inequality of incomes and access to the Internet.
Make fun of the colors and plastic, but cheaper access to hardware and all the data along with it is a good thing. In 2009, twenty percent of Americans didn’t use Internet at home, work or school, or on a mobile device. In 2013, twenty percent of Americans don’t use Internet at home, work or school, or on a mobile device. After four years and seven billion dollars spent, the number hasn’t changed.
Our conversations about taste should be conversations about access. “Persistent digital inequality — caused by the inability to afford Internet service, lack of interest or a lack of computer literacy — is also deepening racial and economic disparities in the United States,” reports the New York Times.
While we guess that Steve Jobs is rolling in his grave in response to the colorful plastics, former Wall Street Journal journalist Jessica Lessin reports that in fact, cheaper phones were being considered as early as 2009. The affordable options were sidelined because of increased difficulties in the manufacturing processes, not because they weren’t pretty.
Meanwhile, sixty million people have been “shut off from jobs, government services, health care and education, and the social and economic effects of that gap [is] looming larger,” argues Edward Wyatt in the Times. So we can argue that Apple’s high-brow brand is being watered down (although surely the gold iPhone 5s makes up the difference), or we can rejoice that as technology grows the wealth gap, profits off your free labor and eliminates middle-class jobs, the industry is also providing affordable products and solutions while you make ends meet.