Toys Make the Man

Boy, do I feel like a dope. I was under the impression that the decades of conspicuous consumption were finished. What with all the Occupy protesters and unemployed French literature majors out there, I thought that anything ostentatious was unfashionable. Or, as French literature majors would say, passé.

I stopped wearing my mink hat (not really a big deal since I live in Miami), sold all my Super Bowl rings on eBay (thanks, Mr. Shula, I hope you enjoy them), and had my Ferrari repainted from flamboyant red to discreet camo (that sure was a swell idea, Mr. Nugent!). Now I find out how embarrassingly wrong I was. If you want people to respect and admire you, it turns out you still need “bling.” It’s just that the definition of bling has changed.

In the old days, we believed that the person who died with the most toys won. Today, we are more enlightened. It’s not about accumulating stuff, it’s about who has the newest stuff. Heaven help the person who was still using an iPhone 4 the day after the 4S was introduced. If you didn’t camp out in front of an Apple store for 6 weeks to get a 4S, then clearly you just don’t care anymore. You might as well get a no-contract Nokia clamshell and spend the rest of your life wondering why you can’t play Angry Birds on it.

The definition of “cool” has changed. Formerly, you could measure a man’s coolness by the width of his TV, the height of his stereo loudspeakers, the number of buttons on his remote, and whether his stereo had enough bass to shake (not stir) his martini. Also, I was always extremely impressed by anyone who served Planters Peanuts instead of generic nuts.

Today, those status symbols don’t automatically confer awesomeness on you. Everyone has big TVs, tall speakers have been replaced by really wide soundbars, and beaucoup buttons and beefy bass are not big deals for a lotta folks out there. Today, your worth as an individual is determined by two other items: your phone and your tablet.

Unless you have a smartphone, you don’t really count as a human being. Seriously, the Census Bureau has announced that the next time they take a census, people without smartphones won’t be counted. You have until 2020. You also need to develop an intensely personal relationship with your phone. You should cradle it, fondle it, whisper to it, and pine for it when it’s gone. Your relationship with it must run true and deep. If your house caught fire and your cat and your phone were inside, and you could only save one of them, you would not hesitate.

Of course you have an iPad. Having an iPad means you are better than most people. Seriously (I’m not making this up), studies show that most users of the newest iPad live in wealthier, usually coastal states. Users have a higher median income and more discretionary money. While shopping online, tablet users, most likely using an iPad, are significantly more likely to pull the trigger on a purchase than a PC user. Males with an income greater than $100,000 spend twice as much on online shopping as their female counterparts. Those who shop multiple times a week, buying mainly “luxury items,” lay down more than $30,000 online annually. Congratulations, guys: That’s a lot of bling.

But you know what? Deep down inside, I think all this new stuff is BS. My loudspeakers are still towering, my phone isn’t very smart, I’m writing this on a laptop, not a tablet, and dammit, anyone who serves Planters Peanuts is an impressive individual. I’m glad that my loudspeakers never defined me as being cool, and I don’t think a phone should either. I’m sure that deeply disappoints all the fashionistas out there. But as we say in French literature class, C’est la vie.