Tech Cynic: this time it's personal
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Tech Cynic: this time it's personal

Berlin is full of co-working cafés and similar venues in which so-called digital nomads vie with each other to be the most achingly ironic whilst also appearing - at least to themselves - untouchably professional. It's an almost impossible combination to pull off so most of them fail. Many use Apple laptops but with carefully placed stickers on the lids to almost-but-not-quite hide the Apple logo. "I'm using an Apple laptop and I want you to know that I'm using an Apple laptop yet I want you to think that I don't want you to know that I'm using an Apple laptop because I don't want you to think that I'm the kind of person who would use an Apple laptop," is what they are all dying to express with their carefully-applied stickers.

The stickers range from the virtue-signalling to the obscure, sometimes both. Aggressive veganism competes with anti-corporatism (unshakeable Apple love notwithstanding) and the usual, predictable political messages. It's comfortably reassuring in its way, like a teenager rebelling against his/her parents by wearing inappropriate clothes and painting their bedroom ceiling black. And yet, hidden amongst the generic dross of striving-for-individuality are some gems.

I'm writing this article in just such a co-working café, sitting across from a well-dressed woman with an older-model Apple laptop whose glowing white symbol hasn't yet been covered by stickers. However, stickers are present - they are de rigueur in this city, after all. Alongside an EU flag and the disappointingly trite "Good things will happen soon" is a simple black and white sticker in the style of cigarette packet cancer warnings. It reads: "Social Media seriously harms your mental health".

My cynicism evaporates. I engage her in conversation, ask her where the sticker came from. She bought 50 of them from Amazon, she tells me, because... wait for it... "I thought it would be ironic to have such a sticker on..." I finish her sentence for her: "a laptop that you use for social media?" "Exactly," she replies happily. We chat for a while, then I let her get on with her work, which is no doubt incredibly important.

The reason the sticker piqued my interest is because I've just experienced the truth of its message - not myself, but by proxy. Against my better judgement, I recently bought my precocious 12-year-old daughter a second-hand iPhone 6 from eBay (yes, an Apple product, because I consider Android the greater security risk of the two main phone OS ecosystems). She convinced me that she 'needed' it so she could keep in touch with her school friends using Signal and Telegram. WhatsApp and Facebook are wholly disapproved of by the German schools my children attend, a policy I endorse.

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Alex Cruickshank

Alex Cruickshank has been writing about technology and business since 1994. He has lived in various far-flung places around the world and is now based in Berlin.  

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