The New Me

I don’t intend to do much shopping while I am here.  There’s nothing I need and as I am travelling for the following year I don’t have the room to collect stuff.  I am not very “stuff” oriented anyway, and I’d prefer to spend my money on collecting memories and contributing to important things, rather than collecting stuff.  Having said all of that, Karen has an “Up”, an Apple gadget which works as an activity tracker.  Worn like a watch, throughout your day it counts your steps, the distance you’ve travelled, calories you’ve burned and some other things such as sleep quality and heart rate. She swears by it and so, still somewhat influenced by certain marketing ploys, I decided to go into the Apple Store and have a look at them.

In October I arrived in Sydney after a year of consumer-free living.  Oneday I walked past the Apple store on George St, wondering at the long queue of people in this space-age, all-glass store which didn’t appear to have many products on shelves, just dozens of shoppers in a long line.  It made no sense?  So after being convinced by Karen at the wonders of the “Up”, the other day I walked from The Met on 5th Ave down to 59th St, aiming for the fancy Apple Store at the corner of Central Park.  Due to the crowds I couldn’t get a good photograph, nor did I want to queue.  There’s a saying here, “how is that a thing?”, meaning how does something work or why is it considered important.  I look at these Apple stores with their long lines of customers and apparent absence of products on sale and I ask myself in wonder: “how is that a thing?”.

Apple on 5th Avenue. How did they get a crowd-free photograph?
Apple on 5th Avenue. (Courtesy Google) How did they get a crowd-free photograph?
Inside Apple Store 5th Ave. "How is this a thing?"!
Inside Apple Store 5th Ave. (Courtesy Google) “How is this a thing?”!

With “how is Apple shopping a thing” dominating my thoughts, and feeling not a little nervous, I wandered up the cobblestone street, turned the corner and followed the crowds through the doors of Apple Store, SoHo.  A beautiful historic building which has been gutted and renovated into the Apple signature glass style, with glass staircase, glass ceilings, bright lights and big windows, it absolutely glistens and is worth visiting just to see and feel the experience without the need to purchase anything.  Although I have no doubt that the sparkling environment has a psychological effect on people’s desire to buy!

Apple SoHo on Prince St at Greene (courtesy Google)
Apple SoHo on Prince St at Greene (courtesy Google)

The shopping is an equally unusual experience (when you’re me, anyway!).  Customers walk in the store and either know where they are going, or wander around looking lost (me), or approach one of the many wandering staff members, identifiable by their red t-shirts with a small Apple logo.  After taking some photographs of the interesting store, I asked a red t-shirter if they had any Up devices and was directed up the glass staircase to the correct area.  The back wall on this mezzanine level is dedicated to presentations and that night a Japanese IT designer was speaking about his ideas and creations.  Quite a crowd was gathering in the auditorium style seating, with cameras set up to film the event.  I found the gadget wall and followed the ropes to get to it.  As I was looking through the various boxed devices, a red t-shirter asked the crowd in my general area “Folks, does anyone have any questions?”.  I asked for the difference between two different Up products and while he was talking to me a young woman standing next to me interrupted to ask her own question.  My assumption that she was being rude was soon extinguished as I began to “get how this is a thing”.  Modern day shopping is all about minimalist displays, glitzy building designs and casual, friendly staff who are there to share group discussions with whoever wants to chat!

I purchased the cheap version Up, not a wristband but a clip-on gadget.  The salesman sold it to me exactly where we stood, using his hand-held device to scan my visa card and then passing it to me to sign on his screen using my fingertip, then again to tap in my email address for the receipt to be sent to me electronically.  I brought my new toy home and downloaded the Up application (the “Up app”), before spending all evening trying to get it to sync to my iPhone.  It wouldn’t work.  I went online looking for discussion forums to try and troubleshoot the problem but nothing I did worked.  So the following day I returned to the Apple store and explained my problem to a red t-shirter who directed me upstairs and to the left, “to the Genius Bar”.  Upstairs another red t-shirter known as a “Genius” informed me that they work by appointments and the next available appointment was tomorrow morning at 0945am.

This morning I returned at my appointment time and checked in at the Genius Bar!  At square tables with eight bar stools per table, I joined dozens of other clients waiting on stools at tables for our Genius appointments.  When my Genius arrived he told me to stay seated and asked what the problem was.  As I explained he tapped a few words into his hand-held device (the modern day version of taking notes) and the troubleshooting began.  We had quite a problem-solving session which took over an hour and involved moving from my seat at the square table, to the minimalist product area where we synced to a sample device which worked, then over to the long Genius Bar which runs the length of the wall, where he was serving another customer having iPhoto problems.  He stood on the Genius side of the bar, sharing his expertise between the two of us, as we were seated on our stools over the bar from him.  It was comparable to being served at a bar in a pub and chatting with the barman and another customer.

My Genius grabbed an Apple Mac from under the bar and hooked my iPhone up to it.  Quite a conversation ensued between the other customer, myself and our Genius, about Apple stores, Apple shopping, politics and travel.  It was a surprisingly fun way to spend some time!  I learned that I was in New York’s flagship Apple store which was renovated to it’s current modernistic style about three years ago; that they have regular presentations such as the one I saw in progress at the top of the stairs the other night, often with Hollywood stars or musicians putting on private shows for Apple customers; and that My Genius became a Genius by starting out as a salesman nine years ago and climbing the ladder.  He has received intensive in-house training but does not have any IT qualifications.  Once he’d reset my iPhone to it’s original settings, hoping that would resolve the issue, he saw that my claim I had an iPhone 4S was actually incorrect and my iPhone is a version 4 (without the S).  He pointed to the version as it came up on the screen and said “we’ve been on a wild goose chase, you have an iPhone 4, it’s not compatible with this device”.  The earliest iPhone it’s compatible with is a 4S.  Since I bought my iPhone second-hand over two years ago I’ve believed it was a 4S, but I was mistaken.  My iPhone4 is over four years out of date for the latest Apple gadgetry!

My options?  Return the Up for a full refund, or upgrade my iPhone.  The old me, in this glittering, consumerist environment, enjoying the company and learning all about Apple’s worldwide domination of everything that matters in life, would most definitely have “needed” a new iPhone.  The new me walked away, knowing there would be another solution.  I returned the Up with it’s packaging to the front counter, where I had to log onto my email account and retrieve the receipt which had been sent to me two nights earlier.  The red t-shirter pointed his device at the bar code on the receipt on my iPhone screen and my money was reimbursed into my bank account without any paper exchanging hands!

My Genius told me that the REI Store a few blocks away sold Fitbits, another activity tracker which does pretty much the same thing as the Up but which is compatible with computers and touch phones without being version dependent.  So tonight I walked a few blocks up to REI, which happens to be in the Puck Building (see the photo below – Will & Grace fans will recognise it), and found a Fitbit.  Comparatively priced, it’s an equivalent device and I walked out of the store with one in a nice brown paper bag.  From there I went into the Molton Brown store to replace the handwash in my bathroom and came away with a very expensive bottle of handwash, in an even nicer paper bag tied closed with a fancy ribbon.  So after feeling quite convinced that I am not a “New York consumerist type”, I found myself walking down the street with trendy shopping bags, looking exactly like who I claim not to be!  Only the old me would certainly have had more than just two bags of shopping in her hands.

Puck Building, SoHo (courtesy Google)
Puck Building, SoHo (courtesy Google)

Standing on the corner waiting for traffic lights to change, a young blonde fashionista turned to me and in her very American twang asked “Excuse me?  Do you live around here?”.  No I don’t, sorry.  “Oh”.  But I’ve been around for a few days now, what are you looking for?  “Oh, do you happen to know where Bloomingdales is?”.  Actually I do, as I just walked past it – go up there and take a right and you’ll find it!  As she walked away another guy turned to me and asked “Is this Broadway, or West Broadway?”.  I replied “This is West Broadway” as another guy turned and said to me “Broadway is like five blocks that way, right?”.  Yes, I replied confidently!

So the new, less-consumerist me, not only knows how Apple shopping is a thing, but she also happens to be able to help out the odd American with directions around SoHo!

4 thoughts on “The New Me

  1. I am impressed with the New Helen. Won’t be so scary going shopping with her any more. I wonder if we will ever have the chance to be served by a ‘genius here in little NZ! An enjoyable read Helen.


  2. Sounds like a fun day, Helen! I have an IPad and IMac and love going to the Apple stores,where the staff is eager and helpful. It may feel overwhelming at first, but before long, I seem to be understanding what they are saying…sort of scary for an old person!


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