As gadgets became more popular, everything started to get better and also, somehow, worse. My school’s computer lab replaced the neon iridescent iMacs with nondescript black and gray alternatives. My earbuds sounded better and looked worse. My phone got smarter, uglier, and much more expensive. The rectangles invaded.
Music is a prime example. We took fragile, bulky tapes with colorful packaging and album art and organized them into orderly digital files. We improved the design until it worked nearly as efficiently as possible. When it comes to the bright and beautiful, I think we missed a turn.
I know about pinking and shrinking, the heteronormative marketing strategy that upcharges women for the privilege of worse tech in a pink package. The classic example is the Bic for Her Pens debacle, a ballpoint pen marketed to women because it’s … sparkly and pink. But offering pink as a choice to consumers isn’t pandering or demeaning, as long as it isn’t the sole option and it isn’t marketed explicitly “for women.” In fact, not offering these choices is, in some ways, less inclusive.
Pink Is Perfect
Not being discriminatory is different from having everything look the same. Even as smaller companies like Lora DiCarlo, Crave, and Sequin have made strides in hiring marginalized people and creating more inclusive technology, the biggest companies have somehow failed to get the memo. Some monoliths, like Google, Samsung, and Nintendo, have taken steps toward more fun designs. But they’re baby steps. Finding good pink gear is so, so hard. Either something isn’t very pink, or it isn’t very good.
I’m not stuck in the past. Zunes were great at the time, but I don’t want one now; I love my e-reader, and I would never want to go back to the days of headphone splitters or skipping Walkmans. But when I use the modern computer in my pocket, the beeps and boops of a modem connecting are missing, and so is something else.
When I was 17, I didn’t dream about tasteful design choices and cautious market analysis. I didn’t long for infinitesimally smaller bezels and ever more refined specs. When I imagined the future of tech as a kid, I wanted so much more. I imagined the bright latex bodysuits and touchscreen makeup compacts of Totally Spies. I thought we were all going to be spinning our clothes around in giant closets, programming outfits like Cher in Clueless. I imagined my Neopets coming to life. I wanted to cover my iPod in RGB LED rhinestones.
I know it’s the height of privilege to complain about the way a $1,000 phone looks. But it’s not just about the color. It’s about being tired of choosing between blush, petal, or some other sort-of-pink. It’s about trying to blend into a world that was never meant to include you in the first place.