What I Learned from the Geniuses

Recently I visited the Genius Bar at my local Apple Store.  I went there because earlier in the day they’d replaced my iPad, which had suffered a cracked screen.  Thankfully, Apple replaced it at no cost, but when they gave me my new iPad, they forgot to transfer the sim card.  I didn’t discover this until I was back in my office. When I called the store and explained the situation, and the person who answered the phone said, “That’s not supposed to happen.”  “I know,” I replied. “That’s why I’m calling.”


After a few more phone calls, they told me that they had found my broken iPad and located the sim card.  All I had to do was go down to the store and pick it up.  In no mood to argue over who should really be bringing what to whom, I got into the car and drove to the Genius Bar.


I’d never been to an Apple Store before, even though I have all of the requisite Apple gear; but I’d certainly heard a lot of fawning praise from friends about Apple’s Genius Bars, and frankly I was curious. The Apple Store I dealt with occupies a large, brightly lit space in my local mall, and to get to the Genius Bar I had to walk past all of the shiny Apple products and accessories, and the customers and window shoppers checking out the latest devices.  I saw people of all ages enjoying Macbooks, iPads, iPod Touches, iPhones—the whole array of Apple products.  There can be no doubt that Apple is genius at product development and marketing: they make good products that people like and find easy to use.


Soon after I walked up the bar, a smart-looking, eager young woman asked if she could help me.  I explained my situation, and after furrowing her brow, she looked down at her own iPad and did some swiping and some typing and then smiled brightly at me.  “Someone will be right with you,” she said.   And then she was gone.

I settled in to wait and passed the time by watching other customers, many of whom had appointments, and were now checked in and waiting anxiously and hopefully for a genius to make their problems disappear.  As I waited, I found myself growing more and more irritated by the whole situation—why did I have to go and get the sim card? Shouldn’t they have been bringing it to me?—until I realized what the real problem was. By labeling their employees “geniuses,” Apple has relegated the rest of us to second-class citizen status and perpetuated a troublesome pattern in our society: those who don’t know how to use it are somehow less than those who do know how to use it.


Under ideal circumstances, technology should empower all of us and encourage collaboration. It should not continue the notion of the haves vs. the have nots, or us vs. them. While it’s great that Genius Bars exist as a resource for people who need help, it occurred to me that the concept could be more open and inclusive.  What if instead of a place where everyone has to wait for one genius to help them, it could be more collaborative and solutions could be crowdsourced?


And then there’s the fact that when the young woman put my name into her iPad, I ceased being a person and was reduced to a problem that needed solving.  The other geniuses, as they went about their business, wouldn’t even look me in the eye, because they were focused on their digital lists and I wasn’t on it.  The experience reminded me once again that the most important part of any technology we deploy is the user, and it’s critical that we don’t forget that.  After all, we can use technology to make good and lasting connections with our friends in the room or around the world.  Why should we feel so alone when something goes wrong?


Photo by Andrew Shelffo

Andrew Shelffo

Andrew Shelffo

Director of Communications and Marketing at The Williston Northampton School