For one brief hour on Monday morning, the eyes of the world were focused on a small building in San Francisco — the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where Steve Jobs was to unveil Apple’s latest product, a tablet computer called the iPad.
You don’t need me to tell you about the gadget itself — the launch was breathlessly reported by nearly every media outlet on Earth. So I’m not going to describe the iPad; instead, I’m going to give you something no one else has done, a front-row seat at the media circus outside the Yerba Buena Center.
Only 600 carefully selected top journalists and tech insiders were actually invited into the building to watch the launch itself. The rest of us shlumps had to wait outside where we tried to look important and absorb the magic by osmosis.
Despite our physical proximity to the action, we on the outside were actually among the least-informed Americans about what was happening inside the building, since most of us didn’t have access to computers on which we could follow the minute-by-minute live-blogging of the press conference posted on any number of geek sites. So, instead, people stood outside the event and desperately checked their iPhones to see what was going on directly in front of them. Strange — the data had to travel around the world several times and bounce off any number of satellites to reach people standing maybe 12 yards away from where the information originated. That’s modern technology for ya.
Television equipment from networks the world over was strewn along the sidewalk in front of the Yerba Buena Center and its new Apple mystery logo, in anticipation of the breaking news.
Lowly bloggers sat in the shadows of the satellite trucks, doing their best to beat the well-financed media outlets with the fastest and snarkiest tweets.
Apple security guards and policemen ringed the building to keep out anyone foolish enough to imagine they could slip in for a sneak peek ahead of the appointed unveiling.
Want to know why newscasters are generally only shown from the chest up while doing broadcasts? This is why.
An incongruously glamorous tech reporter happily consented to bystanders’ souvenir snapshots, but her resulting news piece was less than stellar.
This being San Francisco, of course there were protesters — even at what the naive might consider a wholly non-political event. This young anti-Apple activist listed all the things wrong with the evil corporation.
And inescapably, like characters in a nightmare that never ends, the Revolutionary Communist Party showed up to pester people with flyers, just as they do at every single event of any size or on any topic anywhere in the Bay Area.
Reporters, desperate for something interesting to film, took to interviewing random passersby.
The frustrated crowd that was stuck out on the sidewalk discovered that a nearby media truck had a live feed of Steve Jobs’ presentation, so everyone swarmed around, squinting at the screen hoping to be among the very first to witness the iPad magic.
M.C. Escher would have loved this photo: I’m taking a picture of a guy who’s taking a picture of a guy who’s taking a picture of a guy who’s filming a screen of a video feed taken by a guy who’s standing in a building directly behind me. Recursive infinity!
Another technician monitored the presentation on an old-school precursor to the iPad.
Together, we watched Jobs toy around with his magical new doohickey. Many in the crowd oohed and aahed, but Hitler was not impressed.
Immediately after the press conference was over, the select lucky reporters with Apple press badges filed out of the building to a changed world.
Less fortunate media members descended and interviewed the attendees as if they had just witnessed some kind of hitherto unknown sacred ritual.
Before long, everybody seemed to be interviewing everybody else in what felt like a punditry mating frenzy.
But after a very brief time in the limelight, our news become instantly stale, the eyes of the world moved elsewhere, and life continued as before.
And then we woke from our reverie, to realize that nothing had changed at all.