September 14, 2017


A mockup of the new Apple center on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, opening in October. Photo courtesy of

I really enjoy the way Angela Ahrendts, Senior VP of Retail at Apple, thinks. Before joining Apple, Angela spoke about the importance of human energy during a TED Talk in Hollywood. At the time she was CEO of Burberry. 

As Senior VP of Retail at Apple, Angela is leading the transformation of Apple’s Retail Space, commonly known as the “Apple Store”, into neighborhood town squares. Apple is opening such a location in Chicago next month. I look forward to being there on opening day.

The Apple Neighborhood Town Square is designed to bring people together through their common interest in technology. It’s perfectly OK to sit at the pavilion and listen to the live music. Folks are encouraged to use the locations as gathering places. If you feel inclined to shop, Apple’s team members will not only show you how great the camera on the latest iPhone is, they also have regular scheduled events where they take you out in the world and show you how to take awesome photos. Apple doesn’t want you to use technology, they want you to connect to it, but more importantly, they want to bring people together to give them the opportunity to share their interests or passions together. Angela is very committed to recognizing the importance of human connection, and using technology as a conduit to accomplish that, is an amazing thing.

Earlier today I blogged about the importance of the corner store and how a start-up company was looking to replace that human connection with a sterile vending machine box located in strategic places. Criticisms of this start-up project have been married to criticisms of “Apple’s deluded thinking” that their retail space can be the neighborhood town square.

I’m sorry, but that’s (no pun intended) comparing apples to oranges.

Yes, the primary objective of Apple’s Centers are to sell you technology.  iPhones, iPads, Macs, Watches, accessories: all of these things are found at an Apple Store. But where the automated Bodega idea is to separate you from a human connection, Apple is looking to bring people together. Their Apple Today series, a daily schedule of seminars and the like, are designed to bring people with a common interest together. Yes, you are going to learn about Apple technology at an Apple Today event, but the technology and theme of the event is a conduit to bringing people together. You may not know the person across town that decided to attend an event to learn about drawing on an iPad, but here you have a chance to interact with someone else that shares an interest with you. Apple is using their Town Square model to bring people together, not replace human interaction with an online purchase.

I am proud to be an Apple Fanboy. I believe that Apple continues to give us the best technological experience available in the consumer space. Yes, many other products can do what Apple products do, but they don’t do it to the degree of satisfaction and comfort I find in an Apple product. But what’s more important to me as an Apple Fanboy is the company’s philosophy and vision. Do great things for the world, bring great things to the world and bring people together through technology. Apple is about preserving the human equation, not eliminating it.

We all need the energy we give one another when we interactive in our daily lives. Let’s keep doing things that bring people together, not isolate them from the outside world. And if that means going to an Apple Town Square to listen to an Indie Rock band or learn to take photos, at least I’ll be with people that share a common interest.


New York Bodega cat as shown in New York Daily News.

My great Aunt Jenn lived in the “urban area” of Syracuse when I was a kid.  We wouldn’t visit her very often at her home outside of picking her up for family gatherings in the suburbs, but when I was in elementary school we’d visit once in a great while.  She’d give us a dollar each to head down to the corner store where we could buy candy or something of that nature.  I always liked the corner store; the owner didn’t know who we were unless we walked in with Aunt Jenn’s grandchildren. On those occasions we were greeted with a smile. The folks at the store spoke with an accent, though I don’t know the origin of it.

Growing up in the country we had two little stores about a mile from our house. Mom would venture there from time to time. One had a butcher in the back, the other store was a milk and bread kind of place. The cashiers at both stores were very friendly. There was something comfortable about having a neighborhood store, whether it was down the block or a mile away. It helped reinforce the whole neighborhood vibe. You knew these people and you wanted their establishment to thrive.

Big chains don’t do that.

Yesterday two ex-Google employees announced their new company, which is unfortunately called Bodega. Their get rich quick scheme is to place oversized vending machine boxes in strategic locations (hotels, condo and apartment building lobbies, gyms, etc) where, through a whiz bang use of cameras, phone apps, and Big Brother style monitoring, you can pick up the items you so desperately want from these impersonal boxes. App metrics will undoubtedly track your every move and someone will fling ads your way based on what you bought. It’s the way of the world, or at least the Silicon Valley.

The name Bodega comes from the convenience stores of New York and Los Angeles. These are neighborhood fixtures where you get what you need from a friendly face that you know and converse with. Chances are there will be an accent along the way somewhere. A curious fixture of New York bodegas is the Bodega cat. Probably not legal but they’re helpful in keeping mice and rats away. They are a fixture of the neighborhood Bodega. People love them.

The Bodega vending machine people went with a cat for their logo.

I briefly wrote about this on Medium in response to the blog entry from this vending machine company, but the biggest failure of this venture, outside of the misappropriation of the name, is the lack of human interaction. The lack of neighborhood.  The lack of community.

Our society can not and will not survive if we strive to be completed disconnected from one another. Internet and other technology based interactions can be a conduit to a more personal means of communication; we have several friends that we would have never met if it hadn’t been for the Internet. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Gen-Xer or what, but lately communication confined to electronic means only has felt very hollow to me. We feed off the energy of one another. Though some are hesitant to admit it, we need a human connection to thrive. We need a neighborhood. We need a community.

Any technological advances that strive to reduce human connection are not advances at all but a step in the wrong direction. We can make it shiny and beep, but there’s no energy, no life force, in the cold of glass and steel. 

We should strive to support our neighborhoods, our local businesses, our communities and most importantly, each other. 

And don’t forget to greet the cat at your local Bodega.