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It’s all about the glowing rectangle in your pocket or purse.

Today your life extends outward through that rectangle to countless involvements in the world. Those involvements subsume and enlarge many other activities that use our time. Television is one of them.

Look at it this way.

In the old days, which began in the second half of the last century, our evenings were devoted to a glowing rectangle in our living room. Then we added more rectangles in other rooms. We came to spend four, five, even seven hours a day to staring at those rectangles: time we borrowed from porches, parks, patios and the neighbors and relatives we talked, ate and drank with in those places.

Through the personal rectangles now holstered in our pockets and purses, we are starting to give that time back, because we are social through those rectangles — to a degree that might even exceed the sum and variety of convivial activities we sacrificed when we moved so much of our lives to the tube.

Yet we also continue to consume TV programs, sometimes gluttonously, “binging” on “content” sluiced from the new Hollywood: the one also freeing itself from the constraints of the old “networks” and “channels” that fed and defined TV in its antenna and cable ages.

Today we also produce as well as consume, through many kinds of very personal rectangles, all connected to an all-encompassing network that puts everyone and everything on it at a functional distance apart of zero (or close enough).

Apple has done more than any other company to facilitate these changes, and to create near-absolute dependence on its products and services. Yet it is also pushing closer to your life without intruding on it, insisting that your life and your data are private matters with which it has no business other than what’s required to provide service to you.

No other tech company does that. This is why Apple is worth $40/month or more for so many of us.

Respect for your privacy is Apple’s biggest weapon: both on your side as a customer, and against its main opponents in the marketplace, none of which make the same commitment. Even Amazon, which hardly needs to, tracks you like an animal on the Net, so it can advertise crap at you — poorly — through other sites and services.

Even if some other company comes up with a fabulous new shape that starts sucking your life into it, there is no way it can complete with the full portfolio of dependencies Apple has earned from its customers.

I wish that weren’t so, because we need Apple to have some competition.

The company in the best position to provide it is Microsoft, which has always viewed the world through the prism of the individual, and it makes some good stuff, especially productivity software and game consoles. But its legacy drag now is a big business one. They’re kind of another IBM.

Way back in its Apple II days, around the turn of the 80s, Apple’s tagline was “the most personal computer.” The slogan has changed, but the purpose hasn’t. “Most personal” is still what it’s about.

I don’t see any other company beating that. Not today, anyway.

Written by

Author of The Intention Economy, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Fellow of CITS at UCSB, alumnus Fellow of the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard.

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