Some technologies are tools, others are toys, and still others are attitudes. A case in point is the 7280 cell phone just introduced by Nokia. The 7280 is the size and shape of a candy bar. It’s unusual not so much for what it has – a built-in 640-by-480-pixel camera and voice recognition – but for what’s missing. The work of Nokia’s Mobile Phones Business Group, the 7280 has no keypad at all. Numbers and names are entered by voice only and are displayed on-screen at a fraction of the size of those on conventional instruments. If less is more, the price is nice, too: about $600 retail.
Unhappy with this design philosophy? A separate Nokia division, Vertu, has just the instrument for you – a personal project of Nokia’s design vice president Frank Nuovo. The top-of-the-line Signature has a keypad. It also has 18 jeweled bearings, spring-loaded with microscopic rubber bands for what Vertu’s website calls “the perfect click.” The display is made of what Vertu says is the largest sapphire crystal ever offered on the market. The earpiece is made of aerospace ceramic for a warm touch, while the logo is deposited in a vacuum chamber for permanence. The Signature bezel is offered in platinum and gold; the platinum version sells for an eyebrow-raising $32,000.
But despite all the refinements of the Signature, the 7280 is the more radical technology. Transcending functionality, it is the instrument of the digital dandy. The Vertu is visibly luxurious, but conventionally so. Its buyer is the clockwork connoisseur, the admirer of solidity and complexity. Clockwork connoisseurship first flourished in the 18th century, when the artisans of London and Paris produced not only clocks and scientific instruments of the greatest refinement but also home furnishings with hidden drawers and compartments – more for aristocratic one-upmanship than for security.
In 19th- and 20th-century watchmaking, dandyism diverged from connoisseurship, giving us wafer-thin Patek Philippes on one hand and, on the other hand, self-winding Rolex GMTs carved from solid stainless steel, which told the time in two zones. Connoisseurship is masculine, favoring ruggedization and echoing the battlefield in its love of sandblasted and matte finishes. All-black cameras historically sold at a premium over brushed stainless steel, reflecting the obsession of professional combat and candid photographers alike with avoiding telltale glare.
In the early 21st century, most technological objects may be hybrids, but the connoisseur taste tends to favor the analog, the dandy aesthetic the digital. Most high-end audio equipment, for example, reflects clockwork connoisseurship. Black finishes, dials with flywheels, glowing meters, big switches, massive cables – all glory in overengineering. Connoisseurship revels in the triumph of solidity over domesticity. The dandy, on the other hand, is a flaneur, a jaded, narcissistic observer well-suited to the 7280, whose screen becomes a mirror when not in use. The dandy’s car is a near-silent hybrid, the connoisseur’s a Hummer.