Saturday, 27 September 2014

The back pocket, and those bent iPhones

One of the many little things that made me question my role in life during past decades was the back pocket. That's the pocket on the backside of jeans, trousers and even shorts. I noticed that many men used this pocket and no other for whatever they had to carry - in particular their wallet, often a fat one full of paper money and latterly a credit card or two. I could not understand why men used this pocket so much, even when there were other pockets available, such as the inside pocket of a jacket.

It seemed not only to be the regular thing for a man to do, but one of those Real Man Things. A risky, dangerously silly thing that marked out the man from the whimp. A 'try if you dare' challenge to pickpockets and sneak thieves. A defiant gesture against physical laws that said one day, if wearing those jeans, if sitting just so, that wallet would fall out of that pocket of its own accord, and be lost forever. Such bravado could seem cool.

And it could seem very cool for a man wanting to pay for something (drinks or cigarettes, say) to make a big performance of reaching for the wallet in his back pocket, opening it out, peeling off a banknote or two, and then putting that wallet back. He could do this in such a way that the entire sequence of actions called attention to him, as if he wanted to be judged for style and competence with wallet and pocket, and not merely for the ability to pay.

It wasn't done to impress any lady friend. It was done to impress all nearby men, who would be able to see that (a) this man (doing the paying) was not worried about keeping his money in a sensible place, and therefore (using male logic) was no cissy; (b) he was able to put his hand unerringly on something he couldn't see - and put it back there - with ease and sureness, and therefore (using male logic) was a man of admirable dexterity and control; (c) the bulging wallet said he had a lot of money, and therefore (using male logic) he was a man to be respected, all the more so for being so nonchalant about trusting everything to that back pocket, with its obvious vulnerability to theft or mishap.

A man who had perfected the entire sequence of back-pocket-and-wallet movements might embellish it with a feigned lack of concern for the actual banknotes. It looked bad to peer anxiously at the money in the wallet, as if there might not be enough. Real men always had enough, and plenty to spare. This was the sign of a successful man of means. Real men took out a banknote without looking at it, treating it like a piece of waste paper, and never checking the change. All this was to impress lesser men, to signal that one was confident and assured, and pretty damned high in the pecking order. Juveniles would strive to emulate this kind of posing.

Mention of change reminds me that men most often kept coins in one of their front jeans or trouser pockets. They jangled this loose change when wearing trousers (jangling wasn't possible when wearing tight jeans), and the sound they made could signal boredom or irritation or impatience without having to say anything. Cigarettes went into their shirt pocket, and reaching for the pack and lighting one had its own associated ritual. I suppose this appropriation of front pocket and shirt pocket was a possible reason for consigning the wallet by default to the back pocket. But non-smokers also tucked their wallets away in the same back pocket, suggesting that using a safer place simply didn't look credible enough.

As you might guess, I rejected all this nonsense. It seemed insane, and I most definitely didn't want to be associated with Macho Men who gave pickpockets a good living. I wanted to be sensible. I used a purse for my coins, to stop holes developing in my pockets, and my wallet went into an inside jacket pocket - and not even the usual one, as I eventually discovered. Just as I tied my scarf the 'wrong' way, I unconsciously used the 'wrong' inside pocket. I liked to be different, especially if this was how a woman might do it. Once I became aware of these little feminisms, I continued with them as a deliberate policy. Long before I ever heard of 'gender dysphoria' I was eager to push against the male world and its conventions in all sorts of small and unobtrusive ways. I did not regard myself as a traitor, only a low-level rebel. In fact nobody noticed.

And now this latest news about some iPhone 6 owners - all of them men, I'm guessing - complaining that their new phone bends if they tote it around in their back pocket, and then sit down. Why anybody in their senses would think it a good idea to carry a valuable pocket computer around that way is astonishing. It's even more astounding that they should expect it to resist the large forces acting upon it when nestling against a muscular male bum. Of course it will be stressed beyond reason. And unless made of steel it will flex, and might get permanently bent. Phones are not meant to be stressed like that. But I suppose these James Dean wannabes have no sense. And of course it's a worldwide sport to savage Apple if any product falls short of perfection, or can't pass some absurd or unreasonable test.

It wasn't so long ago that tech websites were speculating about the next generation of mobile phones having curved screens. What's the difference between a screen bent by design, and one bent by self-inflicted stupidity, so long as the phone still works? But in any case, I couldn't see the point of designing a phone shaped like a flattened-out banana. Then I twigged. Of course - it was so that a Real Man could carry a high-tech phone in his back pocket with greater style and comfort, the curvature of the screen following the curvature of his bottom so much better. Hah. Well, I hope they do flat-screened versions for women's bags.

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