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Is the iPod Touch One “Bad” Apple?

Is the iPod Touch One “Bad” Apple?
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For the past three years, Apple’s iPod Touch has been the company’s biggest success with consumers under 18. Now that the device’s newest upgrades include the same video chat feature in the iPhone that was immediately adopted by the phone sex industry, what does this mean for the “kid-friendly” entry in the Apple empire—and for the ubiquitousness of tech and sex, no matter what your age?

  I See You

Last month, Apple announced their new generation of the highly popular iPod Touch device—the “iPhone without the phone.” iPod Touches are nearly identical to iPhones and can run almost any application an iPhone can, but are Wi-Fi enabled only, and not attached to a service plan of any sort.

As a result, iPod Touches are insanely popular with the under-18 set. They have always been positioned as the perfect cutting-edge, no-commitment holiday gift for people too young for an AT&T contract—or too young for the independence of a full-featured phone. Without the capacity to place a phone call or even take a picture, iPod Touches have been the apparent solution to many of the overhyped youth moral panics of the day, “sexting” and/or sending nude photos.

However, the new generation iPod Touch not only includes a camera for the first time, but the capacity to record video—both from the back of the device and from the front, to take advantage of Apple’s “Face Time” video chat. While this was a necessary upgrade to keep the iPod Touch attractive in the face of the iPhone’s dramatic new features, it also comes as a surprise given the iPod Touch’s locked-down history—and the porn industry’s bald interest in those features.

  Get It On

When the iPhone 4 debuted Face Time video chat, the porn industry, as usual, immediately recognized the potential. Within days, ads popped up on Craigslist seeking phone sex operators willing to Face Time with clients, complete with a complimentary iPhone 4 for signing up. There was even a certain amount of protection toward minors in this proposition, given the overwhelmingly adult population of iPhone users.

Although there isn’t anything inherently pornographic about a device that can take photos, record video, and deliver real-time video/audio chat, the sexual potential is obvious, even to those outside of the porn industry. And while these are features which require the purchase of a brand-new iPod Touch—trust me, the one you bought last year isn’t any more capable of projecting nookie than it was when you unboxed it—part of Apple’s successful marketing strategy involves invoking a serious need to upgrade when new versions come out.

For iPhones and iPod Touches in particular, the fast-moving app development market focuses on the most recent versions of the hardware, meaning that an increasing number of hot new apps will require a shiny new machine. The encroachment of features allowing people to take photos of their privates and engage in graphically sexy visual chat is most certainly marching into the pockets of minors.

  Now What?

From an alarmist perspective, maybe minors will become drastically more sexually active, end up with gigabytes of naked photos and sexy videos of them posted online, and their lives will be ruined forever by the ubiquitousness of record-and-post technology. Apple has made a huge mistake and will lose big-time in the long run as people take out their anger on the company.

From an evenhanded standpoint, perhaps technology isn’t to blame for the actions of anyone, and things will stay more or less the same as some people express exhibitionism early and others freak out about privacy sooner than they would have otherwise. Everything more or less balances out. Moral panics continue to have little effect on most of society, and Apple continues to clean up discretionary income with every hardware update.

Optimistically, maybe the realization that kids keep a high-def camera and 720p digital camcorder in their pocket will spur parents on to discuss the joys and perils of personal technology. Maybe the culture of fear surrounding technology will dissolve out of necessity. (Apple, of course, would get no credit for any of this. As usual, it’s the “bad guys” who get all the notoriety.) And maybe, just maybe, talking to kids about tech would turn into talking to kids about life. Maybe even the culture of fear surrounding appropriate education of kids regarding the joys and perils of sexuality would dissolve out of necessity, too.

Now that would truly be progress.

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