In November 2008, Circuit City closed 155 stores and declared bankruptcy. The following year, it was liquidated. The retail company is now better known for the carapaces it left across the American landscape, concrete boxes like the megaliths of a forgotten ancient civilization. Sometimes I catch a glimpse from the highway of the old sign with its italicized, all-capital letters that zoom toward some future now vanished. It was an anachronistic future of chunky plastic mp3 players, voluminous CD binders, and thick high-definition televisions in suburban living rooms.
Circuit City was the tech utopia of my childhood. The store was right next to the only Borders within hours of my hometown in Connecticut (RIP all retail), so after perusing the books, I’d go wander among the televisions in the cavernous space, like a goth Home Depot. All the devices at Circuit City looked like they were designed to be installed in your basement where no one else could see them, as with any other source of shame. Ah, the days when “computers” hadn’t become immaterial meshes of data and content pervading the very air we breathe! You could log off by pulling a plug.
I’ve been thinking of Circuit City lately because of a storage pouch I bought a few years ago that has become totally indispensable to my travel routine, precisely because it returns to that older, rougher era of technological aesthetics. As devices become increasingly Apple-fied, all slick and smooth, this pouch revives the comfort of functional awkwardness. The STM Cable Wrap is a foot-long fold-up bag designed to hold all your technological accessories: charging cords, batteries, earbuds, whatever. It is very useful because even as our devices promise to be less material and more wireless than ever, we’re actually awash in wires, adapters, and dongles, and it’s very easy to lose them. At $24.95, it also costs less than walking into an Apple store.
The STM Cable Wrap can pack a Didion-esque list of writerly accessories vital for the late 2010s:
- International plug adapter
- Laptop charger
- Portable phone battery
- Actual batteries
- Handheld recorder
- Those little white cubes that go into wall sockets
- USB cable for non-Apple devices
- USB cable for Apple devices
- Another cable in case my janky third-party one stops working
- Dongle to actually plug headphones into Apple devices
But its real advantage is transparency. The open pockets mean that when the case is unfurled, you can see what is present and what is not, like a chef’s knife roll. If one of the larger pockets isn’t bulging, then I know my laptop charger has gone missing and I need to dig it out. Ditto the spaghetti tangle of USB cords in the slots in the middle. Before I go anywhere, I leave the wrap out until I’ve packed everything else. Once I snap it shut, it’s the last thing to go into my backpack.
There’s an emotional security that comes with having all these cords where I know I can find them. I need them to make money to survive, of course, but they also guarantee the morphine drip of constant stimulation that I’m now addicted to, provided by iPhones and Kindles and Macbooks, their battery icons filled to the healthy brim. Without all this gear, I might be bored.
The reality of our current technological world has more in common with the STM Cable Wrap/Circuit City axis than Star Trek, Her, or the new circular, wall-less Apple headquarters. We don’t have immersive virtual reality environments or robot servants. Instead, we have valueless cryptocurrencies with silly names and batteries that, because they have to be so thin, need to be charged twice a day. Instead of this shallow utopianism, maybe it’s the old honesty that I crave. I want products that acknowledge their finickiness, that show they’re not so seamless as their branding implies.
Smartphones are marketed as totally life-changing. They’ll get you places, spark new relationships, deliver food, and make your friends jealous. But we cannot depend on upgradeable devices for salvation. The STM Cable Wrap’s textured, plasticized fabric and gray buckle closure — all the sex appeal of a chastity belt — doesn’t promise beguilement or fulfillment like the curve of an iPhone does. It has no pay-to-play upgrades or limited-edition rose gold colorways. The only reason you’d buy another is if you lost one, and, like me, couldn’t live without it. All it has to do to be charming is underpromise and overdeliver. It’s there whenever you really need it.
The wrap is excessive. It does not suggest that less is more. You can throw it on the ground. You can spill coffee on it. You can stow literally whatever you want inside without worrying about compatibility issues. This is the true version of enduring technology: as effective as it is ugly.
Like any good fossil, however, the STM Cable Wrap is now discontinued. There are currently only two left on Amazon.