Flood Lite: Apple's Attention to Detail

In July 2002, Appled filed a patent for a “Breathing Status LED Indicator” (No. US 6,658,577 B2). They described it as a “blinking effect of the sleep-mode indicator in accordance with the present invention mimics the rhythm of breathing which is psychologically appealing.”

The average respiratory rate for adults is 12-20 breaths per minute, which is the rate that the sleep-indicator light fades in and out on most Apple laptops. Older models such as the Macintosh PowerBook, however, use a blinking LED indicator, with discrete pulses in one-second intervals.

This creeps me out.  I already have an unhealthy way of projecting human-like qualities onto inanimate objects: for example, I feel guilty when I leave the DVD player running with a disc inside, because it has to sit there and replay the same thirty second clips over and over and over again.  And I apologize to my car when I bump a curb or close the door on the seatbelt.  So for Apple to subliminally suggest that my computer breathes when it sleeps takes the metaphor a little too far for comfort.

Not to mention the fact that the rhythm is psychologically comforting because we like things that breathe because they are alive.  The feeling that we derive from the Macbook’s indicator light originates in some reptilian part of our brain that sees the pattern and says, take comfort, for you are not alone.  But the problem is that when we are with our laptops and no one else we are, of course, alone.  And to suggest otherwise is creepy.