Matt Gemmell

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Colours

Tech 4 min read

My wife has a twice-yearly ritual of looking for a new everyday bag.

The criteria are simple enough: it has to accommodate a 15” laptop, it has to be comfortable to carry and tough enough to survive her daily 25-minute walk to work and back again, and it has to be stylish.

It’s the last criterion that turns this search into an ordeal. I’m speaking from personal experience here, because I’ve been along for the ride on most of those quests. There’s no shortage of bags in general, of course. There are plenty of tough, spacious, comfortable, laptop-accommodating ones too.

But for the most part, they’re hideous.

Now don’t get me wrong: your average male office-worker (or teenaged boy) will love them. Black PVC. Black piping. Black zips, maybe with a flash of cautionary yellow or electric blue. Webbing for a bottle of water. Carbon fibre mesh for… some reason. The puckered thing to route your headphones through, that looks like the exotic arsehole of an invertebrate. Most bags tick all those boxes with aplomb.

Style is another matter. My wife doesn’t want a boy bag, which comes in exactly two varieties: the aforementioned, comically macho Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell nonsense, and the Ubiquitous Brown Leather Manbag. So far, so passé. Hence the ritual.

I know how she feels. Not that I’m in need of a bag - I’m happy with my current set, thanks very much - but I’m certainly sick and tired of the sea of monochromatic colours everywhere in the technology industry, and in male-targeted products in general.

The choices are appalling. Bags? Black, as I said. Cases and casings? Black. Maybe charcoal, or silver. PC? Grey. Laptop? Black, grey, silver, white. Tablet? Black. Phone? Black, grey, or white. Every conceivable electronic accessory? Black. It’s beyond depressing. It’s morbid. And come to think of it, it’s insulting.

My favourite colour in the world is purple. A rich, vibrant, royal purple.

The colour of the broad stripe on the toga of magistrates in ancient Rome. The hard-to-make and expensive colour of the past. The colour of The Joker’s favourite blazer. Purple is bold and magnificent, and if I’m shopping for something, I check to see if it’s available in purple.

You know what else is magnificent? Crimson. And cobalt. And salmon pink. Sunburst yellow is pretty fantastic too, but honestly I don’t have the complexion for it. No-one was happier than I was when Apple brought the first bondi blue iMac into the world, and then all the coloured (and patterned) variants.

Then we had the spin-off iPod minis, nanos and shuffles. The iPhone 5c. Watch straps. Finally, some colour bleeding back into the world! By contrast, when Microsoft made the Zune, it was available in black, white, or brown. Brown. That’s a swing and a miss.

I’m so tired of dreary colours designed for insecure men who want to dress like ninja assassins in geek-culture t-shirts. I know black is slimming, but so is death, the primary thing I associate with that awful colour.

Black is boring. Dark grey is boring. Even white is boring now, after a brief few years of distinction.

The first thing I do when I get a new phone (yes, I went with the gold iPhone 5s and 6, for lack of a better choice) is to put a case on it. I’ve experimented with Apple’s own cases, plastic ones from third parties, leather flip-covers, screen-printed Nintendo controllers, and even one that lets you build Lego on the back of it. Almost none of those were monochromatic. I couldn’t bear it if they were.

We can do better than this. Colour isn’t a crime. No-one is trying to dress you up as Lady Gaga. You can still wear your blue or grey or black jeans, and your black or brown or white or navy shoes, and your white or blue shirts. Just don’t mix and match the shoe and belt colours, and you’ll have no complaints from me.

Your personal tech, and the other stuff you carry with you every day, doesn’t have to look the same to you as it does to your dog. Think of the poor cops on your favourite TV show, service revolvers drawn, hunting frantically through the crowd for the guy in the black jacket, with the black bag. They don’t have a chance.

I understand that you have reservations. We’ve been taught from an early age that our colour choices are limited. We have to be conservative, and serious, and traditional, and possibly ready for a night-time infiltration mission at any moment, even if we can’t run to the end of the street without getting out of breath. Under no circumstances should we be exuberant, or (perish the thought) flamboyant. People might get the wrong idea. For example, they might think we’re not colourblind.

It’s OK, believe me. It’s safe to skip the safe option. My conference bag is orange. My carry-on rucksack is purple. My suitcase has luggage tags that look like the side of a VW bus at Woodstock, and even a couple of ribbons tied around the handles. My array of neckties would dazzle you, and my office has more coloured pens and pencils than I know what to do with.

When I’m shopping online, I go to the “for her” section of the website (as long as it’s not clothes), because all the best colours are there. If they made wooden desks in purple, I’d have one arriving tomorrow.

And I’m still here. No-one has dissolved my marriage, or taken away my man card. Nobody throws things at me in the street. Handily, my wife and I can even swap iPhone cases when we fancy a change. It’s a big, wide, bright world out there, and almost none of it is black or white. Blue, green, brown, yellow, red, pink, orange - the list goes on - are very common, though. I consider that to be a hint.

I’ve done my time in the prison uniform of monochrome tech, and uninspired boy stuff. I’m a grown man, and I like a splash of colour here and there. Life’s too short, and too damned beautiful, to wear the colour of the grave everywhere you go.

So please, I implore you, make the risky choice next time you’re hovering over a colour-picker before clicking the Buy button. Would red be so bad, really?

You’ll be happier for it, I promise you. You’ll enjoy your stuff more. And if nothing else, you’ll save time at the baggage carousel.


This article originally appeared in issue 31 of The Loop Magazine.