The above video is a milestone in consumer electronics history: it was the first recording to document the unwrapping of a new gadget that was titled as an unboxing. While individuals have been gleefully ripping open the packaging of their electronics for decades, unboxing is the relatively new practice of recording these moments and uploading them to video sharing services for public display. The 2006 video embedded above features veteran technology blogger Vincent Nguyen as he unpacks a new Nokia E61 smartphone and related accessories. Nguyen removes the device, displays it to the camera while commenting how thin it is, and then dryly lists off the remainder of the objects in the box. On completion he utters "Basically that's it… ummm, for now."
While Nguyen's removal of a smartphone from its original packaging was decidedly drab, unboxing has become a fixture in online consumer electronics coverage. Major players like Endgadget have entire streams of content populated with seasoned technology experts (almost always male) rifling through waybills, wielding box-cutters and carefully extracting shiny new netbooks, gaming consoles and cameras from their packaging. I've watched about three dozen of these videos over the past few days—scanning for signs of intelligent life—and they are remarkably ritualistic: styrofoam is carefully set aside, manuals are flipped through, battery packs are commented on. In doing this field research I've come up with two hypotheses of what unboxing represents:
1. A practice that has emerged as as extension of page view journalism whereby gadget blogs can get traffic without doing any actual 'reporting'.
2. Glib theatre where adults joylessly reenact moments from their childhood when they received and opened gifts.
While both of these readings of unboxing are equally applicable, I prefer the latter, where each of these tiny ceremonies is an act of worship at the altar of technology-induced ennui. However, I think the majority of coverage of this phenomenon simply writes it off as geek porn.
Now, an important question: Can unboxing be elevated to an art form?