Aesthetics have a bad rap in geek circles. CmdrTaco infamously slammed the original iPod with “No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame”. In other words, it’s all about the features and the functionality. If you don’t do more than the other guy, you’re useless. I don’t agree, but I accept.
It’s when the argument is raised from the “I” and to the “them” that it starts getting ridiculous. In arguing some new, ugly IBM laptop over the MacBook Air, I read the following and thought this is exactly where it goes wrong: “If you’re buying a laptop to impress girls at Starbucks (in which case, you might want to do some serious self-evaluation), this ain’t the one for you”. In other words, people only buy beautiful products to impress other people (and that’s a shallow thing to do).
It’s actually not so much that this position is ridiculous, it’s more that I feel sorry for someone holding it. I get so much enjoyment out of surrounding myself with beautiful things that I feel sad for anyone missing out on that. Aesthetics is a feature in itself. One that I — and most the rest of the human race — is perfectly willing to let trump other functionality.
I think you’ve fundamentally misunderstood why people buy beautiful products, if you think it’s all about projection. While there’s certainly something to that (and I see absolutely no shame in that either!), it’s at the core about people feeling good about that which is pretty. That doesn’t make us shallow, that just makes us human.