— Kathy E Gill (@kegill) December 17, 2013
I almost added #kleenex to that tweet. I probably should have.
Without revealing the plot twist in the 90-second clip, I’ll simply say that I thought it was an effective reframing that makes the title, “Misunderstood,” resonate.
Effective: yes or no?
We don’t have children, but we have nieces and nephews. And the behavior evidenced by the teen in the first half of the video? Oh, yeah. We’ve experienced it. Hellsbells. I’ve practiced it and I’m (theoretically at least) an adult!
In a quick search with Google, only one major publication has a writer (at this time) who was offended: Forbes (warning: spoilers coming).
In its latest ad, with an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” message, Apple isn’t carving aspirational ground, it’s caving to people’s vices. What would have had more impact was if Apple made a commercial that said, “put down the iPhone this holiday season and actually look at, talk with, be with your family and friends.” That would follow what seems to be the backlash against smartphone use that’s happening all around us. Like restaurants offering 5% off of your meal if you relinquish your devices so that you have meaningful conversation with your family at dinner. Like my friend who got so fed up with her daughter’s 11-year-old friends texting–to one another–instead of skating at her ice-rink birthday party that she confiscated their phones. Like texting-while-walking bans.
The teen-made video shows him engaged with his family. How else to have filmed the sledding scenes?
I took away this: it’s OK to be an introvert in an extraverted family.
It’s OK to want to tell stories with video (even though I’m a verbal teller of stories.)
You could go even further: technology like this inspires budding filmmakers.
And yeah, sometimes people get so caught up in capturing the moment that they miss living in the moment. But “not living in the moment” isn’t the “fault” of mobile phones. This seems to be the meme of the quarter in traditional (read the former gatekeepers) media: NYTimes (Sept), The Guardian (Sept), Bill Moyers (Oct), NYTimes (Dec), The Age (Dec). Some of this scaremongering (FUD) is being driven by Sherry Turkle, who has a new book she’d like us to buy.
Unlike the Forbes editor, I’m not convinced that is the story in Apple’s ad.
We can “consume” and “create” on the same bit of personal technology, and creation can be an act of connection.
My hope is that watching this video simply opens our minds to the possibility that there might be something else going on when a teen (or adult) is “hiding behind that damn mobile phone.”
There’s more than one way to be connected.
We’ve been down this path before
Look. These technologies are new.
As a consequence, we (society, families, friends) are still figuring out the “proper” role of the device in various situations. Just Like We Did With The Telephone!
In the late 19th century, people raved about the telephone’s positive aspects and ranted about what they anticipated would be negatives. Their key points, recorded by Ithiel de Sola Pool in his 1983 book “Forecasting the Telephone,” mirror nearly precisely what was later predicted about the impact of the internet.
For example, people said the telephone would: help further democracy … cause the postal service to lose business …
increase crime and aid criminals; be an aid for physicians, police, fire, and emergency workers … inspire a decline in the art of writing …
As is the case with the Internet, the telephone worked to improve privacy while simultaneously leaving people open to invasions of their privacy…
Furthermore, why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device when he can send a messenger to the telegraph office and have a clear written message sent to any large city in the United States?
Even Mark Twain (especially Twain?) is said to have despised the telephone:
It is my heart-warmed and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us, the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage (every man and brother of us all throughout the whole earth), may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss, except the inventor of the telephone.
And there have always been (and always will be) technology doomsayers:
More than a hundred years ago, when the telephone was introduced, there was some hand-wringing over the social dangers that this new technology posed: increased sexual aggression and damaged human relationships. “It was going to bring down our society,” said Dr. Megan Moreno, a specialist in adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Men would be calling women and making lascivious comments, and women would be so vulnerable, and we’d never have civilized conversations again.”
Most reviewers focused on the technology or the derivation from Apple’s normal Christmas videos:
As with other commercials in the ongoing iPhone campaign, Apple implies powerful features through a storyboard narrative. No specs are presented, no fanfare or device worship; just a simple story about a family Christmas. The iPhone and AirPlay are secondary players to the characters who use them, and that is what makes the ad stand out. (AppleInsider)
And broadcast technologies — TV and radio — have helped connect the nation during times of crisis. Pearl Harbor. JFK. Challenger. Even 9-11.
Communication technology isn’t inherently “bad.”
But uncritical technological optimism isn’t the answer, either
Don’t get me wrong. Technology isn’t a panacea.
It’s how we decide to use a technology that determines its social impact.