Fast Co Design (or is it Co.Design? Sigh-Designers) has published an article titled, “In 20 Years We’re All Going to Realize This Apple Ad is Nuts.” It’s about how Apple is “consecrating” behaviour that is antisocial with its ad. Everyone in their ad is choosing the screen over real interactions. But why would we see this as crazy? We’re already doing this. Every generation since TV was invented has been taught to venerate what’s behind a screen. Screens deliver our myths, shows us our gods, and defines our norms. Media mediates our reality.
And then we developed the ability to put ourselves on those screens. And now the only way we can achieve this ‘enhanced life’ is by experiencing everything through them. Just because it’s not a chemical doesn’t mean the content we consume through our eyes, ears and fingertips are not capable of causing chemical changes in our brains and bodies as strong as many drugs. With sharing comes social validation, so that these images not only last, but they’re made more intense when we put them online.
But it feels wrong, because we’ve always told ourselves that we should be more ‘in the moment’, focused on the ‘hear and now’. And that’s impossible if you’re focused on somebody’s Snapchat at a Yakitori. Apple is merely removing the guilt of by playing it back to us through a screen, thereby making it ‘normal’. Aspirational even.
Twenty years from now, we’re going to wonder why they chose to depict what will by then become perfectly normal behaviour.
We’re already starting to forget that only a few years ago waving a mobile device around in a crowded restaurant, using a mobile device during class, taking pictures of ourselves making out in the street or even talking on a cell phone in public wasn’t aspirational, it was the height of rudeness.
What Apple is doing with this ad, whether its creators are conscious of it or not*, is making it not only socially acceptable to do a lot of previously-unacceptable things with their products, but aspirational. The soft focus, mood lighting, good-looking actors, and charming music all help to make you want to do these things too. And thus the ad makes it easier to use their product in certain contexts than before. At the very least, it’ll make you feel differently about your next encounter with the douchebag who’s loudly live-chatting with his wife next to you at the bar.
*Not saying Apple and Media Arts Lab sat down and said, “our objective is to make socially unacceptable uses for our products acceptable,” but I’m not denying it either. For a company founded on the belief that product design and marketing are synonymous, this ad is another way to enhance the experience of the product, by making it less unpleasant to use in public. As fake adman Don Draper once said, advertising “screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”
But none of this has anything to do with why people are so disturbed by the ad itself.
What’s weird is, Apple is speaking to the multitude (“…every life it touches”), while showing you images of humans dependent on its products. The end result is that you can’t help but feel insignificant, yet hooked at the same time. They’ve laid out their accomplishment: designing products that have re-designed humans.
From the classroom full of socially-engineered kids (narrator, “this is what matters”) to the couple who seem to love the image of themselves as a couple as much if not more than they love each other (“will it make life better”), every sentence is about the company and every image is about how much your reality has been manipulated by that company since birth.
Where Apple’s old ads were about our relationships with each other (iPhone 4 Facetime), or about Apple’s relationship to its competitors (Mac vs PC), this ad is about our relationship with a corporation. And that is a relationship between junkie and pusher. Apple’s commercial holds up a mirror, and reveals a truth we don’t want to see: We’re so hooked on this ‘enhanced’ life that we can’t go back to the ‘unenhanced’ one. It’s Skynet calling, and it’s letting you know there will be no war, because you’re already enslaved.