A MISUNDERSTANDING REGARDING TECHNOLOGY
An Apple holiday ad for the iPhone, titled Misunderstood depicts an adolescent boy arriving with his family to presumably his grandparents’ home to visit extended family for the holidays. His grandparents greet his mother, father, and sibling as they cross a snow-covered yard. The teen hardly acknowledges the welcome he has received pausing only momentarily for a side hug from his grandfather as he shuffles, head down across the lawn. His attention is not at all diverted from his iPhone. A montage of scenarios follow in which at all times the boy is staring at the small device in his hands while others socialize. In a later scene he hands another young relative, younger than he, a carrot to complete the snowman that his sibling and cousins have built and still, his gaze remains fixed on his iPhone. For us the viewer, and his family whose father in one scene shakes his head in apparent dismay of how much attention his son pays to electronics, this boy has fulfilled a stereotype… that teens are detached and apathetic.
Later, while family bonds in the living room, the young teen turns on the television. Fortunately for Apple the kid’s grandparents are hip too, they have Apple TV. And because so, detached adolescent is able to shock everyone in the room (and those of us watching the commercial) with what was so important that he couldn’t break away from his iPhone to spend time with his family. In fact, detached adolescent has not been as detached as we are led to believe. He has been capturing the day’s events on video. Everyone watches and everyone cries. He is not detached after all and yes he does love his family. The premise of the ad is pretty easy to grasp. Most people can accept the notion that teens despite their posturing love their families and even though they do not know how they fit in, want to be accepted. A pill a bit harder to swallow is that Apple will get our kids to that place of acceptance. That technology makes the detached attached and that as Will Smith sang, “parents just don’t understand” but they would if they watched the video that apparently all preoccupied teens are making. Here’s the truth though, that kid wouldn’t be doing that, as most teens wouldn’t be either. Like most any teen, he would be bemoaning to his friends back home the time spent at grandma’s house. How endless a weekend with family can be. How minutes are hours, hours are days. Those visits are great when we are young, suck when we are teens and they seem eternal, and then we hopefully learn to appreciate those times with family and recognize how fleeting they are as we get older.
The opening of the ad starts with a foggy suburban street, snow covered rooftops and a station wagon. A young boy staring out the window. A young boy and his iPhone. “Imagine a world in which there is no time. Only images.” These are the opening lines of the chapter titled 15 May 1905 in Alan Lightman’s novel Einstein’s Dream, a novel in which each chapter is a fictionalized dream about time, had by Albert Einstein. In the chapter 15 May 1905, the world is referential to depictions of life through images only. A family arriving at the home of extended family. Cold snow. A warm embrace as a warm welcome. Children and their grandmother in the kitchen. Gingerbread cookies on the counter. Sugary white icing. A park bench overlooking the city below. A young boy and his iPhone. A snowman on the lawn. A bright orange, crisp carrot. Children bundled in winter jackets. Children ice skating. A young boy perched on a fence. A young boy and his iPhone. A grandfather teasing his grandson. A grandson and his iPhone. A Christmas tree. Tinsel and ornaments glimmering. A warm fire burning in the fireplace. A photograph of a distant relative on the wall above a comfortable chair. A young boy and his iPhone sitting in a comfortable chair sideways, legs across the armrest. A young boy holding his sister’s hand. A young boy on his iPhone in bed. Children nestled in bed. A living room filled with gifts on Christmas morning. Family gathered together drinking warm drinks, dressed in warm flannel pajamas. A television. A video of images captured by a young boys iPhone. An image of a warm embrace. An image of a warm welcome. An image of children and their grandmother in the kitchen. An image of a winter storm. An image of icicles. An image of a family, playing in the snow. An image of snow angels. An image of a baby staring at her first Christmas tree. An image of children playing, of a grandfather teasing a boy capturing an image with his iPhone. You and me watching an ad for an electronic device.
The ease with which we can record our lives now with our ubiquitous technology has convinced us of something. That is, that to own an experience by way of capturing the happenings of a particular moment is most important. And with ease we convince ourselves that this act is what is important. That the act, in and of itself is what matters. This is an existence referential always to something else, to another experience but a record of that experience, not even a memory. In order that we may not recall, but always live later never now, manipulating time and experience, making intangible tangible, and making time retroactively what we want it to be if anything at all. As for the bad moments, like for teens visiting family, we also have technology to not record but to transport us somewhere else and perhaps, travel through time to somewhere else we’d rather be or travel by way of scrolling images across a screen. If images can serve us in the way time once did, then we can be somewhere else always and in an instant. We are always somewhere else.
Our want is for control. If interaction is not physical then but rather remote and autonomous of direct interaction, the ability to transport our self through space and a perceived continuum is not such a stretch. In short, ownership of our lives is what we want and we believe technology has gotten us there. If there is no time, only images, then we live by a scrolling a touch screen. And by arresting, elongating, capturing and manipulating experience and thereby the same to time, we are convinced of our dominion over time, that we own it by way of destruction. Experience is not for us to own but we have convinced ourselves of the misunderstanding that we can.