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Apple Misunderstands

Apple Misunderstands

An Apple commercial equates recording life with actually living it.


By now you’ve probably seen that Apple holiday-season ad that only George Orwell (and perhaps the recently canonized St. Steven Jobs) could love. You know, the one with the “misunderstood” teenager who appears to have emotionally checked out for the entirety of his family’s holiday get-together so he can play with his iPhone; yet, lo and behold! He was actually there all along, producing a heartwarming video of the weekend’s highlights for all to enjoy.

Understandably, the advert bears the pithy title, Misunderstood.

But wait a second – he really did check out! He opted to fidget with his phone rather than frolic with his family. He didn’t build any snowmen with his cousins or participate in the snowball fight. He didn’t even have his hands free to give grandpa a proper hug. No, he did not experience a moment of family time. All he experienced was making a film about the family. They didn’t connect with him, nor he with them.

So what, exactly, about Mr. Misunderstood did we misunderstand?

Mr. Misunderstood missed his own family reunion so that he could record it – that’s tragic.

About 25 years ago I read an outlandish essay by Arthur C. Clarke. He argued that we will never discover extraterrestrial life, because by the time we develop the requisite technology, we will have also developed prodigious technologies to create virtual realities that will interest us far more than what’s really out there. Come on! The idea of healthy people embracing the virtually-real at the expense of the really-real was, to me, both absurd and repugnant. And yet his uncanny prediction is coming true.

Our human interactions have become so suffused with the simultaneous memorializing of those interactions that we have begun to equate recording life with actually living it. Like the proverbial frog not noticing it’s getting cooked in a slowly-heating pot, this insidious transformation is happening all around us. Mr. Misunderstood missed his own family reunion so that he could record it – that’s tragic. Apparently Apple (and many YouTube responders) thinks it should warm our hearts.

The problem actually runs deeper, because once the camera (or social media feed) is rolling, we can’t help but adopt a persona to portray. Over time, we begin to confuse who we really are with that persona. It’s almost as if we have begun casting ourselves in the starring role of our own reality TV shows. But what audience are we playing for? And how much do we really believe our “followers” care?

Here’s a quick self-test to determine just how big a swig of the Kool-Aid you’ve taken. Hypothetical: You’re waiting in line when who should saunter up behind you but the person you’d most like to meet in the whole wide world. If your knee-jerk resembles “OMG! I’ve gotta film this and post it on Facebook it might be time for a social media Sabbath. This is the person you wanted to meet, remember? Recording that you “met” doesn’t actually constitute meeting.

Now suppose you request a quick pic, but your hero politely declines to be the décor of your self-aggrandizing selfie, offering instead to engage in a regular chat. Would you be disappointed? If so, it’s probably time to go cold turkey.

Look, I love my iPhone as much as the next guy. I’ve even developed my own mobile app. They are amazing tools for productivity, communication, and yes, for recording moments we want to share and don’t want to forget. But that’s all they are: tools to help us get on with living, not a replacement for living.

Let’s not forget to put down the phones so we can build a few snowmen, throw a few snowballs, and yes, give grandpa a proper hug. Beautiful, delicious, real life is happening all around us, pretty much everywhere we look – except on the screens of our mobile devices. If you don’t appreciate that, you’ve misunderstood.

January 11, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 20

(19) Susan, January 26, 2014 5:07 AM

Always a reason

I know that this is a commercial. I'm saddened how technology has taken the place of face to face time. Touching, hearing, listening. I also worked in daycare. And doing things with technology is some children's only way of dealing with a crowded room, noise, lights. What if the camera operator was a highly functioning autistic! Well like I said, I know it was a commercial. But to be fair, I have a nephew and day care kids who can't handle that much excitement. For them to be able to focus on filming is a great way for them to cope. We just don't know by looking who's really autistic or not. So I've learned not to judge it.besides, how do we know he didn't put that camera down and join the fun at one point?

(18) Ann, January 21, 2014 2:15 PM


Something bothered me about that video and I couldn't figure it out. Thanks for articulating it so well.

(17) Anonymous, January 19, 2014 5:23 PM

I have stage four mesothelioma and probably don't have long to live. while I am still ambulatory I am pretty much confined to my house. One of my sons, who is over forty years old, visits me almost every week along with his wife. She actually visits while he sits and plays with his cell phone, texting other people. I sometimes wonder why he bothers to come by at all. Maybe it's just his way of dealing with the thought that I'll be gone within a few months. Whatever the reason he certainly not engaged with me when he sits in my living room and talks to other people via text messages.

(16) Dee, January 16, 2014 6:39 PM

Ever heard of the movie WALL-E or Strange Days?

This is exactly what I've been saying for Years! The Movie WALL-E came out in 2008 and the way it pictures Humans in the movie is exactly where we are headed. They are all on a giant spaceship where humans left the earth because we had destroyed life on our planet. The humans (this is an animated movie) are portrayed as all 400 lbs, riding around in scooters, staring at screens in front of them all while talking to people. The Never Interact with one another! The one woman who is wheeling around, something happens with her scooter and she actually looks up for the first time -- We Have A Pool? When did we get a pool? It was there all along ........ Strange Days came out in 1995 and follows a character around who is stuck in his old life as they have made virtual reality visor type things where you can experience anything recorded like you were actually there including smells and everything. Poor lead character and many in this movie were totally addicted. I am so afraid this is where more and more technology is leading us!!

(15) Anonymous, January 16, 2014 2:18 PM


as a former art teacher, I was blown away by the sense of empowerment for the geeky child. yes the commercial didn't show any of the times that he physically interacted with the family. however, his emotional involvement was really there. he caught the familial interactions giving everyone a rare treat that they will enjoy for many years, especially as the older members pass on. and his true emotional involvement was so evident with the smiling selfie at the end. this is the new way, gone is the Dad with the Super 8 intrusively directing the action. Go Geeky Kid with the subtle time captures.

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