By Mitch Albom
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Misunderstood.
It’s a word we use to make ourselves feel better. It’s a virtual anthem to teenagers. And it is the latest marketing maneuver by Apple, which seeks to own Christmas in a way not even the Grinch imagined.
By now you have no doubt seen Apple’s latest TV commercial (which actually is titled “Misunderstood”). It has been running all holiday season. At 90 seconds, it’s hard to miss.
It depicts a family coming together for Christmas and one sweet-faced loner of a teenager (think the older brother from “Little Miss Sunshine”) who is always on his iPhone.
When the family unloads the car, he’s on the screen. When the family decorates the tree, he’s on the screen. Sledding, skating, making snowmen — he’s on the screen. Nobody gets too mad at him.
Occasionally, family members tease him (a grandfather-type playfully tosses a towel in his face), but for the most part, the kid keeps returning to his device, and by halfway through the spot, parents are thinking, “Hey, I know this kid. He’s our middle one, right?”
But then comes the kicker. With the family gathered in one room, the teenager turns off the TV, presses something on his phone, and the big screen alights with a video he has been making of family moments, behind the sparse and haunting singing of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
The images are deliberately moving — children, family, snow angels, all seemingly shot by a professional cinematographer (which of course, the teen prodigy will one day be) — and by the end, the whole family is crying and hugging the “misunderstood” teen, whose face is sweet enough to forgive a felony, let alone missing precious holiday moments while working on something clearly more important — an iMovie of those moments.
It’s brilliant — except for one thing. The movie ISN’T more important. It isn’t OK that you exit real life. Screens are not more vital than human connection. And the whole ad falls apart if you realize this.
But Apple is banking you won’t.
By manipulating the images and making the movie version of the family Christmas seem even more emotional than the real thing, it is playing on the heartstrings of a country whose citizens want more and more to be the stars of their own films.
Facebook. Instagram. YouTube. Reality TV. They all play into this.
And an iPhone is portal to them all.
So Apple, perhaps sensing that holiday humanity might mean some pushback, cleverly launches a preemptive campaign, suggesting the teen you scold tomorrow may be creating something loving today.
Except, of course, that he’s not.
The real-life teen is more likely texting a friend about how boring the family is, or checking the latest YouTube video of a rock band dressed as foxes, or playing “Angry Birds,” or watching a season’s worth of TV shows, or any one of a thousand distractions that keep real life at bay.
But that doesn’t sell iPhones.
And when you realize that Apple’s purpose is to sell stuff — not save Christmas — you have, much to Apple’s dismay, figured it out.
So perhaps as the new year approaches, this ad could serve a purpose: Let’s resolve NOT to do Apple’s bidding. Instead, try the opposite.
Vow to spend LESS time on a screen.
Less cell phone. Less iPad. Less iPod. Less Droid. Less Xbox. Less BlackBerry. Less Galaxy. Less Mac.
And, oh, yeah — yank that device from the over-immersed child. It’s OK. If he wants to be Spielberg, he can go to film school.
And if you think I am overreacting to a TV ad, consider this: The average American apparently now spends more than five hours a day on a digital device, and four and a half hours with the TV on. If you work or study eight hours a day, sleep eight hours a night, and commute at all, what time is left actually living life?
Overreacting? Why do you think Apple spends what it takes to make a 90-second ad and run it everywhere? Its existence depends on people thinking virtual life is real life — and that they’re not missing anything by becoming an iZombie.
But we are missing something.
Collectively, we already have missed lifetimes. An iPhone can’t smile, hug, cry or share a memory. An iPhone can’t bake, taste or pop champagne. An iPhone can’t tell you the family stories — no matter how clever an editing program you have.
So this New Year’s, try unplugging and just experiencing. Because, remember, if we agree with Apple that it’s more important to record life than to live it, pretty soon all our holiday videos will look the same: a bunch of family members filming each other.
Mitch Albom is a columnist
for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may write to him
at: Detroit Free Press, 600 West Fort Street, Detroit, Mich. 48226, or contatct him via email at email@example.com.
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