Did Apple Go Too Far?

I admit it. I’m one of those people. I love Apple products. When I switched (converted?) to an Apple laptop several years ago, I swore I’d never go back. Now hardly a day goes by without me spending a substantial amount of time on one or more Apple devices. So yes, I’m a dedicated fan.

But I hope I’m not a blind one.

With their recent “Designed by Apple in California” ad, the company has seemingly displayed, in microcosm, both the blessing and the curse of our modern technological age. And in so doing, it also evidences the perennial problem of seeking our happiness outside of where we can actually find it.

Along with a montage of various people absorbed in some way with an Apple product, the ad includes the following voiceover:

This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a product.

How will it make someone feel? Will it make life better? Does it deserve to exist?

We spend a lot of time on a few great things, until every idea we touch enhances each life that it touches.

You may rarely look at it, but you’ll always feel it.

(The last line refers to the company’s trademark, visible onscreen, “Designed by Apple in California.”)

In a short piece called, “In Twenty Years, We’re All Going to Realize This Apple Ad Is Nuts,” Mark Wilson strongly objects to ad’s message, wondering “why someone inside the company didn’t insist upon this copy edit: ‘This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a person.’”

He continues:

Watch the ad closely for me. As we’re told that products are what matter, we see a series of shots in which people actively turn away from life to engage with their technology.


My fundamental problem with the ad–why it’s begun to make my shoulders tense and stomach churn every time it comes on TV–is not that it’s lying about how we use technology, but Apple’s consecrating the behavior, and even going on to say that their products, not the lives they serve, are “what matters.”

I think Wilson is on to something significant, if not sufficiently nuanced in his critique. If pressed, I imagine that Apple would argue their intention for their products is to help us experience and appreciate other people (and the wider world) more, not less.

And, in many ways, they’re right. When a woman closes herself off from fellow travelers on the metro to revel in her favorite music, she moves from one human experience to another. After all, that music was made by a person, likely with great care and intention. And when a restaurant patron momentarily takes his attention from his steaming meal to FaceTime the scene to a friend, isn’t he trying to bring that experience to another human being? And when a child’s eyes light up while peering at an iPad screen alongside his father, could it be that the two are forging a shared memory?

Well, sure. That would be the great good that modern technology can produce.

But to Wilson’s point, this is the best-case scenario. Technology often does alienate people from one another. I marvel (at least when I’m in the right frame of mind) at the absurdity of how easily I’m frustrated when one of my very real and present family members “distracts” me from whatever I’m looking at on my laptop. And look no further than the next restaurant you walk into. See if you don’t find people who are more absorbed in smart phones rather than the conversation of others at their table. Just as technology gives, it can also take away.

In fact, the language of the Apple ad points to an even deeper problem. To claim that the “experience of a product” is what really “matters” is to suggest that Apple’s devices can finally provide what human beings have been searching for all along. You don’t have to be a theologian to realize this is absurd.

None of this is new. Virtually anything human beings produce can be used in both helpful and destructive ways, whether it’s as simple as a shovel or as complex as an iPad. And we’ve long sought for happiness in many ways—be they possessions, people, power, or whatever else—rather than in the one, true God. The wise approach will keep these basic truths in mind even as it seeks the obvious good that can come from the modern marvels we so often hold in our hands.

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