Is it Raining?
So, here she is: the perfect paragon of the target audience, perkily bouncing around her living room, engaged in what appears to be a highly satisfying conversation with . . .
. . . her iPhone.
“Siri?” she chirps. “Is that rain?”
At which point the fly on my wall raises an eyebrow as I hurl my Droid at the television, screaming, “look out the $#&@ing window, for gawd’s sake!
Whoa! Why the violent reaction to a perfectly innocuous TV commercial? I mean, what do I care if someone I don’t know is so dependent on her smart phone for information that she can’t even look out the window to see if it’s raining?
And therein lies the point: I do care.
I care that we modern humans seem to be losing our ability to navigate the real world. We are becoming culturally conditioned to wire in, tune out and turn off our connection to that which is right in front of us. That sound you hear? That’s the death rattle of common sense.
An insightful example of this was reported recently by Sarah Goodyear in The Atlantic Cities. Here’s an excerpt from her article:
A few days ago, I was walking home with my 9-year-old son when I came upon a young woman standing in the middle of Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn. She was staring fixedly at her smartphone, which she held up in front of her as if using it to sense a magnetic field, or perhaps radioactive contamination.
As I passed, she turned to look at me suddenly, her face drawn and anxious. “Excuse me,” she said. “Can you tell me which way to the Brooklyn Bridge?”
I turned around and pointed to the bridge entrance, which was in plain sight about 20 yards from where we were standing. “Thank you so much!” she said. “I just couldn’t figure it out with my GPS!”
“Wow,” said my kid as we continued on. “That’s really sad.”
It’s also a little disturbing. Look around these days and you’ll see people everywhere waving their phones around or frantically talking to them, trying to find their way. Are they? Maybe. But the question raised by Sarah Goodyear is this: what are they not finding? What serendipitous journeys are they not taking? Call me old school, but I believe that the richest experiences of life are discovered through human senses, rather than digital devices. That we can follow our instincts around the next corner and stumble upon something entirely new and completely wonderful. That we’re not afraid to go where we’re not entirely sure what we’re going to find. Even if it’s not completely wonderful, it’s the discovery of the unknown, the willingness to blithely stumble forward without a clue just to see what’s “there” that makes the human experience uniquely “human.”
There is no question that technology has the capacity to immeasurably enrichen our lives. The vast amount of information instantly accessible to us at practically any time is a wondrous thing. Our smart phones bring the world to us in words, pictures and sound; and connect us to billions of other people who share our planet. All of that is a miracle of human achievement. But like most things human, there is a dark side to our wired-in culture.
Rather than connecting us to each other, our mobile devices have the potential to disconnect us. Texting, which lacks the nuance and tone that comes with a personal conversation, becomes the preferred method of communication. Why? Because it’s easier. Nobody interrupts you, you can say what you want, and when you get tired of the conversation you just stop. Thanks to your smart phone, you get to quietly abdicate responsibility for meaningful or even polite conversation. And thanks to your smart phone you don’t have to look around the real world to find the Brooklyn Bridge; Siri will tell you where it is. Until she doesn’t.
What does all this ranting have to do with marketing and advertising? Not much, except that advertising not only reflects our cultural complexion, it also helps to define it. Somewhere at Apple’s advertising agency, TBWA/Chiat-Day, a copywriter or creative director decided that our heroine should open the new iPhone commercial by asking Siri if it’s raining outside. Not for the definition of the word “rhizopod,” not for the birthplace of Beethoven, not even for a good apple pie recipe. No, she actually uses her iPhone to give her information that is already right in front of her face. The experts at Chiat-Day can only believe that this will resonate with the target market. And perhaps that’s what disturbs me.
My children reside in this target demographic. And I don’t want them to resonate with an idea or a product that replaces face-to-face human interaction with a new accepted norm of face-to-phone. Sometimes, batteries run out. Signals fail. And sometimes, algorithms are flawed. When this happens, I want my kids to still know which way north is. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to round them up and go on a long backpacking trip. We’ll take a map and a compass, and leave Siri behind.