Commercial Analysis

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The reason why people spend too much time on their phones is because the software is either too slow or poorly designed? Really?

This is the “getting out in front of it” tactic, and has been discussed on this blog here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. It consists of acknowledging a problem, demonstrating it in absurd, out-of-proportion, and highly unlikely manifestations, and in doing so making it seem like it is okay to continue to indulge the cause of the problem. The advertiser is trying to convince the consumer that because his problem isn’t this bad, it isn’t really a problem. Or, at least, because he acknowledges it as a problem he therefore is ipso facto in the process of solving it, and therefore it is okay for him to continue to indulge it’s cause.

However, set all of that aside for a moment. Suppose that acknowledgment actually is the first step in resolving relatively small, yet extremely difficult to isolate, personal problems. Also suppose for a moment that commercials such as this one actually do help sufferers embark on the process of solving such problems (instead of just further twisting their awareness of the problem’s existence). Then this is the first commercial using this advertising tactic to not only fail to actually help the consumer acknowledge the problem, but simultaneously intentionally appear to do so. It is the first commercial to use the “getting out in front of it” tactic in a twice-removed fashion. Not only is an acknowledgment via an implicit, begrudged admission – and defended (perhaps self-defeatingly) by humorous satire – not really reliable as the first step in lasting change, but “acknowledgment” that misidentifies the source of the problem as some non-essential detail like poor software design is not really acknowledgment at all.

The actual reasons why people spend too much time on their phones (or on all kinds of media, for that matter) are vast and complex. Disgust and boredom with the real world, fear of it, some kind of neurological reprogramming that makes the slower pace and higher effort demands of real-life experiences excructiatingly painful are all probably factors. If it were simply the case that poorly designed software has made effective technology use slower than it should be, then technology use would be at all-time lows – not all-time highs. History would show a directly inverse relationship between technology speed and technology use. The fact is that more and more time is wasted looking at computer and telephone screens precisely because there is more and more opportunity to distract oneself from one’s real life in an ever more efficient and entertaining manner.

It is true that all of the products being sold via this marketing tactic – especially modern cell phones – have redeeming qualities, so going “cold turkey” may not be the best option. Acknowledgment is definitely a necessary and useful step – and while that should never be a product advertisement’s primary purpose, it can be an appropriate side benefit. But to take advantage of that fact simply because, if challenged, one can confidently hide behind the excuse of “What would you have people do then? Not use cell phones at all?” is disgraceful. Undoubtedly the macro-economic situation in America is currently dreadful. Large, heavily-leveraged companies like Microsoft can have very little confidence in the direction of it (since the current taxation and regulatory structure makes their long-term strategies forever contingent upon the unpredictable whims of government policy) and thus have little incentive to target anything except short-term gains, but the solution is not to further inculcate in the population at large – via one’s advertising – the same kind of dishonest, short-term thinking that caused the dreadful situation in the first place. That is like saying our culture is the way that it is not because what it values is invalid, but because those values are improperly implemented – and that “it’s time for our culture to save us from our culture.” The problem is that our cultural values are invalid!

Nothing can save a person from the ill-effects of wasteful technology use except a clear understanding of what he finds interesting in media and why; and what values he is wasting by implication and why. Which means: an identification of his values, what is attacking or perverting them, and a commitment to reorganizing them (and thus preserving himself). Similarly, nothing can save a culture or it’s economy except a slow, thorough reexamination of what it has come to value, a realization of what they actually mean in every day terms (eg: a culture full of media-addicted compulsive escapists), a rejection of those values and a replacement with the values it believes it has held all along, but because they were never actually understood, never actually has.


Written by commercialanalysis

October 28, 2010 at 3:07 am

Posted in Electronics

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