More of the Same
Just as Microsoft’s commercial for it’s new Windows Phone pokes fun at the culture’s preoccupation with communications technology, presents a specious argument as to why this phenonomenon exists, and therefore implicitly encourages the consumer to continue to be preoccupied with communications technology, this series of commercials by Sprint also pokes fun at the phenomenon, offers it’s own specious explanation for it, and does so for exactly the same purpose Microsoft does. Instead of technology simply failing to be “user friendly” – Microsoft’s explanation – in this series of commercials Sprint is claiming that people are disproportionatly interested in their mobile devices because of fear of the financial dangers associated with rigid usage contracts.
The joke in these commercials is that no one in real life would be so callously indifferent to another person’s injury, or actually go out of one’s way to insult his neighbor (let alone give his negative opinion in such tactless terms), or irrationally go through the trouble to meet someone face to face only to communicate the intended message electronically after all. Everyone understands that even though the relief the doctor is experiencing from no longer having to worry about extra communications costing him money is legitimate, in real life, of course, he would be able to keep his perspective and thus retain his capacity to feel concern and sympathy for his patient when it was needed. Similarly, everyone viewing the commercials realize that even though the excitement the neighbor and the girlfriend are feeling about their new, contractually-unlimited communications plans might cause them to want to communicate unnecessary or inappropriate things just to experience first hand what it’s like to not have to worry about breaking the terms of one’s usage contract, in real life they would still be able to retain their discretion and electronically communicate something benign, it anything at all.
The claim is that while these tendencies do exist – people really do disproportionally worry about what their mobile device usage costs them, or they really do express things in blunt and insensitive ways via electronic communication (which they would never do in direct interaction), or that they really do use electronic communication for things that they shouldn’t simply because they are able – the reason is not something that could be identified and corrected by focusing on actual life (necessitating that one use one’s mobile device less). Instead, the solution according to Sprint is simply to relax the financial risk associated with using these devices and these irrational social tendencies will dissipate and eventually disappear from the culture. Sprint concedes that in the short-term, because of the abuse people have suffered as a result of financially risky usage contracts, their negative tendencies will show themselves in the forms of overblown relief or gratuitous device usage, but that legitimate relief from having to maticulously track one’s device usage is actually all that is causing it. In other words: an increase in exactly the sort of bad behavior which is being parodied here should be regarded as a positive sign. An increase in the phenomenon should be interpreted as a sign that it is decreasing. This is a new twist on Microsoft’s argument that “it’s time for a phone to save us from our phones.”
What could explain major corporations making such Orwellian claims, and expecting them to be received positively by the viewing public? The answer lies in the culture’s predominant view of human certainty as such. While it strikes many as distressing that so many people do things with their mobile devices such as neglect their professional responsibilities, or maliciously attack people when they are safe behind the impersonal veil of electronics, or insensitively use electronic communication to say what dignity requires be said face to face (albeit never in such dramatic fashion as presented here), for them to consciously recognize that the cause of their distress lies beneath their mobile device usage requires the ability to disassemble the less fundamental elements of the immediately perceivable data (as has just been done on this blog). As it stands, however, most people are unable to distinguish between a superficial and a fundamental characteristic of a given object or phenomenon, and therefore any explanation becomes convincing simply because it is better (ie: psychologically healthier) than no explanation. Thus, even though the claim that the solution to the social problems which admittedly are not caused by mobile device usage, but are certainly exacerbated by it, is to make conditions such that it is easier to use these devices more strikes most as counter-intuitive, they will accept it as valid (as well as Sprint’s explaining away of the contradictory evidence) simply because nature abhors a vacuum.
As was discussed on this blog in the analysis of Microsoft’s commercial, it is true that people are disproportionately interested in their mobile devices, and it is true that the solution is not to stop using them altogether, but this second fact does not make Microsoft’s or Sprint’s specious explanations for why this phenomonon came into being valid. Simply because many misguided critics of the phenomenon will suggest a mindless complete stoppage of mobile device usage as the solution does not give mobile device producers moral permission to encourage mindless continued usage of their products and services. It certainly doesn’t give them moral permission to make sure that happens by offering misleading explanations for why the culture is preoccupied as a means of making continuing the behavior seem appropriate “because it has been considered.”