30
Aug
10

Reality’s Changeling

[September 30, 2010]

As of 9-30-10 there are 78,100,000 Google results for the phrase “This Changes Everything.” Allowing for redundancy, that’s still pretty hefty. So it surprises me to see this same phrase as the umbrella headline for Apple’s iPhone4 Web site.

Why, I wonder, would someone devote so much ingenuity to developing a product with, for example, the most comprehensive video-phone solution available, and then attempt to promote it with the very tatters and rags of traditional marketing?

“This Changes Everything. Again,” the headline ineffectively and arrogantly proclaims. “Everything” is, after all, kind of a tall order. Irony aside, it has the unintended effect of placing iPhone’s promotional envelope in the same neighborhood as the American snake-oil merchants of nearly two centuries back.

Worse, it helps to further enlarge the scope of the technoconnection mania that is gradually warping Americans’ sense of what’s real. Since technoconnection is the center of the universe, so the subtext goes, any product that enhances your ability to technoconnect makes “everything” essentially better. 

Losing touch via touch screen.
If there were any doubt that the ease of manipulation and transmission of digital data is warping the American mind—not to say the American political discourse—two examples give me cause for grave concern. One is the recent smearing of U.S. Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod with a doctored video “shared” by Andrew Breitbart. The other is the unfathomably cruel posting of captured spy-cam video on a college campus earlier this month.

I mention these incidents to highlight the unintended consequences of the hysteria over “new media.” People of all ages are losing touch with reality. As the Sherrod incident shows, we’ve reached the point where the mere presence of a video in digital space is enough to validate its truthfulness. 

Firing Sherrod based on this kind of evidence is appalling, not only in a moral sense, but because of what it says about our decaying faculties of critical thinking. That it should have been done by the very people we look to to lead the fight against mass-media trash-talk just shows how far the disease has progressed.

OK, maybe this is a lot of weight to put on a home page headline. 
But I can’t help being disturbed by this shoddy, irresponsible use of language by a major brand, especially when hyping anything associated with such a deep, social malaise. On the other hand, no one can blame Facebook for the appearance of a mythmaking movie about “The Social Network.” 

We have to take responsibility for that ourselves. While on a certain level, there’s plenty of evidence that the primate brain is hard-wired for mirror gazing, I’ve never seen such a blatant example of narcissism as people going on Facebook to discuss their viewing of the Facebook movie. 

Excuse me, but if anything were “everything” it wouldn’t be sharing photos or “Likes” with your phone on a social media platform. It also wouldn’t be pretending to save the world by counting the plastic bottles you purportedly don’t use.

Every day, the elevation of digital media to Messianic status leads us farther away from actually dealing with crushing social, cultural, environmental and economic issues that threaten to rip the world apart. Even digital communities with a less trivial focus are only as good as the action members take in the real world. 

Selling reality for a handful of beams.
If what started as a complaint about bad craftsmanship on a home page has morphed into a discussion of larger issues, it’s only because it’s no longer possible to see what happens in digital space as “just an ad.” At least until such time as there’s a vaccine against our current addiction to techoconnection, brands need to think more deeply about the long-range implications of their messaging. 

In a world where many people’s grasp of reality has been seriously eroded by media hype, even a bad headline can have an enormous impact. Unless something is done, we’re rapidly moving to a situation in which Reality itself will be totally co-opted: kidnapped during the night and replaced by a digital changeling.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY

m.laporta@verizon.net
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