I was going to write about music today. A fun topic – a great way to roll us all into the weekend. I was planning – and have nearly finished – a post containing my Top 40 of 2016. Then, as so often happens to this mouse’s best-laid schemes, it went awry. An ad (surely the bane of any YouTube user’s experience) popped up when I clicked on a link to a song (which will remain unnamed, as I do not want to give away anything about my chart until I publish it). I scrambled for the “skip ad” button, then stopped. This ad accomplished what no other ad in all my time of ad-watching has ever done: it caught and held my attention until it was over. Why? Because it was awful.
The iPhone 7 Plus features several tweaks to iPhone camera function and output. I had seen the boyfriend ad, the soulmate ad and the one featuring two kids in a play (“your movies look like movies”). These, all by themselves, are obnoxious. Put them all together, though, and add some extra words – and you’ve got what I saw (for which, for some strange reason, I am unable to find a link). Basically, the ad was saying that everything in your life looks better when you capture it with the iPhone 7 Plus. It makes your profile pic look even hotter. It makes your boyfriend look even more handsome. It makes your dog look even more adorable. Because, of course, the picture – the showpiece – is what matters. Not you. Not your boyfriend or girlfriend. Not your pet. Just the proof of it, displayed for your digital audience.
Isn’t a camera supposed to capture things as they are? Isn’t that how you want to remember them? Not unnaturally glowing or backlit. Not more highly coloured or slimmer. Not bent at the odd angle calculated to remove the double chin and round belly. Just themselves, as they are at this moment in this place, with all their beautiful dents, chips, scratches and scars. If that is not want you want – if you are looking to smooth all the edges – perhaps it is not actually the person or animal you value, but what he or she represents. What he or she says about you, as you carefully curate your life online. They’ve become an advertisement for you. How cold.
As I watched the ad, I was reminded of something I’ve never used, though they seem to be everywhere – filters. Not the ones that give you cat whiskers or dog ears – the ones that improve your appearance based on some algorithm of attractiveness. They are basically designed for the same purpose as the NEW! IMPROVED! iPhone camera: to make what we photograph or film look better. They subtly slim the bottom half of your face. They widen your eyes. They superimpose tans and light make-up. They airbrush everyone. They lie. Worse still, they up the ante for everyone else. Because so many of us are primarily connected through social media, we see each other’s profile pic several times per day – though it may be a long time between face-to-face encounters. In our mind, the person we know becomes the image we see. Then, we look at our own unfiltered photo – or our face in the mirror – and it doesn’t cut it anymore. Now, we need a filter, too, so we can look as good as everyone else. My profile pics never seem to stack up to some other people’s, and – though I know what they really look like – I have found myself unfavourably comparing mine with theirs. It’s insidious. If it rattles me this much – a fairly confident 36-year-old who didn’t grow up in the digital age – I can only imagine what it’s doing to my daughters and their friends.
Apple is – to say the least – a very successful company. Apple knows what people want, and is good at giving it to them. Apple, and its many peers, are just doing what we all do in a free economy: capitalizing on people’s perceived needs and desires. But we don’t have to go along with it …. What if we choose to ignore the noise? What if we take a step back from what we think we want, and reassess? To put it bluntly, what if we decide it’s time to get real?
(Because I teased you with my title and a reference to music, I feel like I should toss you this little bone …. Click here to enjoy Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye!)