Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pt. 1 of 2 What we talk about when we talk about (using) computers

There are a bunch of ways that we talk about using tech stuff especially computers that I think influences the way we think about it or at least describes how we interact iwth it base on the metaphors that are used. At a fundamental level there's the idea of technological determinism which is defined as "technology as the central force behind progress and social development".
A really good example of this currently is Apple's iPad. The iPad isn't an example so much in and of itself, but rather Apple demonstrates its own belief in technological determinism in its methods of marketing the product. This is a link to Apple's latest TV ad for the iPad.

Take the approx. 45 seconds to watch it-I'll wait for you to come back.


Ok, we're back. What did you think? What stood out?
There's a couple of things that stand/stood out to me almost immediately upon watching this.
1)The first three sentences. "What is iPad? iPad is thin, iPad is beautiful." Whoa. Really? Granted, thin/beautiful is a standard, commercial construct for selling pretty much everything so maybe this blatant statement should not be entirely surprising. Throughout this commercial you do indeed have thin/beautiful parts of people, no actual whole individual is displayed.
2) "iPad" is used as a proper name instead of a thing. Which is odd. You would expect that hipster voice over to state "The iPad is thin, the iPad is beautiful" but instead the device is referred to as a proper name. I could actually insert your name into this sentence. This is progress, right? Such a state of technological development has been achieved through this device it no longer needs an article of speech to delineate it. It stands on its own celebrity power as an equitable name to a celebrity person being used in a commercial. If someone is holding this device out in the world, it is not yet standard speech to ask them "Is that iPad?"(vs."Is that an iPad?") in the same vein we ask about a retreating/approaching individual to confirm their identity "Is that Jeff?".
3) Moving along in the commercial we come to my favorite part. Here's the context/transcription from the beginning.
" What is ipad? iPad is thin. iPad is beautiful. iPad goes anywhere and lasts all day. There's no right way or wrong way. It's crazy powerful. It's magical. You already know how to use it. It's 200,000 apps and counting. All the world's websites in your hands. It's video, photos, more books than you could read in a lifetime. It's already a revolution and its only just begun."

Out of the context of the image-the right way/wrong way statement sets all moral absolutes aside. But my favorite part of this whole paragraph is the statement-It's magical. I'm not actually sure what that means in terms of reality. The iPad is a computer that receives input and produces output. When did processing data become magical? It is definitely a different of processing data but there's no magic here kids. Hopefully iPad puts a disclaimer on the box that users should not expect any Gandalf-like powers with purchase.

4) The last thing about this commercial is that there is nothing about the iPad's functionality that is really shared with the viewer/user. Sure you see different aspects of the iPad being demonstrated but as much as the commercial might say the viewer/user knows how to use it, the viewer/user has no clue until they buy it.

I am aware that this is a bit of a rant and that there are commercials that are far worse. This one just struck me as interesting/frightening/an excellent example of pretending to talk about technology but actually talking about how the user/viewer is going to feel about purchasing.
Part two to follow shortly.

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