Apple Is Trying Hard Not to Cause the Downfall of Our Nation’s Youth

By Ross Brenneman — December 19, 2013 2 min read
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It’s almost Christmas, and like many holidays before it, there will be a few hours where families may, at times, be forced to communicate. To what should be our national shame, we have not yet overcome this problem. The easiest modern way to avoid talking, as the younger generations know, involves being absorbed into a smartphone.

That brings me to Apple’s newest holiday advertisement, released Tuesday:

There’s a Typical Teenager, all invested in his phone, except lo and behold, he is actually up to a clever Christmas surprise. Tricky adolescent!

There is a perception that youths and cellphones are attached at the hip, because of both studies that show how much teenagers value their phones, and because phones are often carried in hip-adjacent pockets.

Keep that thought in mind while reading this article from AdAge, predicting the five big trends in social TV watching for 2014:

Prediction 5. Second screen becomes almost second nature. When Dora the Explorer asks a question and pauses for an awkward four seconds, instead of yelling at the TV, children now are grabbing a tablet and answering the question. If you have young children, as I do, the targeted Facebook ads for Disney Junior 'Appisodes' are ubiquitous."

Tablets and smartphones are everywhere, and getting more everywhere by the day.* With the exception of districts embroiled in botched tech rollouts, Apple sales keep rising in schools across the United States; in 2013, tablet sales increased 46 percent over the previous year.

With so much screen time—with dialogue in a child’s world being increasingly electronic—will children lose their communication skills? Are we breeding a generation of isolated, anti-social curmudgeons that can’t understand the sound of a human voice unless it echoes the tones of a faceless artificial intelligence? And are schools, in embracing technology initiatives, culprits in propelling such a problem?

I asked Siri.

Apple understands all this. And it’s telling, then, that Apple titled their Christmas ad “Misunderstood.” Apple, with many products to sell, either does believe or wants people to believe that criticism of phone attachment is overblown, that it (and Samsung and HTC and everyone else) is not creating some kind of cell sickness. Apple is positioning its commercial to undermine a stereotype that teenagers are living life through their phones, and that technology threatens “normal” socialization.

Maybe smartphone obsession is actually a real thing. I know, I know, no one has ever thought of teenagers as surly, distant malcontents, but alright, sure, maybe the phone is suddenly changing that.

Then again, maybe smartphones are just an easy outlet for people who don’t necessarily want to interact. Apple just seems to be arguing that not all people interact the same way, and that maybe we shouldn’t assume silence is symptomatic of unhappiness or disconnection.

*My phone has an app that tells me this is grammatically impossible, but live with it. [Return.]

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.