I caught it on TV last night, and I couldn’t disagree more. It’s called “Misunderstood,” as in misunderstood teenager. I found it depressing, upsetting, and a sad commentary on our social-, video- and image-obsessed culture. The goal, of course, was to market the wonder of the iPhone using the element of surprise: show a seemingly slacker teen disengaged from the goings-on of family life, his eyeballs glued to his iPhone-save for very fleeting moments-suddenly reveals to stunned family members a touching video he’d made of their Christmas merriment. That he’d been creating all day.
The problem is that while he was creating, he wasn’t really living the day, he was a mere voyeur during it. The message? Life is better through video. Don’t live life, tape it.
I admit I do this as much as anyone. We all love to photograph and record the activities and people we love. But lately I’ve been going to bed at night with that nagging feeling that I hadn’t lived enough and had spent too much time focused on a device. Seriously. Are we happy that this year’s Thanksgiving and Hanukkah was Instagram’s busiest ever? This commercial glorified that reality. And I don’t think it is a positive message.
John Dickerson reminds us you can live in the moment and capture it.
In “Why I Write,” Joan Didion explains, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” Hey, we’re all little Joan Didions! Well, not exactly, but if my theory sounds grandiose, go back to look at things you wrote a few years ago, if you can. When I look at the notes I’ve stopped to write in those books, entire worlds come back at me. “Watching the squirming foot of the resident during the circumcision,” I wrote while my son went through the procedure. I hadn’t thought about that moment since it happened, but that image of the nervous young doctor put me right back on the threshold of the small operating room 11 years ago. The set list from the Bob Dylan show at Madison Square Garden in November 2001 reminds me of my visit that day to ground zero. I’d forgotten that George Plimpton nearly ran me over riding down 54th Street on a bicycle. My wife’s malapropisms dot the books (“Hang up the towel,” “Breathing down my throat,” “Stick his neck out on a limb for me”). I recalled each dinner where they were minted, how we laughed over them and how she has the equanimity not to care.
Everything in moderation.