Dystopian Personalization Scheme

HTC First, with Facebook Home.

Museum is horrifying. The video advertises the HTC First, a smartphone which features Facebook Home. This app creates a steady and constantly refreshing stream of posts and photographs, so that, as the website explains, “you’ll never miss a moment with upfront notifications about events, calls and Facebook updates.”

But what the video really tells us is that anyone using this will miss a lot. The advertisement centres on a couple visiting a museum. A tour guide’s explanation of a painting fades into the background as a bored woman checks her smartphone, finding a photograph of her friends waiting. She looks back up and the painting now features those friends—those troubling earlier figures now gone. A similar phenomenon repeats when passing a sculpture, soon replaced by a friend taking a ‘selfie’. Even a museum docent is subjugated to her personal world as he recites a text awaiting her on her screen.

In effect, the site where people go to encounter new worlds and other visions becomes the place where one encounters the self alone.  It is the height of narcissism, and the advert actively hails this characteristic of the consumer. Find the world boring? Don’t worry, it promises, soon it will be all about you! Sure the ‘i’s of Apple and the ‘You’s’ of YouTube play to this narcissism, but this video depicts the erasure of the world—people included!— to conform to the self.

I don’t mean to come off as one of those educated elites. I appreciate that encountering new things can be difficult, and that there can be something alienating when culture is divided and hierarchised along a high/low bias. But this doesn’t preclude the value of the encounter, and the willingness to engage something challenging. However, this kind of multitasking may do just that. Or rather, the active distraction of checking one’s phone has some very unfortunate results. It leads to increased mistakes, a decreased ability to actually multitask, and an impairment of memory and knowledge acquisition. So now we can add wilfully ignorant to self-centred in the characterisation of our advertisement’s heroine, the ideal consumer.

From the perspective of Facebook, HTC, and AT&T (the telco) this might all be for the best. A person who is even moderately aware of the world around her may catch on to the vertical integration taking place right in the palm of her hand. She might also catch on to the way Facebook is actively working, through these partnerships and other means, to become our primary portal to the world. Now, I enjoy this social utility network for just that—its social utility—but I am not keen on its becoming my primary interface through which I can speak with others, purchase items, and share information. While we can still act outside of Facebook, Facebook would prefer that we don’t. Consider when we suddenly find our ‘likes’ and activities on another site reported on Facebook. One has to actively opt out of this saturation of our media worlds. And as this battle takes place, an advert delights in the saturation of our physical worlds as well.

This HTC advertisement boasts something so sinister, it is difficult to articulate: It delights in an integration of platforms, corporations, the world and the self. And it sells this truly dystopic vision in a horrifying, solipsistic fantasy that is barely dressed as anything else. In effect, it is selling a nightmare, and it doesn’t even seek to hide that fact.

 

Photograph courtesy of  HTC. All rights reserved.

2 comments

  1. I don’t think we need to blame the ad for this–the real problem is social media.

    I agree with everything you say about the ad, which means it is perfectly targeted to FB’s target audience: the self-absorbed narcissistic who want to live in a solipsistic social network. That’s what social media is, or has become.

    The internet decided sometime towards the latter half of the last decade to go in one of two directions. It could have gone the anonymous internet route of 4chan and anonymous forums, or it could have gone the ego-driven route of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and now branded content, ad-driven persona-focused blogs. It chose the latter over the former.

    The ad brings to home the grim reality of social media to those of us smart enough to see it: it is a dystopian nightmare of solipsism and cultureless idiocy. It also targets those too egocentric and stupid to see how horrifying this is. And that way, it is a great ad.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Michael.
    I don’t see this ad as the source of the problems, but a raging symptom of them. However, I’m not sure I’m as ready to dismiss a wide range of platforms and technologies in order to avoid this particular problem. The Internet is a number of things (tool, technology, space) but I don’t see it as a sentient being capable of deciding to go in any direction although I do take your point about how people are choosing to use it. There’s always been a fight here, as the potential for a public sphere is hindered by growing privatisation, but I would argue that I continue to see the Internet, social media and their platforms used for all manner of social movements. There are chances for connections and mobilisations, and that deserves as much attention and respect.
    Although yes, there’s a lot of narcissism and that worries me. But is social media really to blame? It seems there’s a lot to consider here.

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