I feel I know what marketing and advertising is about. I am aware of how it is designed to manipulate emotions, harken back to some real or imagined nostalgia, epitomize what we want and how we want to get it. I worked a bit in marketing, crafted text to such effect, framed banners and logos and color schemes and fonts, positioned what was wanted and what was in some sort of tense balance. In short, I feel like I know when my strings are being pulled. And yet, sometimes I simply don’t care.

I am speaking in particular of the two (there might be more) iPhone commercials, one about music and one about images. Simple enough. Endless figures listening to music or taking pictures in disparate locales. Lost in themselves and in their gaze or their soundscape. Lost in backdrops both mundane and exotic. Lost in introspection. The ultimate purpose of these commercials is for you to buy an iPhone. The ultimate connection they are making is with you and with your history and your experience. It is connecting you with them, these people in these commercials. The connections here is what makes these commercials sticky to our emotional, nostalgic selves. It evokes the ‘us’ of community; it minimizes the isolation of being.

Media Practices and Relentless Questioning

For my purposes, above and beyond that, it demonstrates how wound technology and our social practices are with one another. How technology introduces a means of doing something that perhaps we have always done, say listening to music or taking a picture, and made it more accessible, more pervasive. It infiltrated every nook and cranny of our existence and, as all media practices do, it changed us. We then, in turn, changed it, demanding more, more capacity for extending this documentation of our worlds to more granular and broader levels, simultaneously. Nothing escapes our gaze. Nothing is unworthy of documentation and observation. The world itself is our purview, all of it and us are interlocked in observation and engagement.

These commercials also document, however pleasantly, mobile media practices. How we listen to music amid the chaos of everyday life, rather than merely as an activity in and of itself. We use it to complement and supplement our consciousness. It frames our everyday experiences, both banal and profound. We cannot imagine a memory without an accompanying musical score or soundtrack. Passing through X Aiport or Y Train Station or saying goodbye to this loved one or parting from that friend, all of it is framed by my headphones and the music and the iPhone I use to deliver it. Our frame of experience has changed dramatically in how we experience life, how we frame it within a sonic environment, how we use that music to categorize it or prime our capacity for dealing with a particular emotion. It is therapeutic and we are the doctors of our imagination, healing and medicating our way through this comedy. There is some recognition of that in these commercials.

They document how we record the images of our life. How we dart away for a second from a crowd of friends to catch the moon off the alley we just passed, knowing we will never see its equal again in this life (and we know the image won’t capture that, but we try). How we sit in favorite spots and try to capture the pavement, the people, the breeze, the river. All of it frames our perspective and engagement with that space. Our own maturation is framed within these arrangements of time and space and sentiment. All of it is translated from head and heart to the world through these media practices. So we can scoff at the slightly menacing pervasiveness of Apple or through the blatant attempts of manipulation in advertising. But we should know, always know, that advertising touches on a truth. We are, or want to be, perpetually floating through these memories, the ones we knew even at the time were profound. The ones where it seemed like all the forces of the universe were conspiring to make beauty for us and us alone.

And for all the manipulation of our emotions and calls to our sense of real or perceived nostalgia, these commercials are, I feel, honest. Honest appraisals of what we do and how we do it. Honest reminders of how mobile technology has allowed us reflective space in our chaotic worlds, how this technology has let the inside interact with the outside and vice versa. How we want to experience and remember, relive and occasionally fixate on our past. More often than not, though, it crystallizes our present, that very moment we are trying so desperately to capture. We create relentlessly.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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