socio-cultural conditions of a Blackberry ad

I just watched this ad: and instantly a million questions popped into my head. After being a bit more knowledgeable about youth and technology and especially after all the intense conversations at the Digital Natives with a Cause? Workshop in Johannesburg, I am more in tune with the issues going on around me. Whereas before I would have seen the ad and dismissed it as a typical attempt to sell me something, this time I tried to analyze the how’s and the why’s behind the content. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Blackberry is trying to sell me their newest model, but now I also think they’re trying to sell me an idea, an approach, maybe even a lifestyle, which is based on assumptions and perceptions of how young people should and do behave in society today. So this is my best attempt to pull an amateur Derida , and deconstruct a Blackberry commercial (without the opposition/contradiction part) to arrive at the ideas and beliefs it is based on, and to better understand how they propagate/dispel common conceptions of digital natives in India.
In engagement with TV, and especially in this ad (it in incredibly colorful and chromatically stimulating) one tends to pay more attention to the visual aspects of the production. We underestimate the role of what we are hearing in framing what we are supposed to be seeing. I think the underlying message in this ad demands that one pays attention to what is being said and then link it with what is being shown and not the other way around. Anyway, here is the transcript of what is being said in the commercial:
“The young-the restless-the texters-the messengers-the picture takers and movie makers-so much to do, so do it all at the same time. We are talking, we are chatting, we are connecting and commenting. Ask us anything we know it all. We know where to get it all. We know fashion-we know style. We live on the same planet, we believe in a different world. Catch us. We look alone but r never lonely. We are one, but we are many. And if we are not listening, it’s because we have a life to live. And its our time now. Do what you love. Love what you do. Blackberry.”
So this is my analysis sentence by sentence:
“The young-the restless-the texters-the messengers-the picture takers and movie makers-so much to do, so do it all at the same time”
First part is just a description of the possible media uses a Blackberry has which different people might choose to pursue. Second part is a reference to the information age relation to time according to Manuel Castells. Life is so saturated with content, information and possible avenues of action that one is not only spoilt for choice but often collapses with the task of making sense of it all. The message recommends to “do it all at the same time” (instead of “choose carefully what to spend time on for example) because it wants to invoke a restriction-less and limit-less and bound-less in the financial sense world, a world where a big percentage of its customer base (young, urban, English-speaking middle class in India’s case) find itself in.
“We are talking, we are chatting, and we are connecting and commenting.”
This line makes reference to the new methods, platforms, and ways of communicating available – no malice in this sentence.
“Ask us anything - we know it all. We know where to get it all”
Very interesting statement: The first part seems to play on the perceived idea that digital natives are arrogant and self-centered individuals. Some people see the latest generation as the “me” generation, framing social discourse in terms of their own individual need and wants, and expecting success and recognition without having to put much effort or hard work. The second part seems to clarify the overall meaning: it’s not that we intrinsically know everything just that we know where to find everything, which is in practicality the same thing. Digital natives have more tools at their disposal in terms of finding and interacting with information than any generation before them. Maybe the confidence comes from the ability any moment to obtain knowledge, rather than the perspective gained by it. Who knows…
“We know fashion-we know style”
Not much to say here besides invoking the perception that digital natives are ignorant and apathetic. I don’t have anything against fashion and style, but truly the capacities of a blackberry phone can be utilized for so much more ( in the ad a woman uses a blackberry to take a picture of a model) Besides, it’s hard to think of fashion and style outside of a consumer engagement framework in today’s society (I don’t know many people who make their own clothes or sunglasses), so maybe this statement is also a reaffirmation of the “consumer first – citizen second” mindset prevalent in many urban middle class youth.
“We live on the same planet, we believe in a different world.”
I am amazed at the clear language in this idea: no beating around the bush, no stuttering, just bam! We are here but we’re not here at the same time, we’re thinking of another world – deal with it! Proponents of the worldview that young people live in a disconnected and often segregated form of reality probably salivate over this sentence. To be fair, the different world they believe in can theoretically be a more just and sustainable world, but given the precedent on the ad, I doubt it. Maybe it is a reference to Slacktivism.
“We look alone but r never lonely. We are one, but we are many”
Ah! The power of networks and cloud computing. One is never truly alone while using an internet enabled device, because one can connect at will to the cloud and interact with data. This is probably why they think they know where to find it all information. I think of the book “here comes everyone” by Clay Shirky when I hear that statement.
“And if we are not listening, it’s because we have a life to live, and it’s our time now”
Isn’t listening to elders and getting advice on how to do things part of living a healthy and productive life? Obviously not Sam sheesh! Everything you will EVER need to know is on Wikipedia!
Yes yes I get it you’re young and want to take advantage of life, carpe diem and all that good stuff.
What do you think? Am I over reacting or being too cynical? My overall critique is that Blackberries are tools in the end, there is no inherent value in their usage itself, the value is derived from the way it is being used. So for example, Blackberries are great for making movies, why not show a teenager making a movie of a police officer using excessive force while making an arrest? They would be showing off the capabilities of the phone AND expressing a socially conscious message. Why must they perpetuate the perception that digital natives are immature, selfish brats who don’t care at all about what is happening around them? The commercial happens in India, did that seem like India to you? Night clubs, rock concerts and bowling alleys?

to be continued...

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:-) Let me continue from our

Nilofar's picture

:-) Let me continue from our email discussion: which law book says that a product should be advertised by playing up on its virtuous "uses" in society? Is it really unethical or immoral for a business house to sell its product by promoting it as a "cool" device, rather than show that a woman is being abused!

Taking on from your viewpoint, then all music, drama, films and poetry should highlight social injustices and not just be about entertainment or senselessness as we see it.

And yes, India has several million facets to it. There are Grade 4 kids who use iPhones today - I know my own cousin sister's daughter does - and there are tweens who hang out at malls, totting their latest gadgets, and there are the teenagers and young adults who have supposedly endless money to blow up in pubs, bowling alleys, discos, eateries and more. That is a part of Indian reality!

My overall problem with your response to crying wolf is that you expect a service provider to play the conscience keeper of society - where as, they are here to do business and not really promoting a "negative" lifestyle. Is going to a pub, designing your own quirky outfit, taking photos and simply texting and messaging an evil scourge of society?



Thanks for your comment

tettner's picture

Thanks for your comment Nilo.
1. I think it goes deeper than that - why is being in a bowling alley cool and something like promoting human rights isn't? I think media has a big role in determining what teenagers conceive, so its a self-perpetuating bias. Why does the add have to appeal to one's sense of coolness? a lot of commercials appeal to one's sense of responsibility, or future planning (like investing ads or mortgage ads)While we keep thinking that teenagers and early adults are irresponsible brain dead socially unaware people who like "cool" things, we are making them that, and media has a big role to play in that perception.

cultural productions always had a social message, a lesson, a way to enlarge people's mindset by presenting a differing or contrarian view. Its only in modernity that cultural productions have been detached from their contexts. I think, prove me wrong.

I guess the way I see it, thinking that "service providers" are here to do business is already a political position, promoting neo-liberal economic principles and linguistically liberating them from any social responsibility before the discussion even starts. In that model, Nilo, there is no good nor bad, only "people's preferences" and those are satisfied through the market.



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