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Apple’s dystopian ad has killed the Silicon Valley dream

A still from Apple's iPad Pro advert. Credit: Apple/Youtube

May 10, 2024 - 4:00pm

One interesting emergent phenomenon in the tech world is the invocation of saints and martyrs. When Apple released its widely-derided “crusher” commercial this week Paul Graham, founder of the tech incubator Y Combinator, claimed that “Steve [Jobs] wouldn’t have shipped that ad. It would have pained him too much to watch.”

The Apple ad riffs on the TikTok trend of “crusher ASMR” videos — in which objects, from footballs to vases to candles to toys, are put beneath the inexorable steel colonnade of industrial hydraulic crushing machines. Some things crush well: they might have a satisfying compaction, or shatter with a clean “pop”, while other things merely smoosh or crumple. The ad depicts the destruction of guitars, pianos, paint pots — the stuff of creativity — into a gleaming steel mirror: the new iPad Pro.

Actor Hugh Grant grandly labelled the commercial “the destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.” His outrage spread, and Apple apologised yesterday, admitting that it had “missed the mark”.

But the question of whether St Steve would have been able to use his powers of divination to stop the disaster is still an intriguing one. By meditating on the late Jobs, we can reflect on all the reasons why we used to like Apple and cleave them off from the resentful clinch in which we now find ourselves.

The Silicon Valley dream conjured by Jobs was a naive one. It’s hard to look back on the famous “Think Different” Apple ad campaign, with its invocations of Martin Luther King and Albert Einstein, and not see misguided Baby Boomer sentimentality. That dream has been running on autopilot since Jobs’s death in 2011, all while the world has changed around it.

Figures like Tim Cook — vapid supply-chain guys — have, in awe and memoriam of their founder, kept steering in that direction and maintained the minimalist vibes. Yet they have failed to notice that the pine-scented Cupertino utopia seems to be connected by dilapidated highways to various cities which increasingly resemble Blade Runner.

Hence why Apple’s crusher went down so badly. It’s easy for the company’s executives to imagine no possessions; it’s easy for them to live in a green-tech wonderworld. But it’s trickier for geriatric millennials to live through the fourth wave of tech-induced wage compression in their working lives. Or to go back to houses crushed in scale by quantitative easing and mass migration.

As a business — as a revenue-generating machine — Apple has now reached what business studies professors would call its “mature phase”. Most of its profits come from rent extraction based on customer lock-in. They come from the 30% cut it takes on every purchase in the App Store; on the tenner a month for iCloud; or payment processing fees via Apple Pay. The wheel of life revolves: Apple is unkillable, because it sells you the magnificent hardware at close to cost, in order to get you into its revenue ecosystem.

It is a displacement activity to hate Apple. But we are going to need to hate a lot more through the rest of 21st century. Some have framed the new ad as an unconscious reversal of Ridley Scott’s famous “1984” commercial — the athlete smashing the Big Brother screen, freeing the hypnotised normie folk.

These critiques tend to point out that Apple is now Big Brother. That it is an uncool overlord with crushing market power. But perhaps we should rotate the wheel another quarter-turn: what if Apple is, to extend the Orwell metaphor a little further, actually Emmanuel Goldstein? We are only extending our two-minute hate, directed towards a nefarious phantom figure who may not even exist.


Gavin Haynes is a journalist and former editor-at-large at Vice.

@gavhaynes

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Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
11 days ago

We need to make ownership of an iPhone or iPad the new naff.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
11 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Call me naff.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
11 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

What’s a naff?

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
9 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Gold chains, chunky wristwatches, cargo shorts, white socks, square-toed shoes, Ed Sheeran …

jane baker
jane baker
11 days ago

I heard about this ad on the radio + of course I haven’t seen it + I thought it was referencing that idea that I think was driving Silicon Valley in the 1990s to 2010s. I’m sure it was actually,even if subliminally. The idea that the iconoclastic tech entrepreneur DESTROYS the whole structure of society,business,finance whatever he can extend influence over them remakes it anew, faster, shinier,better.
Just like in the late 18th century the first industrialists horrified people with their inventions but more by how their application narrowed and impoverished people’s lives. But they had plenty of educated people to “rewrite the narrative” for them. Same today,only it’s not sticking so well. People are not buying the narrative,or having once done so,rejecting it,seeing through it,people are fed up with having all their certainties taken away when the replacement is unsatisfying and lacks warmth and charm. Because it’s a bot.

Peter B
Peter B
11 days ago

Got to love an article with a phrase like this: “Figures like Tim Cook — vapid supply-chain guys”.
Nails it. Apple is now derivative. Churning out incremental products in the hope that planned obsolescence and tribal loyalty will keep the show on the road. All the while, claiming the moral high ground on being green and progressive while they do everything they possibly can to prevent people independently repairing their products and indulging in world record tax dodging (their intellectual property is not created in Ireland !).
Behind the PR smokesceen, there is no better exemplar today of pure corporate greed.

Paul T
Paul T
11 days ago

It’s not that deep.
It’s just an advert thats a bit clumsy.
They are not ending reality.
You are not required to use any smartphone for anything.
Get over it.

jane baker
jane baker
11 days ago
Reply to  Paul T

We are required to use our smartphone for a lot and much more soon. One day you’ll need your smartphone to get into Tescos to shop for food. Or computer will say No and those doors will be shut to you.

Mint Julip
Mint Julip
11 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

Ditto lots of government services.

Bob Downing
Bob Downing
10 days ago
Reply to  Mint Julip

Quite so: my online NHS repeat prescription service has just decided I don’t exist and never did …

John Tyler
John Tyler
11 days ago

People are getting more worked up about this advertisement than they do about sensationalist TV scenes of rape, murder, torture and any other violence you can think of. We live in a a topsy turvy world!

jane baker
jane baker
11 days ago
Reply to  John Tyler

Lots of us don’t have a tv. Or watch it.

Kerry Davie
Kerry Davie
11 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

TV is so ’20th Century’.

Bob Downing
Bob Downing
10 days ago
Reply to  Kerry Davie

Worth rewatching that predictive BBC series, W1A, then?

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
11 days ago

Obviously not intended by the ad, but the literal interpretation shows a violent confrontation between virtual technology and real life artifacts and artisan instruments in which the latter is crushed to death!
Not a good look.
Most people are sick of their attachment to virtual modes and long for more concrete forms of experience.

Thomas Donald
Thomas Donald
11 days ago

They said the quiet part out loud.
(To quote Harrington.)

Jake F.
Jake F.
11 days ago

To be honest I think the outrage over this ad is misplaced. I thought it was a clever way of saying everything an iPad can do. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the countryside where tech was slower to arrive, but I still see phones and tablets and computers as magnificent and life-changing. Apple should grow a spine instead of apologizing.

jane baker
jane baker
11 days ago
Reply to  Jake F.

Do you have siblings called Sebastian and Indigo and a Granny who drives her Bentley to Just Stop Oil protests.
I bet you do.

Jake F.
Jake F.
10 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

Ha! I own a gas station and voted for Trump, thanks for asking.

Martin Dunford
Martin Dunford
11 days ago
Reply to  Jake F.

They’re literally – in the case of music – crushing a beautiful instrument (guitar) and suggesting their sliver of silicon, glass and aluminium is superior. How? it doesn’t even have strings, it reconstitutes sound from digital samples (like bad orange juice from powder). They can’t seem to grasp the irreplaceable beauty and superiority of the real thing. How on earth does Eric Clapton or Sokolov (the great pianist) play an ipad and get anything even remotely close to the original instrument’s sound ? Which looks better in your living room, a beautiful piano or guitar or a blank faced piece of glass framed in metal?
Bottom line anyone or anything that would crush and mangle all these beautiful objects, they’re dystopian, they’re against the human. Not a good look for Apple.

M Harries
M Harries
11 days ago
Reply to  Martin Dunford

“ How?”

Well, for a start, one can compose music on a staff, and then assign any number of instruments to play the composed music. When you have a trumpet, all you get is the trumpet sound… but that’s the real one. The iPad Trumpet sounds similar, that’s the best you can get; but having said that, I haven’t heard what the M4 chip and its Ai engine can produce.

Kerry Davie
Kerry Davie
11 days ago

That’s an appalling display.

charlie martell
charlie martell
11 days ago

Over priced, over rated, unnecessary. There is nothing Apple devices can do that others cannot. And for far less money, and less control.

Martin Dunford
Martin Dunford
11 days ago

Apple alone build the silicon, hardware, OS and basic apps for their phones, tablets and laptops. Samsung and others have to port e.g Google’s Android OS onto their hardware. MS Windows has to run on a long list of different hardware.
In terms of quality and reliability Apple have an enormous advantage and will remain best of class for a long time to come.
That said this was the most disastrous, tone deaf ad I’ve ever seen. Jobs worshipped beauty and excellent design and here we see many examples of this being destroyed.

M Harries
M Harries
11 days ago
Reply to  Martin Dunford

Ok, ok, ok. It was a clumsy wrong-footed way of stating that the iPad is an extraordinary machine that is capable of being a tool for the production of art and music. And the brains and development effort within that machine is staggering. Inconceivable to the average user.
The M4 chip capable of 380 trillion operations per second? That might as well be magic. Does anyone know the mechanisms of how they determine that count?

M Harries
M Harries
11 days ago

“ These critiques tend to point out that Apple is now Big Brother. That it is an uncool overlord with crushing market power.”

> Apple’s emoji set includes a symbol for transgender, but does not include the symbols for female or male. This is an appalling effort to gaslight and project what Apple has determined as normal – that male and female are subjective culturally created terms that are not useful. Quite astonishing. Apple are literally doing the work of Winston Smith.

Jake Raven
Jake Raven
11 days ago

Does advertising really work?
I never listen to or watch ads, and in the days I used to watch TV, an ad never persuaded me to buy a product.

Alan B
Alan B
9 days ago
Reply to  Jake Raven

….and but here we are, talking about this ad!

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
9 days ago

Creative destruction. While the secret theme is transhumanism, but America lives that under the Democrats every day. Canada has already got there under Trudeau.