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The technology that's rotting our brains can also be inspiring
I rarely watch commercials anymore. I don’t know the exact metric, but I bet the number of commercials I watch during the Super Bowl is something like ten times the amount I see during a typical month the rest of the year.
It’s not like I don’t watch any shows. I just stream them via Netflix, HBO Max, Apple TV+, or whatever. The amount of time I’ve saved by not having to listen to cringey jingles, car dealership guys literally yelling at me, or brands attempting to be funny but not remotely pulling it off, is worth every dime.
But sometimes there’s a commercial that absolutely nails it. Maybe it’s funny or it’s heartbreaking, or maybe it’s clever or it’s beautifully shot. A commercial that’s so good, that it prompts you to not only write about it, but to share it on the internet with just under 2,000 friends, family, and complete strangers—like I’m about to do right now.
This is one of those commercials:
I got choked up the first time I watched it whenshared it in her newsletter .
I felt a lump in my throat when I showed it to my wife the next day.
And I felt the same way when I rewatched it right before writing these words.
Obviously, it strikes a chord with me since my daughter Em is disabled. But I imagine just about everyone who’s not a complete psychopath feels something.
When I get past the emotionality of it, I’m amazed at the technological advances that have been made.
Last week, Em’s teacher came to our house for a home visit. The idea was to ensure Em that she’s a person who’s so safe that she’s even welcome into our home. When she showed up, Em was in her chair playing a game on her iPad. She has a bunch of “peek-a-boo” games where she has to hit the screen somewhere near the middle for a cow to peek out of a barn, a gorilla to come out of the bushes, a gift containing a xylophone to get unwrapped, or whatever. She loves them and they’re great for her because they’re one of the few things where she can interact with them and something happens in response, without our help. So many toys don’t work for a kid with severe cerebral palsy who can’t really grasp things, can’t walk to pick them up if they roll away, and has trouble aiming where her hands go.
Her teacher was impressed with how well Em navigated the games and how motivated she was to unveil the next animal or object. It made her optimistic that, despite Em being nonverbal, she could eventually learn to communicate using an iPad. She talked about how in the past kids like Em required machines that cost $10,000-$15,000 and only enabled them to do somewhat basic communication. Whereas now, with an iPad and a keyboard guard that sits on top of it, they have a way slicker and dynamic user interface to work with that they can buy for less than a grand.
Despite all of technology’s faults and unintended consequences (mind-altering social media algorithms, feeling like we always need to be reachable, smartphone pinkie, etc.), it can truly be remarkable sometimes.
Every time I watch that commercial, I catch something new. The woman using voice commands to open her curtains, the blind person using the phone as his eyes, the guy scrunching his face to crop a photo.
What these devices are capable of is incredible.
But more than anything else, what these people are capable of is incredible.
It makes me hopeful and excited to see what Em is capable of.
For next week, I’m working on something totally different and I’m really excited about how it’s turning out so far.
See you here next Saturday at 8:08 am PT!
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