Apple has declared war on our humanity

The new iPad Pro ad presents a dystopian vision of a fully digitised society.

Simon Evans

Simon Evans

Topics Culture Science & Tech

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The advert for the new Apple iPad Pro features a hydraulic press crushing all the traditional tools, materials and artefacts of human creativity into a single reflective slither. Released earlier this week, it’s supposed to reflect how the the new model is Apple’s thinnest product ever, but the end result instead appears like a shard of infinitely dense compressed evil, like a fragment of the devil’s looking glass, as was shattered and scattered in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. How many of us had that on our iBingo* Card for 2024? (*£2.99 from the App Store, includes in-app purchases.)

The advert has certainly prompted ‘engagement’, if only in the form of the scathing contempt that greeted Apple director Tim Cook’s tweet of it on Tuesday. ‘Your predecessors showed us their dreams; you showed us our nightmares’, mourned one X user, in perhaps the most epigrammatic of hundreds of replies along the same lines. Arguably, the best online response came from a lowly, independent filmmaker who made the advert seem positive and inspiring by putting the crushing process into reverse. He even improved the choice of song to make the iPad Pro feel like a trusty companion and ally, rather than a digital stormtrooper. Apparently, he did it all on iMovie, too.

When I first stumbled on the original ad, I genuinely wondered if it might be satire. Perhaps a teaser of the next series of Black Mirror? It is simply too on the nose. The remorseless descent of a huge steel plate on the much-loved means and ephemera of artistic endeavour is quite literally O’Brien’s boot stamping on a human face in Nineteen Eighty-Four – only now scaled up to an industrial efficiency.

Does Apple really not understand that most human beings do not regard objects like classical guitars, interchangeable camera lenses and oil paints as obstacles and impediments standing between them and artistic expression, but rather the very stuff of an inner life itself? Apparently not.

I hesitate to say this but, for a company that had the rainbow in its logo before it was cool, Apple seems to have drifted to one very remote end of the spectrum.

Still, at least now we see our tech overlords clearly, mask off. For this advert is nothing if not thorough in its totalitarian vision. That is not hyperbole – there really is no other word for it. Discard your former life, says Apple, ventriloquising the serpent. The iPad Pro is literally all you need.

‘Among secular books’, said Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘Plato only is entitled to Omar’s fanatical compliment to the Koran, when he said, “Burn the libraries; for their value is in this book”’. For Apple, that would be a mean and paltry ambition. Merely the libraries? Tim Cook and Co would have you burn the music room, the artist’s studio, the campfire guitar and the Galaxian unit in the sixth-form block – and don’t forget the journals wherein you might otherwise be tempted to confide your strange sense of a hollowed-out soul.

Among the first objects to be executed in the iPad ad is a mahogany metronome, ticking away its own time, which has now surely come. It is hugely symbolic, sternly patriarchal, unquestionably oversized and hungry for table-top real estate, despite its singular and inflexible purpose. Apple obviously considers this an affront to human efficiency.

There’s also a trumpet, which bends briefly to echo the great Dizzy Gillespie’s accidentally iconic bent bell – a product of a genuine instance of creative destruction. A globe can then be glimpsed, before it becomes a monument to Flat Earthers. There’s an arcade game of a kind not seen for decades and an archaic bust from some previous epoch of unheeded hubris and nemesis. There are also printer inks – or at least, I assume they are from their magenta, yellow and cyan – though how an iPad is supposed to replace a printer is mysterious (in my experience, quite the opposite is the frustrating case).

The iPad Pro seeks to distinguish itself from the standard iPad model by emphasising that you can create as well as passively consume. I have no doubt that it delivers on this promise, within the realm of digital content at least. But the ad suggests that Apple also wants to extinguish and replace creativity in the physical world. To banish tastes, touch and smell, the triggers for Proustian flashes of involuntary memory. To chase out every last possible tang or relish for the artistic process. To eliminate the tools and traditions of the artisan. To scrub out the texture and leave only the text.

If Apple had wanted to commission an ad that warned of what is being lost as we try to keep pace with the machine age, it could hardly have created a starker vision. By envisaging a future in which every tool and material ever mastered by a Leonardo or an Argerich goes the way of the Dunlop Maxply and the quill, it has made explicit exactly what many fear we will lose.

The greatest loss is the third dimension – which is there when we go to concert halls and art galleries, but can’t be experienced through a screen. It is why people will cross seas and continents to stand in front of Velázquez’s Las Meninas. It is also why it is almost, though not entirely, futile to visit the Mona Lisa, which is behind glass, behind rope and behind a few metric tonnes of fellow biomass. The curators at the Louvre have done their best to reduce her to an iPad experience. But even then, we still know it has depth.

Go and see a Turner or a van Gogh and, if you are lucky, you will see the white horses, the frozen turbulence, the crests of the waves that have been sculpted as much as smeared across the canvas. See someone play a Bach cello sonata live and it will be the sudden unscripted squeak of the finger on the string, or even of the stool straining to support the agitated musician, that will illuminate the perfection of the piece.

So no, iPad Pro. You are no doubt very useful and convenient. Who knows what you may yet unlock? But you do not get to crush a single stress ball, let alone that glorious stroboscopic turntable. That way dystopia lies.

Simon Evans is a spiked columnist and stand-up comedian.

Picture by: YouTube.

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Topics Culture Science & Tech


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