Watch Apple Trash-Compact Human Culture

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Produced by ElevenLabs and News Over Audio (NOA) using AI narration.

Updated at 6:25 p.m. ET on May 9, 2024

Here is a nonexhaustive list of objects Apple recently pulverized with a menacing hydraulic crusher: a trumpet, a piano, a turntable, a sculpted bust, lots and lots of paint, video-game controllers.

These are all shown being demolished in the company’s new iPad commerciala minute-long spot titled “Crush!” The items are arranged on a platform beneath a slowly descending enormous metal block, then trash-compactored out of existence in a violent symphony of crunching. Once the destruction is complete, the press lifts back up to reveal that the items have been replaced by a slender, shimmering iPad.

The notion behind the commercial is fairly obvious. Apple wants to show you that the bulk of human ingenuity and history can be compressed into an iPad, and thereby wants you to believe that the device is a desirable entry point to both the consumption of culture and the creation of it. (The ad is for the latest “Pro” model of the iPad, the price of which starts at $999 and goes as high as $2,299, depending on its configuration.) Most important, it wants you to know that the iPad is powerful and quite thin.

But good Lord, Apple, read the room. In its swing for spectacle, the ad lacks so much self-awareness, it’s cringey, even depressing. This is May 2024: Humanity is in the early stages of a standoff with generative AI, which offers methods through which visual art, writing, music, and computer code can be created by a machine in seconds with the simplest of prompts. Apple is reportedly building its own large language model for its devices, and its CEO, Tim Cook, explicitly invoked AI in his comments about the new tablet—the iPad Pro features, he saidan “outrageously powerful chip for AI.” Most of us are still in the sizing-up phase for generative AI, staring warily at a technology that’s been hyped as world-changing and job-disrupting (even, some proponents argue, potentially civilization-ending), and been foisted on the public in a very short period of time. It’s a weird, exhausting, exciting, even tense moment. Enter: THE CRUSHER.

Apple is very good at defining the zeitgeist as it relates to how humans use technology to interact with the world. Announced with a Super Bowl commercial in 1984, the Macintosh ushered in the era of personal computing by presenting streamlined hardware and a pleasant graphical interface; iTunes and the iPod augured a world of limitless media; the iPhone delivered on its promise to fit the entire universe in our pocket. There is about a zero percent chance that the company did not understand the optics of releasing this ad at this moment. Apple is among the most sophisticated and moneyed corporations in all the world. (The company did not respond to a request for comment.)

But this time, it’s hard to like what the company is showing us. People are angry. One commenter on X called the ad “heartbreaking.” Three reasons could explain why. First: Although watching things explode might be fun, it’s less fun when a multitrillion-dollar tech corporation is the one destroying tools, instruments, and other objects of human expression and creativity. Second, of course, is that this is a moment of great technological upheaval and angst, especially among artists, as tech companies build models trained on creative work with an ultimate goal of simulating those very people’s skilled output. It is easy to be offended at the ad’s implication, and it is easy to be aghast at the idea that AI will wipe out human creativity with cheap synthetic waste.

The third-order annoyance is in the genre. Apple has essentially aped a popular format of “crushing” videos on TikTok, wherein hydraulic presses are employed to obliterate everyday objects for the pleasure of idle scrollers. Arguably, the company thought that copying this specific motif would be fun, but something is grim about Apple trying to draft off a viral-video format to sell units. It’s unclear whether some of the ad might have been created with CGI, but Apple could easily round up tens of thousands of dollars of expensive equipment and destroy it all on a whim. However small, the ad is a symbol of the company’s dominance.

The ad remains, in some sense, great marketing. Everyone is talking about the iPad, a mainstay in Apple’s lineup that nevertheless gets far less attention than the iPhone. But this sudden interest offers room for a genuine appraisal of the device 14 years after its release. The iPad was one of Steve Jobs’s final products, one he believed could become as popular and perhaps as transformative as cars. That vision hasn’t panned out. The iPad hasn’t killed books, televisions, or even the iPhone. The commercial hails the new Pro model as “the most powerful iPad ever,” but its bravado is mostly unearned. The iPad is, potentially, a creative tool. It’s also an expensive luxury device whose cheaper iterations, at least, are vessels for letting your kid watch Cocomelon so they don’t melt down in public, reading self-help books on a plane, or opting for more pixels and better resolution whilst consuming content on the toilet.

In the day and a half since the ad was released, people have only gotten angrier. Cook’s post on X featuring the commercial has been viewed more than 29 million times, and the unhappy responses are piling up. (Since this story was published, Apple has apologized for the commercial and will no longer run it on TV, according to Ad Age.) Odds are, people aren’t really furious at Apple on behalf of the trumpeters—they’re mad because the ad says something about the balance of power. Apple is a great technology company, but it is a legendary marketer. Its ads, its slickly produced keynotes, and even its retail stores succeed because they offer a vision of the company’s products as tools that give us, the consumers, power. The fundamental flaw of Apple’s commercial is that it is a display of force that reminds us about this sleight of hand. We are not the powerful entity in this relationship. The creative potential we feel when we pick up one of their shiny devices is actually on loan. At the end of the day, it belongs to Apple, the destroyer.


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