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Apple's New Ad Celebrates the End of Creativity

Whenever tech giant Apple releases something major, it usually comes with a slick ad that worms its way into the cultural lexicon. The company’s catalog spans generations at this point. Dancing silhouettes dominated billboards and television when the company first released the iPod. In the 90’s, Apple burrowed the phrase “think different” deep into our brains. When it first released the Macintosh, the accompanying ad played on themes from 1984, depicting a woman smashing the face of big brother by throwing a sledgehammer at a large screen. 

A screencapture from Apple's ad for the iPad Pro. A wide variety of items are sitting on a hydrolic press. They include a piano, arcade game, recording equipment, lights, paint, and more.
A screencapture from Apple's ad for the iPad Pro

This week, Apple announced the new iPad Pro with an ad attempting to show how the device contains all the elements one might need to create…anything. “Just imagine all the things it’ll be used to create,” wrote CEO Tim Cook on Twitter Tuesday above a video of the commercial. 


The ad slowly pans over a record player to the tune of “All I Ever Need Is You” by Sonny & Cher. The shot eventually widens to reveal a host of items - a piano, trumpet, books, paint, drum set, television, guitar, globe, a classic arcade game cabinet with the words “game over” onscreen, and more - sitting on a large hydraulic press. As the music plays, the press crushes everything slowly. Paint splatters over everything. Glass from the game and a television pops and crunches. Camera lenses explode. The top of the press finally meets the bottom, pauses for a moment, and slowly lifts up to reveal a thin iPad. 



The implications are both obvious and crushingly dystopic.


Most of us have been walking around for a decade or more with a device in our pockets that can tell the time and weather, give us directions anywhere, play music, take photos and video, and access humanity’s largest evolving archive of knowledge, among other things. We take it for granted in the same way earlier generations took the ubiquity of broadcast television and radio. Those of us that grew up as the analog world became digital witnessed an explosion of creativity, affordability, and access to worlds we may have never otherwise wandered through.


This ad however, doesn’t show that. Books exploding into pulp because one can theoretically access them on an iPad doesn’t mean people will actually have access to them. Creating, recording, or performing a song on an iPad or laptop is a completely different experience than doing it with a guitar or piano. Admiring a portrait on a screen is different from hanging one on the wall of your living room. 


Watching the destruction of the tools of creativity in slow motion isn’t just jarring, it gives us the idea that none of them are necessary anymore and have less value. 


“This is not making things better. This is just making some people insanely wealthy, at the expense of all of us,” wrote actress and director Justine Bateman on Twitter, including a screencap of a 2017 op-ed written in the New York Times by Eve Ewing. “Tech and AI means to destroy everything.” 


Actor Hugh Grant also posted to Twitter about the ad, saying it shows “the destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”


A few people have already recut the ad to show it in reverse, where instead of the hydraulic press crushing everything, it slowly reveals the items, suggesting they’re springing forth from the iPad. And though that version is many times better than the original, it still doesn’t exactly feel right. 


While a digital version of something analog opens up access to an incredible array of tools for creativity for people who might not be able to afford the money, time, space or have other impediments to use or enjoy them, they don’t replace them. Nor do they replace the talent and skill it takes to master them. And though they open up new avenues for creation all to themselves, the idea that we need nothing else but a pocket computer to create art, music, literature, photography, and more cheapens everything. 


For Wall Street, corporate behemoths, and various techbros, this seems to be the end game. As they continue to push LLMs and other types of generative AI on the world, they extract as much value and meaning out of art and culture as possible. They’re selling the idea that not only can literally anyone write a book, make a picture, or create a video game without much or any skill or effort, but it doesn’t matter what that creation is, so long as it vacuums up a pile of money and spits it out onto the stock market.

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