Thursday, March 12, 2009

Exhibiting the 3G Family

Note: This post is inspired by an original essay by Theresa Walsh Giarrusso (cited below). Her piece was published before mine, and I explore a number of themes that she first raised.

Sprint's new "3G Family" ad celebrates the ways in which mobile phones allow us to drift off into our own little enclaves, ignoring places and people around us.

Maybe you've seen it. The ad portrays a nuclear family walking through some sort of natural history museum, you know, with dinosaurs and lions and such. Nothing's real. Everything's a fake.

Perhaps it's a trick of camera framing, but the group appears at first to walk closely together.

Then we see a sideways view, the mother walking backward while aiming her camera phone at the family. They ham it up, waving at her. The little boy twirls for the camera.

"If your family were a 3G family you could post your trip on YouTube before you even get home."

Ah, great. Another unedited, self-absorbed, look-at-me YouTube video.

Then the scene shifts. The mother is pointing out something on display while the father hides around a corner. Is he downloading porn? There's something creepily self-satisfied about his smile.

"Or surprise your wife with tickets to a broadway show."

OK. It's not porn, probably.

The little boy is now peering into a display for a stuffed tiger. He roars at the animal before shifting his gaze onto the phone screen. Spielberg's framing a shot.

"Email grandma a T-Rex one second and a tiger the next."

The family hasn't visited Grandma since last Thanksgiving, or was it the one two years ago? But that's probably for the best. Grandma smells kind of funny and her "candy" is a bowl filled with tooth-shattering peppermint nubbins that have congealed into a sold mass untouched since Reagan announced Morning in America.

Of course, the boy's sister is text-messaging the entire time, keeping her head down, tapping on those tiny keys. Something like, "OMG! IM soooo BORD!" (That's my generic example for all text messages. Sorry).

"All at 3G speed."

The end of the spot shows the family departing the scene. Each member is spaced further apart from each other than we saw in the establishing shot. The girl is still texting her silent frustration at being stuck with these losers and the boy appears to be left behind. He stares at the painted lions on the wall.

The 3G family needs to ditch the phones and go to a park.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso's original essay: I don't want to be a 3G Family


Jenny Wood said...

You never cease to amaze me at your cynical view of these things. Especially your take on Grandma- they probably just saw her last weekend, like they do every weekend and the boy loves her so much he has to share this with her!

Your take on the little girl is right, though. If I were the parents I would've taken the phone away from her at the start of the commercial.

Sarah said...

I just bought an iPhone, and I am very conscious to avoid what you describe, just as I did what I got my first camera. Enjoy the moment, rather than try to document it.

Also, and I have this fight with my nephews all the time as they have their heads buried in cellphone games during a car drive, look around once and awhile.
See new things, or appreciate things you see all the time. (like the Golden Gate Bridge we see every weekend when we drive over to Berkeley). I was amazed at the people on the airport shuttle who were buried in their devices and not looking at Seattle. They were all out-of-towners, so it isn't like they see it all the time.

But I guess this isn't exactly a new phenomenon. It's like that famous cartoon by Michael Leunig that was featured in The Saturated Self, of the father and son watching the sunrise on TV, as the sun rises out of the window behind them (

These new 3g phones and other mobile technologies have just made it so much easier to miss reality in front of you while providing you a digital facsimile of reality in the palm of your hand.

highway163 said...

Sarah, thanks for your observations, particularly about those "buried heads."

And yep, I love that son/sun image!

Anonymous said...

The commercial makes me want to go to that natural history museum...any idea where it is?