Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Humor Me: Zooey Deschanel, the iPhone and "intelligent assistants"

A list of the most divisive topics in this country could include abortion, capital punishment, gun control and global warming. Actress Zooey Deschanel might fit in there, too.

Deschanel has been in a lot of movies over the last decade, and now she stars in the Fox sitcom New Girl. She’s also the star of a Facebook page titled “I hate Zooey Deschanel.”

So what’s to hate?

Oh, I don’t know. Deschanel is obviously talented, and I think her New Girl show is pretty funny. But when you’re a 32-year-old who dresses like a 5-year-old, when you have a name that’s cutesy enough for a Cabbage Patch doll, and when you seem determined to achieve impossible quirkiness, you’re going to be a target.

Of course, none of that really matters for this column. I just needed to provide some background for those who might not know Zooey Deschanel, who is now appearing in an iPhone commercial.

The commercial starts with a close-up of Deschanel standing in her hipster apartment, which includes a piano, banjo, large cowbell, a couple of ukuleles and dozens of old books stacked on a couch. Yep, she’s quirky. And perky. And, apparently, unable to look out one of the large windows in her apartment.

“Is that rain?” she asks her iPhone 4S.

“Yes, it appears to be raining,” the phone responds.

Specifically, the response comes from Siri, the iPhone’s personal assistant. According to Apple’s description, “Siri is the intelligent personal assistant that helps you get things done just by asking. It allows you to use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls and more.”

And more … such as telling you if the drops of water falling from the sky and landing on the window are, in fact, a sign of rain. Deschanel smiles in wonder as she looks out the window, kind of like a 2-year-old experiencing a car wash for the first time.

“Let’s get tomato soup delivered,” she says to the phone, saving herself from the complex preparation trifecta of a can opener, bowl and heat source.

The commercial is goofy, but I know the goal is to make it memorable. If Deschanel were using voice commands to do something more substantial, such as pull up her e-mail or add an appointment to her calendar, it wouldn’t be as adorably or annoyingly memorable. It’s much more interesting to see Deschanel talking to her phone like it’s her best friend.

In a lot of ways, technology is now our BFF because it makes things so much easier for us. The Internet has been widely used for less than 20 years, but it’s hard to remember life without it. Many people would feel the same about life before 2007, when the iPhone was introduced, followed by Android smartphones. It was only back in 2000 that the U.S. government stopped jamming Global Positioning System signals, allowing the GPS market to blow up to what it is today.

We’ve come a long way in a short time. But although we have access to more information than ever, we don’t always have the common sense when analyzing it. That’s why some drivers have followed GPS directions off roads, to edges of cliffs, and onto flooded streets. An ambulance in England, which was set for a 12-mile drive to a hospital, went 200 miles in the wrong direction before the driver noticed a problem.

Wouldn’t you get suspicious after 25 miles? Maybe after 50?

Some people say technology makes us dumber, but I just think it makes us mentally lazy. And that’s probably another reason the Zooey Deschanel commercial has appeal. The iPhone is amazing in many complex ways, but keeping it simple is best in a world where some would rate a phone or tablet’s greatest feature as “ability to play Angry Birds.”

Of course, Angry Birds is fun. So are a lot of the things that you can do with smartphones and other technology. It’s also fun to have an “intelligent personal assistant” that can help you with all your tomato-soup delivery needs.

But when the rain turns heavy in our lives, we might want to double check our path before an intelligent assistant sends us underwater.

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