Tech companies love a heartwarming message. Has it already been seven years since Google’s “Parisian Love” Super Bowl ad told a romance-in-miniature through search engine queries? Just last Tuesday, Apple opened its annual product rollout with the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” (Well, love and $999.) And now we have a new Samsung commercial, which premiered last week and aired during Sunday night’s Emmy Awards and which insists that in 2017, Cupid works not with an arrow but with a stylus:
As romantic comedies squished into minute-long commercials intended to sell smartphones go, it’s quite a cute ad. It also does an admirable job of associating Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 phone with a fun-sounding new feature, Live Message, instead of what the previous iteration of the phone was best known for: exploding. With Live Message, Galaxy Note 8 users can create animations over photos and then text them, thanks to a drawing tool that provides a mix of pen sizes, styles, and colors. In the ad, a gal says hi to a guy at a party using the features. (How did she already have his number?) He uses it to draw sparks between them after a date. She draws herself hugging him with really long arms. See? Cute.
And then: The gal uses her Samsung and its enchanted writing feature to say “I love you.” Beat. “Who dis?” asks the boy’s responding text. Beat. Wait, here he comes with his own Live Message. Yes, it’s that old sitcom trope: He loves her too! Aren’t phones magical?
But also: Isn’t this cutesy ad kind of dystopian? Isn’t telling someone you love them for the first time in a text message actually a horrible idea?
OK, OK, you’re surely thinking. That’s not really a text message—it’s a text message with cool squiggly lines that’s way more special. You can say “I love you” with one of those, right? No, it’s still a text message, and it’s definitely a weird way to tell your boyfriend you love him.
The ad is careful to show the messages between the girl and the guy as facilitating rather than replacing real-life interaction, because Samsung knows people are creeped out by the idea of phones and computers turning us into cave-dwellers who never see or talk to each other in person. And that would’ve been the right instinct if Samsung had stuck with it: You wouldn’t want your first “I love you” to be a Bitmoji or a meme, even if they were really cool ones. Imagine telling your kids one day, “Well, your mom and I had just gotten these nifty new phones that enabled custom animations, so I used the sparkly effect to show her how much she meant to me.”
This isn’t to discount how much relationships are already mediated by technology: Cute animated text messages are real life now. Still, we’re not yet at the place where we text rather than recite vows, nor would we add a new girlfriend to a family email chain rather than bringing her home to meet the parents. But we do change our Facebook statuses when our relationships change, and some enterprising couples might even label each other as social-media spouses during their real-life weddings. In all of these hypothetical and real cases, we’re allowing one of life’s few singular moments to become another killer feature. The Samsung ad may be a cute little thing, but it’s also a reminder that among companies that seek to monetize as much of our time as possible, no personal moment is off-limits.
There are precious few select milestones worth reserving for our time offline. When you say “I love you,” you should probably keep your smartphone in your pants.