Oh, old tech ads. You’re so embarrassing — so silly and mildly sexist. Yet, you’re proof that we still have a lot to learn when it comes to how we relate to technology.
Take this goofy picture of a Biblical Adam holding an Apple computer over his privates. Our early attempts at making technology look “sexy” were laughable: The hulking piece of hardware is far from sleek and slim, and staring at a hairy naked man probably didn’t do much to make male consumers want to shell out money.
Eve would have been a smarter choice of model — but technology was a man’s world back then. No woman would know how to operate let alone properly hold a computer! “But they do make good accessories,” thought the brilliant marketing man.
These ads tell us that technology can make you more attractive and more successful: “Buy this computer, and you’ll have women hanging all over you!” “This machine will make you better at your job!” are the unspoken promises. But I doubt any men wooed over ladies with these plastic and metal behemoths as conversation starters. They probably just wound up with more work to do. (Like how now company-provided smartphones mean access to employees 24/7.)
Today, the message isn’t all that different. We still associate owning the latest pieces of technology with success (a sign of wealth, perhaps) and view them as our instant ticket to popularity. Everyone wants to be your friend when you’re the only person at the office with a 50-inch TV on game day.
We’ve gotten a lot better at dolling up our devices, too, transforming their bulky shapes into curvy physiques, much like a woman’s body. And black is almost always the initial color option — like a little black dress to hug those irresistible curves.
These days, women are perfectly capable of using and engineering new technology. It’s no longer a man’s world even though we sometimes treat it like one. We’re not afraid to drape a gorgeous, lusty Eve all over our expensive cars or have her show off the hottest new smartphones and gadgets. I guess we learned a lot from Adam’s example.
But while sex sells (as objectifying and problematic as that may be), family has always been a huge part of what technology means to us. Be the world’s greatest dad and get your kids the Fairchild’s TV Video Center for Christmas. Bring home the Apple II and make any house into a real home — even if it takes up the entire kitchen table. Cash in on technology to lead your family into the future.
Twenty, thirty years ago, we were a little clumsy with how we communicated these messages. But they’re a good reminder: While we sometimes fear that technology is driving us apart — recall that melodramatic image of people in the same room texting and ignoring each other — we often forget how much it’s brought us together, like some of the people in these ads. In the same living room. On the same screen from states or even countries away.
And today, when we see women photographed with technology, it’s not always to sell it. Sometimes it’s because they’re doing something remarkable.
We’ve come a long way from those early days, when we were awkwardly figuring out how we felt about technology and what kind of power it had over us. We still are. But the fact that we can look back and cringe means we’re headed in the right direction.