Dear Apple: Ads About Working Yourself To Death Are No Longer Cool
“I rarely get to see my kids,” brags a cofounder in Apple’s first reality show. “That’s a risk you have to take.”
Just last month, sociologists were telling us about how “busy” became cool. It’s a status play, a way of showing that everyone wants a piece. Displaying your busyness signs that you’re in demand on the job market. Instead of bragging about fancy jewelry or flashy cars, you portray yourself as the scarce resource.
But as soon as a status symbol is everywhere, they warned, it will no longer be cool.
We have officially hit that moment, and Twitter user @priyavprabhakar called it out in a now-viral tweet.
“I hate this celebratory genre of ‘be on the constant verge of death under late capitalism,’” she wrote.
The ads in question:
• An ad for the Apple reality show Planet of the Apps, where a founder brags that “I rarely get to see my kids. That’s a risk you have to take.”
• An ad for the gig economy service Fiverr reading “You eat a coffee for lunch. You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.”
• A now-deleted Lyft post, archived on Gizmodo, praising a driver in Chicago who continued working into her ninth month of pregnancy, and gave a ride while she was going into labor.
Advertising is a window into the zeitgeist: creative agencies are paid to tap into the way people signal status and desirability, make those signs relatable to people, and then position brands accordingly.
“In the 1920s and 30s if you had a tan it was a status symbol, it said you could afford to lie on the beach and take a vacation,” Stanford organizational behavior professor Jeffrey Pfeffer told Thrive in an earlier interview. “Now status comes from being so busy that they have to always be connected,” he adds. “There’s this competition to see who works more hours.”
They also speak to the precariousness that so many people around the world are living in. The top one percent controls 33 to 42 percent of the wealth in the US; worldwide, the top one percent’s wealth equals the rest of the human population. Throw in rise of the gig economy and the further fracturing of labor by automation, and you have a ton of people with no choice but to “hustle” for a living.
These ads are something of a Freudian slip, shedding light on an unresolved neurosis — the sticky social narrative that dying for a paycheck is heroic, a praiseworthy virtue.
“Pathetic,” Basecamp founder Jason Fried wrote in a tweet, with a screenshot of the now deleted ad. “Even Apple is promoting workaholism now. Check out this ad for their Planet Of The Apps show.”
Following the backlash, Apple pulled the spot. So maybe with enough Twitter shaming, advertisers will stop thinking working yourself to death is so cool.