Three new ads in Facebook’s campaign for its new Facebook Home phone takeover app all have one thing in common: They show people ignoring friends, family, strangers, and colleagues while they check their phones to see what’s going on in the Facebook news feeds.
And, it turns out, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is totally OK with that. “I think that’s overblown,” he was recently quoted as saying.
Notably, the best ad of the three shows Zuckerberg introducing the new product at Facebook HQ. Immediately, one of his underlings gets bored and starts checking his phone (with hilarious fictional consequences).
In the other two ads, a man is shown briefly ignoring a flight attendant who asks him to shut his phone off for takeoff; and the third shows a young woman checking her phone under the dinner table because she’s bored by an older woman talking about her cats.
Until now, plane guy and dinner girl were considered the enemies of civilized society. The FAA would have us believe that it’s actually dangerous to use your phone while a plane is taking off. (That’s probably not true, but flight crews would still like your attention during an aircraft’s more dangerous maneuvers.)
As for dinner girl, there is nothing more irritating than seeing someone check their phone mid-conversation during a meal. They might as well be wearing a sticker that says “you bore me.” It’s just rude.
But in this fight, Facebook is on their side.
While we’ve all bored people over dinner at one time or another, the ability to make good conversation is a skill associated with maturity and education. Being a conversationalist was once considered the bedrock of democracy, per Plato, Socrates and Cicero.
The Facebook Home campaign, taken at face value, suggests that it is no longer rude to check your phone while someone else is talking to you.
Zuckerberg was asked about this at the Facebook Home event (emphasis added):
Q. Do you ever think about presence? How when you’re out at dinner with your wife, and you get a message, it distracts you from whoever you’re with?
Zuckerberg: “Yeah. That comes up a lot. Whether or not communicating online disconnects you from people offline. […]. I think that’s overblown. There’s this idea; technology is a tool. Glasses augment your vision, your reality. Steve Jobs said that computers augment your mind. With Facebook and other tools, you can stay connected and get more context from more people.
People often think of staying connected as frivolous — it’s not. It’s powerful.
Parse that for a second: Zuckerberg appears to be literally saying that if you’re eating dinner with your wife it’s OK to ignore her while you swipe your chat heads, or whatever.
Zuckerberg is young, and he’s only had one wife, and only for a short time. Priscilla Chan Zuckerberg, however, is the woman who successfully demanded Zuckerberg give her 100 uninterrupted minutes of his time and one guaranteed date per week if he was to remain in a relationship with her. We don’t know what she thinks when Mark drifts off to answer a message from Sheryl Sandberg over dinner. But history has shown that wives in general don’t like this one little bit.
And dinner has shown fierce resistance to advertisers who try to interrupt it (and yes, there wil be advertising on Facebook Home). Telemarketers tried it, everyone hated it, and now no one answers the phone while they’re eating.
One bets against Facebook at one’s peril, of course. A few years ago, the idea of sharing every trivial aspect of your life was laughed at by sensible people. Now it’s a $5 billion business.
Still, it would be nice if uninterrupted dinner conversation didn’t become collateral damage along the way.
Disclosure: The author owns Facebook stock.
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