Is Technology
Hope for the
Hopeless? Engag-
ing Microsoft’s
Super Bowl Ad

By: Chris McNerney and Daniel Lee

Super Bowl XLVIII earned the distinction of being the most watched television program in U.S. history with 111.5 million viewers. That’s over a third of America’s population. Several more millions who had no particular interest in the part where the Seahawks trampled all over the Broncos tuned in for Bruno Mars’ record-breaking halftime show, which drew 115.3 million viewers, besting Madonna’s previous record of 114 million in 2012. It’s the biggest TV event of the year, and the good folks on Madison Ave wasted no time in seizing the opportunity to introduce a captive audience to a new crop of advertisements designed to peddle the products and services of their Fortune 500 clientele.

As is typically the case, some of the commercials were funny, some were moving, some were flashy. Others were just plain bizarre. But all of them were very, very expensive. According to media buyers, advertisers spent an average of $4 million for just 30 seconds worth of airtime. It all sounds a bit excessive until you factor in the tremendous influence these commercials have in making or breaking reputations and brands. Indeed, many viewers anticipate the ads just as much as the game itself, and the favorite American pastime of rating the commercials in terms of entertainment value tends to keep companies in the public consciousness for days, even weeks.

Following the Super Bowl, social media exploded with commentary focused almost exclusively on the advertisements, ignoring the game because let’s face it, it was boring. Two ads garnering the most attention: A topsy-turvy, London-based, carnage-filled action scene announcing a new episode in the saga of Jack Bauer’s 24-hour-at-a-time plight against terrorism; and a highly controversial Coca-Cola musical production featuring a chorus of people all over the United States singing along to America the Beautifulin their native non-English tongues.

But every once in a while, a commercial strikes a chord by perfectly encapsulating society’s state of mind. In 60 seconds, Microsoft presented our culture’s worldview in all its glory with an inspiring tribute to technology. Beginning with What is technology? What can it do? the ad shows us robots, doctors performing surgery, and beautiful children. And then the action picks up in a stunning array of images testifying to the power of human ingenuity:

How far can we go? A doctor controls an x-ray with a swipe of the hands.

Technology has the power to unite us. A soldier on assignment witnesses the live birth of his child on a computer screen.

Technology inspires us. Technology takes us places we have only dreamed. Mankind takes a giant leap on the moon and amputees re-experience the thrill of running with the aid of artificial limbs.

So far so good. There can be no doubt that people all over the world have benefited tremendously from man’s creations. But all of a sudden, the message turns downright big tent revival.

It gives hope to the hopeless. A previously deaf woman hears for the very first time.

It gives voice to the voiceless. The closing image is of Steve Gleason, a former NFL-player suffering from ALS and no longer able to speak on his own. It turns out that his “voice” – a machine that reads his thoughts – has been narrating the commercial the entire time.

An entrancing message, to be sure. We have come so much further than our ancestors could have ever imagined, and this kind of progress absolutely deserves to be celebrated. But let’s not fool ourselves. This same technology has resulted in some not-so-lovely side effects. Take 2 of “Technology” might look like this:

What is technology? And what can it do?

It has power to destroy nations. An atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, devastating hundreds of thousands of civilians; a second ravishes Nagasaki. Cut out with a visual of a mushroom cloud.

It exposes young minds to images no child should ever see. A teen sits in front of his computer downloading pornographic material. A number of the actors are slaves to the booming sex trafficking industry.

It turns war into a game. A soldier manipulates a drone with what looks like a video game controller. An entire village is wiped out, but at least no military personnel were harmed.

The commercial takes a decidedly modern view of the world, making a case that technology allows us to be masters of the universe capable of righting every wrong and healing every wound. Such unmitigated optimism is certainly inspiring. But to allow our happy thoughts to prance around in fields of sunflowers and daisies is to completely ignore our historically verified propensity for using something good to pursue evil purposes.

It would be quite a leap of faith to assume that things are somehow different today and that our current technologies will help us accomplish the good that was heretofore impossible. Backwards thinking at best, considering that technology is utterly useless without human users. And because we have neither more nor less moral fortitude and perseverance than any other generation in history, we will make the same choices we’ve always made. The only difference is that our machines can and will magnify the impact of our decisions.

In an interview with, philosopher John Gray made the near-blasphemous claim that the very idea of progress is a myth:

The rapid movement in technological advancements creates a phantom of progress. Phones are getting better, smaller, and cheaper all the time. In terms of technology, there’s a continuous transformation of our actual everyday life. That gives people the sense that there is change in civilization. But, in many ways, things are getting worse.

Mind you, things aren’t getting worse because our technology is bad. As the Bard warned Brutus, “The fault…is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Technology does bad things because humans are bad. And not just some humans. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn asserts in The Gulag Archipelago:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

As long as this dividing line exists, it doesn’t matter how educated, culturally aware, politically active or technologically advanced we become; the evil still lurks.

The ad juxtaposes two statements intended for God and co-opts them in the context of technology. The NLT translation of Psalm 10:17 states “LORD, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.” Countless Christian praise songs remind us that God gives “hope to the hopeless” and is the “voice of the voiceless.”

Technology will always be limited and dictated by those who use it. While the ad is worshiping a created thing, i.e. technology, as the ‘hope for the hopeless’ and ‘voice for the voiceless’ it is ultimately the Creator of technology, the one through whom, for whom, and by whom all things are created who can ultimately fulfill these truths!

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