This Bleak Ad Memorably Shows How Our Phones Rob Us of Real Life

Constant connection that breeds disconnection

Our phones are the most intimate technology in our possession. They are presently the closest thing most of us have to bionic life. 

And while their benefits are many, they also have a way of sucking us into unexpected places when all we wanted to do was check the time. One quick peek on Twitter or Facebook and suddenly our hearts are racing with rage. Or maybe 20 concurrent conversations on WhatsApp—some funny, some urgent—draw you miles away from the person sitting in front of you. 

Swedish retailer Clas Ohlson's new ad is part of its "A Better Home" campaign. It introduces us to a woman whose otherwise quiet home is constantly invaded by strangers.

Clas Ohlson - Are you actually at home when you're at home?

Created by Swedish agency King, the ad has a way of illustrating distraction in ways that feel almost condemning in their clarity. The woman's phone is sometimes a place of solace, providing distraction on long rides home, say. But in the jarring moment that follows, a man appears while she's on the toilet and places a gorgeously plated dish right under her face. 

Things only escalate from there.

She finds herself pursued down her own hallway by people pointing to news articles. Quiet time with her kid suddenly, almost insidiously, becomes a charged group charity event. One moment into the next, an uncontrollable outside din invades her inside world: Gorgeous women. Cops on horses. Adorable kittens. People dumping buckets of icewater over each other. An obnoxious grinning naked man with a face painted over his belly who just seems to be everywhere.

Then her eyes lift away from her phone. There's her family on the couch. And all goes quiet, making way for the tagline: "Are you actually home, when you're at home?" 

After a charged argument, one that seemed important at the time, I recently left Twitter for several weeks. It's my favorite social network; I thought I'd miss it instantly, but instead it was stunning how quiet my life became. I could actually listen to conversations without thinking about how to reduce them into a social soundbyte. It felt as if the sky above me had been full of traffic, and suddenly it cleared, and I could hear actual birds tweeting. When I looked up at the sky, it literally felt like the first time I'd ever seen it.

The great downside of a digitally connected world is that anyone can insist on their right to your attention, all the time. Most of those demands aren't real; they're just constant tugs in our peripheral vision, begging for a head-turn (just one!).

The responsibility of making time for things we actually care about tacitly falls on our shoulders, but it grows harder as the world organizes itself around constant connectivity. 

Clas Ohlson hopes to help people rediscover simplicity back at home. A section on its website provides tips for reducing smartphone use, ranging from therapy to wallpaper that dampens signals. (We can already imagine all the parents redesigning kids' bedrooms.) 

"Clas Ohlson was founded 100 years ago in Sweden by a father, and our values are centered around ... helping those who shop with us have a balanced life through the innovation, smartness, simplicity and design in our products," says Melissa Titshall, head of marketing communications at Clas Ohlson U.K. 

"We are hoping to raise awareness, and help people combat the issue of excessive mobile phone usage, by supplying practical advice and helpful tips and products that, in turn, will create a happy home for our customers to spend time in."

The ad kicks off the homeware retailer's first TV campaign in two years, and arrives just in time for Clas Ohlson's 100th anniversary. It started running Sept. 3 on ITV London and Meridian, as well as in a number of London cinemas.

It will also run in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Germany.