Be where when?

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A cute ad:

The tag line is from the 1971 book "Be Here Now" by Baba Ram Dass (né Dr. Richard Alpert).

The transition from Harvard professor to psychedelic philosopher to spiritual guru was emblematic of the 1960s. I guess the transition from spiritual guru to cell-phone advertisement is emblematic of 2010. Or do you suppose that he's not getting paid for this?


  1. Nick said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

    Oasis's 1997 album was also called Be Here Now. Although that was around the time people stopped paying attention to Oasis.

  2. Mark P said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    Is Microsoft entirely clueless? First they use "Start Me Up" for Win95 ("you make a grown man cry"). And now they will deliver spirituality by telephone. I am curious about how a cellphone that does everything a smartphone user wants it to do is going to keep people off their cellphones and engaged in the real world. By making the experience unpleasant?

  3. Pflaumbaum said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

    That's very well done… it was making me angry in the way cutesy, cod-philosophical phone ads tend to before I realised it was a spoof.

    Be Here Now is also the title of the third album from the staggeringly unoriginal but very popular English pop group Oasis.

  4. Twitter Trackbacks for Language Log » Be where when? [] on said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 2:14 pm

    […] Language Log » Be where when? – view page – cached The tag line is from the 1971 book "Be Here Now" by Baba Ram Dass (né Dr. Richard Alpert). Tweets about this link […]

  5. A. Marina Fournier said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 2:36 pm

    Are we appealing to the lowest common denominator here? The situations in this commercial certainly seem to have written some really stupid people doing really stupid things.

    It used to be–and still is for many–that there was walking about reading a book, and Amy Carter reading at the table in the White House. I don't remember if it was at formal dinners or in private. In our house growing up, it was okay to read at breakfast or lunch, but not at dinner.

    BTW, I gave up Twitter because reading the articles I was sent to took too much of my day. I really enjoyed the content, but I couldn't handle the time spent reading on my laptop.

  6. mgh said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

    I'd been wondering recently about the use of "really?" (several examples in the clip). I don't know how to search for it, but this seems to me to be something recent (from the past decade), replacing the school-marmish indignant "well, really!" with a more hipster-laconic "really?"

  7. J Lee said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

    The new expression is just an interjection with negative/disappointed connotations and even a set intonation (like many sarcastic expressions) with dialectal variants on the semantics, e.g. "F'real?" or "Seriously?" Definitely just a fad.

  8. jtradke said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 3:06 pm

    @mgh – "Really?" may have been popularized by the recurring segment on Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update that was entitled, naturally, "Really?" This appears to be the first time they did the segment:

    I gloss it as "Did/do you honestly think that was/is a good idea?"

  9. Spell Me Jeff said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

    "Seriously?" remains more common with the teens and college students I know.

  10. Lane Greene said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 3:22 pm

    I was wondering if I was the only one to notice the new "really" intonation – rather than the traditional question intonation ("really?", low-then-rising). It seems to have been around at least since '07 and this SNL "Really?!?" trope:

    This has more a high-then-falling intonation, and I think it's morphed over time into a bored, know-it-all high-high (sorry for not knowing how to transcribe this) intonation. By 2009, that high-high "really" is more prominent in Seth's "Really?!?" segment:

  11. Mr Fnortner said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

    Back in the 70s I recall a number of young adult babyboomers saying "Really" as a response to statements they agreed with, not unlike the recent expression, "Word". Of course this was the era of "Right on" and Far out" as exclamations, too. I remember it annoyed me, but I do like today's "Really?" And I'm not sure where "For real" fits in.

  12. sister_ray said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 3:44 pm

    Is that where they got the name for Richard Alpert from LOST?


  13. Dougal Stanton said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 6:34 pm

    Baba Ram Dass (né Dr. Richard Alpert)

    I like the idea that he was a doctor from birth :-)

  14. The Ridger said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

    Many advertisers don't seem to think that people will remember the whole song. Probably my favorite is the Lincoln MKZ luxury car marketed to "Major Tom".

  15. The Ridger said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

    @Mark P: I *think* the point is that it will do everything so fast you won't have to spend as much time on it. Which, even if true, would only mean that you'd spend the same amount of time because as we know work (or anything) expands to fill the time you have…

  16. Simon said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 8:09 pm

    To continue a minor derail, my favourite inappropriate-choice-of-music-in-advertising was for a NZ bank that used the intro to the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony". It did not include the lyrics, which begin:

    "'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life
    Trying to make ends meet
    You're a slave to money then you die"

  17. Ray Dillinger said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 8:25 pm

    To me the ultimate in clueless advertisement was when Microsoft put their "where do you want to go today?" catchphrase over a choir singing "Confutatis maledictis, flammus acribus addictis, voca me cum benedictus" – which would tend to indicate that if you're using their product then it doesn't really matter where you want to go today, you'll be going somewhere else – and they think that's good.

    But high points for irony was Mercedes-Benz using Baez' "Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz" in an advertisement, leading many to suspect that "German has no word for sarcasm".

  18. Ralph Hickok said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

    @Ray Dillinger:
    Even more ironic, I think, was Quaker Oats recasting Melanie's "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma" as "Look What They've Done to My Oatmeal."

  19. mgh said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 9:14 pm

    Janis Joplin ≠ Joan Baez!

  20. Lance said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 10:19 pm

    Linguistically, "be here now" does indeed have the familiarly odd deictic semantics faced by notes and answering machines that say "I'm not here right now".

    Culturally, I suspect that for most of the people they're marketing to, a 1971 spirituality/self-help book isn't a likely association. A good chunk of people in that ad are too young to remember 1971 at all.

    [(myl) No doubt. But don't you think that these ads are half-ironically bringing back the whole hippie-humanist ethos? I mean, a world where everyone has withdrawn into their smartphone is a sort of dystopian fantasy/metaphor for the way that Ram Dass wanted everyone to see ordinary life in 1970. Now it just happens to be more superficially and obviously true.]

    And advertisingly…the message I always take away from this pitch, which I've seen before, is "Windows: our phones are perfect for people too stupid to use phones sensibly". (I find it a kind of corollary to their Bing ads, in which the pitch was "Windows: our search engine is perfect for people who wanted information on the XBox and ended up getting all kinds of irrelevant 'box' hits on their search because they're too stupid to use a search engine sensibly". In both cases, it's "if you pretend this thing we're showing you is an actual problem, then Windows can solve it for you!".)

  21. Mark P said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 10:30 pm

    @The Ridger and Lance – Is the ad aimed at the people it shows, who will do the same thing with any phone, or at people who don't do (or think they don't do) what the ad shows and who, therefore, don't need a different phone to keep them from doing stupid or silly things? It seems to be inviting us to laugh at them, so we must think we behave differently. How does that sell me a new phone? Or am I supposed to think, "Yeah, I do that all the time. If I only had a new phone I wouldn't"?

    Or I suppose the ad can be viewed as just another funny short video that doesn't do a very good job of selling anything.

  22. abd-ul-satya said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 1:13 am

    I wonder what proportion of the world's languages are capable of translating "be here now" well. The best I can come up with for Chinese is 现在在这里 (xiànzài zài zhèlǐ), which appears to mean something like "here, now". Maybe you could add something like "Sit here now" or "Stand here now", but that just makes it prosaic.

  23. H.B.B. Noizzz! said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 1:25 am

    Regarding the "innappropriate lyrics" minor derail, my personal favorite is when Target (the major US chain store) tried to license Adam Freeland's 'We Want Your Soul', a song about the corruptive/dark side of capitalism.

    Mr. Freeland talked about it here (about halfway down the page):

    For 'Be Here Now', what would the Japanese be? 「今、ここに居ろ」?

  24. Lars said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 2:20 am

    @Ray Dillinger: The key part of that verse (Dies Iræ 16) is voca me: Call me (to heaven) when those other guys go to hell. In Microsoft's mindset, Windows = salvation, so you do have a choice of where you want to go. Though I'd rather not go today.

  25. Adam said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 4:08 am

    by Baba Ram Dass (né Dr. Richard Alpert)

    Some are born doctors, some achieve doctorates, and some have doctorates thrust upon them. ;-)

  26. Adam said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 4:09 am

    Is Microsoft entirely clueless?

    I guess when it BSODs, you'll drop back to reality for a few minutes.

  27. maidhc said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 4:47 am

    I don't get the ad at all. Idiotic people on their cellphones all the time missing out on everything, so buy our cellphone. What?

    On the plus side, when it comes to selling neural implants they will have the strategy already mapped out.

  28. GeorgeW said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 6:22 am

    @abd-ul-satya: In Egyptian Arabic: takun hena hallan.

    @Anyone: How can I input/insert IPA or foreign language symbols in the comment form? I have Windows 7 OS and Office 2010 (Other than buy a Mac). If posting a solution here violates some LL commandment, you can email me at

  29. Rodger C said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 8:32 am

    "Back in the 70s I recall a number of young adult babyboomers saying 'Really' as a response to statements they agreed with, not unlike the recent expression, 'Word'."

    As a young adult babyboomer in the 70s, I had a serious problem with a housemate over this. I'd make an assertion, he'd say "Really?" (with questioning intonation–I think he meant "That's interesting, tell me more"), but what I heard was "You're lying, aren't you?" and I'd frown and walk off. It was at least the next decade before I figured this out.

  30. Nicholas Waller said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 10:55 am

    @ Lance – ""be here now" […] "I'm not here right now""

    Tangentially, this reminds me of a friend: as a kid looking at one of those public info maps helpfully marked with the legend "You Are Here" and a big dot he would think "How do they know?".

    @ maidhc " Idiotic people on their cellphones […] so buy our cellphone"

    Orange does something like this in the UK in a series of variably witty cinema commercials: Orange cell phones and promotional junk pop up in a trailer for a genuine film, and the people in the trailer notice and protest. For instance, Jack Black as Gulliver is washed ashore and surrounded by Lilliputians when he notices an Orange phone-selling booth on the beach and protests about the assault on his artistic integrity. The tag line "Don't Let a Mobile Phone Ruin Your Movie, Turn it Off" sells the phone brand and attacks (some) phone users and indeed crass corporate advertising as well.

    This Trailer series replaces the (I think funnier) Pitch series wherein a Hollywood worthy outlines a movie idea to an Orange-oriented panel, which then enthusiastically re-imagines the pitch with crass Orange product placement, to the disgust of the pitcher – as in this Carrie Fisher example.

  31. Russell said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 11:22 am

    You could understand the ad as evoking a scalar implicature: if our phones can help these people become functional members of society, just think of what they can do for you.

    Or, a viewer might think, "Wow, at least I'm not as bad as those people. But I do feel guilty about [some less bad phone-related behavior], so maybe having this phone will {solve that problem / make me feel better about myself}.

  32. Kate G said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

    The point of the ads may not come through without some technical details, which (for once) were actually left out. Microsoft usually just makes ads full of technical details without understanding mood or vibe or other "artsy" things. Example: when you pull a Windows phone out, it tells you (without you having to unlock it) what time it is, what your next meeting is, and how many new emails/texts/whatevers you have. In many cases that means you can just put it right back in your pocket. (A friend of mine once told me, you mostly look at your watch to see what time it isn't – eg do you have to leave yet – and the same seems true with smartphones.) The live tiles on the hub mean that you can unlock it, look at something and get your answer, and "get back to your life". You can also take a picture without unlocking it. All that adds up to spending 1 minute to do X with your Windows phone instead of 5-10 minutes to do X with some other phone. Which means 4-9 minutes more of Being Here Now. As it were. If you know that, the ad makes sense and speaks to that. If you don't, I agree it reads "the phone for people who disapprove of using phones" or the like.

  33. Mr Punch said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

    A lot of people clearly pay no attention to song lyrics – they stop at the title. The American Legion wanted John Lennon's "Revolution," an attack on facile radicalism, banned from the radio. Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," a protest song, has been embraced repeatedly by conservatives. I keep hearing Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" at weddings, even though it's a breakup song.

  34. Jessica said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

    The different "really" I can imagine, but "word"? Can anyone explain?

    (being Dutch I'm very afraid to keep on typing, there must be errors lurking everywhere..)

  35. Ken Brown said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 1:31 pm

    Yes Mr Punch! And you see loving couples dancing together to "Young Hearts Run Free" by Candi Staton, even though it is in the voice of an older woman advising younger women not to have anything to do with men. Maybe people just don't listen to the words.

    And loads of people love to play the Pogues "Fairytale of New York" around Christmas. I've already heard it at least twice this year. Though in that case the lyrics are so downbeat no-one could be thick enough to think its an ordinary love song. (Its also got one of the most wonderfully complicated narrative structures of any pop song there ever was – the narrator is looking back on a past Christmas in which he was reminiscing about other previous Christmases in which he and and a woman are both remembering what they said to each other even further in the past and looking towards the future. And it also manages to rhyme "arse" with "last")

  36. Mark P said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

    Kate G, the ad can be viewed in a lot of ways. It can be a funny short video. It can be commentary on today's life. Or it can be viewed as an advertisement for a cell phone. I think it might succeed on some levels, but it fails as an ad.

  37. xyzzyva said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 3:11 pm

    That isn't Zach Galiafinakis at 0:46 (doing the spit-take), is it?

  38. J Lee said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

    I think a better Egyptian Arabic rendition would utilize the verb قعد . In any case, the imperative of kaan is "koon."

  39. GeorgeW said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 8:21 pm

    @J Lee: Actually, the problem is neither would be said. One would more likely say something like 'come here now' ta'aala hina dilwa'ti.

  40. LC said,

    December 9, 2010 @ 10:37 am

    Adding to the "not listening to the lyrics" thing, the number of people who used to play "Every Breath You Take" at weddings was impressive, even though Sting has pointed out repeatedly that it is a creepy stalker song.

    (I always found Extreme's "More than Words" to be a creepy song telling the story of a boyfriend pressuring a girl into sleeping with him or he'll leave her for a girl who will, but others seem to think it is a romantic song.)

  41. Lauren said,

    December 10, 2010 @ 11:34 am

    Also on the inappropriate music tangent, my personal favorite was McDonald's use of 'New Slang' by The Shins. The lyrics (though I don't remember if they occurred in the commercial itself) include:

    "when you notice the stripes, the dirt in your fries"
    "God speed all the bakers at dawn may they all cut their thumbs, // And bleed into their buns 'till they melt away"

    On the other hand, maybe this wasn't inappropriate? (Oh, snap.)

  42. JHo said,

    December 13, 2010 @ 5:12 pm

    You guys are all reading way too much into this ad, which I think is simple and brilliant. Don't any of you live in New York? Walking and typing/reading has become one of the biggest sidewalk hazards of the last few years. It's become epidemic — I never, ever walk down a sidewalk without encountering at least one person who is not looking at me, but down at his/her phone, and it amazes me that they do this all the way until we are a split-second from crashing into each other. There is NOTHING in the world that could possibly be more important than not crashing into the person walking toward you on the street. Nothing! If you are having an emergency, step to the side and do what you have to do.

    Anyway, that's a rant for another day. I think the ad is hilarious and beautiful and I don't get why everyone is so cranky about it. It perfectly embodies the absurdity of our phone addiction — both running into people and missing all the momentary and sublime beauty around us — and who really cares if it's an ad for another phone? It's well done.

  43. Keith Himes said,

    December 14, 2010 @ 11:14 am

    On the subject of children and language acquisition: there are at least two spots in the "Really" ad that show children ignored by their parents at times when the parents could be modeling language use (the scene at the dinner table where only the youngest child doesn't have a cellphone, and the last scene of the mom with the young girl). Some researchers are begining to believe that parents' cellphone time is taking away from child-nurturing time, with predictably bad results for the children.


  44. Gregg Painter said,

    December 20, 2010 @ 12:44 pm

    Another totally inappropriate song often chosen for weddings simply on the basis of the title (and a phrase or two): "Cherish." ( I guess if you don't sing the second verse it would almost work: Perish is the word that more than applies
    To the hope in my heart each time I realize
    That I am not gonna be the one to share your dreams
    That I am not gonna be the one to share your schemes…)

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