Op-Ed: DDB Cali’s New CCO Jason Elm ‘Goes Unplugged’ at Cannes

By Kiran Aditham 

It’s been a few days since Cannes closed the books on its 2013 clusterfuck, but what the hell. Fresh off of taking the creative helm at DDB California, Deutsch L.A. alum Jason Elm gives us his observations from the event, in which he discusses going 24 hours without iPhone on purpose. Take it away, sir.

Every year, my iPhone becomes an increasingly critical part of my Cannes experience. A few years ago, I’d use it to reach people and take photos, but now it’s almost never in my pocket: I’m using it to Google things I find interesting, taking notes or voice memos, tweeting, using the Cannes app to capture the work and schedule my day, reviewing office emails, texting my friends over here and using six different social media apps to keep tabs on people nine time zones away in California.

It’s now a persistent input/output extension of my brain while I take in the festival and its surroundings. But, is it enhancing my experience or getting in the way of it?


This year, I found out by negotiating the hustle and bustle of the Festival without my iPhone for an entire day: from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed, I wouldn’t so much as touch the phone. When I told people I’d be doing this, most of them looked at me like I was insane. But, it was actually a big eye-opener to just how constantly I use my phone (sorry, “connected mobile device.” But, I’ll simply call it a phone because, well, that’s what we say. )

I packed the Cannes Festival guidebook and a Moleskin journal and pencil into my Cannes Festival man-purse and headed to the Palais to line-up for the New Director’s showcase (an event I never miss). Waiting in line, I seemed to be the only person not staring down into a tiny screen. Sections of the line literally looked like the middle chunk of that Darwin evolution illustration: a sequential profile of humans, hunched over.Without a phone to occupy me, I began talking to a journalist from Brazil who was in front of me in the line. We compared our thoughts on the current work at the Festival and the proliferation of PSA-style ads on behalf of brands this year. Something I would have maybe floated out to the Twittersphere, or read on Tumblr was instead a face-to-face two-way conversation. And, a much better use of the 20-minute wait than lurking on Facebook or checking whether anyone had liked my Instagram pics from the day before.

The rest of the day brought little gifts like that. Without a Yelp app, I had to discover my own place to eat lunch. So, I meandered towards Rou d’ Antibes and found a decent little sidewalk café where a fellow diner and I traded opinions on whether advertising is polluting YouTube.

Back at the Palais, I was a captive audience – observing the Festival and watching the seminars completely undistracted.

But, I was also completely cut off.

Our phones make today’s Cannes Festival all about immediacy. Two years ago, there was one small monitor downstairs showing a feed of the latest tweets hashtagged #canneslions. This year, they were projected onto a giant screen in the main auditorium between sessions. Without my phone, I missed my chance to add to this chatter.

Was I robbing my Twitter followers of the latest information? All 474 of them, who were mostly still asleep in America? Um — no. I was only robbing myself of the chance to feel important or relevant at that time. But, that feeling disappeared about as quickly as a tweet slips into obscurity down your timeline.

My biggest frustration was not being able to use the Goody Bag feature in the Cannes mobile app. When you scan a QR code on an entry in the shortlist gallery, it sends a hi-res file to your own online folder.

Without the phone, I drew a sketch of one of my favorite print pieces. Problem is, I have the drawing skills of a toddler. So, the next day I went back and captured that ad and tons of others with the phone.

Aside from the usual inconveniences of being unreachable and not easily being able to capture and share my experiences, going without the phone actually drew me deeper into the Festival.

In the afternoon, I spent half an hour sitting on a bench just watching people walk by. Not just the Festival-goers, but also the town locals and tourists who are mixed in with us: lovers on vacation, delivery people, cyclists, the super-rich and the super-wrinkly.

It was a detail of Cannes I could never capture with my phone, and the most organically charming moment of my week.

They weren’t pushing out what they were doing, not posting pics, not hitting me with 140 character opinions of things. It was me observing. Being drawn in rather than broadcast to.

Here’s the ironic surprise in all this: My biggest fear about going phoneless was that it would disconnect me from the Festival, when in fact it brought me closer to it.

But I don’t think I’d spend a whole day without the phone again. Given the choice I’d rather have the phone. I think this “mobile connected device” genie has been let out of the bottle and you can’t put it back. Or, you don’t want to. But even though I’m probably certifiably addicted to my phone I’ll make time to put it down and “be here now” next year. I mean, I’ll try to do that. Once in a while.