Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that’s taken over our lives.
Do you remember the last recession?
Or have you managed to block every memory of it?
In which case, please go and see “The Big Short,” a movie in which so many people thought they could get mortgages very easily. With troubling consequences for them and the economy.
I’m driven to this dark reminder by a Super Bowl ad for online mortgage provider Quicken Loans.
Usually, Super Bowl ads drive me to very little. This one, however, shows people merrily going about their daily lives and, when they have a moment, quickly applying for a mortgage via their phones.
This so-called Rocket Mortgage service seems very enticing. Quicken believes that getting a mortgage should be no different than buying a CD on Amazon. The words “Push button, get mortgage” are displayed in large letters on the screen.
The ad’s logic feels like a politician’s stump speech:
If more people could apply for mortgages more quickly and easily, those people would have to buy lots more things for their new homes, which would create lots more jobs for people, who’d earn more money and would therefore buy their own homes.
It’s a virtuous circle of demand that demands nothing other than you, right now, picking up your phone and getting yourself a mortgage.
It’s your patriotic duty. It’s up to you to get this economy motoring. Quicken wants to quicken the process to “a tidal wave of ownership.”
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Why is it, then, that every time I watch this ad the words “how are people going to afford all this?” bounce around beneath my scalp?
While some have done very well economically in recent years, many have not. Figures from the Federal Reserve show that a substantial portion of the middle class earned less and had a lower net worth in 2015 than in 2008.
This ad might quicken their pulses, but might it overly quicken their rational decision-making?
Quicken Loans President Jay Farner doesn’t think so. He told me that his company hadn’t underwritten subprime loans during the economic crisis and its principles haven’t changed.
“Rocket Mortgages are underwritten to the highest standards,” he said.
He explained that this product exists solely to make it easier to get through the paperwork. It’s simpler, he said, to falsify paper documents than those online. So this Rocket method is more secure too.
“I don’t see any harm in those who qualify getting a mortgage more easily,” he told me.
His company’s research shows that 60 percent of the population believes that turgid paperwork and understanding the actual fees make getting a mortgage too complicated.
“We think the American dream is an important thing. And our research tells us it’s an important thing. All we’re trying to say is, That’s good,” he insisted.
The Super Bowl is, of course, one of the few events that we can share together with a positive spirit and a full belly.
I wonder how many people fueled by fine American beer will take a break in the game, whip out a phone and try to get a mortgage.
I wonder how many should.