J Walking

Dear David,

Consumer products like the iPhone carry loads of promises, both stated and unstated. They promise that:

– you’ll be thrilled by using them
– you’ll be cool by using them
– you’ll have the one device you need to meet all your communicating, planning, viewing, and listening needs (or at least those needs that occur while you’re not at home in front of your iMac or iTV)
– you’ll be fulfilled in innumerable ways
– you’ll spend $500 up front–more for more GB, and more for continued service and unnamed accessories that will soon become essential to your experience of the iPhone

I could go on, but most of this is obvious. And my reaction to the phone isn’t as purely skeptical as it sounds–I think it’s gorgeous. I want one, though I doubt I’ll have $500 of discretionary funds to give to Apple this summer. (Actually, I doubt many people who buy it will have the money, either.)

But I think when we’re buying and using these products, we’re doing something spiritual, usually without acknowledging it. We’re buying promises of fulfillment–some of which are reasonable and easy to admit (“I need one device that does 10 different tasks.”) and some of which are illusory and embarrassing to admit (“I need to be seen holding this device.”).

Plus, we’re introducing new spiritual problems into our lives. Speaking for myself (but, I’d wager, also for most everyone who owns one of these things), owning a Treo/Blackberry/etc has meant developing a new kind of addiction. Because of my Treo, I’m in constant touch–not just with the dozens of people who can reach me via SMS, email, or phone at any moment of any day (At the movies? In church? No problem–Treo doesn’t get powered down; it goes on Vibrate), but also with the news, sports scores, weather forecast, and anything else I’m compelled to be in touch with. In days of yesteryear, if the Red Sox had a day game I’d come home, turn on SportsCenter, and find out the outcome. Last summer, Treo in hand, I’d check for score updates constantly. Hell, sometimes, in my worst moments, I’d check for pitch updates constantly. (At, in case you don’t know, you can follow the game play by play or pitch by pitch. Really silly. Really addicting.)

The Treo has become something I have to fast from. It’s an idol–I don’t worship it, but I do obey it.

So maybe, when I asked you about the spiritual implications of your adoration of the iPhone, I was really asking you to explain me to myself. But I don’t think I’m alone–I think, to paraphrase a line from “Fight Club” and a principle from the Gospels, that the things we own end up owning us.



PS — As usual, shows like “Conan O’Brien” are saying all this as well as any of us can:

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