Whether we like it or not, we are now living in the post-Microsoft iWorld of the late Steve Jobs. If you haven’t bought into the community, you’re still forced to read iPad press releases, iPhone magazine articles and the occasional mundane details of Apple’s stock news. What does this do to our brains? The tech world’s fascination with latest-and-greatest gadgetry is not so innocuous, and Apple is currently its epicenter.
Apple’s success has largely been based on technological envy between users; you purchase an iPhone 4, then your friend purchases an iPhone 4S and leaves you wondering how life might be better with Siri on your side. Now you upgrade to an iPhone 4S only to find your phone obsolete six months later. Apple loves to change the design of its products, making the disparity between your device and the next person’s so apparent that whoever has the lower model number is flushed with embarrassment at the antiquated phone or tablet. Then we are compelled to upgrade either out of jealousy or self-aggrandizement.
As Christians, where does this sort of rat race leave us? Brush the dust off of your W.W.J.D. bracelet so we can illustrate this in the simplest of terms.
Would Jesus care what your iPhone says on the back? Do we care far too much? Buying into the Apple ecosystem is a dangerous task. Their business is partially one of status and upgrades. I’ve seen some bloggers who wonder if the newest iPad’s name, stripped of its numerical identification, is a huge mistake on Apple’s part. How will people know if the iPad 3 is better than the iPad 2? The "New iPad,” sans model number, could be perceived as a step backward by your friends.
But whether Apple continues using this current nomenclature is beside the point. What matters is the notion that we place portions of our identity in the electronics we own and then compare ourselves to others on this basis. It can be subconscious, and the results are insidious. Sounding alarmist on this point seems like a Christian cliché, but the slow transfer of identity in Christ to an identity in electronic stuff is dehumanizing and detrimental to our walk with God. The same can be said for nearly any commodity: clothes, cars, televisions or fancy foods. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” These are Jesus’ words in Luke 14, right after He observes how the guests seat themselves according to their measure of honor. My guess is that if Jesus owned an iPhone, He’d despise it as much as anything else in this world for its ability to distract us from true riches.
This is a complex issue. It is not simply about social comparison but utility. Walking through Target, we can scan barcodes with our wireless phones and check prices on Amazon. We can speak addresses at our phones and receive precise, turn-by-turn directions.
Jesus likely made quality furniture before He began His ministry—furniture that either His mother or neighbors appreciated for its excellence and usefulness. He did not scorn an object’s utility, but we misunderstand our needs when we translate an object’s utility into its value. In a world where we are called to derive value from heavenly treasure, value slips from Christ to objects with just a few envious glances at something useful. A thing’s utility is not inherently wrong, but in many circumstances we translate utility into value as the object successfully fulfills our perceived needs. But man shall not live by iPad or bread alone.
When you buy an iPhone, iPad or iAnything, remember the feeling you have when you first open that perfectly square, beautifully packaged box—the warm ecstasy of holding such a well-crafted device can also be the weighty anchor of one more foothold in the world of men. We become reliant on the creation’s ego-boosting salve or utility rather than the Creator—and I don’t mean Steve Jobs.
Christopher Unseth is 23-year-old graduate of Brown University with aB.A. in religious studies. He works for a tech startup in Minnesota andplans to attend the University of Chicago’s Divinity School this fall.