Manufactured Unhappiness

I have a piece of technology in my pocket that is absolutely amazing.  My grandmother once called it my “magic box.”  And really, that’s a pretty accurate description for this machine.  With it, I can see what’s happening across the world, as soon as it happens.  I can see how my friends’ kids are growing up and read all about the political angst that everyone feels, on both sides of the aisle.  I can look up the weather in Antarctica (it’s cold today).  I can read an article about Boaty McBoatface, or a book about Middle-earth, or advice from a pastor to young husbands like me.  I can see breathtaking pictures that other people have taken from far-off places that I’ll likely never get to visit myself.  I can take my own pictures, like of my lunch, and share them with those exciting people in the far-off places.  I can get directions to somewhere I’ve never been before, and get lost only once along the way.  I can listen to almost any song I could think of, whenever I want.  I can pay for DVDs of obscure 90s game shows and have them shipped to my house using just my fingerprint.  I can watch movies, TV shows, and home videos from people all over the world in the palm of my hand.  I can call my wife and hear her voice or even see her face from almost anywhere, and it’s as if she was right next to me.  It truly is a magic box.

Yet the people that made this magic box want me to think it’s not enough.  If you have avoided social media today, you might have missed that Apple showed off its new toy for the year, the iPhone 7.  It’s faster, bigger, brighter, thinner, glossier, louder, smarter, and just about every other “er” than my phone, which is now a dinosaur in phoneland at three years old.  It’s also $750.  Thankfully, it doesn’t change how amazing my current phone is.  In fact, my phone is getting an update in a couple of weeks that will make it able to do even more than it can do right now.  So why do I feel like it’s somehow inadequate now?  Does this new phone somehow negate my phone’s capabilities?  Will the new phones in the wild start hunting my phone and eating it from my nightstand as it charges at night?  Is the new, sexy phone going to steal all the girl phones away from my old man phone, who just wants a nice, quiet relationship sipping tea on the back porch and watching the sun set?

No.  I was drooling while watching the press conference today because that’s what it was designed to make me do.  In fact, just the first part of that last sentence reveals how silly it all is.  I was drooling.  Watching a press conference.  Except, Apple’s yearly event isn’t just a press conference anymore.  It’s an entertainment event, complete with lights, guest speakers, slick presentations, even a mini-concert at the end.  While only the press is invited to attend in person, it’s covered by many, many other avenues and presented to the public.  And right after Apple’s event, Sony attempted to do the same thing.  And before today, Google and Samsung have both done their own versions.  The video game industry has an entire week of showy presentations.  Our culture is becoming increasingly saturated with new products always being dangled in front of our eyes, with the devices they sell us only creating more ways for even newer products to be shown off.  The most basic rule of marketing is to create a need that your product will fulfill.  That’s backwards, isn’t it?  Shouldn’t it be that we create products that fulfill pre-existing needs?  Thanks to our affluence and blessing as a country, we’re in the wonderfully problematic position of our needs mostly being met before we even walk out the door in the morning.  There are certainly exceptions, but for most Americans, we know where all three of our meals are coming from that day, we know that our bed will still be there for us when we come home from work, and we know that our closets will still be full of clothes we can wear tomorrow.  That doesn’t mesh well with most companies’ growth strategies.

I don’t really need a new iPhone, regardless of how much Apple tries to tell me I do.  Oh, I want one, don’t get me wrong, and if I saw one in the street with a note that said, “For people named Kyle only,” I would absolutely put my fingers all over that wide-color, extra bright, Force-Touchy display.  But I don’t need it.  Do you know what I do need?  To get out of the debt I’m in.  Once I’m free of that and I don’t owe anything to anyone, I plan on buying all the iPhone 12 Pro Plus Air Extremes that I can.  Without using my credit card, of course.  But until then, my family is important, my future is important, and my focus is important.  Priorities absolutely have to be always in check when you’re working on a project like R and I are working on, otherwise rabbit trails become full-on derailments.  So, iPhone 5s, old friend, it looks like you’re stuck with me for a little while longer.  You’ve been a great sidekick, and I look forward to using your paid-for little screen full of magic for many more months and years to come.

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