I’ve been contemplating getting an iPhone for a few months now. I didn’t get one the last time around because…well, because of the price, which seemed a bit excessive, but I guess more than that was probably my general resistance to the madness.
But having taken advantage of my friends with iPhones long enough– for directions (“hey, I’m on the road—can you find me the closest Starbucks?”) or for traffic reports (“hey, can you tell me what’s up with the 405?”)– I realized that I was ready to take the plunge. I’m tired of saying things like, “I’ll email you when I get home to my computer” or “No, I didn’t get the email about _____ because I’ve been away from my computer all day.”
But these practical issues have had to work hard to overcome the subtle but pervasive sense of resistance. As the proud owner of a MacBookPro, I’m a big fan of things Apple. So it’s not an anti-Apple resistance. Plus, I’m usually a huge fan of group bonding moments such as waiting in line for UCLA basketball games or the launch of Windows 95 (I was paid to be a PC geek back then). So the idea of lining up at the Apple store to both purchase the new iPhone but also show my allegiance to the cause should have been compelling.
The thing is, it wasn’t.
I did finally decide at about 6PM on July 11—release date—to walk (it’s a two mile walk) over to the Apple store and see if there were any iPhones left.
Was the walking some manifestation of the resistance? I think so. Somehow walking thwarted whatever inevitable force had been put in motion, so that at least I was drawn toward it more slowly.
A gradual and slightly sweaty thirty minutes later I arrived. There, in the center of the mall, it stood. The tree whose fruit was ripe and ready for the tasting. I saw that the line was still wrapped around the building. I slithered up to the front of the line and asked, “How long have you been waiting?” “About two hours.” The reply was enthusiastic. I stood for a moment and did the math, realizing two hours in line would put me past closing time. Was that relief that seemed to flood through my body as the temptation was, at least temporarily, averted?
“It can’t hurt just to go inside and look around,” I rationalized, clearly not interested in turning away from that which beckoned.
But as I walked in the door the resistance surged. “What is up with that?” I wondered. “I’m planning on buying one. So what’s with the hesitancy?” I thought to myself while surveying chaos.
I looked around at all of the people—there were a lot, the store was packed—happily plucking boxes off the shelves like fruit from the tree, signing away their lives in exchange for this coveted taste of a paradise which will grant to its owner knowledge beyond the old-fashioned limitations of good and evil.
The emotion, I realized with surprise, was sadness. A strange companion at such a feast, no? But as I looked at row after row of headphones, car chargers, cases, and docking stations it was depression, not elation, which washed over me.
Before I go any further I have to digress to share a story. Don’t worry, it relates. My entire life I have gone on ‘mission trips’—trips to visit places that are less well off in the world (not a hard standard to meet, coming from Newport Beach, California) in order to spend time with people there and hopefully help them. These trips have easily been some of the best experiences of my life. However, each time, when I returned, I felt the need to either not buy new things, or give away my current things, in order to somehow purge the privilege from my life. So, one year, before taking one of these trips to Guatemala, I bought a set of golf clubs. I figured that I would be too guilty to buy them after the trip, so I took care of it before I left.
Back to the Apple Store. Standing there I realized that the wave of sadness was caused by the excessiveness of the consumption surrounding me. The excessiveness of the consumption combined with the undeniable knowledge that much of the world—some of them my friends—lives in such poverty that a situation like this would be unfathomable.
I’m not trying to be holier than thou here. Keep in mind, I’m the one who premeditated the golf club purchase (clubs which I also have to admit that I’ve only used a handful of times in as many years). I have other devices (a camera and a computer to name two) that are quite a bit spendier than the iPhone.
It’s also not that this divide doesn’t already exist in the world every day. My buying or not buying an iPhone is not going to transform the world’s inequality, feed the hungry, or set the captives free.
In addition to that, the dilemma has nothing to do, particularly, with the iPhone. But the iPhone did provide a glaring and difficult to ignore illustration of the dilemma.
I walked out of the store empty handed.
The thing is, I’m still planning on buying an iPhone. My hesitations and misgivings have not changed that fact–I just didn’t want to wait in that long of a line. I’m actually looking forward to the line dying down so that I can partake of the tempter’s offering.
But I do wonder about having the knowledge of good and evil within my grasp…
*this was first written/posted in 2008, prior to my first iPhone (3) purchase. Now, as an owner of an iPhone4 contemplating a new iPhone5, it seemed relevant to re-visit…