This week whilst sitting with a friend in a cafe I noticed his phone.
“Is that an iPhone 7?” I asked.
“Yes. I got it last week.”
“Wow, that was quick. What’s it like?”
“It’s OK. Very like the iPhone 6 but a bit faster; better camera and new headphones,” he said in a very matter of fact way.
That seems to be the general consensus. A cursory look over the reviews will show you that many consider the new iPhone underwhelming.
It is not for comment here whether the reviews are fair (or whether the Google Pixel is better!), and of course there will be plenty of fans giving a different opinion what is worth noting is how quickly technology-that even a generation ago was unthinkable-can become mundane.
This is a device that fits in your pocket but has five times the processing power of the 1985 Cray-2 supercomputer (the most powerful and expensive computer only 30 years ago), an inbuilt high resolution 7 megapixel camera and video recorder, you can store and watch videos on it, connect to the Web on it, navigate around a city with it, it is water-resistant, it has voice recognition… I could go on.
Perhaps the most amazing thing is that so many of these very recent innovations are quickly considered ‘standard’. There are other devices with similar functionality. What was once thought incredible has become unremarkable.
But perhaps this says more about us as human beings than it does about technology. There are a number of psychologists and sociologists drawing our attention to what they call the ‘boredom epidemic’. Chris Petit has written on this arguing that our consumerism is a compensation mechanism for our boredom,
‘Shopping malls are boredom's cathedral: boredom underpins consumerism; defines leisure (and desire) which collapses into shopping.’
Is the strange irony that we are bored not because we lack stimulation but despite endless stimulation? As G K Chesterton argues in his book The Everlasting Man,
‘Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good. Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other the good things in a society no longer work that the society begins to decline’.
So if there is an epidemic of boredom, and the answer is not increased novelty or innovation, what is the cure?
One of the virtues that the gospel emphasises time and again which addresses this problem is thankfulness; ‘Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ Ephesians 5:20 (NIV).
Thankfulness is a foundational orientation towards God and his world. It flows from seeing creation as a gift from a loving Father in heaven. Imagine you received a high quality gift from a friend that they made rather than bought. Wouldn’t you notice the details more and have an added enjoyment of it just because you know that your friend made it for you? So thankfulness enlarges our sense of wonder and recaptures our joy because we see things as a gift from our Father in heaven.
The strange thing is that Christians are more prone to give thanks to God for a sunset than they are an iPhone but are not both windows on God’s glory? Sure, one may be the more direct work of God’s hands and the other is mediated through human innovation, but where does our innovation come from? Whose creation are we innovating with? To be thankful is to follow the streams of creativity back to the God from which they flow. Gratitude forces us to discern between the goodness of creation and its corruption, celebrating the goodness of creation in order to live in a way that cultivates that goodness under God
So why not try practising the virtue of thankfulness this week?
What aspects of technology or what devices could you thank God for?
What do you take for granted that you should be marvelling in?
As the old hymn puts it:
‘Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!’