Ten years after the iPhone, I’m talking back to Tim Cook

I turned on the livestream of Apple’s glorified meeting with their stakeholders the other day, and basically consumed a gorgeous presentation and advertisement for products that I don’t need, but are so shiny that I kind of want them. I couldn’t watch the whole thing (it was a little long and I haven’t drank that much Apple Kool Aid), but what I did consume was very instructive. For one thing, two of my friends are asking this morning what phones they should buy. It’s amazing how “sticky” these advertisements are. Apple must be doing something right!

Here are some things I learned as I viewed it.

  • People want spiritual philosophy, even it’s BS. “We need to be true to who we are and remember what’s important to us.” That’s what Tim Cook led with. Nice thesis statement of his sermon. Also meaningless. It gives the audience a false sense of freedom, the kind I find in Jesus, and then fills them with propaganda that tells them who they are and what’s important to them. I think most people ignore this kind of philosophy, and they might think I’m being too serious, but the spiritual space that our phones and watches take up in our lives is worth noting. You only have so much. Don’t abdicate it to the latest potentially soul-sucking gadget.
  • Presentation counts and so does venue. Tim Cook spent time talking about the very venue that the event was taking place. Every single element of the presentation was intended to sell. The sanctuary counts, and it helps “sell” the message. It was a cathedral. Many of my friends are attracted to the imperial form of beautiful cathedrals. I can relate. Tim Cook was channeling that.
  • Paying homage to the departed. Tim Cook offered a hagiography of Steve Jobs, the Lord and Savior of Apple. My friend told me that you could tell that he really loved him. I agree. The love counts, the relationship means something, and the honor (and near canonization that follows) taps into our desire to be a part of something bigger than we are. Something that is transhistorical.
  • The people presenting were confident and unashamed. One of the reasons why Apple is so successful is because of how confident people are in their product. They were speaking as if they’re going to change the whole world. I suppose the iPhone, on its ten-year anniversary, did that very thing. They are unashamed because they believe in their product and they believe in the mission of Apple too (which is, primarily, to make money). My friends and I even are not very likely to present the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ in a similar way—partially because mimicking a corporate event seems off-putting, but also perhaps because we are a little insecure about the message and about ourselves in it. To be fair, there are Christians that do this. But sometimes the message is lost in the medium. There’s work to be done here.
  • Who needs a body, when you have your Apple Watch? Self-sufficiency was the name of the game. The Apple Watch now has advanced technology that tells you what’s happening with your body. It’s amazing. Apple has simulated a disembodied experience and then uses the very devices that cause that experience to tune you back in to your body. It’s a nice $400 way to get back to where you could have been for free.
  • “Technology infused with humanity changes lives.” My stomach dropped at this point. It was shortly after that I turned off the broadcast. I’m not typically the Christian in the room to declare blasphemy and heresy (mainly because Christians are usually telling me that I am those things), but I could not stand for Tim Cook stealing the very language and power of the incarnation of Jesus Christ to sell his $1000 phone. The divine infused with the human is what changes lives. When you sub “technology” for the divine, I’m not sure you even know what power you offer it. Soon, your phone will the very image that God created you in. It will know you and relate to you. It’s creepy, and to overstate it, literally dehumanizing. It ruins the need for community, for relationships, for intimacy.

The invisible hand doesn’t stop to ask questions. I don’t know what will happen to our world as a result of all of this. I’m not a prophet and have no gifts of soothsaying. But I will say, we need to follow Jesus and not the invisible hand. Its pursuit is not our pursuit. I’m not anti-technology, by any stretch, and honestly, I’m way too tethered to my own phone. Some of the features probably help a lot of people out, and we’ll be able to take even sweeter photos of our children. But I think it’s worth to wonder what this is doing to us. Stop and ask a question, instead of just absorbing it (or just rejecting it, even). I wish Tim Cook had a time for “talkback,” much like we do after our speech on Sundays.

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