As the wonderful and ever-beautiful ‘important half of the Montgomery household’ reaches the milestone of 50 today, I’ve obviously been reflecting on issues of aging, mortality, identity, transience and permanence.
Not in a maudlin way, I hope – creaking limbs and slight drops in energy levels have kept those issues before us for a few years – but in a more celebratory and thankful way as we become ever more grateful for the permanence of who we are in the light of Whose we are.
My thoughts were also prompted by a recent on-line commentary on a contemporary cultural icon. I remember seeing a cartoon a few years ago of two well-dressed people standing on a doorstop with a laptop and saying “We’ve come to change your life” The caption was “Jobs’ Witnesses”.
Now I have been a Apple enthusiast – even evangelist – for many years. In fact, sadly, I’m sure there have been times when I have gossiped the good news of Apple with more courage and fervour than the Gospel of Jesus. However, I am not blind to the inherent dangers of any multi-national conglomerate, whether it be in the field of technology or sport (I just get annoyed when those who benefitted from such multinationalism in the past, complain when others join the party).
The article that caught my attention was by BBC technology writer Tom Chatfield. In it he draws attention to how impermanence is almost built-in to the modus operandi of organisations such as Apple, and questions what it says about our culture and values. His article is peppered with religious vocabulary. He says of the iPhone 5: “What’s on offer is a perpetual present: bright, fast, and constantly renewed. A new body for your phone’s soul.”
Chatfield queries how this constant change affects our view of reality: “what exactly happens when the intractably human business of living and dying meets the weightless world of apps, data clouds and virtual assets?” This, of course, was highlighted a while ago by the rumour- later disproved – that actor Bruce Willis who threatened to sue Apple because they would not let him bequeath his iTunes music collection to his children after he died. Apparently, according to Apple, our identity is “a rented privilege”; and you can guess who the landlords are!
This lends credence to Chatfield’s claim that “as long as you’re alive, upgrading and paying your membership dues you’re a welcome member of the club. As soon as you stop being a part of the present, however, the entire edifice crumbles to dust.” All of this of course raises big questions about how the transience of these things that take up so much of our ‘present‘ may affect how we function and relate as human beings. Sadly, people were upgrading friends and spouses and discarding last year’s matrimonial models long before Apple ruled the world, but this cultural hurtling towards a self-perpetuating obsolescence flies in the face of any worldview which values faithfulness, patience, tradition and the wisdom of the elders.
Particularly discouraging for those of us who hope that the passing of the decades with their accompanying losses, will be compensated for in the increased value put on our wisdom and experience, is Chatfield’s damning verdict that “a culture whose profits and predilections equally depend upon ceaseless activity has little investment in those no longer able to act.” In short, we are creating a culture where many of us are ensuring we will one day be discarded on the physical, intellectual, relational and cultural scrapheap along with the iPhone 25 or 26.
This is the world into which those of us committed to a Gospel of eternal values must speak counter-culturally with words of compassion and hope.
Now, in my ongoing commitment to the belief that stewardship involves harnessing all kinds of available resources for our good, the good of others and the glory of God, and that technology needs to remain our servant and not our master, I will continue to use my iPhone, download iTunes and click away on my MacBook for all sorts of life-affirming, God-honouring and GoodNews-communicating purposes. I am no Luddite. But I don’t need to buy into the philosophy. My life is not in my iPhone and my Apple ID (when I can remember the blessed thing) is not my identity.
How relieved, and grateful, I am that my identity in Christ is not rented. It is not a temporary tenancy agreement but one where I have an anchor for the soul that is firm and secure. My inheritance is not an accumulation of feel-good spiritual experiences that will have no meaning once I go, but rather something that will never perish, spoil or fade.
Grateful too, that the one thing I can bequeath to the next generation, and that no multinational has any patent on, is the faith entrusted to me to share, and with it a full life of hope and meaning, even beyond 50!