The ideology of a technological revolution leading naturally to humanity seems to be shaken. -Hans Küng
It has been a month since Steve Jobs’ death. The talking heads have had their lime light, the biography has been released, and the tributes have been turned down to a simmer.
Before this passes out of the realm of current events and sinks into the internet’s vast catalog of oblivion, I want to make one more observation on Steve Jobs’ life.
The absence of an on-off switch on Apple devices is more than a design feature. It’s a life philosophy. It has been said that Steve Jobs didn’t put on-off switches on his products because he didn’t like the thought that at the end of a successful, influential life a person is just gone- put eternally in the off position.
“Ever since I’ve had cancer, I’ve been thinking about (God) more. And I find myself believing a bit more. Maybe it’s because I want to believe in an afterlife. That when you die, it doesn’t just all disappear,” Isaacson quoted Jobs as saying.
“Then he paused for a second and he said ‘yeah, but sometimes I think it’s just like an on-off switch. Click and you’re gone,” Isaacson said of Jobs. “He paused again, and he said: And that’s why I don’t like putting on-off switches on Apple devices.”
Technology is like bamboo, it’s an invasive species.
I wish there had been a way to set up a worldwide time-elapsed camera taking shots for the last 10 years. I think if we could watch this film we would notice a progressive yet definite change in head posture (maybe you can see it on Google maps street view). Everyone is looking down at their phones.
Smart phones are beginning to rival God in some ways- they’re increasingly “omnipresent”, “omnipotent”, and “omniscient”. Maybe they don’t attain to omni status, but at least they’re ubiquitous, they function intelligently as diverse powerful tools, and they are fully integrated with the internet’s 8.04 billion websites and Wikipedia’s 3,785,993 articles.
Does this amount to a gospel? Everything you ever needed is now available at your finger tips. Just swipe your finger with the slightest touch and it all comes alive. As powerful as the iPhone 4S is with the new dual-core A5 chip, it is powerless against man’s fallen nature. It has no saving power.
Our grandchildren may discover that technological progress, for all its gifts, is the exception rather than the rule. It works wonders within its own walled garden, but it falters when confronted with the worst of the world and the worst in ourselves.
Many people have more of a relationship with their phone than with their Maker. Not only is this a reversal of the logical order (iPhone -> Steve Jobs -> God), this is turning a cold-shoulder to your Husband.
For your Maker is your Husband…
As such, a smart phone can begin to replace God in our experience. The time we used to give to the Lord first thing in the morning now may go to our phone. I know I’ve reached for my phone in the morning before reaching for God more than once.
Don’t get me wrong. Technology can be used by the Lord for His purpose. Of course. And I think we need to find more ways to do this.
But the other concern is equally valid.
This isn’t about redeeming an aspect of modern culture. It’s about faith, love, and hope (1 Cor. 13:13). What do we trust in? What do we love? What do we hope for?
The YouVersion Bible app has been downloaded 30 million times since it came out 4 years ago. Angry Birds has it beat by a factor of 16. The game has been downloaded 500 million times and it has been out for only half the time.
YouVersion Bible readers have posted 11,625,190,000 minutes to date.
Angry Bird players have posted 219,000,000,000 minutes to date.
That’s 200,000 years of playing Angry Birds! Again in half the time too.
How much we love the Lord can be measured in part by how much time we give Him. That’s why we need to redeem the time. Not because the days are morally evil, but because all we have is time that is constantly slipping away.
In this evil age (Gal. 1:4) every day is an evil day full of pernicious things that cause our time to be used ineffectively, to be reduced, and to be taken away. Therefore, we must walk wisely that we may redeem the time, seizing every available opportunity. To understand the will of the Lord is the best way to redeem our time (v. 16). Most of our time is wasted because we do not know the will of the Lord.
-footnotes on Ephesians 5:16-17, Recovery Version Bible
Since his passing, Steve Jobs has been called a saint, a secular prophet, and a technological evangelist.
On paper, he was just a successful CEO who designed computers and phones. No doubt one that changed not only technology but also the world. He faithfully delivered “magical” products that rarely disappointed. He turned a utilitarian object into something like a friend. One study showed that many people’s attachment to their iPhone reaches romantic levels. They experience separation anxiety if they walk out of the house without it.
Naturally people projected their love of the iPhone onto the creator of the iPhone.
But by no means is he the first to be memorialized with such religious devotion, candid scrutiny, and world-wide attention. Princess Diana and Michael Jackson both went through the same thing. To say “they” went through it isn’t altogether accurate because they weren’t alive anymore, but in another sense they did go through it because their lives were larger than the molecules that made them up.
Make no mistake about it, the veneration we are seeing in the aftermath of Jobs’ death is religious through and through – not “kinda” religious, or “pseudo” religious,” or “mistakenly” religious, but a genuine expression for many of heartfelt sacred sentiments of loss and glorification.
Apple products gave people hope, and this became Steve Jobs’ version of the gospel. They constantly and distinctly improved, not only in technical specs but in user experience. They became less cumbersome. They began to add a fluidity to our lives that tied everything together, magically.
The hope people imbued in the evolution of iPhone became very apparent when the anticipated iPhone 5 turned out to be just a 4S. People wanted something more, new, and transformative. They hoped that technology would provide an ever-developing salvation from the aging, slowing, and decaying effects of fallen flesh. Surely a new iPhone meant new promises, new advances, new releases.
Some have seen the early apple logo as a symbolic proclamation of this gospel. A bitten apple imprinted with a rainbow. Both are Biblical allusions. The bitten fruit, a sign of man’s rebellion and fall from God’s purpose and the rainbow, a sign of God’s promise to man to keep His covenant. The combination of the two applied to a computer company logo heralds technology’s ability to annul the curse. Or even worse to convert the fall of man into a promise of improvement.
Technology promises to relieve us of the burden of being merely human, of being finite creatures in a harsh and unyielding world.
Technology promises that while human life may get worse, it will always get better. It certainly has made life easier. But has it caused us to misplace our hope? Has it merely masked the symptoms of a deeper illness?
The gospel of Steve Jobs may give people temporary hope or distraction from the impermanence of life, but it can’t save people.
Having been regenerated not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, through the living and abiding word of God. For “all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass has withered, and the flower has fallen off, But the word of the Lord abides forever.” And this is the word which has been announced to you as the gospel.
-1 Peter 1:23-25
The only recourse we have to our fading humanity is the living and abiding word of God. Only God’s word has the life power to enliven us and change our nature, making us living and abiding forever.