Why I’m Not Buying an iPhone 7
This week Apple released the latest major upgrade for the iPhone. I own an iPhone. I use it every day – many, many times every day. I love it. In fact, I’ve owned three or four iPhones since they first came on the scene over ten years ago. But I don’t plan on buying the latest iPhone. My reason has nothing to do with the technology (I’m sure it’s great), or the features (I’m sure they’re super cool), or the brand (I’m not an Apple hater or anything like that). No, I’m not buying the new iPhone because I already have one. While that might not sound like big news, it’s my small stab to the heart of consumerism.
If you don’t think consumerism needs to be stabbed in the heart, just look around. Our society is infected with an unhealthy desire to acquire (sorry, I couldn’t resist the rhyme). We might like having things, but we love getting things. Why else would people post videos in which they unbox a new item? A YouTuber unboxing an iPhone or a wristwatch or a video game has an almost sacramental feel to it. Unboxing only makes sense in a world of consumerism.
Like any “-ism,” consumerism defines the world and provides an understanding of identity based on its own favorable terms. Consumerism is an ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts (thanks, Wikipedia). As an ideology, consumerism provides very clear (and very wrong) answers to many of life’s biggest issues:
· Personhood: Consumerism says you exist for the purpose of acquiring stuff. Your identity is strictly connected what you get and are getting. You have no intrinsic value or worth, you exist to consume.
· The good life: Consumerism measures the good life not in terms of ease, comfort, peace, or any kind of satisfaction, but in one’s ability to constantly acquire. It’s called consumerism because the goal is not to own or to use material goods you acquire, but to consume them like an always-hungry beast that exists only to eat.
· Story: Life is a story and like every story life has an end toward which it’s moving. Consumerism provides no real end or purpose to the story. In consumerism, life is the endless pursuit of more.
· Ethics: In consumerism, something is “good” based on whether it promotes the wanting of more. Anything that prompts you to want and to buy is good, while anything that prevents you from wanting and buying is bad.
· Satisfaction: Don Draper provided the best line of any TV show when he said, “What is happiness? It’s that moment just before you need more happiness.” Consumerism works by always promising and never satisfying. The millisecond of satisfaction and pleasure that comes from getting leaves you even more unsatisfied as soon as getting transitions into having.
Consumerism tells lies. Not one of its answers to life’s biggest issues is true. Like any great liar, it starts with truth. Consumerism is built on two big truths:
1. You need something. That’s true. No matter what Oprah or your BFF or a self-help book tells you, you’re not complete. And no matter what Jerry McGuire said, Renee Zellweger will not complete you. You want stuff because you need something. You are unsatisfied for good reason. Saint Augustine said there is a God-shaped hole in every heart that only God can fill. Lots of things fit in that hole, but only God fits it perfectly and fills it absolutely.
2. Things are good. From a Christian perspective, there’s nothing wrong with having stuff. Poverty is no more virtuous than wealth. Many of the things you own bring ease, joy, comfort, and other good conditions to your life. There’s nothing wrong with having things; things are good, but they are not the absolute good in life. And it’s this truth (that things are good and bring some satisfaction to life) that gets twisted and blown out of proportion with consumerism.
By telling such compelling lies, consumerism detours and distracts us from all the things in life that are far more important and satisfying than acquiring stuff. And consumerism numbs the pain of our emptiness just a bit by giving us that small dose of satisfaction that comes from getting something new.
So what do we do to combat consumerism? The remedy for consumerism is not poverty, but gratitude and grace.
A big reason why I’m not buying a new iPhone is because I’m so grateful for the one I already have. Gratitude is a kind of magical antidote to consumerism, replacing the burn of dissatisfaction for what you don’t have with the sense of okay-ness that comes from savoring what you do have.
But gratitude has to be aimed at someone. Christians are not just grateful for things, we are grateful to God. It is a gracious God who provides, not just for our need to stay electronically connected via a smartphone, but for our every need – great or small. Recognizing God as the gracious Giver frees us from the gravitational pull of consumerism. We don’t have to buy because we are in a story with an author who is inviting us to a great ending.