Death by Distraction


(This is an updated post, first written in 2012 at the time of the iPhone 5 launch.)

I’m conflicted. I use Apple products every day but there’s something about the inevitable fanfare of their new product launches that always concerns me. I’ll admit that it’s clever marketing but it always leaves me feeling quite unsettled.

The iPhone 6 is about to be launched and people will soon be scrambling to get their hands on the new technology. Many are guessing about what amazing features the new iPhone will have. People are also excited about the possibility of the launch of the iWatch.

I have certainly embraced new technology but I do worry about the relentless pursuit of the newest and latest. I read some years back of a young woman who loves Apple so much that she says she’d had about eight iPhones over just a couple of years. The number has probably continued to climb since then. For the life of me I can’t understand why anyone needs to be buying that many phones.

Apple is not the issue.

Just in case you think this is a rant against Apple, it’s not. I love music so I love the iPod that I received as a gift some years ago. My wife won an iPad and gave it to me. I use it all the time and find it very handy for a variety of purposes. I currently have an iPhone 4, the model before Siri. Most people would consider it prehistoric but I find it both fun and functional. It still does what I need it to do and if at some point it stops working, I’ll look at an upgrade. Apple isn’t the issue. The relentless push to have more and more of the very latest is what causes me to feel uneasy. Our constant need to cast off what is still doing what it needs to do simply to have a newer version with a few tweaks is troubling.

My ‘old’ iPad didn’t cease to be functional when the next generation and the one after that were released. My iPod is quite a few years old and several models out of date but interestingly enough, it still plays my favourite music. I actually wouldn’t mind a new iPod but not the latest and supposedly greatest model. If I get the chance I’m going for the classic. It’s bulkier and has less features but it will fit heaps more music and strangely enough, that’s what it’s about for me.

It seems that we keep trying to fill every moment of every day with distractions that really don’t add anything to our quality of life and they certainly don’t answer the bigger life questions. We feel that we need something new simply because it’s available and the thought of not have the latest causes some people to break out in cold sweats. And don’t tell me it’s about functionality. It’s about feeling that we’re missing out if we don’t have the latest. We imagine that it’s better whether it is or not.

It’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes all over again. We’ve let ourselves be duped into believing that satisfaction in life is just one more purchase away.

The strange thing is that when then next new and shiny item is offered for sale we jump for it, demonstrating that the last item we thought would satisfy didn’t really improve our quality of life at all. If it did we wouldn’t need the latest version.

Strangely enough we refuse to learn the clearly obvious lesson and so we just repeat the cycle.

We may say that we’re buying new technology but we’re actually buying a promise. It’s the promise that a piece of technological hardware will make our life somehow better, more complete, but it’s a distraction and the promise is broken not long after we open the skilfully designed box.

I’ve got news for you. It doesn’t stop and it will never satisfy.

All the latest gadgets, useful or not, are just distractions. They all cause us to take our eyes off what’s really important in life. They distract us from relationships, contemplation, relaxation and spirituality. We know that all the distractions don’t bring lasting happiness or joy but we keep pursuing them, refusing to learn that they’ll never satisfy. We keep chasing the distractions. We’re being distracted to death.

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About the author

Rodney Olsen

Rodney is a husband, father, cyclist, blogger and podcaster from Perth Western Australia.

He previously worked in radio for about 25 years but these days he spends his time at Compassion Australia, working towards releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

The views he expresses here are his own.

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