a collaborative genealogy of spirituality


by David Kyuman Kim

Bound by <a href='' target='_blank'>Leah Yerpe</a>
Bound by Leah Yerpe

I love my iPhone. I hate my iPhone. My iPhone has saved my life. My iPhone is stealing my soul.

The attractions are so clear. The loathing so ready.

It is stealing my soul: whole swaths of my life are in that cosmos of a machine. Names, addresses, phone numbers, messages of friends and frenemies and others are secreted away in it. It’s connected to a “cloud” and would make Jung blanch at any claims to synchronicity. After all, how could he have dreamt (yes, dream) of connections rendered with such ease, such style, such ceaseless seduction?

Ease, style, and seduction are surely part of the package. The sleek form lets us forget that with every tap someone is watching us, following us, tracking us. With each update, our frustrations with technology evaporate until the next glitch, until the next excruciatingly slow download. The delight at the sight of that silvery once-bitten apple makes the mind go blank to the very worldly reality of the hands that put the little machine together, and the corporate interests that want us wanting more. We get to leave our pathetic “dull” phone selves behind when we secure the services of the wondrous iPhone.

Sure my iPhone will give me the false confidence that I can do anything. It’s supposed to give me superpowers – or at least apps that make me feel like I have superpowers. Look: I can read your mind (or at least Google info about you)! Look: I can see the future (or at least tell you what the weather will be like for the next few days). Look: I hear voices! (sure, it’s the iPod or a voice memo, but still….). I am lost, and now I am found (well, I’m still waiting for Google Maps to load…). It’s not the stuff of gospel songs, but it is surely amazingly graceful.

My iPhone is magical, it connects me to a cosmos. And yet, of course, it constantly frustrates my desires to connect. For every wish I make to and through it, it reminds me of my all-too-human longings to be somewhere other than where I am at the present moment, to be with folks that are not the ones right by me, at my side. I am looking at a screen not quite 5 inches tall and less than 3 inches wide for hope, for possibility, for a little info on salvation. How can I not help but feel that it takes a little piece of me, of my soul, of my spirit with each gaze into its bright, shiny glare.

What to do with this magical device that makes me ask questions I didn’t know I had or needed to ask? Why keep touching that screen of desire, that pad of delights?

What will it give me? What will it keep taking from me? Too much, I’m afraid. I hate my iPhone. I love my iPhone. I kinda want my life back.

We lost Steve Jobs last week. When I wrote these ruminations a few months back, I couldn’t have anticipated the passing of this master innovator. I suspect that Jobs was very much aware of the mixed emotions around the array of technologies of enchantment that he introduced to us over the last decades. In the wake of his death, many of us will ask how long Apple will be able to keep this stream of wonder going without the pitch of that Steve of the uncanny savoir faire. Where did he learn to enchant like that? As it turns out, we have now come to find out that Jobs was a seeker himself, looking for, and sometimes finding clues and paths in Buddhism and other traditions of enlightenment. Did Zen give Jobs the way to entice us to see the future in those marvelous designs, those portals of digitized wisdom? After all, we are now legion who find ourselves stuck in the cycle of birth, death, and renewal that the master marketer Jobs so convincingly led us to believe was not only necessary but actually unavoidable. We who call ourselves lovers of all-things Mac have found ourselves enduring through the obsolescence of what we have in hand (“yeah, it’s an iPhone 3…”), suffering the increasing futility that is the “OS X” or the “iOS” performing the charms we come to rely on, and waiting for the end of our yearning in the form of the little death that comes with “the next release”–the new version that will free us from the all-too-worldly and usher in a new material nirvana, priced just so, glistening just right. It’s hard to think of a wizard of capitalism that was more effective than Jobs in beguiling so many in thinking that consuming new products with such regularity meant that we were on the path to the good, and not just mere fools for the cunning of the market. And yet the market is cunning, and it has lost one of its masters, not quite Zen yet extraordinary nonetheless.

So, let us be decent, let us be good and give Steve Jobs his due, his praise, and our thanks.

D. K. K. (a rather ambivalent owner of an iPad 2…)