Of memory and iPads

Published May 15, 2024

WORLD Opinions

Apple just released an ad showing the accoutrements of civilization being crushed—paint splatters, a piano cracks apart, a sculpture is smashed, and so on, all in painfully high resolution. When the carnage is over, the latest, sleekest iPad appears. There was widespread revulsion at Apple’s dystopian vision of replacing the tactile material world with an ephemeral digital realm—work, leisure, culture, and relationships all mediated through the digital kingdom dominated by Apple and a few other tech giants. The backlash was so fierce that Apple even (kind of) apologized, but without showing any understanding of why the ad was repulsive.

The ad revealed that Apple is still committed to a vision of technology as a way of life. That vision effaces physical existence. Apple promises that instantaneous access to almost universal content, connection, and creativity is just a device and a few subscriptions away. But this convenience comes with costs, including ceding control to Big Tech—if you need an iPad, Wi-Fi, and a streaming subscription to read your books, listen to your music, and watch your movies, are they really yours? And a centralized digital world will only expedite the already occurring rewriting of history and literature. And so the political theorist Patrick Deneen advised: “Buy and keep real things. Books. Vinyl. Instruments. Art supplies. This destruction of actual things that you can own and keep, replaced by permanent renting of ‘virtual’ content, is what they are aiming at.”

This problem runs much deeper than the potential malfeasance of Big Tech. The flight from the tangibly physical into the digital would be a mistake even if it did not cede power to tech giants. Disassociating ourselves from the physical is spiritually hazardous. Christianity insists that we are not souls that happen to drive around bodies like meat-suits. Rather, we are our bodies as well as our souls. Furthermore, Christians believe that the God who created the material world and declared it good also became incarnate in it. We believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead, and we look for a new earth along with a new heaven.

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Nathanael Blake, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has included work on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre, Russell Kirk and J.R.R. Tolkien. He is currently working on a study of Kierkegaard and labor. As a cultural observer and commentator, he is also fascinated at how our secularizing culture develops substitutes for the loss of religious symbols, meaning and order.

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