The Myth of Progress

Among the more damaging myths embedded in the cultural milieu of the West is the myth of progress, and more specifically, the myth that some people are more advanced than others.  At it's broadest scope, this myth manifests itself as a criteria by which other nations are judged.  Western nations deploy the word democratic, which  stands in for advanced.  A non-democratic nation is referred to as tribal, it's rulers are a regime, and it's people are oppressed by tyranny.  All this rhetoric stands in for a lack of progress.  This rhetoric produces suggestions that a non-democratic nation is comprised of humans that aren't quite fully human yet, and are therefore subject to the exact same kind of discrimination produced by racism.  If the Occupy Wall Street movement suggests anything, it's that a supposedly democratic nation can be experienced by its citizens as oppressive.  Much has been written about the manifestation of the myth of progress at this broader level.  What has occupied my thinking tonight is about the way the myth manifests at a much more granular level.

You'd have to be living under a rock not to hear about the new iPhone.  Each subsequent release of Apple's device is greeted by an ever more fervent and global media frenzy.  There is no other phenomenon in human history that comes close to attracting such perennial attention.  If John Lennon came back from the dead and released a new Beatles album, it wouldn't come close.  Frankly, it's sickening to watch.  Steve Job has become a martyr for the iPhone 5, which hasn't even been announced by Apple as existing.  Something is wrong.  The American (and now global) consumer is obviously exhibiting dangerous addictive behavior.  Like a junky whose value judgments are grossly distorted by the object of their addiction, consumers have blown the importance of the late CEO of Apple way out of proportion, and even more insidiously, they have conflated his death with a magic and non-existent device.  The problem is that there's no one left to diagnose the patient.  Every psychologist in the country would have to excuse themselves for a moment while they check Facebook on their iPhone.  Even this blogger has one.

At its most granular level, the myth of progress manifests itself in the way we make value judgments of others based on the phone in their pocket.  The iPhone 3G toting business-woman is taken less seriously by her 4S toting peers.  This behavior is internalized, generating crowds of people who line up in the freezing cold outside Apple stores.  Humans, in effect, have become cyborgs, and the cyborg with the newest phone wins, and in increasingly less subtle ways.  The iPhone 4S equipped cyborg now has an artificially intelligent familiar, and its iPhone 4 equipped competitors are now inferior in tangible ways.

I'm calling it now:  there is a new kind of discrimination on the horizon, and it's name is techism.  It will replace classism, and will be no less oppressive.  The economically challenged will one day occupy Apple stores rather than Wall Street.  These devices are so expensive, we might as well start calling birthdays and Christmas "iPhone Day."  This is price gouging.  There's no other way to see it, once you realize that Apple has more cash than the U.S. government.  I'm not sure how to fix the problem.  All I know is that I'm not buying the iPhone 4S.  I'm sure Apple's OS upgrades will keep me from keeping my iPhone 4 in perpetuity, but I'll hold out as long as possible.  I will also make a concentrated effort to see people as people, not cyborgs, and to learn to cherish the outdated.  It's sad to think that holding on to your $500 purchase for *gasp* five years is rebellious behavior.  But such is the nature of the myth of progress.


Nick said...

And how long have you felt progress was a myth?

Anonymous said...

So should I return your Christmas present? -- Mom

Bryan Tarpley said...

Ha! Well, from the heights of hypocrisy I declare No! Please oh please give me an Apple product for Christmas!

In meager self-defense, I'd insist that a gift is different than a purchase, but it's a meager defense indeed ;)

But maybe the Christmas after next we can institute a no technology pact???

Becky V said...

I used to na├»vely think that when I got to be a grownup the peer pressure to have the right “stuff” would go away...designer jeans and what-not; no, the right stuff just got more expensive!

My (non-iPhone-toting) youngest daughter laments the fact that those her age with iPhones never just say “I forgot my phone” or “Where is my phone?” -- it’s always “I forgot my iPhone”;)