The day the tsunami struck Japan, Apple launched its tsunami-seller, the iPad2. My calendar for 3.11.11 -- the date of the massive 9.0 earthquake -- was steady:
3. 5 p.m.: Stand in line for iPad2
When the first iPad was unleashed, like Harry Potter's magical wand, but for adults -- I stood in line for three hours to buy the shiny portal for my parents. The hype around the iPad2 this spring is almost unbearable. And, like a true APPLEaholic, I was driven by "the hunger." After all, it was Eve who first ate that apple promising the Tree of Knowledge.
I count myself among the disciples to Steve Job's elegant technology, his sleek, design style born of his calligraphy training, his artistry and eloquence that make Microsoft geeks look like dunderheads -- or worse, drones. Self-employed, I'd endured decades of Microsoft's disdainful tech support.
Now I'm a slave to the pampering of Apple Care; I'm drunk at the Genius Bar where I can cozy up to an amiable expert as we confess our astonishment at all things Apple. The continuing education of Apple classes calls me like a church service or revival meeting.
In fact, as my Apple addiction grew I embraced the iPhone, graced my writing desk with a stylish iMac, and streamed Apple TV. That's why I found myself standing in an endless line of other devotees for the first iPad. A magical creation that changes the world, according to Apple ads. Kind of like a tsunami.
Is there any cosmic coincidence that the iPad2 hit the world the same date as a tsunami? Watching the heartbreaking images of cities falling, whole towns swept out to sea, and people standing in lines desperately searching for their loved ones, I felt suddenly very sober. Amidst such a disaster, how could I go mindlessly stand in line for something that doesn't even work long without electricity? Like Japan.
All those bright, shiny lights blink out. Tall Tokyo buildings eclipsed by a quaking earth. An island world drowning. And the real, awesome power is not technology but water. Long before the discovery of electricity, the ancients understood that water equals power. This equation predated our hydro-electric dams. What happens to power when we mistake it for our own creation and forget the water source from which we borrow, upon which we run our technologies? What happens when our 10-hour batteries die and our smart phones black out?
These thoughts swirled as I watched the tsunami overwhelm Japan. While Japan collapsed into chaos and nuclear reactors exploded, I watched the radioactive rise of sales for Apple's iPad2. Stores nationwide sold out. Now the lines form at ungodly hours as we addicts wait for the hope of a "blind shipment" that may or may not bring us the iPad2.
Like all the newly sober, I self-righteously judged all those APPLEaholics craving their next technological hit. The ridiculously manipulative iPad2 launch (or dribble) with no pre-orders and handy pick-up in stores, consumers strung-out in daily lines - all this caused me to Doubt my faith in Apple. Like all doubt or detox, I began to look within.
Even with the world upside down, why did I and minions still lust after iPad2? Perhaps it's as familiar as a need to escape into an alternate universe because our own world is so unstable. We could fall into the earth's cracks, drown in a tsunami, be swept up in some revolution, or lose our pensions in a collapsing economy. Why not the quick getaway of a magic universe we can hold in our hands? Click. Control. Multi-task.
It took a tsunami to trigger in me this technology sobriety. I find myself wondering: What within us is illuminated when we only light up a screen, a hand-held device, and not our own souls? What do we leave behind when we escape into alternate realities that have nothing to do with the nature upon which our lives depend?
I've just heard a rumor from another APPLEaholic. This techno-wizard says the shortage of iPad2s is due to the lack of a crucial electronic part -- made in Japan. So perhaps there is an eerie connection between this tsunami and the Apple iPad2.
"We have to wait for Japanese factories to rebuild," he says, "and meanwhile, there'll be a worldwide rationing of iPad2s."
Now, when I feel the urge to call my Apple store and ask if they have received another shipment of iPad2 and hear the familiar, "Sold out, don't know when in stock. Just come and stand in line again, starting at 5 a.m." - I slam down the phone.
I remind myself that Lao Tzu says truly wise people are "the light that does not shine." That there is nothing artificial or falsely bright about true power, just as there is a world of difference between neon and starlight. Even if I can see the constellation patterns on my iPad when I hold it up to the heavens.
I tell myself I am in recovery. Like technology-driven Japan. I call my tech-support sponsor and we exchange the tried-and-true oral formulas that all add up to this: You have enough. Our resources are limited -- like the iPad2s. Don't eat the Apple!
Brenda Peterson is the author of 16 books, including the recent memoir I Want To Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, which The Christian Science Monitor named among the "Top Ten Best Non-Fiction Books of2010.
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