08/09/2010 12:57 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011


The rumor mill has been activated. There will be a new Apple gadget soon.

Steve Jobs intends to catch the off-to-school market by introducing a video-chat iPod in mid-August instead of a month later per Apple tradition. People's attention will be diverted from the mess of the iPhone 4's 'Antennagate', and -of course- Apple will sell more product while snickering at HP's falling stock.

Again, as Steve Jobs knows better than anyone, crisis always equals opportunity.

But will the new iPod sell?

Recession has beaten us out of the mall. Joblessness has slowed acquisition. Hopelessness has made us despair more deeply than a momentary consumer-slump that might be ameliorated by something shiny and new.

We are worried about family. We are worried about the future and about what kind of world we've brought our kids into. We want to give them happiness, but we are surrounded by greedy fools who steal our jobs and houses and plunge us into more debt than our grandchildren can pay.

Does anyone know how to solve the mortgage meltdown mess? The Gulf Spill? Climate Change? We are in the Big Muddy again, but this time water is already swirling over our collectively stupid heads.

How can we pause to say a much-needed 'I love you' to our school-bound offspring at such a bleak historical moment?

Yes, it is difficult...

And that's why Apple is bringing you the convenience of 'video-chat.' In 2010 you can now assuage your guilt by buying face-time with your loved ones. If you can afford the new Apple, you can still be a good parent.

You don't even have to be in the same room, and this is a good thing since you no longer risk the criticism or hostility of a longer, uncontrolled face-to-face interaction.

Now, you can say, definitively: "Can we pick this later, please? Honestly, I have to go."


Partly, of course, this fear of being vulnerable to those closest to us is familiar, human and touching. It's our way of saying 'I love you so much that you can easily hurt me.'

But it's also a self-defeating and grotesque interpersonal idiocy that infests the structure of American society.

In the past year, lingering behind these inventions, I have begun to see Steve Jobs' personal history as an adopted child. His fear of rejection is horribly and overwhelmingly written into the circuitry of the gadgets he purveys, and he is able to touch and exploit the same fundamental fear of isolation and rejection in all of us: "Rejection is terrible, because it will leave me alone with myself. I must be distracted. Every moment must have a multiplicity of diversions. Every opportunity of being alone with myself must be deflected, diverted, divined."

Steve Jobs is our Edison, our Ford, our Lindbergh.

He has already been wherever the rest of us might go...

During the past year two films affected me profoundly: Transformers and Up In the Air. After seeing them, I first began puzzling about when we replaced human relationships with our pan-cultural reliance on technology. When, I wondered, did we begin thinking that interaction with a machine -- Bumblebee or a passenger jet -- would give us the same satisfaction as talking to a relative, a friend, a fantastically beautiful lover like Vera Farmiga or that silly girl, Megan Fox?

The universal substitution of things (and more especially devices) for people is a spooky American idea whose origin is obscured by wars, inventions and consumerism. Really, it's not one thing, it's a tendency that grew up during the twentieth century, and I've tried to find the historical seed of this consumer trend in a new essay (called 'Electric Company') in The American Interest which you can access here:

In previous blogs, I've written about the chronic loneliness of our culture and about social networks like Facebook. Today, I want to write about the irreplaceable quality of human interaction, about human presence, about human touch and about the human voice.

There is and can never be any substitute for these things. We cannot remake ourselves into cyborgs.

Efforts to find substitutes for human company have odd consequences, like the death that changes peoples' lives in Lars and The Real Girl. It is the 21st century, after all, and we should know now that human happiness derives only from finding suitable human company. That is why Facebook and online dating services and even silly things like the iPhone's ocarina application are so massively popular.

We are not made to be alone. In fact, we are made to be 'not alone.' We are complexes of mirror neurons who find each other and then synchronize to work in the same melodic rhythms. Music binds us and so does proximity and touch.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Please read my essay and then return to tell me what you think of it:

And thanks!