Culture At Large

Smartphone as the Ring of Doom?

Paul Vander Klay

I’m a gadget nerd whose Verizon contract is almost up so I’m shopping for my next phone. Here’s an ad from HTC.

Tim Keller quotes Tom Shippey in Counterfeit Gods as calling Sauron’s ring in The Lord of the Rings “a psychic amplifier”. They take our heart’s good desires and amplify them to idolatrous proportions (pg. xv)

In this one minute piece HTC promises that its newest phone will amplify the passion and the poignancy. It reminds me of an obviously effective Kodak commercial in the 70s that used a Paul Anka’s song encouraging people to take Kodak pictures to remember “the times of your life”.

These pieces don’t just amplify, they shape. Through the artistry of the presentation they invite “you” (through the ever-present assistance of their product of course ) into another level of life. The product invites us all into an aspirational “you” that is younger, cooler, better looking, has more friends, is clearly living an upgraded narrative at a hipper urban address.

I find marketers to be some of the most insightful cultural exegetes. As a pastor part of me is in awe of their skills. The commercial doesn’t so much draw me to their phone, but draws me to their craft. I want to have this power to deeply hook people by their aspirational narratives so that they will embrace what I am offering. For me, that skill is the power of the ring.

“The ring is treacherous” as Frodo warns Gollum. It is ironic that the one who kept the ring a short time needed to school one who had it for centuries. There is a lesson there. What the ring amplifies is a skewed “you” and we crave amplification usually at the expense of a more realistic, clearer, less airbrushed “you”.

Jesus comes and tells us that the only safe amplification comes after personal mortification and is uniquely God’s work. He then goes on to model it as Philippians 2:5-11 points out.

I don’t think buying a smartphone presents a moral hazard to most of us. Even a shiny new HTC Android phone is a weak idol that soon simply becomes a personal appliance we’re likely to curse, ignore, sit on or drop in the water. The really smart marketers, however, if we listen to them at an angle, might school us on the idols we hold in our minds more than the ones we hold in our pockets.

Topics: Culture At Large, Science & Technology, Technology, News & Politics, Media