Through the Lens of Meditation: The iPhone and I

by Phil Beatty

There is nothing quite like the iPhone. It is the most popular, most essential and highly praised artifact in our hi-tech world. Actually, though I’m using the term “iPhone” I actually mean smart phones in general. These little digital wonders have transformed our world as widely and profoundly as the invention of the automobile and the airplane. Furthermore, they’ve done it with unprecedented speed.

They are everywhere. Everyone has one. We can’t live without them. They are absolutely essential to the way we communicate and to the way we transact business. In less than a generation Apple, Google, Verizon, Samsung and related companies have become corporate goliaths dwarfing other, older economic powerhouses such as GM, IBM, Lockheed and Sony.

We have all seen videos and heard jokes about people so engrossed in their phones that
they walk into fountains or off the edges of parking decks – because they can’t take their eyes off of the tiny screen in their hand.

I have seen people texting while riding their bicycles.

I was at a local train station the other day. As I waited for my train I idly counted twenty-five other passengers waiting for the train to arrive. Twenty-three of them were on their phones. Twenty- three people talking, or listening to music, or watching videos, or – most likely – texting.

Wow! Twenty-three out of twenty-five. A sign of the times. What a miraculous age we live in.

Now – I was not on my phone. So actually there were twenty-three people out of twenty-six who were actively engaged with their tiny computers. Me – I was gazing in awe at the other twenty -three – and to do this I was using the most powerful computer ever created – the human brain.

Here’s the thing – as powerful, as fast, as intriguing and as handy as the iPhone is – it pales by comparison with the brain of a two-year old child. In fact, it pales by comparison with the brain of
a two-year old chimpanzee, or a dog of any age, or a squirrel which at least knows when to come in out of the rain.

For the next minute or so let your mind dwell on this:
-What would it be like to live in the days of the Roman Empire? There is absolutely no one alive now who was alive then, but do you have an idea of what it would be like?

-Would it be worthwhile for you to give up your job and move to the island of your dreams? -What was your favorite song in high school? Do you remember the words? How does that song make you feel?
-Do you need a new car? What’s the ballpark estimate of it’s cost? Can you afford to buy it now?

-If you have ten dollars to burn and you’re in a dollar store, what would you buy?

The point of this little exercise is that in only a minute you can give a definite answer to all of these questions. You don’t have to analyze them deeply. You don’t have to check them against some database – you just read the question, take a deep breath and the answer appears in your head.

A smart phone can not answer these questions at all – or if it does it is only with tons of additional data and some monumental tweaks to its programming.

Of course this is an unfair comparison. No one really expects a hand held mini computer to measure up nicely to the human brain. This is like comparing a worm to Godzilla; or more accurately comparing a barking dog to Pavarotti – or Elvis – depending on your taste.

The human brain designed and built the iPhone. Even in the most hi-tech, fever-induced fantasy, a computer can not design a brain. The natural world doesn’t work like that. Building computers is something human beings do – the same way we build shovels, or cars, or buildings or city streets. We should not be in awe of something we dreamed up and put together.

Every human being who has ever lived is carrying around a computer that is billions of times more powerful than the most powerful computer ever built. Furthermore, we don’t have to carry it in our hands or house it in a special, air conditioned structure. We don’t have to change its batteries or plug it into the power grid. It is immensely cheap to run. And it is available to us for fun or work pretty much 24/7.

Plus – big plus here -it is invisible! You can see clear through it! We use our brains but don’t have to look at them. Your brain functions sort of like the “heads-up” display in modern jet fighters. All the information you need is displayed on the windshield in front of you so you don’t have to take your eyes off the windshield. So at this very moment you are running a computer that IBM and Google and Microsoft can barely dream of and you are doing it while chewing on a hot dog and checking out the hairstyles of the people around you. No chance of walking into a fountain or off of a parking deck!

My question then is this – if we all have free access to brand new powerful pick up trucks, why are we all pushing around shopping carts and talking about how great they are?

As I gazed at the twenty-three iPhone addicts on the train platform – using my Windows “Two- Million” computer – I danced around this question…

And I didn’t have to send a dime to Apple or Verizon.

One thought on “Through the Lens of Meditation: The iPhone and I

  1. Good Morning! I’d love to reprint this post in the Shambhala Times. Please let me know if that would be a concern for you. Many thanks,
    Carol Henderson
    Editor, Shambhala Times