Today, Apple, the most valuable company in the world, unveiled the iPhone 4S. The excitement leading up to the announcement aroused speculation from bloggers, reporters and fanboys around the globe. Even the date of the announcement was hotly rumored all summer. And for good reason. The iPhone is great product.

Before I bought my first iPhone (3GS), I was a Blackberry user. And for the most part, I was quite happy. But then I moved my home and office from a PC-based shop to a Mac shop, and needed the iPhone to complete the loop. The iPhone is the most amazing electronic device I’ve ever owned. It’s so good, in fact, that I stood in line (and stood and stood) at the Apple store the day the iPhone 4 hit the shelves, and only a year after my first iPhone, because I knew it would be worth it. And it was. I didn’t have any antenna problems.

But something occurred to me today that caused me to rethink how I feel about technology. As Apple’s keynote started, I surfed around the web to see who was live blogging the event. At each stop online, there was one or more men (mostly) in an excited panic talking about how a new feature or application would impact our lives. One guy wore an apple hat. Everyone had a computer with a glowing apple on the back. Excitement was sparking off the walls of the tubes.  Then I stepped back and thought about it differently.

What are we doing obsessing over a 4.9 ounce flat rectangle made of glass, metal and plastic? Could this really be what we care most about? The world economy is on the verge of collapse. Fresh water ice sheets are melting at record pace. Every once in a while a natural disaster rears up and takes us all by surprise. And every 24-hours 40,000 human children die of hunger as the result of war, famine and poverty. And yet, we’ll think nothing of camping out for the opportunity to purchase a $300 phone and put a white apple sticker on our car’s back window.

Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m more righteous than you. I’m not. I’m just as awed by shiny new technology as the next guy. But something’s wrong here. And I’m as much to blame as anyone. I’ve always justified technology as a way to make our lives better. But really, other than cloud-syncing our calendars and contacts, there’s not that much ‘better’ in being able to hand a kid a laptop or iPad so they’ll play a game long enough to give you a chance to talk to your wife. Sure, our kids use technology to research, and I hold out hope that they’ll eventually use the technology to create things, but right now they mostly consume content. And yes, I’m grateful for technology allowing me to connect to people around the world. But something’s wrong when we expend so much energy in the selfish pursuit of making our lives better and easier when there are so many really bad things happening in the world. If the same amount of energy we spend on selfish endeavors were spent on solving problems we face as a human race, I wonder whether it would help make life better for all of us?

Today is October 4. By the time the iPhone 4S hits the shelves in ten days, 400,000 children on the planet will have died of starvation. And we won’t even blink. Rather, we’ll be too busy being excited about how the latest technology will somehow make us happy.

There’s something wrong with this picture.

Click here to help do something about humans dying of starvation. It’s not much. But it’s something.


Jim Mitchem

The Fence

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.