Don't Fear the iPhone

Leo Babauta on wanting stuff:

I don’t, however, buy the iPhone. I’ve lusted after the iPhone since it first came out in 2007, and for more than four years, I’ve resisted getting one. Not because I like torturing myself, nor because I think I’m too cool for an iPhone, but because I don’t want to give in to the lust. I know I don’t need the iPhone, and I know my brain has been tricked into wanting it.

I love minimalism as much as the next guy, but I don’t fully agree with this.

What is the fear here? What will happen if you buy something you’ve wanted for four years, or “give in to the lust,” as Leo calls it, with scary music in the background.

Obviously, none of us need an iPhone like we need food, shelter, and love, and I don’t think everyone should have one. But the notion of “resisting” buying an iPhone for four years seems counterproductive. That’s four years of internal struggle because of a cell phone.

Minimalists often recommend a 30-day waiting list to avoid impulse buying. When you see something you want, you write it down and see if you still want it in a month. If you genuinely do, go ahead and buy it guilt-free. I think this is a practical idea and not too extreme of a suggestion. But why does the iPhone not apply?

I agree with Leo that advertising convinces the mind that we need much more than we actually do. His tips for reducing desires are great, and I adhere to most of them. But I don’t think owning an iPhone turns me into a victimized consumer either.

Leo’s tweet about Steve Jobs received a decent lashing, and I was among the criticism. My life is different because I own an iPhone, and I’m not ashamed to admit I believe it’s been for the better. As I wrote in my post on why the iPhone is minimalist, it makes my life easier. It makes communication and learning easier, which makes growing easier.

Leo responded to his critics shortly thereafter:

If you have been convinced a product changed your life, then it has. That’s how the magic works.

That’s not magic; it’s common sense. Your perception is your reality. If I believe the sky is red, then to me, it is. The logic here is so circuitous that it’s almost impossible to refute. The more I protest, “But the iPhone really has changed my life!”, the more effective Steve Jobs’s trick was, according to Leo. All of us who tweeted back only made him feel more validated.

Leo takes pity on us in his article, saying its not our fault. We’re only human and easily tricked. My problem is with insinuating that Steve Jobs set out to trick us with his shiny devices. Unfortunately, arguing either way is futile. If that’s what you believe, then that’s what he did.

This issue is a matter of semantics. There’s no convincing either side otherwise. I believe Apple has changed our lives regardless of whether we own any of its products. If you agree, you agree. If not, then in your eyes, I’ve been duped. I just don’t think an iPhone, or an iPad that allows a 99-year-old woman to read and write, is the same as a commercial telling you to buy unhealthy food or pointless possessions. Maybe I’m wrong, though.

I advocate minimalism because I think it solves problems. There are many different degrees of minimalism, which work for many different people. Leo’s way works for him, as mine does for me. However, what I don’t advocate is implying that people who do not adhere to a certain level of minimalism simply by having a passion for a tangible object are somehow worse off. Again, the argument is cyclical. These people have only “given into the lust” if you believe they have. Such language, intentionally or not, plays on fear by making people think, “Oh no! I don’t want to give in to lust! Lust is bad! I don’t want to be tricked!” That’s not constructive; it’s minimalism-mongering.

The iPhone is not harmful enough to warrant four years of mental struggle. Leo will be fine whether he owns an iPhone or not, and so will the rest of us.