What innumerable “resolutionary” toys

by | Mar 8, 2012 | Uncategorized

My confession:

I spent a large part of yesterday afternoon glued to a “liveblog” of Apple’s iPad unveiling. (Apple now has the full video of the event up.) When the liveblog failed to update quickly enough, I switched to twitter.

St. Augustine’s Confessions:

What innumerable toys, made by divers arts and manufactures, in our apparel, shoes, utensils and all sorts of works, in pictures also and divers images, and these far exceeding all necessary and moderate use and all pious meaning, have men added to tempt their own eyes … (Confessions Book X, Ch. 34; pardon the slightly archaic translation available for free at the wonderful CCEL.)

What innumerable toys! Apple apparently agrees, and has forsaken numbering — it’s not the iPad 3, just “the new iPad.” And it is indeed a delight to the eyes, with its new Retina display exceeding the human eye’s ability to discriminate individual pixels. As Apple says, it’s “Resolutionary.”

Perhaps the folks at Apple have picked up a copy of the Confessions to use as a marketing manual? Well, it certainly tempted me — and I already have an iPad 2 (for perfectly legitimate apostolic purposes, of course) which more than meets my needs, and there’s no way I could afford the new one. So why was I glued to computer salivating over how many pixels Apple packed into the display?  Perhaps it’s just my Internet-conditioned obsession for something new to play with — the same force that drives me to find new apps. Give me at least one new product a week to dream about, or else … or else what?

The emptiness of that “or else” is what Augustine is warning about. The kind of desire we have for our “innumerable toys” doesn’t really lead anywhere except to more and more toys, more and more often. The toys, of course, aren’t bad in themselves — the new iPad is beautiful, and a beautiful testament to human ingenuity and creativity. But I wasn’t responding to that kind of beauty — I was just distracting myself, daydreaming about the next new iThing, thinking “mine, mine, mine.” But beauty should do more than distract; it should be leading me to real fulfillment, not just an endless feedback loop.  As Augustine reminds us, “those beautiful patterns which through men’s souls are conveyed into their cunning hands, come from that Beauty, which is above our souls, which my soul day and night sigheth after.”


Sam Sawyer, SJ

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