The phone in my pocket is always the latest model. I’m a constant upgrader.
Our culture obsesses over innovation, disruption, and upgrades. Everything moves forward. An older version of anything won’t suffice. Trendwatching claims we now live in “Upgradia” — a land where we worship “infinite newism.”
But have we ever stopped to ask why we’re so fixated on the next version? The answer could be simple: what we have now doesn’t fix the problem. My phone can’t store all the latest videos; my car gets terrible gas mileage; my house feels cramped. Our basic dissatisfaction with life drives a fervent hope that whatever comes next might solve my problem.
The arsenal of technology I possess contains a few pieces of with which I am completely satisfied. My keys hang on a perfectly sized carabiner. My headlamp works reasonably well. The old Kindle I use to read on still gets the job done.
But then again, maybe even these trusted tools could benefit from an upgrade. I can imagine the possibilities.
The Roots of Upgradia
The first technological innovation described in the Bible aimed to solve the problem of shame. Adam and Eve began their relationship “naked and without shame.” Soon after they found themselves saying, “I was afraid … and I hid myself.” Even their hopes for the covering of a few leaves to resolve their issue evaporated.
Version 1.0 failed. Surprisingly, God himself stepped in to offer an upgrade.
And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. — Genesis 3:21
Upgrading their clothing shows a remarkable aspect of God’s character. Their shame resulted from brazen disobedience. God didn’t have to protect them from these consequences of their actions. Yet he stepped in to help them in their pain.
Many people view this as the first act of grace in the Bible: a merciful gift to undeserving recipients. But embedded within this act of grace and generosity lies a reminder of the brokenness of sin. Fancy clothes affirmed their need to cover their nakedness. The shame of sin required covering in order for them to be seen.
The Gift of Imperfection
I spent several weeks earlier this year constructing a wall mount for my TV. Dual photos slide over a wooden frame to conceal the device. The images are clear; the colors are brilliant; and they almost line up perfectly when closed.
On my left hand I wear the custom designed wedding ring placed there by my wife. A braid of vines evokes the vineyard imagery from the biblical love poem called The Song of Songs. But the circle of vines tangles at one point due to a goldsmith’s miscalculation.
My life teems with relics of our world’s imperfection. Nothing quite measures up to the ideal. My new car becomes used moments after signing the paper. The cleanest house begins accumulating dust immediately. And God’s merciful upgrade failed to solve his creation’s initial problem.
The “garments of skin” exceeded the fig leaves they replaced in every way. They were more durable and far more costly. Surely Adam and Eve were grateful for this gift. But the original issue remained. Shame continued its reign.
What if the upgrade was never meant to solve the problem? What if God intended version 2.0 of the effort to escape shame as an intermediate solution? Animal skins weren’t the answer. They represented an assurance the answer was on its way. God didn’t take away their shame; he gave them hope.
Hope has always struck me as a curious phenomenon for an atheist to explain. The whole nature of the universe denies a naive assumption that things will get better. Chaos increases according to the second law of thermodynamics. Order disintegrates.
And yet most humans have a pervasive sense of hope. Even in the direst of circumstances, we hold on to the expectation of improvement. Is our fascination with upgrading a simple expression of hope in a technological era?
It’s possible to get too excited for the next big thing. We camp out for the newest iPhone. Web forums feature unending leaks of future versions. The land of Upgradia has given birth to a new industry of speculation and sneak previews.
But wouldn’t it be worse if everyone were satisfied with the tools we already possessed? What’s worse: persistent, borderline obsessive, anticipation of improvement? Or a settled complacency?
Hope assumes the unspoken acknowledgement things aren’t as good as they could be. Faith in the redemptive promises of God depend on a “holy dissatisfaction” with the state of the world. My expectations for a smartphone upgrade might be petty. But I would not kill them if it meant losing my tendency to hope.
Some technologists speak of a day when something will change in a radical way. The singularlity refers to a few different versions of a technological new dawn. The most common hope is for radical Artificial Intelligence. This super-intelligence will begin cycles of self-improvement which build exponentially upon each other. Singularity.com describes “the dawning of a new civilization that will enable us to transcend our biological limitations.”
Isn’t this the hope Adam and Eve had when they covered themselves with fig leaves? Wasn’t this the hope when chariots transformed ancient warfare? Didn’t the printing press promise such transcendence? It’s possible such a day will come. The history of humankind does not testify to our accuracy in predicting the future.
But still we have hope.
And we ought to have hope. The latest device unveiling is a constant reminder of the hope lodged deep within our hearts. Our original problem will eventually be solved. Shame will be removed, relationships restored, and our place in creation redeemed.
The optimism of technology is misplaced, but it is not unfounded. Embrace your dissatisfaction. Cultivate hope. But make sure your ultimate hope is well-placed in the Creator and Redeemer of this world.
Father to five; husband to one; helping Christians engage thoughtfully as they follow Jesus Christ.
Pastor at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, CA since 2007. Graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for Oracle Corporation as a Senior Product Manager designing software solutions.