I drive my editor crazy. Sometimes he looks at me, incredulous, the cogs in his head spinning to follow my seemingly random trains of thought. But let's see if you understand what these things have in common:
The Segway scooter
Newly elected U.S. presidents
Newly distributed Apple products
A blockbuster movie's sequel
A television program's season finale
Illegal drug use
Stumped? Don't worry. So was he. You'd have thought our conversation was a game of 20 Questions.
The thread that links these disparate items is a promise. A promise of emotional, spiritual and/or physical satisfaction. Maybe even completion. Many of these things have been, on some level, the "next big thing" in people's lives. OK, admittedly, the Segway has never been "popular" beyond the world of law enforcement (Paul Blart: Mall Cop proves that), but back in 2001, before its release, the mysterious, so-called "It" was said to be able to revolutionize the planet. The world waited on tenterhooks for its much publicized unveiling. After all, "It" might be the answer to everything!
We're still looking for that answer.
And with more than two million Google hits per day, U.S. patents more than doubling in number during the last 20 years and Moore's law more or less accurately stipulating that computing power doubles its capacity every 18 months, people aren't slowing down in their relentless quest for "hits" of novelty and satisfaction. Especially through entertainment. Just look, for example, at the hype surrounding 3-D!
You Can't Always Get What You Want
Here's the reality though, and I don't dare call it Meredith's law, because not only Mick Jagger but also the Bible itself have already plowed this ground: Even when we do buy and enjoy the iPod, iPhone, iPad and the iNext-to-Come, we're always herded toward dissatisfaction. There will be seven new "generations" within months of our purchase. Many of us will salivate over each—even though our older gadget works just dandily—and count the days until we can move up in the world to own whatever's newest, and therefore, "best."
And what happens if the long-awaited device fails to live up to its hype? Then we're almost cosmically disillusioned with our purchase. eBay is strewn with little-used, highly technological toys. When some much-anticipated movie sequel or television finale feels lackluster (read: Lost), we feel somehow cheated, somehow … emptier.
Like we missed out on the promise. Again.
And we so much hate to miss anything! Thus begins our next hit cycle. Sometimes we're not unlike meth addicts looking for a fix, though our search is of course more subdued … and legal. We can blame physiology, not going to prom, finances or the neighbor's dog but, ultimately, we crave because we are humans and not gods. And that, by definition, means we are discontented.
Now, without some restlessness, civilization would be without indoor plumbing and even the wheel, and I'm a huge fan of both. So three cheers for maintaining at least a modicum of dissatisfaction! But when our restlessness looks to entertainment and/or technology fixes for fulfillment, perhaps that's when our troubles begin. And that "fulfillment factor" is exactly what tech CEOs and Hollywood producers are literally banking on.
Down, Set, Hype!
According to Gartner, Inc., a Connecticut-based information technology research and advisory firm, the "hype cycle" describes various stages in the use of technologies—though clearly it can apply to much more than just high-tech. Its phases range from initial media hullabaloo to the "trough of disillusionment" to eventual acceptance of a technology and even its productivity. How many of us have taken a ride on the hullabaloo only to fall into that trough when our hopes for satisfaction through various media are dashed? Just the other day, a TV fanatic friend of mine said, "Meredith, I need something else, but with Lost over, I'm not sure where to look. It's like a depression."
It's probably something like that for all of us. A new laptop, a better phone, a killer movie, an epic TV show. Whatever gets us through the day and adds a hit of excitement. And as technology and entertainment options increase, many of us are seeking even more.
Richard Swenson says in his book Margin, "One of the dubious advantages progress has given us is the relentless raising of the top line." That is, the gap between all we do have and all the things we could have becomes greater—and that usually means we want more. Who among us could be content with Pong when we can have Wii Sports? Or silent black-and-whites when we can have Avatar? Our culture is built on the philosophy that newer/bigger/better is the key to success and contentment—especially when it comes to media.
That means we need to understand the roller coaster we're on.
Nothing New Under the Sun … Except the iPad
Solomon, the wisest man ever to walk the earth (and probably its ultimate realist), said in Ecclesiastes 1:9, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."
Seriously? But wouldn't World of Warcraft blow his BC brain with its newness? And what about the Internet? Wouldn't that astound his wiseness? The iPad? I mean, come on!
Maybe at first glance, old Sol would do a double take. Ultimately, though? No. Human nature, regardless of its technological advancement, remains the same. Since Adam and Eve, our default position has been to desire. We're programmed to seek in life's disappointingly choppy waters.
So after a headlong pursuit of gratification, Solomon's take on life became different. He called the search for pleasure (media and entertainment in our vernacular) a "chasing after the wind." The Apostle Paul agreed. "But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that," he wrote in 1 Timothy 1:8. But forget the necessities of life, most of us aren't really even content with the next-to-latest Blu-ray and smartphone.
Contentment was the goal of both Solomon and Paul. And it's certainly what we crave as well. So it's important to remember that contentment isn't not wanting some new technology or entertainment. It's truly and finally realizing that these things aren't really designed to satisfy. It's understanding that though a movie can offer a few minutes of escape or a good moral, a steady diet of such distraction isn't going to fulfill. Why? Because the created physical world was never intended by God to be a spiritual refuge. Only He can serve in that capacity.
There will be other Segways, new iSomethings and Avatar 2. But next time we're tempted to look to them for what they can't deliver, let's be aware of what our hearts truly need. Not the next "hit," but an understanding of where (Who!) our source of contentment actually is.