I end chapter one (“Information Gluttony”) of my new book, The Wisdom Pyramid, by contemplating how Satan must delight in the unique temptations of our hyper-distracted, overwhelmed-with-information digital age. I write: “As humans become more stressed, numbed, disoriented, distracted, and paralyzed by the impenetrable glut of information, chaos reigns. As chaos reigns, sin thrives.”
I note how interesting it is that the fall of man in Genesis 3 came about because of temptations of knowledge: fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil:
In our age too, the lure of infinite, godlike knowledge wreaks havoc. I sometimes ponder that the logo on my iPhone—a device that approximates godlike knowledge if ever there was one—is an apple with a bite mark. A nod to Eve’s original sin? An ode to humanity’s insatiable hunger for infinite knowledge? Perhaps. But just as for Adam and Eve in Eden, so it is for us: the desire to know everything only leads to grief.
Is the Apple logo an intentional nod to the forbidden fruit from Eden’s tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17)? No. Rob Janoff, who designed the logo in 1977, said as much in a recent interview. Nevertheless, the “fruit with a bite mark” iconography certainly alludes to Eden and temptation, whether it was intended to or not.
For various reasons, the association with forbidden fruit could not be more fitting.
Temptation to Be God
The essence of Satan’s temptation to Eve was the idea that she could be like God—specifically in the sense of God’s full knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:5). Eve took the bait because she wanted to be wise (3:6) but refused to pursue wisdom in God’s way. She bypassed God, took matters into her own hands (literally), and ate the fruit.
Ever since, humanity has been constantly tempted to pursue god-like knowledge and power, but on our own terms. The personal smartphone—epitomized in Apple’s iconic iPhone—comes as close as anything in human history to approximating god-like knowledge and power. Even the name, smart-phone speaks to its claim on superior knowledge. The promise it makes to users sounds awfully close to the temptation that sucked in Eve. Consider:
Never has a gadget offered such access to god-like knowledge. The smartphone in your pocket gives you access to literally every idea or thought ever published. Unfathomable amounts of information are at your fingertips. Answers to every possible question are just a Google click away.
Your smartphone allows you to approach god-like omnipresence, connecting you to people, places, and happenings all over the world, all the time. Everything happening everywhere is within your grasp, mere clicks away. As you swipe and scroll, you’re traveling across space and time—transcending the confines of your local, embodied existence.
The smartphone sales pitch is all about power: You hold a device through which many—if not all—of life’s tasks can be accomplished. It’s a phone, a TV, a music player, a book reader, a fitness tracker, a menu, a shop, a clock, a budget tracker, a camera, and so forth.
Don’t get me wrong. Much of the above we should celebrate as helpful and convenient. I’m an Apple user and their devices are truly extraordinary tools of creativity and efficiency. But even the best tools can start to shape and tempt us in negative ways, becoming addictive or so indispensable that we can’t function without them.
Icon of Autonomy
Another way the iPhone (or really any smartphone) evokes Genesis 3 is how it celebrates total autonomy. From its ingenious “i” branding to its famous “solitary person dancing to their own beat” iPod commercials, to the revolutionary ways app interfaces put the focus on individual preferences and curation power, Apple has defined its brand in terms of freedom and autonomy. Go where you want to go with your iPhone. Do with it what you will. The power is in your hands, and no one else will have an “i” experience quite like yours.
The personal smartphone—epitomized in Apple’s iconic iPhone—comes as close as anything in human history to approximating god-like knowledge and power.
Autonomy was also a key part of the temptation that drove Adam and Eve. They weren’t satisfied with any limitations placed on their freedom. They had immense freedom to enjoy Eden’s bounty, but the one thing God told them not to do, they did. The desire for absolute autonomy has been a root of sin ever since.
I’m not saying everything personalized or individual-empowering about the iPhone is bad (again, I’m an Apple user, often appreciative of the helpful aspects of the company’s products). Nor am I suggesting there aren’t plenty of other things in our consumer culture that also elevate autonomy and expressive individualism (much in this algorithmic era of digital capitalism functions this way, actually). But Apple’s brand leans into it boldly and unapologetically.
Perhaps the most insidious way the smartphone has reshaped our lives is by commandeering every minute of it—keeping us so hooked to scrolling, so beholden to various apps, that much of our time now goes toward aimless digital wandering and distracting diversions.
Time we could spend with God is now filled with whatever wares this god-like digital substitute offers at any moment. Time we could spend in stillness, reflecting in gratitude on the many gifts we’ve been given, is now spent frantically clicking to find more: more breaking news! more things to order on Amazon! more shows to add to my streaming list! more photos to like and tweets to share! more content!
Like Adam and Eve in the paradise God gave them, we’re lured by sin to want more than we have. We’re drawn to God-substitutes, wisdom-shortcuts, and the promise of unhindered autonomy. Steve Jobs didn’t invent these temptations, which are as old as Eden. But the products he invented have undoubtedly played into and profited from these temptations—as his logo’s bite mark so eerily, if unintentionally, suggests.