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Is the iPhone the Ultimate Symbol of Our Materialism?

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Message Edward Kionka
Here and elsewhere, we have been seeing articles decrying the current iPhone hype and craziness as the perfect symbol of our materialism and consumerism. These articles suggest that those who lust for this latest and greatest portable, wireless phone-plus, represent the soulless, people who are clueless about what should be our real values and the worthy goals we should be pursuing.

I don't think that's necessarily true. Many of us who share progressive values and are trying to become less materialistic, live simpler and more fulfilling lives, reject consumerism, are nevertheless excited about this new device.

For better or for worse, many of us are becoming more and more dependent on wireless, universal access to a telephone and Internet, and many of us to email communication. Prior to the iPhone, we have been locked into what is offered by a particular carrier (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc.) unless we were willing to carry a laptop computer with us wherever we go. And while phone service is available on a laptop (over the Internet), that isn't practical for most people. The iPhone is the first device to offer cell phone service, Internet access to the Web, and email in a useful form in a device that can be carried in one's pocket or purse. And it does these things better and more elegantly and stylishly than its predecessors. In addition, it offers those who want these things (and a lot of us do) a way to carry our music and photo collections and even movies with us and easily sync with our computers. But importantly, the iPhone, to some extent, frees us from dependency on a particular carrier. Sure, you have to sign up with AT&T for the cell phone service and Internet and email access, but after that you're free to provide your own email accounts and your own Web services and your own content in ways that you could never do before.You can also do "text messaging" better, in real time, using SMS. (I don't do this yet, but I can assure you that a huge number of young people do, and businesses are starting to use this as well.) And for the first time, many of us will be able to carry one device instead of two or three to accomplish these things. Often, we won't have to carry a laptop computer; maybe we won't even need one!

So many of us see the iPhone as the first of a new generation of devices that are become ubiquitous anyway. But it actually frees us, to a greater extent, from the dictates of a particular carrier's choices. Let's face it -- sooner or later, the vast majority of us will be dependent on what we now call a "cell phone," as well as email and "texting," for interpersonal communications. We should welcome a new device that lets us do these things with greater ease and freedom. In a small way, it's a step toward greater individual autonomy.

I am not an Apple shill or employee or other promoter; actually, I am a law professor, and in my extra time I do some litigation, most of it on behalf of ordinary people against the moneyed interests. I do use Macintosh computers, but as yet I don't have an iPod or any of the other similar toys. I didn't buy an iPhone yet, and I probably won't for a few more months. Maybe, if it works as well as the hype suggests, I'll hint that it might make a nice Christmas/birthday/anniversary present (at least for part of the cost).

Is the iPhone expensive? Yes. But if you analyze the TCO (total cost of ownership) and factor in the greater functionality, for many of us it becomes a choice that has sufficient value to justify that cost. And if you think that ordinary working people, even those at the lower end of the ladder, can't afford these things, look around. Just as almost everyone has a telephone and a television and some form of computer access, we are rapidly heading toward a time when almost everyone will have a cell phone and some kind of portable entertainment device. I expect that, over time, the price will come down, and that even those at the lower end of the ladder will find it worth having either the iPhone or some similar device.

Moreover, these devices may, in the long run, make us a better society, because more and more of the information we need will be coming to use over the Internet, unfiltered by the corporate-dominated media.

So before you dismiss the iPhone as just another expensive, unnecessary toy, take a closer look at what it does and how it does it. You might change your mind.
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Democrat, Progressive, Law Professor and Lawyer, Married with children and grandchildren
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Is the iPhone the Ultimate Symbol of Our Materialism?

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