The last 48 hours have seen the press conferences to launch or preview two new and upcoming devices: Apple’s iPhone 5 and Nintendo’s WiiU console. Today, I watched Nintendo’s livestream of Reggie Fils-Aime’s talk in New York City. Of course, right beside the window I had my Twitter feed open and the consensus was decidedly mixed. As Nintendo discussed their new media integration platform, Nintendo TVii, Ben Kuchera of Penny Arcade tweeted, “Content is so broken in US. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are all scrambling to middle content we already pay for. Just another layer.” Now, I don’t necessarily disagree with Kuchera’s assessment of the digital media situation in the US, but his comments raise the question of newness in the 21st century. We’re obsessed with newness these days, and more and more it seems that product launches, press conferences, and commentary is shaded by a sense that new things aren’t new enough anymore.
Our memories betray us. I remember watching (online) Steve Jobs demo the first iPhone in 2007; no one had ever seen a touch screen as responsive as that. Then came Nintendo’s Wii, and while many were incredulous, my first game of Wii Bowling was wonderful. We love new things, but even more we love remembering new things. We love recalling how unique and incredible that new product was when we first laid eyes on it. The kind of nostalgia we have is hard to describe, because our recollections have a basis in a quantifiable reality. The iPhone was a remarkable product, and the Wii did bring motion controls to consoles in way that hadn’t been done before. As such, we don’t usually think of our longing for those feelings as purely nostalgic. Still, the longing for the return of the old feelings is wrapped up in our desire for the new.
Behind the longing for newness and our memories of the new is a fear. Fear that there is nothing new. Fear that maybe, just maybe, the writer of Ecclesiastes was right, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Are our feelings of joy and possibility at the advent of new technology just the bloated groans of culture obese with its own wealth and leisure? Even worse, is our disappointment with a lack of newness only evidence of our shallow obsession with a thing we’ll discard carelessly a few years hence?
I struggle with these questions. As someone who enjoys video games and believes that they have important contributions to make to our culture, I will probably end up purchasing a Wii U. At the same time, in the back of my mind there’s a nagging voice that chides my desire for something more than what the Wii U has to offer. In some ways, video game culture more than others has a potential to criticize the objects of its own obsession. We want our products to prove Ecclesiastes wrong; we run to the new consoles and games hoping beyond hope that we’ll find something new, something that will revive the stale memories of cradling some new device for the first time.
In many ways our behaviors speak louder than our tweets, our articles, our blog posts. By clutching at these new products we reveal that we seek greater meaning and purpose. Those feelings we remember and continually hope to replicate are evidence of our wealth and leisure, but they are also evidence of something more real than our lives can offer. In those moments of newness, we catch a glimpse of an ideal in which we can enjoy human creativity and ingenuity unimpeded by our expectations and disappointments. For me, Christian theology offers a wonderful narrative through which to understand and consider these moments. I recognize that I must repent of my greed and covetousness, but I also remember that one day all things will be made new.