There I was, calmly ogling Steve Jobs' shinyperfect new baby like a junkie rabbit at a carrot factory in SaladTown, happily swooning over its graceful industrial design and everstunned at the tiny slab's explicit lickability and amazing capabilities.
How easy to get caught up in the sheer madhouse magic of it all, the gyroscopes and voice activators, antennae and compasses, multiple cameras and 5,000 sensors designed to recognize when you might be hanging upside down from a banyan tree at midnight, suddenly needing to shoot high-definition video of a wild giraffe stampede whilst checking World Cup scores while live video-chatting with your wife in France while pricing out a flight to Singapore while doing, um, 2,000 other rather ridiculous things you could never have imagined in a million years back on the day you were born.
And I'm thinking, sweet insanity of life, what wonderful/nefarious creatures are we? How can we keep doing this in the face of all that? How is it that we can keep creating such beauty and cool wonder in the midst of meltdown and pain? What sort of desperate dance is this? Are we spinning faster and faster toward doom? Ecstasy? Both? Are they really the same thing? Aha.
I like cars. Particularly small European cars, particularly German ones, particularly those that are tight and refined and engineered like God's own Panerai, and in this personal fetish/incarnation I hungrily observe every new development in their technology, their engines, their design and capabilities and cockpits, especially all the astonishing concept cars that roll forth, how they keep getting better and weirder and wilder and usually somehow more gorgeous and fascinating, mostly.
Yet at the selfsame moment, as the best of the world's automotive tech evolves to new heights of power and sex, poetry and movement, the BP spill and global warming, Alberta's oilsands and various soul-crushing eco-disasters of the world scream louder and louder: Here is your price. Here is your deeper meaning. Are you sure you still like cars?
It's as though the further we push the edges of industrial beauty and refinement, invention and creation, the deeper we dive straight into hell, like a master chef creating the most delicious dish ever invented, using the last wild tuna on earth. Can this really be true? Is this our doomed equation?
I also like architecture. Modern, sleek, warm and open. I scan design blogs and sigh dreamily at countless mind-blowing heart-expanding creations all over the world, soaring spaces of light and wood, glass and steel; I'm ever incredulous at the artistry and technology of home building, the fit and finish, form and function, the extraordinary human ability to carve out space of every size and dimension, along with our remarkable power to bend the most reluctant materials of the world to our imaginative will.
And I think, how can this be? How can we steal such exquisiteness from empty space? Have these people not seen the slums in Mumbai? The homeless and their filthy shopping carts? How can we build such beguiling poetry and simplicity when a billion people have no plumbing? In short: How can the same weird little human creature contain such extremes? And are these extremes not getting ... extremer?
I get a little lost in the raging dichotomies, you might say. On the one hand, aswim like drunken angels in this, the wealthiest nation in the world, it becomes weirdly tempting to believe that much of what we are creating -- not merely iPhones and Audis, but by extension modes of living, connecting, moving through -- is getting better, easier, more highly designed, efficient and enjoyable.
Astonishing evolution is happening at astonishing speed, solar panels in your hand and a million songs in the space of a postage stamp, instant access to satellites delivering you information on the distance to the next coffee shop, your heart rate, your favorite entertainments, your friends and sincerest loves and a live videostream of your child's smiling face a thousand miles away.
There are moments when it becomes dangerously tempting to think: We're close, right? Surely with all this power and ease, we must have the major problems of the world almost licked? Energy, food production, pollution, disease? Look at all those insane inventions, all the brainiacs at work at MIT, the best and brightest tackling the toughest problems of the galaxy.
Any minute now, solar power and French fry grease, nanotechnology and organic microlending neurobiological hemp-powered oil-eating magic bacteria will take over and make it all better. Right?
And you slap yourself awake. You stab yourself in the soul with an ice pick of Now. And you remember.
We are nowhere near close. It takes no effort at all to flip the lens, to walk the street in fear, to observe, say, all the blood pouring through the streets of Mexico, the violent corruption in Africa, the drug-related shootings just down the street, the raging poverty and sickness, the wall of black death we have just unleashed into the ocean.
Which side is piling up faster, the beauties or the horrors? The refinements and miraculous advancements, or the massacres and planetary maulings? We've always existed in a constant flux of dualities and dichotomies, contrasts, pushpulls. This is nothing new. You could argue that it's within that frictive space that life happens. We contain multitudes, right? Either that, or it creates a chasm so vast and wide, we all eventually fall in and drown.
I try to piece it together. I try to remember what the wise ones and the ancients, the soul-seekers and Tantrikas tell us. The Source is always the same. The dark and the light coexist. The beauty and doom, the progress and the devastation, they only seem a million ideological light years apart; they are, in fact, co-creations, siblings, two faces of the same god.
Drill it down: The new iPhone, sultry and tactile tech marvel that it is, is born of the same forces as the BP spill. The slums and refined spaces, the sophisticated cars and breathtaking homes, the rage and the decay, all of the same divine floodstream. How can this be? It's both mandatory to remember, and nearly impossible to comprehend.
So what the hell do you do? You choose as best you can within that whipsaw spectrum, tread as lightly as you know how, celebrate the wild ride, perhaps try not to undermine every slice of newborn beauty by shuddering in paralyzing horror at the dark demons swimming just underneath. Simple, really. Now who wants an iPhone?