Friday, March 26, 2010

Vendor lock-in, the quick sell, and the rise of smart phones

Two or three years ago, I wanted to buy a GPS system. I was searching the database in of all of the models of GPS units produced by Garmin. At first I was astounded by the vast array of options available, then I eventually figured out a pattern in the table that Amazon made available. Every model that had a capability of subscribing to a Microsoft-based traffic information service cost about $100 more. I didn't figure I lived in a city big enough to have its own traffic data; I don't like Microsoft; I was happy to save $100. About a year later, Google announced a feature of the Droid phone OS which would provide turn-by-turn navigation. In response, Garmin's shares plummeted in October 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal. Google was giving away for free on a smart phone a feature that you could have easily paid $200 for as a standalone device, plus $100 or more for the right to pay additional subscription fees to Microsoft.

1) I bought a clock from Brookstone that was supposed to never need resetting because it was permanently set with the correct time. Guess what-- it needed resetting out of the box, it didn't have the correct time. I took it back.
2) I bought two wireless weather clocks from Brookstone. It broadcast the correct time and 5-day weather forecast for my city. It was an amazing device. Miraculously, both stopped working after about 4 months (even with replaced batteries). There wasn't any sign in the store informing me it was a limited time service.
Both of these items have features that are duplicated by the smartest of smartphones. Ads for Google's new Nexus One tout its ability to display the correct weather and time when left on its charger stand.
In my humble opinion, there's some cynicism behind both companies' decisions listed above. Not so much how can we serve the customer but how can we get their money. Both problems just want me to rely on an Ipod Touch as my only alarm clock. The problems make me want to get a Google Nexus One. I believe what is radical about these phones is not just the new technology but the empowerment of the consumer. Instead of purchasing a series of single-purpose, barely functioning, electronic devices, we'll just buy another $3.99 app for the multi-purpose device we're already carrying around. As it's probably more fair and green, I hope this model continues to be a business success.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Unedifying focus on the End Times

I've been thinking about the End Times. For some Christians, the study of the End Times is a source of great fascination. My worry is that paying too much attention to "the signs" may cause one to have exactly the opposite state of mind that ought to occur if it's "your time to go".

Christians are called to repent, and to witness to others. There are few tasks which should be higher on the list of the faith walk of a believer. One might even say that the closer one feels to their own time of death, the more urgently one tends to undertake these activities. I'm sure we've all heard Christians who, upon hearing they have but a few months to live, take time to set their affairs in order upstairs, and talking about faith with their loved ones. We should be witnessing & repenting all our lives-- Luther said, "the whole life of believers should be repentance."

Somewhere also on the list of essential activities for a Christian is probably speaking up for the oppressed and providing relief to the victims of disasters.

My fear is that a focus on the End Times may cause one to look for signs at the expense of repentance, witnessing, speaking up for oppressed and relieving want. If you look for the signs, what are you looking for them for? Is it a case of, "I would only do these essential things if I knew the Earth had a few months to live?" I should hope not. Is it a case of wanting to get a better seat on the bus to Heaven? I wonder what works specifically taken on in the End Times would provide oneself merits towards one's salvation or place in Heaven. I suspect there are none, given that salvation is a free gift.

Sam Harris, a New Atheist, once predicted that most Christians would rejoice upon first hearing news of a giant fireball appearing over New York City-- because to them it would be a sign of the impending End Times. Faithful believers should take Harris' comment as an insult to orthodox biblical faith, but I fear it's too likely to be true. An End-Times focus can put one in a state where disasters don't tear at the heart, but make one walk to the other side of the road. Does one see suffering people, even the suffering of bad people who instigated war, as just part of the play unfolding on the stage before you?

Finally, what does Old Testament prophecy mean for you? Take the book of Isaiah. I see it to be full of calls to repentance and beautiful allegorical predictions of the sufferings, death, resurrection, and mission of Jesus Christ. I say we should be reading these texts over and over, so that eventually the Spirit may overcome our stubborn hearts. Perhaps upon the tenth reading we may see yet something else we may repent of, something else we may caution our neighbor about. Repenting and witnessing, repenting and witnessing. That's one take on Isaiah. Another take is to gloss over all these details in the text about our sin and Christ's work, and instead see what's in it for you in the End Times. Memorizing all the signs so you can hop on that bus to Heaven.

If you were about to die, you'd probably focus on all the right things in the faith. If you focus on the signs of the End Times, I fear you'll neglect repentance, witnessing, helping the oppressed, binding up wounds.