What’s Old is New Again

In September 2012, just before Apple released the iPhone 5, comedian Jimmy Kimmel took to the streets to get the opinions of passersby on the new device. The only catch was that he was not showing them the new iPhone 5, but rather the older iPhone 4s. Nevertheless, people raved about how superior the new device was to the identical device they had in their pockets or, in some cases, their other hands. I’ve used the clip in a variety of settings to illustrate the power of worldview and the enduring influence of the Myth of Progress.

The Myth of Progress was modernity’s attempt to hang on to a storied conception of the world, while abandoning Christian eschatological convictions. History was going somewhere and things would continue to get better as human beings continued to apply unfettered Reason to the various problems of the day. The horrors of the 20th century, which included two World Wars, mass genocides, and countless other armed skirmishes throughout the globe, called into question the Myth of Progress. The emerging cultural condition known as postmodernity seemed to signal the death knell of the Myth of Progress. After all, if there is no Author, how can we be certain the story is actually heading anywhere? Yet the Myth of Progress continues to live on. (Perhaps the very phrase postmodernity should give us pause. By suggesting that something could come “after” modernity the term may, in fact, re-inscribe modernity’s sense of progress.) The Myth of Progress seems to be alive and well in the fields of science and technology and also in contemporary Western politics; both domestically, where individuals, groups and corporations are desperately scrambling to avoid being found on “the wrong side of history” with respect to various social issues and internationally where “less-enlightened” peoples continue to be looked upon with suspicion and derision because they do not hold to our modern liberal democratic values.

Three months ago, just before the iPhone 6s was introduced, Jimmy Kimmel took to the streets once again to conduct another Apple-inspired experiment. May the clip below not only provide some levity to mark the beginning of the new year, but also alert us to the power of our unreflective, cultural obsession with the new and our continuing need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

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