Technolust

It is unsettling that I have a daily routine almost as regular as my five prayers: to peruse the online press for the latest reviews of the latest Netbook computers to go on sale. I am amazed by these little machines: attracted by their looks and fascinated by their form.

But just as the full force of this addiction kicked in, carrying me to Comet and Dixons to see numerous examples for real, a subtle realisation dawned… Actually, I have no need for a Netbook. I have an aging, second-hand laptop, which though far from perfect, serves my needs satisfactorily, and a desktop computer too. The truth is I’m suffering from technolust.

Over the years I have made myself deeply unpopular with acquaintances by voicing my fears of technolust aloud. Though undoubtedly irritating, every plea is heartfelt at the time. In a discussion on the merits of the iPhone vs the Blackberry, I will be found remonstrating that last year’s phone will suffice. My acquaintances respond in anger, demanding to know why I must inject irrelevant ideas into their discussions. Why don’t I just bog off, is the gist, though it is expressed with far more elegance.

Yet in truth I seek not to be a thorn in their sides. It is just that such discussions remind me of my own technolust. Yes, I really, really want a Netbook… but actually I have no need for one at all. It would just be a bit of a toy. Sure, we can all talk about the need to post our Twitter updates, to check our email and to post to our Blog wherever we are in the world. But actually that isn’t a need at all. It is a want and it is technolust. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true.

I have always had this fear of gadgetry, or more specifically the cost of gadgetry. In my youth I was found yearning partly after a romantic past of subsistence farming and partly after a clean future harnessing the power of river currents. At university I studied environmental degradation in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, seeking out low impact technologies to carry us forward.

And then I became a Muslim and learned that the best of our community lived lives that had minimal impact on the world around them. Some of the rulers of the early Muslim ummah shunned stallions to walk on the earth with humility. At night they slept like paupers. Their garments were unpretentious and their possessions few. Their lives mirrored the great sentiments of the gospels I had been raised upon.

And so what is the cost of our technolust? To the earth, the cost is great. To regional peace and stability, the cost is huge, fuelling mineral wars and civil strife all over. To our spiritual growth, only God surely knows. Our deen encourages restraint in terms of the food that passes our lips, the words that slip from our tongues, the gaze of our eyes and our craving for the delights of the world. For me, technolust is a modern extension of age-old trials. Yes, my injections into many a conversation are irritating, but they come from these thoughts. Ultimately the cause of my discomfort is my accountability before my Lord.

Nowadays such fears are quite inconvenient for I am paid to build websites and web applications, to keep abreast of the latest technologies and push boundaries. Websites — like this blog — depend on servers, and vast server farms exist to keep today’s internet running.

I believe I am a realist. Technology brings us great advantages, from CAT scanners and digital x-rays at the hospital to the washing machines and cookers in our homes, or from the video messaging allowing families scattered around the world to communicate face-to-face to the mobile phone enabling one to call for help in an emergency. Tis great and wondrous indeed.

But there is a line — I believe — somewhere here, but it is one that shifts constantly, blurring benefit, need and want. Many humans live comfortably without access to washing machines, but for those of us who have never known the world without them, such machines are considered a necessity. To speak with certainty about technolust is difficult in such shifting sands, but I believe we do retain a measure. It is our heart.

When the heart whispers that it is technolust, it probably is. When the heart whispers that we cannot justify spending all that money on yet another gadget, it is probably true. And when we look in our cupboards and see all of those other gadgets we thought we needed before, we can surely consider this a guide as well.

The cravings for the Netbook — or whatever the next gadget of the day would be — are certainly strong — but I am not going to fool myself with talk of some great need. I love shiny gadgets as much as the next man, but truth will always prevail. Though what I want is great, what I actually need is little; with the realisation that I suffer from technolust comes the recognition that somewhere in-between will suffice. Eat from the good things of the earth, yes, but do not go to extremes.