Benjamin Franklin’s iPhone5

Continuing the theme of the iPhone, a reflective post (with a strange twist) for American Studies 100:

If Benjamin Franklin had an iPhone 5, his applications would be filed in folders and prioritized. His Twitter-feed would be updated three times daily (synced with Facebook for efficiency’s sake,) and published for the benefit of the masses. In 140 characters or less: “Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy.”

If Benjamin Franklin had an iPhone5, his contacts would be listed not in alphabetical order, but in terms of “usefulness”—tucked between categories of social, professional, and entertainment capital. Each would be assigned monetary value.

If Benjamin Franklin had an iPhone5, his computerized personal assistant would chime in at 5:00 each morning with reminders of “truth, sincerity and integrity” as fuel for all actions—offering the headlines from 12 different news sources before breakfast.

If Benjamin Franklin had an iPhone5, it would be named “identity politics” and encased in a plastic shield painted with the 100 dollar bill. Admired by many, its screen would serve as a conversation starter—leading to turns about the rewards of Puritan work ethic and how to dominate “the rat race.”

If Benjamin Franklin had an iPhone 5, it would have no games. Its calendar would be filled with Junto meetings and color-coded slots for self-improvement. There would be personalized diet trackers, productivity managers, and boxes to check for temperance.

On the other hand, would Benjamin Franklin own an iPhone5 at all? Would he tote an older version, or denounce the gadget as a fake marker of “success”—pointing to all of those “Welfare Queens” with material upper-class identities they can’t afford? Or would Ben relate proudly to the self-made man named Steve who rose to the top of the American ladder—driven by Franklin’s own formula for “success?”  Would he use the Apple object of American culture as a machine for heightened productivity and social climbing? Or as flashy—a token of “idle diversion” and an obstacle to a vow to “be in reality industrious and frugal, [and] to avoid all appearance of the contrary?” [2]

Like Benjamin Franklin, the shiny rectangular iPhone5 is a controversial American symbol. Beneath its streamlined surface a complex history of international economy, social class, the “game” of identity, and the cultural construction of “cool” lurks. Like Benjamin Franklin and his diverse set of accomplishments, condescending colloquial rhymes, and pervasive portrait, the iPhone has become a representation of this country.

Would Ben Franklin buy it?



This entry was posted in American Studies 100, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Benjamin Franklin’s iPhone5

  1. TEG says:

    Of course he would buy it — to replace his analog phone and play “Words with Friends” with Thomas Jefferson. After all, he was a scientist and inventor, in the forefront of technological change. It’s clear he’d have to wear his bifocals to view the small display, but, after all, that’s no problem since he invented them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s