Funny what happens when the needs of a major corporation intersect with the voice of our cynical culture. Everyone's favorite Apple employee, Steven Jobs, introduced a new slogan for a new version of its ubiquitous iPod early in January. The slogan is "Life is random."
No doubt this comment is a sly reference to the new iPod's flash-memory (technically RAM, "random" access memory) as well as its ability to shuttle through thousands of songs at random, serving up a more or less endless venue of music from the comfort of your pocket. But slogans don't work unless they resonate with the consumer culture. Here we're resonating with the double meaning: life is random, meaning stuff seems to happen for no reason.
I do not have a philosophical objection to the statement. The worrying feature of this statement is not the question of whether or not we are truly "free agents" in the technical sense, able to interact with our world and effect changes by force of will. If you are a good secularist and modernist with no room in your universe for metaphysics or ultimate causes, you can in good conscience say that life is random. If you are a good Christian that believes in God's sovereign authority and final responsibility for all that happens through the course of time and creation, you can still say life is random. (If you don't believe me, read the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 9).
What saddens me about the phrase is that it is bound up in today's don't-think-just-do culture. This statement is not resonating with the hurting or the oppressed who cry out, saying, "why did my family have to die in a car wreck?" or "why did I have to lose my job along with the rest of my division?" These are good times to wonder about the big questions of cause and effect, whether or not there is a benevolent higher power at work.
No, there is something much more depressing going on with this. The "Life is Random" slogan is resonating with the "why me?" crowd who can't figure out that their own actions are the cause of the seemingly random events in their lives. Because your friends are sleeping together and are not getting pregnant does not mean that when you do it and get pregnant, you get to ask, "why me?"
The New York Times links these two concepts in a recent article that just frightens me in its observations of our popular culture. It seems to me that this is a very clear indication of a society that has too many options for self gratification and is increasingly unable to see the consequences of their actions. This is easily seen at the teenager level, but it seems to linger into the college and even adult years these days. David Bennahum, a writer for Slate and Wired, analyzes the iPod slogan and the culture in which it resonates, saying, "...your rational process of making sense of things is a model that may be obsolete." Is this just another way of saying, "thinking is too hard, just go with your heart"?
Indeed, life may seem random. It is natural to ask questions about why certain things happen and what may lie behind them. But it is evil to ignore one's own responsibility to exercise judgment and think through the choices one makes. Perhaps not so many things fall into the random category after all.