iPhones and Existential Crises: Freedom to Make Choices

Anyone familiar with the suggestion bar that sits atop the keyboard on an iPhone will be familiar with their wooden uselessness in offering a response to a question when you receive a text. If a friend sends “Are you coming over tonight?” your phone might offer, “Yes,” “No,” and “Talk later?” Sometimes, those responses might be perfect (despite our inability to say “no” without giving some justification.) In my experience, however, these responses don’t work most of the time, and I am left concocting my response with the keyboard.

But how strange would it be if there was no keyboard? If we had to choose one of those options? Not only would that be extremely limiting, but we would lose our individuality. No longer am I responding to you with words that are distinctly my words, but I am simply making the choice out of the three responses Apple believes are most common.

When we experience what is commonly called an existential crisis, it often feels like we have only limited choices, and none of them seem suitable. “Are you coming over tonight?” might necessitate the answer, “Probably, but I need to check with my wife first. I’ll get back to you.” Your phone cannot offer this for you. There are, of course, an infinite number of ways to answer the question, and the iPhone as we know it will never be able to offer the right one to you every time.

With a question like “What are you doing after graduation?” (one that many of my friends are being asked currently,) it feels like we still only have those limited choices. Usually, “get a job,” or “further study.” Sometimes, those answers are fine. But they aren’t the only ones. Unlike with our text messages, we forget that we have a keyboard where we can type out our own response, forgo the usual answers and paths, and exercise our independence and freedom to explore new avenues. Jean-Paul Sartre stated in an interview that:

There is no traced-out path to lead man to his salvation; he must constantly invent his own path. But, to invent it, he is free, responsible, without excuse, and every hope lies within him.

I prefer to say that “man must forge his own path,” to give a sense of the difficulty. As the second sentence in that quote implies, this is not easy. Now there are not just three choices, but an infinite number. 26 letters and numerous grammatical symbols (and emojis) await your thumb. Infinite combinations. Radical freedom to type whatever you want. There is not just “further study” or “getting a job,” but countless opportunities and options.

It’s a little more terrifying when it’s about your path in life, not your attendance at your friend’s house. But the important thing is not to get stuck in the infinite anxiety of choice – make a choice, forge your path, exercice your radical freedom, and invest in your own existence.

The truth is a trap … you cannot get the truth by capturing it, only by its capturing you. — Søren Kierkegaard, Journals.

The truth is a trap … you cannot get the truth by capturing it, only by its capturing you. — Søren Kierkegaard, Journals.