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Are You Grateful for the Products That Make Your Life Better?

What can your smartphone teach you about gratitude? A great deal.

Not many years ago, I despised the idea of a cell phone. I value my autonomy, which to my mind includes the ability to remain deliberately unavailable. The notion of carrying around a phone in my pocket sounded a lot like putting a leash around my neck.

The issue was forced one Christmas when my in-laws purchased phones for my wife and me, even paying the subsequent bill for a year. Later came the advent of smartphones. I stood unimpressed. Phones make calls. They don’t need to sing and dance. Nevertheless, a new device caught my wife’s eye during an opportunity to upgrade our cellular contract. The price seemed reasonable and I reluctantly traded up.

It was my exploration of that device which prompted a dramatic change in my attitude toward mobile technology. As I pilfered apps and discovered capabilities, I quickly realized that this tiny gadget was becoming the most used and essential tool in my navigation of life. It came to serve as my administrative assistant, my calendar, my GPS, my library, and my gateway to news, information, and entertainment. It grew into an extension of my civilized being. Like my wallet or keys, it stays with me at all times and remains jealously guarded.

No longer pulled reluctantly into the future, I recently became the puller, convincing my wife that it was time to switch providers and upgrade to the Samsung Galaxy S III. Our old phones barely qualified as “smart” and were woefully inadequate to fulfill our new demands.

Consider that transformation in attitude. How could I go from not knowing I had a need to eagerly fulfilling it? Behold the magic of the market!

The critic of consumer culture might suggest that I was right to perceive no need for something like a smartphone. After all, people got by fine without them for millennia, and much of the world still does. Then again, people got by without electricity and automobiles too. If you regard the function of the market as meeting only known demand and current needs, then it becomes easy to dismiss an innovation like the smartphone as somehow decadent.

However, the magic of the market is that it does not stop at known demand or current needs. It anticipates demand for products which do not yet exist. Specifically, individuals apply their minds to dream up new ways to deliver value. Strangely, more individuals seem to dream up new products and methods when they are politically free with their rights protected. Something called profit motive, they say.