Action Alert!

The Gadgeteer

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 07, 2009

You’ve heard, I suspect, of a gazetteer, which is a geographical dictionary. And perhaps you’ve seen the Rocketeer, the high-flying 1991 Disney film hero based on a character created for Pacific Comics in the 1980’s. If you read Scripture, you also know about Pharoah's chariots and charioteers. But what’s a gadgeteer?

Well, that would be somebody who has to have an alarm clock that speaks like a butler ($99.95), a stainless steel wallet ($89.95), a pet drinking fountain ($69.95), or a whole-body massage chair (for just $6,000). Or maybe the gadgeteer would be partial to the seven-day-scheduling robotic vacuum which, for a mere $399.95, will clean not only his wallet but his floors.

Such are the delights of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue, billed as “America’s longest running catalog, offering the Best, the Only, and the Unexpected for 161 years.” And it is not hard to see why. Gadgets have about them a certain je ne sais quoi, that indefinable ability to make you feel and even look younger (especially if it’s the diamond tipped microdermabrasion system for just $249.95) or to put a spring in your step (try the spring-loaded insoles for regular or dress shoes, for less than thirty bucks).

Yes, there’s something special about gadgets. Feeling down? Life too dull? Have a piece of candy, take a drink or, well, buy a gadget. After all, you deserve it.

These are all ways to assuage our native restlessness, offering temporary delight, a sense of fulfillment, a brief place to rest. Taken in extreme moderation (if extreme moderation is possible), the occasional gadget break can work wonders. But when we find ourselves running through gadgets (or doughnuts, new clothes, vacation trips or any other stimulant) as if they are so much water from the tap (or perhaps so much liquor that needs to be kept secret), that’s a sign of spiritual trouble. That’s a sign that we’re trying to fill an inner emptiness that can really be filled only with something else.

Make that Someone Else. And let’s face it, there’s a little of the gadgeteer in most of us. The solution always lies in learning to pray.

Some of us, however, are able to rise above these petty urges. That’s probably why I immediately eschewed the mere gadgets in the 2009 Holiday Supplement catalog in favor of the bright red land sailor with the big wheels and the 36 square foot Dacron sail. Dacron, like on a real sailboat! This thing can be broken down in moments to store in a car’s trunk, and when assembled it can carry a single passenger at speeds up to 25 miles per hour, powered only by the wind.

It’s available now for Christmas delivery, and you can order it for just $999.95. Did I mention that it’s on page 58? But don’t tell my wife. Just wrap it in brown paper and send it to the office.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Oct. 11, 2009 7:46 AM ET USA

    A timely article, considering the Gospel rreading for today.