When the Steve Jobs/Apple/Religion Analogy Goes Too Far

Technology, it seems, has come a long way. First it was just really useful: wheels, knives, needles made of bone. Then it was an agent of massive societal change: printing presses, steam engines, interchangeable parts. Around WWII, technology became terrifying. Around 1955 it became banal. And now? You guessed it: now, according to the Los Angeles Times, technology is a religion.

In a review entitled “How Steve Jobs and Apple Turned Technology into a Religion,” Chris O’Brien explains that Jobs managed to bring about the apotheosis of silicon-based products, pointing out, in particular, that Jobs was involved in Eastern religious practices, and that Apple executives have talked about making “a cult product,” spread by salespeople known as “evangelists.”

Plus, O’Brien enthuses, the Apple logo seems to be a reference to the Garden of Eden. “But knowledge, in the Apple gospel, doesn’t bring about a downfall, but instead provides a moment of liberation, a path to enlightenment.” Of course, the apple could just as well be a reference to Isaac Newton; the original Apple logo does, in fact, depict the great British thinker. But who’s worrying about details? There are analogies to be made!

There’s a rich tradition of evoking religion when discussing Apple and Jobs. O’Brien is just reviewing the latest, most scholarly contribution to this trend, Brett Robinson’s new book Appletopia: Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs. In O’Brien’s description, Appletopia “examines the way that Steve Jobs drew on religious metaphors and iconography to elevate his products specifically, and technology more generally, into a kind of religion.”

I haven’t yet secured a copy of Appletopia, but, judging by publisher information and excerpts, Robinson seems mostly concerned with the use of religious symbolism and concepts to build a brand—not with flip comparisons between Apple and all of religion. In an excerpt, he spends a lot of time recasting the Apple store as a kind of modern cathedral.

Without passing judgement on Appletopia, it’s fair to say that this kind of thinking can, in some hands, get goofy. And, for that, we need only look to O’Brien’s review. Sure, religion and its symbols creep into all sorts of things. But influence is one thing. Is the effect of a MacBook at all comparable to the effect of a good Mass? Honestly, I have no idea. But it certainly would be interesting to see if Catholics spend more time on Sundays with Mac products or the local priest. Even if Francis is now gaining fame for his selfies, I don’t think he’d be pleased with the answer.

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