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October 9, 2011 / Mark Largent

God is Dead …. but Steve Jobs isn’t.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/apple-is-a-new-religion-and-steve-jobs-was-its-high-priest/2011/10/07/gIQAjYlgTL_story.html?hpid=z2

As a schizophrenic techno-critic and lover of all things Apple, I have been watching Applephiles mourn the loss of their leader.

It’s odd that the two things that have drawn the most press this week have been Jobs’s death and the Occupy Wall Street movement.  I can’t imagine two more contradictory things to capture our attention at once.  Protestors sit-in, march, and rant about corporate abuses, while others (maybe some of the same people) lament the death of the CEO of the world’s most valuable company.

Even odder to me is the religious reverence expressed for Jobs, who is now apparently sitting on an iCloud (which, coincidentally, will be released as part of ios 5 on Wednesday).  Piled up in front of the Apple store down the street from my apartment are dozens of bouquets, hundreds of apples (all with a bite taken out of them), and thousands of sticky notes on the store’s front window.

“You changed my life”

“Apple is my muse”

“Thank you for making my world a little more beautiful”

“See you on the iCloud”

These shrines have taken on a life of their own – as so often happens in situations like these – and have adopted overt religious themes:  flowers, eulogies, tributes, affection.  Even the apples (with one bite – presumably from Eve – taken out of them) could not be more overtly religious in our Judeo-Christian context.

Steve Jobs and his employees are fully aware of the mystical and religious connotations they inspire …. they have intentionally cultivated it.  For example, when Apple released the iPad in 2010, Jobs said, “IPad is our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price.”  The 5 minute propaganda piece that Apple posted to its website delved deeply into the mystical nature of the new iPad, which we were told was oh so magical.  And it was.  Jobs became the Pope of our new church, clad in his black turtle neck and speaking in a manner that was both disciplined and enthusiastic.

A little more than a day after Jobs’s death, I awoke at 3 am and picked up my beloved iPad that sleeps beside me on my nightstand every night.  A push of the button and quick swipe across the screen awoke my little friend.  The LED glow illuminated my smile as my iPad informed me that I was the 8,516th person to pre-order the new iPhone 4s.

Goodnight, Steve.

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3 Comments

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  1. Alex Barton / Oct 9 2011 12:39 pm

    It’s interesting to compare the content of Jobs’ talks to Nietzsche’s ascetic priest (Genealogy of Morals, Essay 3), an anesthesiologist of sorts. Was Jobs our ascetic priest–an individual who adds a bit of meaning to our more or less “godless” lives, and who makes us aware of the fact that if we fall victim to malaise and boredom, it is our fault? After all, there is always another Apple product to purchase. And if you don’t–well, you’re missing out on a bit of joy and so are responsible for the consequences.

    I am of course being (somewhat) melodramatic, but I think there’s an interesting comparison to be made.

    I, too, am a lover of all things Apple.

  2. Mark Largent / Oct 9 2011 7:54 pm

    Nice connections, Alex.

    There has been some interesting scholarship on technologies’ capability to re-inchant the world. Notions like the “technological sublime” capture it nicely.

    The commercial you post – and my entrenched notion of the religious imagery in Apple ads and our responses to Apple products – brought to mind a comparison between Apple and the concepts of communication and excommunication in the religious context. If you don’t have an iPhone, you don’t have access to all these good things, all this ease in life, all this enjoyment. It sounds so much like the need to be within a church to receive communion and ultimately to have access to heaven.

    Accepting a strong similarity here for the moment, what I can’t decide is this:

    Is Apple merely adopting and redirecting Judeo-Christian metaphors, imagery, and terms?

    or

    Are Apple’s approaches so similar to the religious approaches with which we are also familiar because they both stem from some larger (or deeper) impulse that we have?

  3. Daniel Kramer / Oct 11 2011 12:41 pm

    Yes, Steve Jobs was the high priest of materialism. He gave us things before we knew we needed them.

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