Apple as a religion: How the iPhone became divine
'Imbued with sacred significance'
Apple lovers vs. Apple haters is a common theme on the tech forums. Some think that there is a consumer psychology dynamic at play, that turns us into Brand Evangelists or Brand Talibans.
Two American academics, admittedly new media academics, Heidi Campbell and Antonio La Pastina, take a different tack in comparing Apple to religion, in a paper published in May: "How the iPhone became Divine: New Media, Religion and the Intertextual Circulation of Meaning."
Not religion in the sense of believing in the divine, but in implicit religion, Campbell of Texas A&M University says. "That's where secular artifacts get imbued with religious-like or sacred significance," she tells ABC News. Some kind of Techno-Shinto-ism, then?
The notion of implicit religion is well enough known - and its association with Apple has been made before - see this paper from 2001: "May the Force of the Operating System be with You: Mac Devotion as Implicit Religion".
It all seems very post-modern-silly, but are the Texans on to something?
If you say, 'I'm a Mac user,' people expect you to have those Mac user values."
They seize on the phrase "Jesus Phone", coined in 2006 by Gizmodo editor Brian Lam (which has made its appearance in 144 articles on The Register, thanks, Brian), as an ironic take on Apple's iPhone.
The Jesus Phone is something that Apple fans regard as uncomplimentary - and this phrase annoys the hell out of some Christians - we've felt the flames. But it is religious iconography at work, "easy, decodable," say our academics.
Pump up the volume
You want a religious narrative too? How about...The Return of Jobs from the Wilderness, Microsoft as Satan - you get the drift, as do Apple devotees.
Also, Apple has at times juiced up the religious metaphors, as this bombastic quote from 1987 bears witness:
In the Old Testament there was the first apple, the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which with one taste sent Adam, Eve, and all mankind into the great current of History. The second Apple was Isaac Newton's, the symbol of our entry into the age of modern science. The Apple Computer symbol was not chosen purely at random, it represents the third Apple, the one that widens the paths of knowledge leading toward the future. - Jean-Louis Gassee, then General Manager of Apple France and former President of Apple Products.
Leander Kahneny, editor of Cult of Mac, who should know better, has this to say to ABC news:
"If you're joining a church, you're joining a community. And when you buy an Apple product, you're joining the Apple community. Just as new church members learn the myths, rites and values, new Apple users start to learn the myths and rituals supported by other "believers…It definitely becomes part of someone's identity. It's somewhat akin to saying, 'I'm a Christian, If you say 'I'm a Christian,' people will expect you to have certain values and if you say, 'I'm a Mac user,' people expect you to have those Mac user values."
So readers, do Mac user values exist? If so, what are those values and can they survive the huge influx of Apple product-owning newbies. Or will we leave implicit religion to the Elvis die-hards, and Star Trek nuts?
Do try to avoid name calling.
Well, yes "BMW drvier" syndrome
There have been many products, used to define their owners, and Apple products seem to be amongst them. These cultural shorthands aren't always immortal, however. If you think about it, much of the violent rage hurled at the iPhone owers, on here, is actually very similar to the kind of acidic hatred that some folks used to direct towards people who owned *any* kind of mobile phone, back in the 1980s.
That whole Thatcher-era alternative comedy stuff - the Ben Elton monologues - was about identifying some group of people, in terms of what they owned, or bought, and then hating them, for twenty minutes at a time, at a rate of not-less-than 70 words a minute, while pacing backwards and forwards in an expensively-badly-fitting jacket.
The other day, I heard Jack Dee make a snarky comment about "BMW drivers", and while I laughed (I always found Jack more original than Ben), I have to say that the remark sounded... archaic. There was almost something nostalgic about it.
Now, I don't (and probably never) will own a BMW (I'm a Nissan Micra man: define what that says about me), but I must say, I find it unremarkable that people own them. I live in a Northumbrian ex-colliery village. My next door neighbour is the son of a pitman. He runs a scaffolding firm: he owns a BMW. It's unremarkable.
Furthermore, I've seen more than a few people with iPhones in my local pub (not hair-flicking media types - lorry drivers, engineers - it's that sort of a pub). They're both things I will probably never own, but I find it unremarkable that people own them (remarkable, that we are being asked to remark upon it).
Both opposing armies in this debate, seem to be wanting to cling to some former age: Mods and Rockers. Owning Apple products may have been some exclusive club, once, and maybe it was a club worth hating - just as pitmen hated the people in the BMWs.
But times move on, and so do most people. Owning Apple stuff is now a decidedly mainstream activity, and I know I'd far rather spend time talking to the lass who was showing me pictures of her dogs, on her iPhone, in the pub, the other evening, than many of the people on here - whom, it seems, would have me hate her for... for what, exactly? Not wearing a veil? Or is that another group of nutters?
Actually I think I'll jump straight in with the name calling
I avoid Apple products precisely because of the "cult" behaviours surrounding them. Anyone who gets some kind of shared group affiliation out of a lump of silicon, glass and plastic (and demonises those who don't) is clearly a twat. I avoid overtly religious types as rule and Mac cultists definitely fall into that category, and I wouldn't want to be identified as one by mistake.
Aren't Mac hating Windows users, or everyone hating Linux users, just the same as the elitist Mac users? It's tribalism. You either love Marmite or you hate it.
I'd imagine the majority of normal don't really care though.
I think Marmite is a bit odd tasting. It's OK but I'd go for something else, given the choice.
Oh, it's nice on Twiglets.