A new article on BBC News describes the experience of visiting the Apple Store in New York as entering a “temple”:
Beneath its high vault, swish thin young men and women dressed from head to foot in black.
They hold objects in their hands, strange white and silver objects, objects of devotion which they present to lay visitors, to the uninitiated who wander in from Prince Street seeking retail solace.
Are Apple products tools of worship, like a rosary or a censor? Must Mac users bow down before Pope Steve the first and Cardinal Wozniak the other Steve?
Stephen Evans, the article’s author (completing our trinity of Steves), cites a quote I’ve heard before, from Umberto Eco:
Macs, Umberto Eco opined, were “cheerful, friendly, conciliatory,” traits he associated with Catholicism. More to the point, though, their way of operating was different from Microsoft’s, giving more guidance to users.
Macs would, as Umberto Eco put it, “tell the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach – if not the Kingdom of Heaven – the moment in which their document is printed”.
He saw that as like Catholicism, in contrast to the Protestant faith which he thought, like Microsoft computers, would “allow free interpretation of scripture, demand difficult personal decisions… And take for granted that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself”.
I suppose all that is true, if you can accept that printing a document is like eternal salvation. Personally I think I prefer my printing to be easy and religion to be difficult (perhaps even impossible).
Eco could have gone on: like Catholic priests, many Mac users are rumored to be gay. Mac users believe that taking a bite out of an apple is like consuming the flesh of Steve Jobs. Mac users believe it is better to tithe an extra 20 or 30 percent for Apple products than to go the heathen way of Bill Gates.
Joking aside, I think the analogy falls apart rather sooner. Mac users are much more likely to defend their “faith” than Catholics, who typically just apologize for it. Rather than looking to ancient texts of the past for spiritual guidance, Mac users look only to the future, to the possibility of a PowerBook G5, a video iPod, or a dual-core Power Mac. When their “pope,” Steve Jobs, dies, I think the culture of Mac will die along with it — whoever is “elected” to succeed him will never maintain the same allure, and the Mac will fall to the status of Zoroastrianism or some other forgotten religion, never to be heard from again.