The Religion of Apple
People talk about being “devoted” to their iPhones and Air Macs and of being Apple “devotees.” When I finally got my husband to use a Powerbook instead of the IBM-ish Dells and Toshibas he insisted he had to use, I talked about “converting” him to Apple. Apple stores look like “temples, replete with the graven idols of 30″ Cinema Displays and iPhones perched upon pedestals like holy statuary,” Partial Objects observes. Once you’ve entered the store’s gleaming glass front, you make your way (stealing glances of the objects of everyone’s affection, gleaming new iPods, iPads, iMacs) to a counter — an altar — behind which stand those mediators between the death and life of your Apple product, the Genii.
Photo of Apple store in San Francisco by Ping Ping
I am using “Genii” as the plural of “Geniuses,” those Apple employees who have the revered status of not just being sales staff but technicians who have the knowledge to fix your damaged technodevice and, in essence, bring it back from death. Genius is a Latin word meaning “presiding or tutelary deity” and, in Latin, its plural would be Genii. These days, the only place you’re likely to hear Latin (aside from my classroom) is in a religious institution.
But then, Apple has become something of a religion, hasn’t it?
I’m speaking metaphorically. But a BBC documentary called Secrets of the Superbands says that, when a team of neuroscientists took MRI scans of the brain of an Apple fanatic, they found that “Apple was actually stimulating the same parts of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith.” As the BBC’s Alex Riley notes, the Bishop of Buckingham, who himself read his Bible on an iPad, compares Apple to a religion.
Apple devotees’ fetishism of the company that Jobs (sounds a bit like Job?) built doesn’t really differ from what people feel towards other mega-brands, Partial Objects observes. Apple is just much better at marketing its products and, I would also suggest, creating an experience around those products, including the design of its temple-esque stores and dubbing computer technicians “Genii” and dressing them in austere (in a monkish kind of way) uniforms.
Photo of Apple Store in London by Steve Parker
More from Partial Objects:
I suspect that what makes certain brands achieve this particular status is their ability to disguise or hide the pedestrian technical details of their products [not to mention potential human rights abuses in the factories in China where they're made] in favor of deliver a more potent and magical message: there is something you, the consumer, want to become-more popular more connected, more trendy, more cool, and these products give you the illusion of achieving that. I say it’s an illusion because the reality is that rather than bringing the consumer closer to achieving that fantasy, the product intercedes and mediates the consumers relationship to that fantasy, teasing it, but never delivering.
That’s the essence of commodity fetishism, and that’s what these megabrands deliver to their fans. That’s what religion delivers to believers as well. We constantly and repeatedly promise you heaven, but not yet, and only according to our system of rules.
And that’s why both groups are deeply devoted, emotionally invested, and impervious to rational argument.
Who hasn’t said that they “can’t live without” an iProduct or that their “life depends” on said product? I am, I confess (there’s the religious language again), someone who has her “entire life” on an iPhone, and not only contact information, crucial emails and precious photos (that I also have digital copies of in about three other places). I read the news on my phone, communicate with everyone from my parents to my son’s teacher and doctors on my phone, have the textbooks for my classes on my phone, pay bills via my phone; the list is endless. I’m not trying to be “trendy” using it but just trying to keep things together. I actually prefer to avoid the whole Apple “temple” visits, preferring to shop online.
Do Apple and other mega-brands (Facebook, for example) take the place of a religion for many of us, as far as our feelings of devotion and belief?
Let’s put the question another way: Maybe it’s not such a coincidence that Apple is called “Apple,” the name of a fruit that a certain woman is said to have plucked from the Tree of Knowledge?
Photo of Apple Store in Bahnhofstrasse Zürich by iTux
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Photo of Apple store in Dresden, Germany, by magazines