Apple on Apple | (Steve) Jobs for Life

There has been some interesting discussion around Steve Jobs’ unfortunate temporary withdrawal from Apple due to ill health. Jobs is perhaps unique in that he is a genuine figurehead – and as Apple is the world’s largest company, that’s important. If he goes, what will remain?

Andy Crouch quotes Jobs speaking in his Harvard Commencement address:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true.

Out with the old and in with the new… the constant need for upgrades and the fear of becoming defunct. Perhaps, beyond the shiny new surfaces and beautifully minimal designs, Jobs has been tapping into something more fundamental about our existential angst: we buy because don’t want to die.

But what happens when Jobs himself dies? (though I obviously wish him a speedy return to full health) What will happen to the cult of Apple then? Because, we have to admit it, Apple has created a very secular cult. It is not just about functionality. Neither is it simply about form. It is about that logo, on those devices, and the many messages that that sends out, quietly, cooly. Crouch again:

The genius of Steve Jobs has been to persuade us, at least for a little while, that cold comfort is enough. The world—at least the part of the world in our laptop bags and our pockets, the devices that display our unique lives to others and reflect them to ourselves—will get better. This is the sense in which the tired old cliché of “the Apple faithful” and the “cult of the Mac” is true. It is a religion of hope in a hopeless world, hope that your ordinary and mortal life can be elegant and meaningful, even if it will soon be dated, dusty, and discarded like a 2001 iPod.

I wonder then if this is why Apple products are so beloved of the hipsters – because they (we?) more than anyone have rejected old religion, old meanings more vociferously, and, in this absence, ache more painfully for our lives to be significant and meaningful. Is this not why the emerging church has always run on OS X? Aren’t Mac-addicts just like the smug, unchangeable Christians we’ve all known and loved? Isn’t an Apple store a little… ecclesiastic?

I think there are some fascinating issues here around ideas of technology, philosophy, death and culture. So I’m thinking that it’s high time for an Apple on Apple. I’m currently booking some dates right now, so look forward to a deep engagement on the issues with a good panel of people.

(HT Paul for linking to the Crouch piece. | Related posts:  Apple: Selling Us Our Desires The SuiciPad: Expensive Machines Made By Cheap People)


2 responses to “Apple on Apple | (Steve) Jobs for Life”

  1. Someone actually wrote an academic paper in 2001 about “Macintosh Devotion as Implicit Religion”. I blogged about it here: The original paper is up in full here:

  2. The themes of the first quotation from Jobs echo lots of the themes in Douglas Coupland’s most recent novel, Player One (it’s quite possible he’s aware of the quote, in fact, since other of his books deal quite directly with Apple technology). The themes around our conception of life as ‘buying’ run all the way through this book.

    He ends the book with a ‘glossary of neologisms’, of which the following 4 interested me, especially having recently read Other:

    ” DENARRATION The process whereby one’s life stops feeling like a story.

    DESELFING Willingly diluting one’s sense of self and ego by plastering the Internet with as much information as possible. (See also Omniscience Fatigue; Undeselfing)

    OMNISCIENCE FATIGUE The burnout that comes with being able to know the answer to almost anything online.

    IKEASIS The desire in daily life and consumer life to cling to “generically” designed objects. This need for clear, unconfusing forms is a means of simplifying life amid an onslaught of information. “