"Much ink has been spilled drafting the Steve Jobs encomium. But Jobs and Apple are interesting for far more than technological prowess -- they provide an allegory for reading religion in the information age. They are further evidence that shifts in popular religion throughout history are accompanied by changes in the media environment: when the dominant modes of communication change, so do the frameworks for religious belief. Still, this shift would require a fitting mythology...
An ancient Egyptian myth helps illuminate the perennial relationship between media forms and metaphysical belief systems. The Egyptian god Theuth visits King Thamus to show him that writing "once learned, will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memory." Thamus replies by admonishing Theuth that his affection for writing prevents him from acknowledging its pitfalls. Writing does not improve memory but makes students more forgetful because they stop internalizing information. Writing also exposes students to ideas without requiring careful contemplation, meaning they will have "the appearance of wisdom" without true knowledge.
The celebration of technological values in the Apple story requires a similar response. The technological values promoted by Apple are part of the Faustian bargain of technology, which both giveth and taketh away.
King Thamus' anxieties about the new media of writing threatening wisdom have been resurrected in digital form. But Jobs confronted the technology paradox by imagining technology as a tool for expanding human consciousness rather than as a means of escape from it. The tension between technology and spirituality was not a zero-sum game for him.
Jobs' Zen master Kobun Chino told him that he "could keep in touch with his spiritual side while running a business." So in true Zen fashion, Jobs avoided thinking of technology and spirituality in dualistic terms. But what really set him apart was his ability to educate the public about personal computing in both practical and mythic ways.
The iconography of the Apple computer company, the advertisements, and the device screens of the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, and iPad are visual expressions of Jobs' imaginative marriage of spiritual science and modern technology.
Apple Ads as Parables
Technology ads provide parables and proverbs for navigating the complexities of the new technological order. They instruct the consumer on how to live the "good life" in the technological age.
Like all advertising, Apple's ads perform a vital educational function in consumer society. The advertisements are allegorical, rhetorical attempts to domesticate foreign and abstract concepts, making them accessible and attractive to everyday adherents.
In fact, they resemble medieval morality plays in their personification of good (Mac) and evil (PC). As such, the ads contain a moral -- or, more explicitly, they propose a morality customized for the conditions of the age.
Media technology has acquired a moral status because it has become part of the natural order of things. Luddites, those who have sworn off new technologies, are the new heretics and illiterates. Technology is an absolute. There is no turning back or imagining a different social order. Challenge is acceptable as long as it remains within the confines of the technological order. Apple may challenge Microsoft. Samsung may challenge Apple. But the order must not be challenged.
The impact of digital culture, then, is epistemic; it insinuates a moral system based on its own internal logic.
The underlying message of the early Mac versus PC ads is not simply that the Apple operating system is superior. The ads carry the implicit assertion that technology always means human progress.
In addition, the personification of the operating systems by actors reinforces the notion that computers are extensions of the human person. In this sense, the ads are not dualistic at all. Good and evil, Mac and PC, man and machine are married in service of the progress myth.
The religion of technology is practiced in the ritual use of technology and the worship of the self that the technologies ultimately foster.
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SOURCE: Wired Mag