So Is Apple a Religion?

May 24th, 2011

I suppose when there’s not enough real news, the media will sometimes let loose with some silly speculative pieces with which to start discussions and, of course, get plenty of hits for their sites. In recent days, I read an article that claimed to have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that fans of Apple gear regard the company within something akin to religious reverence.

If this all seems wacky to you, let me tell you that it definitely joins the absurd “Apple is dead” mantra that used to follow the company, until record sales and profits made such speculation seem sillier and sillier. Then again, some people continue to wish and hope for a failure, with the latest targets being the iPhone and the iPad. Somehow, some way, another company is going to beat the pants (or skirts) off Apple; just give it time, since all companies fail. Well, maybe except Microsoft, although Microsoft has had loads of problems in recent years, particularly with their mobile platform, and don’t forget generic PC sales are flagging, which means fewer Windows licenses.

Now understand I am not attacking any religion or religious faith, nor will I dispute the fact that organized religion does meet the needs of billions of people on this planet. Such beliefs, so long as they don’t focus on hate and violence, are to be fully respected.

At the same time, claiming Apple is a religion is a clearcut attempt to separate the many logical advantages of the iPhone, iPod, iPad, and of course the Mac, from what some perceive to be the reasons people continue to buy those products. The clear implication is that it’s all hype, and that Apple is strictly appealing to our emotions, or faith in the company and its values, and not the practical needs those products serve.

There is certainly nothing wrong with an emotional appeal, and I certainly believe Apple’s famous “Think Different” TV campaign, emphasizing a visual montage of famous and unique people who inspired us through the years, easily brought a hint of a tear to your eyes upon first viewing. But I hardly think this campaign was sufficient to generate religious fervor for Apple. Not even close.

So why do so many fans of Apple gear become so attached to them? Well, tech gadgets are only one example of customer attachments to non-living things. Consider the family auto. For some, it’s a little more than a transportation appliance, designed to get you from here to there with reasonable safety and comfort. You outfit your vehicle, to the extent your budget allows, with the amenities needed for your particular lifestyle, starting with air conditioning, but extending to fancy radios and navigation systems that not just sound as good or better than most home entertainment systems, but are intended to provide useful guidance to help you get from here to there. But I still prefer roadmaps.

But others personalize their cars, with custom geegaws, added performance accessories, souped up engines, and so on and so forth. My brother-in-law, for example, is extremely attached to his 1994 Porsche 911 Speedster, which he really can’t afford to fix. It needs a major engine overhaul, a new air conditioning system, and the radio went on the fritz long ago. Now as a practical matter, the trade-in value is probably next to nil, even though the body color, a special shade of blue, was only made available on a handful of those cars.

I have told him again and again to just get rid of it, perhaps sell it to a tinkerer who has the wherewithal, and the extra cash, to make it whole again. But he loves that car, and hopes some day to have enough money to restore it to its former glory. Talk about attachment.

Certainly in your city you’ll find people who lovingly restore old cars, take them to shows, or just drive around with special license plates (so they don’t have to pass today’s stringent emission requirements). There may be nothing logical about such a decision, but I understand the emotional attachment. In fact, if my train ever comes in, I’d like a vintage Studebaker Avanti, the classic sporty grand touring car that was actually resurrected by a small company or two over the years before production ended for good.

One of the project managers at AOL used to boast that he had dozens of vintage Macs in and around his home, all in fully functional shape. But hobbies of that sort, as you can see, aren’t limited to products built by Apple Inc.

In short, one’s attachment to a car, a home, a stick of furniture, even a tech gadget of some sort, shouldn’t be regarded as a religion. I do not pretend to understand the psychology behind one’s love of non-living things, but I hardly think you could label it as some sort of religious belief. Besides, it’s fun, and it makes little sense to attack such behavior as something unclean, uncivil, or a symptom of some sort of fanaticism. Such things shouldn’t need a longwinded explanation to just make sense.

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6 Responses to “So Is Apple a Religion?”

  1. Jon T says:

    Apple did undergo a resurrection of sorts though.

    And it had a Saviour in the shape of Steve.

    And the Holy Microsoftian Empire did its best to put it down.

    And users are converted.

    And most swear never to go back.

    I don’t care one jot what anyone calls it.

    All I know is that it is a hell of lot better than the one I was made to belong to before…


    (PS Perhaps it’s just the ‘good taste’ faith?)

  2. Yacko says:

    Can’t be a religion because religion delivers very little in this life.

  3. Kaleberg says:

    Apple reminds me of Volkswagen back in the 60s, when the VW Beetle and Bus were cult cars that managed to pick up 10% of the US auto business. Back when Ford, GM, and the like were taking cars very seriously and pushing new styling, more bulk and big chrome, VW made fun of itself and produced an ugly looking, but satisfyingly functional car. They even had a slogan, “think small” which resonates with Apple’s “think different”. (VW also pushed quality, with its “lemon” ad featuring a crushed, recycled Beetle showing that they’d actually reject cars that didn’t meet their standards. My favorite VW ad is still their “it’s ugly, but it gets you there” with a picture of the lunar lander.)

    Interestingly, Ford had a similar status back when the Model T was fresh. The T was a simple, low priced car, and it led a lot of people to take up motoring. Remember the joke, “any color you want, as long as it’s black”? Henry Ford even sounded like Steve Jobs, though iPhone lovers can now choose white as well. When my father got his VW Beetle, he said it reminded him of the old Model A. He loved it.

    It often seems that some consumer product or another gets this kind of following. GM tried to fake it with Saturn, but it’s hard to fake, even now with Facebook and the like. In the 20th century, it was an automobile. Now, it seems to be a computer based gadget.

  4. clyde b says:

    I remember when men felt the same way about their Chevrolet or their Firebird. No one said anything about their feelings except their neglected girl friends/mates.

    I say ugly things about OSX about it sometimes when I use it – and in front of my Air. I’ve had no retribution yet.

    As many faults as I find with the whole package, if I had to start over I would buy all Apple again.

    In a civilization of shuck and jive and products held together with tape, Apple’s products are a welcome acquisition.

  5. Andrew says:

    The only company I can think of that rivals Apple for brand loyalty is Harley-Davidson. Both are a good value, both only operate in the high-end of their respective markets, and both have achieved icon status. Both also enjoy a large and vocal group that hate their products with a passion every bit as fervent as that of their fans.

    I love my Macs, and love my V-ROD. Its not religion, as if Apple went away I wouldn’t be too upset using a ThinkPad with Windows 7, and could easily replace my Harley with a Triumph or BMW, but fortunately, I don’t (yet) have to.

  6. Gary Bennett says:

    It has always seemed to me that the accusation of religious devotion to a product or company was aimed in the wrong direction. Back in the 1980s it was taken as gospel that IBM must win, that “resistance is futile.” Devotees in companies and school boards pursued this passionately, regardless of specs, user preferences or price. When Apple alone of the personal computing pioneer companies survived (as Commodore, Atari, Tandy, Texas Instruments and others ended up dumping their own user bases and offering clones), it was denounced as that “hippie company” that would never be allowed in the enterprise, no matter how superior its products might be. For all that we give lip service to consumer choice in this country, anybody who does not conform arouses irrational hatred. You can see that today: most people choosing Android OS in their mobile devices say that they are doing so, not for its superior performance, but because of their hatred of Apple.

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