Posts tagged ‘Technology’

Steve Jobs and the Cult of Apple

Benjamin E. Zeller
originally published in Sightings, by the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School

Steve Jobs, legendary co-founder of Apple (né Apple Computer) died this month at the age of 56. Immediately a series of memorial shrines sprung up at Apple Stores around the world. Images of such shrines—and that is certainly what they are—reveal personal messages, flowers and other gifts, candles, homemade artwork, and images of Jobs. Jobs’s death is not the first to inspire celebrity memorial shrines, nor will it be the last. But it reveals something profound for those of us who study religion in the public square. Apple is much more than a company and Jobs much more than its founder and CEO. These shrines are not simply secular memorials. They are religious memorials, and there is a religion of Apple, with Jobs functioning as its charismatic high priest. Adherents even call it that—“the cult of Apple” or “the cult of Mac,” referring to Apple’s Macintosh computer platform. Regardless of the negative connotation now associated with the term, “cult” is clearly a subtype of religion, and has been understood as such since the days of sociologists of religion Max Weber and Ernest Troeltsch, who popularized the terms. Today scholars prefer the term “new religious movment” to refer to such recent, small, and alternative religions.

Type the term “cult of Apple” into a search engine (perhaps on an iPhone or Macintosh) and you will be greeted by over sixty million hits. That is more than Scientology, the Unification Church, and the Hare Krishna movement, the “big three” new religious movements combined. You will find that of these sixty million search engine hits, many come from blogs, opinion columns, and websites by dedicated fans of Apple and its wares. Creators of these websites treat their Apple products and their relationships with them in a quasi-religious manner, as something approaching what theologian Paul Tillich called an “ultimate concern.” They approach Apple and Jobs with reverence, and envision the company and man as paragons of ideals such as ingenuity, individualism, and progress. Many other websites are run by detractors of this phenomenon, seizing on the negative connotations of the word “cult” to deride Apple enthusiasts as smug group-thinkers brainwashed by their now deceased charismatic leader.

There are certainly other examples of popular culture religions—the memorial cults of Princess Diana or the living cult of Oprah, as Kathryn Lofton’s recent book Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon reveals—but there is something particularly religious about the cult of Apple. Its religious nature derives from the qualities with which its proponents imbue it, such as individualism, progressivism, and creativity, as exemplified in the “Think Different” of Apple’s advertisements, which featured images of the Dalai Lama, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Jim Henson, and others. In Apple’s words, the company represents “the crazy ones, the rebels, the troublemakers.” These are powerful ways of defining oneself, particularly within individualistic American culture. The religion of Apple becomes a symbol of such individualistic self-expression and rugged idealism.

The death of Steve Jobs clearly affected many members of the cult of Apple, as was evidenced by the creation of the memorial shrines. Rather than dismiss this phenomenon, scholars of religion in the public sphere should take it seriously. The loss felt by Apple enthusiasts was real. That is because they have invested in their relationship with Apple as a company and an ideal, and Jobs was the human face of that ideal. A sign left at the memorial outside the flagship 24-hour Apple Store in Manhattan featured a message deeply revealing of Apple as symbol. “Keep Thinking Different,” it declared. Other notes amplified that theme of the cult of Apple as representing a form of individualistic self-identity and definition. Another thanked Steve for “changing the world for good.” Many of the messages followed the latter theme, emphasizing Jobs as a prophet of technology who changed the world for the better. For adherents of the cult of Apple who created these shrines, Apple as an ideal and Job’s innovation in particular represented a world-changing and -shaping force. They mourned his death just as followers of any other prophet or messiah would.

What are we to make of these interlinked phenomena of public mourning, the corporation as quasi-religious ideal, and computer products as forms of molding and defining self-identity? The most important message is that the thing we call religion exists and operates well outside of the boundaries of church, synagogue, and mosque. Though it is easy to find examples of quasi-religious religion outside the churches—consider Gary Laderman’s work on pop culture religion in Sacred Matters, or David Chidester’s similar research in Authentic Fakes—the case of Apple is special. Its proponents talk about it as a religion. Fans call themselves “evangelists.” It functions to provide ultimate meaning and a way of defining oneself with reference to powerful ideals. In other words, the religious emotions of devotion, gratitude, and bereavement felt by the adherents of the cult of Apple are real. Their quasi-religious sentiments and practices are real. In the contemporary world, the products and symbols of a corporation can do real religious work.

Benjamin E. Zeller is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Coordinator of the Religion and Philosophy Major, and Director of Honors at Brevard College, a private liberal arts college in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains. His academic website is

October 20, 2011 at 10:04 am Leave a comment

Faithful Finances: When to Adopt New Technology – Tech News

Faithful Finances: When to Adopt New Technology

February 1, 2010 at 9:55 am Leave a comment

Cool New Website

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January 16, 2010 at 4:54 pm Leave a comment

Social Networking and Congregations

This article by Center for Congregations Information Technology Director Aaron Spiegel appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of Congregations magazine.

Social Networking and Congregations

by Aaron Spiegel

A recent YouTube video titled “Social Networking in Plain English” claims networks are only as valuable as the people and connections one can see. If I think about real “friends” and connections in my life this makes perfect sense. The piece goes on to assert that social networking sites help us see the real world connections that are hidden. So, by allowing me to see who my friend’s friends are, I can connect with a broader community than the one I can “see.” Simplistic? Yes, but this is really the essence of social networking.

Social networking sites are a phenomenon. Sites like Facebook, My Space, YouTube, LinkedIn, and others are redefining personal social experiences. They have even redefined the use of the term “friend.” The Annenberg Center for the Digital Future’s 2007 report was titled “Online World as Important to Internet Users as Real World?”and the 2008 study reported that membership in online communities has more than doubled in only three years.

These sites are also changing the way people communicate with their congregations. We see more congregations creating Facebook and LinkedIn groups, using YahooGroups as extensions of congregational communications, and even pastors Twittering (microblogging). To find out what congregations are really doing with social networking we conducted a survey. The results are interesting!

Of the congregations surveyed, only 32 percent reported that they had a Facebook or MySpace page for their congregation. When we asked why, some reported suspicion of the medium and a general lack of knowledge about its purpose. Several commented that clergy won’t support it. Some report that they are still trying to get a functional website up and running (an interesting reminder that we can’t assume all congregations are using even basic technology tools). One of my favorite responses was “My church does not see the need to have a website. They still treat the Internet like it is a novelty.” Interesting, since someone from that church saw this survey and thought it important enough to fill it out! Of the 32 percent who answered that they did use Facebook or MySpace, nearly 60 percent affirmed that it enhanced communications between the congregation and its members.

While 32 percent of congregations reported using these tools, almost 50 percent of those surveyed answered “yes” when asked if the pastor or rabbi has a personal Facebook, MySpace, blog, or other such account. So, while almost half of congregational leaders are using social networking, respondents don’t consider this to be part of the congregation’s communication strategy!

When we asked, “Do you think online social networking enhances or worsens congregation/member relationships?” 90 percent responded that it enhances them. While the use of these tools is far from widespread, the perception that they enhance member-congregation communications is resoundingly positive. One respondent said, “Intuitively, I believe it has the potential to enhance it, but we have no experience to back that. We are working toward exploring this.”

We included blogs in social networking strategies and the survey. Only 26 percent of respondents reported using blogs. We expected more. Those who reported using blogs gave some interesting and varied uses: clergy sermons with commentary, building construction updates, podcasting, a sabbatical travelogue, and personal thoughts from clergy and staff. While I don’t mean to pick on anyone, some responses were downright funny. One commented, “No, but I would like to start one. We are forming a committee to explore maximizing the uses of our church website, and a blog makes sense to me…” Great, another committee! And my favorite, “Most folks here are introverts and writing thoughts down seems redundant.”

There seems to be widespread perception that social networking tools target a certain age group. When we asked, “Does social networking target a specific age group (i.e., next-generation twenty- to thirty-somethings)?” 57 percent of the responses were either “definitely” or “we think so.” “Not sure” accounted for another 21 percent. “No” trailed at a mere 6 percent. Recent data shows a different picture: The average age of Twitter users is between thirty and forty-nine. According to comScore in 2007, the average age of social sites like Facebook and MySpace was twenty-five and trending upward. According to Inside Facebook, the number of users over thirty-five has nearly doubled in the last sixty days (dated March 25, 2009). The fastest growing demographic is women over fifty-five. “The biggest growth in terms of absolute new users over the last six months occurred among users thirty-five to forty-four.” The majority of U.S. Facebook users are now over twenty-five.

Clearly these are not tools for young people, at least not anymore.

I understand the reluctance of congregations to venture into the world of social networking. Caution is certainly warranted—but I don’t think we can wait too long. People are spending large amounts of their time in the virtual world. We need to be there to greet them!

Rabbi Aaron Spiegel is the information technology director of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations.

Congregations, 2009-07-01

Summer 2009, Number 3

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July 8, 2009 at 8:26 pm Leave a comment

Robo-Goys, Kosher Phones and Other Jewish Technological Innovations

by Patrick Aleph, July 2, 2009,

People don’t like to think very far into the future. I understand that: I can barely think about next week, let alone a decade from now.

But if the Tribe is going to survive, we need to learn to adapt. Judaism came from a pre-modern era. Now, more than ever, we need to find creative ways to use technology to bring the Tribe into the 21st Century…kicking and screaming if we have to.

So here are five technological innovations, which I feel will greatly improve Jewish life and further the Jewish People.

Twitter Minyans: I brought this up in my last article on Judaism and Marketing. It makes no sense to me that technology and prayer have not been fused together. Most of the prayers are short enough that they will work in Twitter, and we can shorten the other ones to fit in the 150 character box.

Digital Shabbos Candles: There’s nothing that requires a Shabbos candle be a physical candle (haters beware, I did look in Code of Jewish Law for this), so we can assume that a candle screen saver would work just as well for Friday night. If you want something a little more low-tech, a simple flashlight would work just as well. But remember that if you do that, you have to let the battery run out, as switching the light off is “work.”

Robot Shabbos Goys: Need a Shabbos goy but don’t want to bother the nice Christian family next door? In the future, we’ll have robots to do that for us. Even today, modern conveniences like the Roomba by iRobot take away any pressure to work on Shabbat.

Kosher iPhone: The future is here and it’s called the iPhone. iBlessing and ParveOMeter are two amazing iPhone/iTouch apps to appease the yiddishkeit desire to introduce efficiency into the Jewish lifestyle. Future apps that I would like to see include the Modeh Ani alarm clock and a call-your-mother app that sends pre-recorded voicemails to your mom, letting her know you haven’t dropped out of med school (yet)!

Insta-Conversion: Utilizing the power of the Internet, we can completely re-think how new Jews are brought into the Tribe. The general requirements are a pre-interview, some kind of Judaism 101 class, Bet Din, bris, mikvah and a public ceremony. If we break this down, we find that most of this can be done quickly and efficiently, utilizing e-technology. Pre-conversion interviews between rabbi and convert can easily be done via IM or Skype. Classes can be modeled after distance learning with e-books to read and online exams. The Bet Din can be turned into a teleconference, or again, another Skype adventure. The bris (for men) and mikvah would need to be in person, but as far as I’m concerned a public ceremony could be a mass update on your Facebook/Myspace/Twitter. We could also use webcams to broadcast this event.

Stay tuned; I am sure I’ll come up with more.

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July 2, 2009 at 6:59 pm Leave a comment

Web X.X

I’m attending a conference on Web 2.0. Earlier this year I posted an article on Cyberculture that included a great video clip from Michael Wesch of Kansas State University. After nearly 10 hours of conference, Wesch’s 4 minute video clip makes more sense than anything I’ve heard. Sometimes, simple is just better?!

October 6, 2008 at 9:15 pm Leave a comment