Appreciation of Apple products is neither quasi-religion nor a personality disorder

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Wired has been publishing chapter excerpts from a new book entitled Appletopia: Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs by Brett T. Robinson, who is also a Visiting Professor of Marketing at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. In the two excerpted pieces I’ve read so far, Dr. Robinson contends not only that the late Steve Jobs turned technology and Apple Into Religion, but also that buying Apple products is an exercise in narcissism.

Making allegations like these will no doubt help sell Dr. Robinson’s book, but they amount to stereotypical caricaturing that smears Apple product fans with way too broad a brush, as well as insulting real religious belief and trivializing the plight of a tiny minority of persons (c. one percent of the population) afflicted with a particular mental health condition. Persons diagnosed with the form of psychological dysfunction referred to in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) exhibit excessive preoccupation with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity, unwarranted feelings of self-importance, an exaggerated sense of entitlement, a grandiosity of self-obsessed beliefs and behavior, a pathological craving for admiration, and a deficiency of feelings of empathy for others. All of these are believed to be defense mechanisms incited by deep feelings of inferiority and of being unloved. It’s not a term to be bandied about lightly (although, to be fair, Dr. Robinson is far from being unique in doing so).

I’ll concede that there doubtless are some Apple fans who cultishly hold Apple products in excessively high regard that perhaps borders on quasi-religious devotion. A college professor friend of mine who is both a devout adherent of a real religion and an Apple hardware aficionado facetiously refers to “The Church of the Macintosh,” and others—perhaps most notably Italian author Umberto Eco back in the days of the Mac vs. DOS rivalry—have had lighthearted fun with the concept. Some individuals also indubitably entertain an elitist and snobbish notion that ownership of Apple PCs and iDevices somehow confers a sort of superiority of social status, but to seriously attribute faux religiousity and what might more appropriately regarded as a form of egocentricism to all Apple customers, if Dr. Robinson is in fact serious in his assertions, is way over the top.

Dr, Robinson also appears to ascribe more weight and gravitas to Apple’s advertising rhetoric than it merits. It’s ad-copy. Hyperbolic exaggeration kinda categorically goes with the territory.

Personally, I prefer to use Macs and Apple mobile iDevices computer products because I perceive them as being useful and satisfying tools that offer an attractive combination of quality construction, low-hassle functionality, and typically long-term value (I still have two going-on-14-year-old PowerBooks in active production service), as well as a more satisfying user experience than any competing products. It’s not because of what I might or might not imagine owning them says about me. I’m not blindly enthusiastic about other Apple products, such as its software applications (with the exception of the operating systems) and its iCloud service. I largely use competing products in both categories.

I also willingly acknowledge that on certain points the competition sometimes has the edge on Apple. However, as complete packages, for me, Apple products remain unsurpassed. Others may have different tastes and/or priorities, and I don’t cast aspersions on the rationality or mental health of those whose differ from mine.

De gustibus non disputandem est—in matters of taste there can be no dispute. Mine happens to tilt toward Apple hardware for what I perceive as qualitative reasons.

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  • Brett Robinson

    Thank you for this thoughtful response. Since I’m typing this on an iPhone, I will keep it brief. Appletopia is the product of a dissertation I wrote at the University of Georgia under the direction of communication and rhetoric scholars. My interest was the rhetorical resonance between religion and media technology. Apple ads, as a form of rhetoric, provided a fruitful set of examples for exploring this relationship that is not unique to Apple or this period in history. The book argues that mixing technological, spiritual, and psychological metaphors is as old as the Greeks and the rhetoric surrounding modern digital technology plays on some of the same themes. Wired was very gracious to feature excerpts from the book but I’m afraid the lack of context and the provocative headlines contributed to some misunderstanding. Thank you for engaging the piece and I’d be happy to continue this discussion.