Monday, October 17, 2011

Steve Jobs, Ergo Sum

Last week, in preparation for the new iPhone launch, the Apple store in Chelsea removed all of the Steve Jobs memorial Post-It notes from their windows. (People are still walking around the city with Steve Jobs memorial hair, however.) While they were there, the notes gave us a glimpse into the hive mind of the Cult of Apple.

For the record, I am a long-time consumer of Apple products. I am not, however, a member of the Cult. I like my MacBook, but I don't want to meld my mind and body to it. As for Steve Jobs, I never thought much about him--I didn't think about his suicide-plagued sweatshops in China, nor the fact that he never gave a sou of his billions to charity. Plenty of others are speaking out about Jobs' lack of godliness, and that's not what really interests me.

What interests me is what's going on in the heads of people who seem convinced that Steve Jobs was godly to begin with.

So, to the notes.

The notes are an outpouring--"global" said the blue-shirted Genius inside--a global outpouring of grief and gratitude for Steve Jobs and the products he marketed so well.

"Thank you for the touch screen" and "I love my iPhone," they say. "I loved my iPad," says another, oddly in past tense, as if a product could die without its designer. That seems to be a fear people have, that all these shiny objects will vanish into the ether. Says another: "Thank you for changing our lives. May Apple products live on."

Can people separate the man from the product line?

"Thank you for your brain. XXOO," says one. Is Steve Jobs' brain embodied in the products themselves? In a way. Do people feel as if Jobs and the iPhone are one? Some notes would indicate yes. Like this one: "You were my first and I'm staying electronically true to you!"

Has some intimate exchange involving virginity transpired? "Electronically true" conjures an image of robotic love: When your USB cable plugged into my port for the first time, I knew...

Many people feel that Steve Jobs and his products improved their lives and the lives of everyone on the planet. Several notes say "You made my life better" and "You were a benefit to humanity."

What was that benefit? One sums it up: "You made us look and feel cooler." To look and to feel is to be. Isn't it?

How did Jobs do all of this? Apparently, he was God.

Members of non-Apple religions have declared their allegiance via conversion: "I'm a Pakistani who has completely converted to the Mac cause." They write, "Thank you for getting us where we need to go. The iPhone is a Godsend!" We can feel Godlike just by being connected to God via His products.

According to the notes, we would not exist without Jobs.

"We're different because you were," says one. (A similar note at the Soho Apple store says, "I am because you were." Forget about thinking--it's "Steve Jobs, ergo sum.")

More disturbingly, another note attests: "Only you could make the world."

The idealization of Jobs, and concurrent devaluing of the self, goes even further as one note-maker who worships the God of Jobs sees him or herself as NOTHING in comparison.

Is this the crux of the global outpouring of grief? Without Jobs and his products we are nothing. Is this the perverse message at the wormy core of Apple's marketing?

Look at the iPhone, the iPad--there's that "i" that seems to focus on you and me, providing a narcissistic extension of the self, but it is rendered only in lowercase, always smaller than the name of the product proper, less than. "i" am just a small addition to the product, clinging to its greatness.

The notes, in total, sound like a prayer, a sticky yellow prayer on a retail window. If we can sum up their collective message, the prayer might go like this:

"i am attached to You, and thus blessed, but i am less than You, oh God of sleek and shiny things, You who made the world, You who improved the suffering lot of humanity, You with Your incomprehensible, superior brain, You with your halo of goodness, You who made us look and feel like something important even though we were, and continue to be, nothing compared to You. i exist because you exist. For You so loved the world that You gave your one and only product line, that whoever believes in You shall not perish but have eternal iLife."


Post Script:

The Jobs memorial at the Soho Apple Store remains up. On a piece of pulp board someone has created a bloody valentine of sorts--"The streets miss you!"--with a deformed, half-blind, zombie-faced human clinging for life to the Apple logo.

Someone else has affixed an "Occupy Wall Street" sticker to the board. Above the sticker, a simple reminder: "SJ = 1%."


  1. Are you sure that "Steve = God, Me = Nothing" note is not a commentary on the ridiculousness of the other notes? I hope it is.

    Anyway, my favorite Steve Jobs cartoon:

  2. i hope so, too, but the company it's in does not inspire confidence.

    great cartoon--thanks for adding the link!

  3. I believe it is more a worship of the thing rather than the man. Jobs was the anthropomorphizing of Apple products. One cannot (quite) get away with creating a shrine to their Shiny Thing, one can worship the man who "created" the Shiny Thing. I would wager the crafter's of these notes would roll their eyes at a Sacred Oak Tree and (at best) visit a Church for weddings, yet they are engaging in man's age old desire to create the Divine out of the mundane. In pagan times household god adorned every door step, Emperors were deified upon their death. (Christianity is the same thing, a venerated dead man with a myth twined around him.) Today we do so for cultural icons. The Cult of Jobs is nothing new, it's the primitive side of human nature manifesting in the 21st Century.

    That being said, it's still silly and not a little sad.

  4. Three things that will never happen:
    Me getting a smartphone
    Me going on Facebook
    Me using Twitter

  5. Its about time Grumbler. Your blog has been missed and there's been lots to grumble about.

    Listen I rely on my macbook and iphone as much as the next guy but I am disturbed by this glimpse into the psyches of the cultists. I always thought that we pay tribute to people like Jobs by buying their products and putting your money in their coffers and that's where the deal ends. Jobs has been handsomely rewarded for his efforts. Spare the idol worship and devotion and spend it elsewhere ye godless geeks.

  6. "I believe it is more a worship of the thing rather than the man. Jobs was the anthropomorphizing of Apple products. One cannot (quite) get away with creating a shrine to their Shiny Thing, one can worship the man who "created" the Shiny Thing."

    I agree with the above commenter.
    It creeps me out that a corporation can be worshipped as a deity. Hello Cult of Mac.

  7. I use Apple products (computers only, I haven't surrendered to an iPhone or iPad yet) but I'm also old enough to remember when the word "apple" only brought to mind a healthy snack or a new Beatles album. I miss those days a lot.

  8. HI Grumbler,

    Thanks for that insight into the hive mind of the tech cargo cult. I've been using Mac since the mid-90's. Hey, it's a great product - but that's all it is. Product. Jobs was an interesting guy who did some interesting things, especially at the beginning of his career. In the early 90's apparently he was very dedicated to finding a way to keep manufacturing in the US. But ultimately, he produced nifty-looking gadgets, manufactured in sweatshops in another country. That's it. Maybe the trajectory of his career - and this absurd worship after his death - says a lot about where we're at as a culture.

    Nice to see you back. Keep on grumblin'


  9. Re Ennuipoet: I would be careful not to lump the Jobs cult in with the whole history and theology of Christianity; unless Ennuipoet (or Dawkins-Hitchens) can engage with Paul, Augustine, Aquinas and minds much bigger than his (or her) own, I would hesitate before saying something "silly" like Christianity is the "veneration" (wrong theological term) of a "dead man" (also wrong theologically, to Christians) with a"myth" (wrong use of the term myth).

    That said, the cult of Jobs is false idolatry at its worst, though nothing new, unfortunately. Slavish adoration attended the cult of the Medici too. Still, plenty of people rolled their eyes then, at all the blasphemous pseudo- and self-serving testimonials given to their idols; and I'm grateful for the Grumbler for doing the same now, and brilliantly.

  10. Too cheap for apple stuff. If I made more money I'd probably be tempted. Have a horrible laptop that weighs a ton & the ugliest old maroon phone that was 'free' (ha!) with my plan. Sometimes I am almost ashamed of these clunky old products & covet other people's shiny toys, but sometimes I'm relieved by their very mediocrity. What does it really matter? No Facebook (too much like high school or something). No Twitter. I'm practically non-existent!

  11. Apple fans are the 21st century's moonies.


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