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Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs knew what he was doing. He watched as technology tightened its grip on the American psyche. Long before others understood the potential of the personal computer, he saw its power. But it was his visionary use of media to explain technology to a hungry culture that revealed his singular genius. As a result, even by today’s standards few inventions approach the worldwide religious devotion that tech users have lavished upon the products “Designed by Apple in California” and its late founder.
In Appletopia, media and culture critic Brett T. Robinson reconstructs Steve Jobs’ imagination for digital innovation in transcendent terms. Robinson portrays how the confluence of Jobs’ religious, philosophical, and technological thought was embodied in Apple’s most memorable advertising campaigns. From Zen Buddhism and Catholicism to dystopian and futurist thought, religion defined and branded Jobs’ design methodology.
Appletopia navigates decades of marketing strategy and divines the clever and creative ways that Apple conveyed its purpose to the world: Apple products were to be known for their fantastically simple design and astonishing ease of use. In so doing, Robinson resurrects Jobs’ uncanny ability to integrate philosophical and religious thought with technological genius, laying the groundwork for Apple’s ubiquity today. As it turns out, culture was eager to find meaning in the burgeoning technological revolution, naming Jobs as its prophet and Apple the deliverer of his message.
Introduction, Media Technology and Cultural Change
1 Macintosh Myths, Allegories for the Information Age
2 iPod Devotion, Acoustic Ecstasy and Altered States
3 iPhone Worship,“Touching is believing”
4 Technology and Religion, Where the Physical and Metaphysical Meet
Conclusion, The Paradox of Technological Belief
"As expansive as it is concise, Brett Robinson's Appletopia provides an astute and often scintillating examination of Steve Jobs and the Apple way."
—Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows and The Big Switch
“Appletopia provides an engaging exploration of the religious narratives, iconography and transcendent meaning-making associated with all things Apple. This calls readers to reflect on the playful and provocative ways technology can be intertwined with the religious within contemporary technoculture, and the potential cultural implications of such intersections.”
—Heidi Campbell, Associate Professor, Department of Communication, Texas A&M University
"Brett T. Robinson explores how Apple's ads became icons and their technology turned into talisman. Appletopia reveals why we're so devoted to our devices."
—Craig Detweiler, Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture, Pepperdine University
"Appletopia is a splendid look at the deeply spiritual meanings of computer technologies (the 'Mac') and saintly heroes (Steve Jobs) in contemporary culture. It's a fun, fascinating, and even prophetic read."
—Quentin J. Schultze, Arthur H. DeKruyter Chair, DeVos Communication Center, Calvin College
"The technological and transcendent are now intermingled, according to Robinson, a visiting professor of marketing at Notre Dame. Surveying Apple’s advertisements since the 1980s, Robinson argues that Apple devices have become imbued with a sacred status. Devoted customers venerate iPhones and iPods in the shrines of Apple stores. One ad portrays the Apple computer as offering secret knowledge while another humanizes it with an emotional life. iPod applications are techno-religious icons, and the iPhone campaign 'Touching Is Believing' alludes to experiences of the sublime. Steve Jobs was a visionary, fascinated with Indian spirituality and Zen Buddhism, and believed in the mantra that technology reshapes consciousness and encourages spontaneous creativity. Robinson’s soaring pronouncements that Apple products are 'tools for seeking a lost sense of transcendence' are tempered by sharper insights that the iPhone 'colonizes leisure' and that interior lives shrivel the more people use technology. The book could use criticism of the consumerism behind Apple’s religious imagination. When AT&T asks consumers to 'Rethink Possible,' mimicking Apple’s successful 'Think Different' marketing strategy, it attests that the only profits cared about are financial."
—Publishers Weekly (reviewed 7-5-2013)
“Robinson’ s discussion of how Steve Jobs, in developing the advertising iconography of Apple, resolved paradoxes presented by new technology, is brilliant.”
—Rod Dreher, The American Conservative
"Appletopia transcends the popular media depictions of Saint Steve Jobs and the Cult of Apple through a serious and insightful analysis of transcendence itself and how it is that we came to regard Apple products as so much more than mere commodities."
—Russell Belk, Kraft Foods Canada Chair in Marketing, Schulich School of Business, York University
“Robinson makes a strong case for the spiritual underpinnings of Jobs’s creation in a fascinating, hard-to-refute way.”
—Michael Levin, New York Journal of Books
"... Robinson’s book does us the service of media literacy, ultimately increasing the audience’s ability to self-assess how technology, Apple or otherwise, both cheapen and enhance our personal goals and ambition."
—Andrea Hickerson, Rochester Institute of Technology, Consumption, Markets, & Culture
Brett T. Robinson is Visiting Professor of Marketing in the Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame, where he also studied marketing and English literature. His doctorate is from the University of Georgia, where he helped establish the New Media Institute in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. He currently lives in South Bend, Indiana.
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