Saturday, May 28, 2011

Apple topples the Catholic church

OK, I feel a bit guilty about posting this because it is obviously very tedious and silly. Witness CNN reporting on something a BBC documentary says for no apparent reason:

The [unidentified] neuroscientists ran a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test on an Apple fanatic and discovered that images of the technology company's gadgets lit up the same parts of the brain as images of a deity do for religious people, the report says.

What report?  No idea, because neither the CNN or BBC stories cite it.  According to CNN, these mysterious neuroscientists experimented on a single Apple fan, apparently without a control, and came to an unjustified conclusion.  I doubt very much that the ‘report’, assuming it even exists, reported anything of the kind.

And what if it did?  What if an experiment was properly conducted and found that Apple-heads’ brains respond to Apple products in a similar way to how faith-heads’ brains respond to religious images? Would this really imply that people have religious feelings about Apple products? 

Obviously not, but both the BBC and CNN articles baldly state that it’s true.  It’s pure fabrication.  Look at this:

A blog, aptly titled Cult of Mac, wrote on Thu….

Wait a cotton-picking minute?  Apt?  Exactly what is it appropriate to?  The connotation with religion was imagined in the first place, now they’re using the name of a random blog, which they’ve picked for the purpose as though it’s evidence of their fictitious conclusion.

The BBC is at it too:

The scenes I witnessed at the opening of the new Apple store in London's Covent Garden were more like an evangelical prayer meeting than a chance to buy a phone or a laptop.

Well, yes.  The opening of an Apple store is clearly more than the chance to buy a phone.  It’s an event.  It’s showbiz.  It’s bollocks, but it’s obviously well-crafted bollocks, which captures a lot of people’s attention.  The BBC has made a silly, unfair comparison made solely to emphasise the made-up conclusion they’d already come to. 

In rational circles, we call this begging the question.

And what did those customers - some who'd travelled from as far away as the US and China and slept on the pavement for the privilege - find when they finally got inside?

Well, all the same stuff as in the Apple store half a mile away on Regent Street. No special offers, no free gifts (a few t-shirts were handed out), no exclusive products. Now that's devotion.

Is it?  People flock to film premieres.  Do they see a different movie to everyone else?  Or do they go for the experience?  Do they go for the excitement and the sense of occasion and the sense of shared identity with people who have similar interests to them?  Is there ever the slightest comparison with religious belief?

I go to skeptical and atheist conventions.  There’s little to be learned from the speakers that I don’t already know from looking at their websites and reading their books.  That’s not why I go.  I don’t even go to see famous people in the flesh.  I’m a computer scientist for goodness’ sake: it pains me to admit people even have flesh.  I visit these events because the shared enthusiasm is enormous fun.  I go because the other minions like me have excellent and fun things to say between talks, are likely to be interested in the same kind of things I am and are often geeks like me.  It’s about the only place I’m guaranteed to fit in.  I have fun while I’m there and come back enthused.

I’m not a fan of Apple products or of Apple the company, but it’s not hard to understand that people might consider the opening of an Apple store an occasion and an opportunity to mingle with the like-minded.

So I’m not sure why the author “searched high and low for answers” (not that it’s clear what the questions were).  Nor can I explain this astonishing bit of text:

The Bishop of Buckingham - who reads his Bible on an ipad - explained to me the similarities between Apple and a religion.

And when a team of neuroscientists with an MRI scanner took a look inside the brain of an Apple fanatic it seemed the bishop was on to something.

The results suggested that Apple was actually stimulating the same parts of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith.

W-why did they ask the Bishop of Buckingham?  It’s not a name that springs immediately to mind as a commenter on either branding or technology.  And what qualifies him to explain the similarities between Apple and ‘a’ religion (the ‘a’ part is hilarious – presumably he meant ‘every religion except Christianity’)?  And what is this much-vaunted explanation anyway?  The article doesn’t say.  We’re supposed to believe that the explanation exists and that it’s a doozy.  Honest.  On faith.

And then there’s the bit with the neuroscientists and the astonishing leap from this silly anecdote to the question-begging explicit claim that Apple is like religion.

But aside from the sheer incompetence of journalism (I should have saved this up for Thursday Unprofessionalism) notice how religion is once again unthinkingly placed at the forefront.  The article doesn’t say that religious brains respond to images of god like Apple brains respond to macs.  Notice the religious language and overtones employed.  Notice the last two paragraphs in the CNN article, where they invoke Ratzinger to say idiotic things, as he’s wont to do.  Notice the BBC article, which digs up a random bishop as though his opinion is somehow more worthwhile or informed than anyone else’s.

The pope quote is a hilarious one, though:

In speeches, Pope Benedict XVI has said technology consumption poses a threat to religion and the Roman Catholic church. The holy leader told a Palm Sunday crowd last month that technology cannot replace God.

This is a breathtaking non-sequitur.  Technology threatens religion because it greatly enhances communication.  We’re learning things about the dark side of religion that were simply unavailable to us before the Internet.  We can read and watch lots of different opinions about religion: ones that differ from those of our parents and the communities we grew up in.  Religion cannot exist wherever people ask questions and I’ve no doubt that technology will be the catalyst for the eventual demise of religion.

However, nobody is trying to replace god with technology.  That is a simply asinine thing to say.  Nobody gives up religion in favour of an iphone because you can have both, if you must.  Nobody actually worships technology in the sense of praying to it and being scared of how their tablet will judge them after they die.  And nobody – not even these idiot journalists – explicitly claim this.  Only someone as self-absorbed as Ratzi could come up with such a ludicrous collection of statements.  And only faith-heads could nod sagely and not point out the emperor’s wardrobe malfunction.  And – while we’re at it – only journalists could spin this crap into looking like evidence of their own made-up claims.

The truth – as is always the case with religion – is very much more interesting.  Technology is helping to show us that we don’t need gods at all and don’t need to replace them with anything. 

If Apple lust is similar – or even analogous – to religious adulation, this is pure coincidence. It’s adulation without the doctrinaire trappings, control, child rape and moralistic predation.  Now if the authors were to argue that Apple as a company displays some disturbing similarities to religion, we’d have something to talk about…

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