If you caught any of the big launch event yesterday for the new Apple products—including the long-anticipated iPad Mini—you might have felt like you were in church. That may not be a coincidence.
We asked Kirsten Bell, an anthropologist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, to look at some launch videos for us.
She came to some of the same conclusions as her predecessors, including Eastern Washington University sociologist Pui-Yan Lam, who published an academic paper more than a decade ago that called Mac fandom an “implicit religion.”
“A stranger observing one of the launches could probably be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled into a religious revival meeting,” Bell wrote to TechNewsDaily in an email. Bell now studies the culture of modern biomedical research, but before she got interested in scientists, she studied messianic religious movements in South Korea.
Apple’s product launches take place in a building “littered with sacred symbols, especially the iconic Apple sign itself,” she said. During keynote speeches, an Apple leader “addresses the audience to reawaken and renew their faith in the core message and tenets of the brand/religion.”
Even Apple’s tradition of not broadcasting launches in real time is akin to a religious event, Bell said. “Like many Sacred Ceremonies, the Apple Product Launch cannot be broadcast live,” she wrote. “The Scribes/tech journalists act as Witness, testifying to the wonders they behold via live blog feeds.”
Apple-as-religion isn’t the perfect analogy, Bell said later, over the phone. “It’s ultimately a somewhat superficial comparison,” she said. “Religion is trying to do something different from a computer brand.” Religion tries to give life meaning and explain humanity’s purpose, she said. “It’s trying to explain questions that are very different from what science and technology is oriented to.”
For anyone seriously trying to understand Apple product launches and culture, using the religion analogy could help, but it might also keep people from noticing other interesting aspects of the culture that don’t fit in with the metaphor, she said.