Good Reads: Appletonia: Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs (2013)

Brett T. Robinson's Appletopia: Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs is written from the perspective of a media ecologist and proposes that there exists an intimate relationship between religion and technology. The book makes several underlying assertions: that technology now occupies the place that religion traditional held in society; that Jobs' spiritual-religious experiences informed his philosophy of technology and subsequent approach to business and design of Apple products; and that technology is imbued with implicit religion. Religion in the work is not explicitly defined (and neither is implicit religion), but it appears to be used loosely to refer to traditional religions such as Buddhism, transcendentalist or metaphysical thought, and even a sense of magic and mystery.

In addition to drawing our attention to the relationship between religion and technology, Robinson follows another line of thought to another point. Using the works of media scholars such as McLuhan and Ellul, Robinson makes some observations regarding the Faustian bargain of technology which makes our engagement with it more complicated than mere consumerism. Scattered in a few places throughout the book are prose which reveal what Robinson really thinks of all this: while the Faustian bargain seems like a fair trade, in the end we lose more than we gain, including our free intellectual capacity and our true god(s). In the concluding page of the book Robinson writes:

“Technology is ultimately a false god. From the Tower of Babel to the atomic bomb, man's attempts to apprehend godlike powers often do not end well. The most pervasive tension . . . is that the more we use media technology the more our interior lives shrivel under the artificial glow of the screen” (p. 106)

Appletopia is a book with two key theses: there exists an intimate relationship between religion and technology, and that technology ought not replace religion. These are interesting assertions which could be more thoroughly developed in the book. For instance, a more detailed exploration of how Apple technology usurped the role of religion for its fans, or unpacking the implications of the implicit religion espoused in Apple ads or other pop culture phenomena could in themselves be topics for stand alone texts. The unique contribution of the book is perhaps the focus on Jobs' spiritual-religious experiences and how they informed his work and Apple, yet this is lost in the other points made throughout the book. The second thesis, the normative statements about technology and religion from a media ecology perspective, is interesting and important, but deserves more explicit exploration here in order to reveal what the author sees as the impact the Apple phenomenon may have on our understanding of this intersection.

In all, Appletopia gives a glimpse into how Jobs' spiritual-religious background shaped Apple and contributed to the cult of consumerism. The book is suited to a broad non-academic audience due to its broad and descriptive treatment of the subject. Yet it does offer scholars a well-documented exploration of the Apple fandom as religion that could serve as a spring board for further, in depth exploration of religion and technology.