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12/22/2010

The new opium of the people

Author: Brice Le Blévennec

Brice Le Blevennec, CVO

The need to belief is fundamental to mankind. The end of the last century witnessed the end of the authority of a lot of nonsense, from communism to monotheistic cults. Consumerism and rationality triumph and new technologies help us to quench our thirst for the absolute and the belief of a better life. Would this be the new form of spirituality?

Churches are emptier every Sunday, whereas keynotes of technology gurus have become high masses that are devotedly followed by thousands of passionate geeks. The parallel may shock you at first but it makes sense when we take a closer look at the gestures and words of these giants of technology.

Microsoft, Apple, Google and GNU Linux are four leaders. Each has its own followers and evangelists who are there to spread the word. In the case of Apple and GNU Linux, the evangelists are the users themselves. The love for their fetish system leads them to engage in the recruitment of new followers (the so-called switchers), with an ardour that can be compared to that of the witnesses of Jehovah.

Each cult has its mantra, its dogma that makes it different from the others. Microsoft puts developers centre-stage. Google is the apostle of the web and standards. GNU Linux preaches for free and open-source software. Apple has chosen the user experience as its first credo. To fully benefit from it, you also need to renounce to the benefits of other religions and agree with a total adhesion to the laws of Cupertino.

Each church has its own Messiah. At Apple, the prophet’s name is Steve Jobs. Recently saved from death in extremis, each of his apparitions is welcomed with the fervour of his zealots to whom news of the brand is seen as a miracle that will improve their everyday life. Microsoft has replaced its founding father Bill Gates with his spiritual son Steve Ballmer. He is the pastor who urged the assemblies to express their joy for the almighty (remember the famous ‘I love this company’). In Google’s case, the message is spread by the Holy Trinity, Sergei Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. GNU Linux doesn’t have a structured church but a prophet, called Richard Stallman, who has ordained a sacred text, the GNU General Public Licence. The numerous activists of the book, assembled behind the discrete Linus Thorvald, follow it texto. Did you know that today the GNU GPL is the text that is most reproduced in the world? Far ahead of the Bible, for that matter…

Last but not least, every church has its own iconography that gives the faithful signs of recognition, like in the first hours of Christianity. Google has a colourful logo and a pure design. The GNU Linux symbols are all animals: a gnu, a penguin, an elephant, … Microsoft is easily identifiable through the design of its two star products, Windows and Office. The Apple sycophants adhere to the famous bitten apple, desired rather than forbidden fruit. One could say the same thing of knowledge.

Apple and Microsoft continue their eternal battle via their majestic stores, whose crystal vaults are reminiscent of the stained glass of cathedrals.

These similarities are not always the fruit of coincidence. But there’s more: these new spiritualities return to the source of the word ‘religion’: ‘religare’, or connect people. The new technologies are consumer products and services, but they are also vectors of sociability that invite individuals to connect and form a community. Each update of Windows, each new product by Apple, each new service offered by Google, each new GNU Linux distribution often fills lives that are otherwise devoid of spirituality, with ephemeral joy.

But can they bring new meaning to our existence? That’s for you to judge…

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