Decades after Apple's founding, we've grown used to referring to lovers of the company's products as a "cult." The devotion of customers to Apple products has long been the envy of competitors for its fanatical fervor.
It turns out that the religious intensity with which people follow the company is not entirely by accident. In a new book, "Appletopia," author Brett Robinson examines the way that Steve Jobs drew on religious metaphors and iconography to elevate his products specifically, and technology more generally, into a kind of religion.
"The creative rhetoric around Apple's technology has favored religious metaphors," Robinson said in an interview. "Some of it is conscious on Apple's part. Some of it is unconscious."
Robinson is a visiting professor of marketing in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. The book grew out his dissertation and a course he taught on religion, technology and marketing.
Jobs, of course, was a well-known devotee of Eastern spiritualism, including Zen Buddhism. He was a seeker of knowledge and transformative experiences who traveled widely and took LSD to expand his own consciousness.
From the very beginning of Apple, Robinson said, that spirituality was a part of the company's philosophy and the way it marketed itself to people who had before only seen computers and soulless boxes used by big corporations to perform cold calculations.
Some of the iconography Apple borrowed is less than subtle. Its logo, for instance. The apple with a bite taken out of it suggests the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge.
But knowledge, in the Apple gospel, doesn't bring about a downfall, but instead provides a moment of liberation, a path to enlightenment.
The enlightenment was an element, Robinson says, of Apple's famous "1984" Super Bowl commercial, in which a female runner throws a hammer that smashes an Orwellian figurehead on a giant screen. Instead of a fiery explosion, the drones looking on are bathed in bright light as they seem to awaken and stir.
Of course, Jobs' genius was that he always understood that computers and technology were about people. And it was what these gadgets could do and how they could transform our lives, not their features and specifications, that convinced people that the Mac could provide a transcendent experience.
Robinson references a conversation that Jobs reportedly had with marketing director Mike Murray before the launch of the first Macintosh.
"We don't stand a chance of advertising with features and benefits and with RAMs and with charts and comparisons," Jobs said. "The only chance we have of communicating is with a feeling."
"It's got to be a cult product," Murray replied.
"Yeah, we say it's a cult, and then we say, hey, drink the Kool-Aid," Jobs said.
Apple even began to employ "evangelists" to spread the word about its products to developers and customers. And the return of Jobs later to Apple fed the religious allusions (i.e., Apple would be "resurrected" or "rise from the dead.")