2012.04.13 Corporate idolatry
The corporate image, aura and branding that magically confer significance, meaning and coolness onto blind and faithful consumers has been identified as another form of religion, in this case, corporate idolatry.
Take Starbucks. I like their coffee—just their coffee. It’s called coffee. They embellish the name slightly to “coffee of the day” as in prayer: give us Lord our daily coffee. It’s that important. So important I must have it every day, all the time, no matter the price. In fact we need two Starbucks everywhere just like at the mall where I can get Starbuck’s near Macy’s and one near the food court where I can pay tribute and light votive candles between pilgrimages.
This commercial God-complex is made evident as soon as you challenge its marketplace authority. Against my will, I was imprisoned at the J.W. Marriott in Orlando, Florida where Starbucks had a shop in the lobby. Nice, except that the usual astronomical pricing enjoyed by Starbucks was catapulted to the stratosphere of “resort pricing”. Since in-room brand X coffee tastes like warm water clouded with cream and sugar we were coerced to “worship” at the green goddess. It was my turn to fetch our staff of life and bring it back to the room, possibly chanting and shuffling in hooded robe.
At the shop, I waited quietly to fused music while the usual AM throng was baptized and blessed by their barista. When it was my turn I was given the option of leaving room for cream. I usually say “No” because they usually leave enough room anyway for the amount of cream I use, and since the coffee is precious as the blood of Jesus I want as much of it as possible. But I said “Yes” because my wife likes her cream nice and coffee-y. The barista left such a huge margin—the largest I had ever seen in all coffeedom, it was downright blasphemous. My venti was a dieci by any measure and I was apostate on the spot.
“Do you want to fill this up with coffee?” I said with extreme sarcasm. Obviously they had confused me with one of their ordinary votaries who usually wear a Kool-Aid drinking grin when their barista leave enough room for further flagellation. Robotically, the barista returned the coffees and filled them up, not with coffee, but toffee — syrup. Now I went heretic. “What are you doing? I want coffee, twenty ounces of coffee, not toffee–fill it up with coffee! And this time DON’T leave room for anything!”
I was eventually appeased with a new set of paper chalices and went back to my room with the relics. At least Starbucks understands that the customer is still clergy when pressed, even at the J.W. Marriott Chateau D’If. But Starbucks hubris is alive and well, especially at my daughter’s community college where they neither honor their own gift cards nor the fifty cent refill rule—for students no less!
I see the same culture with Apple, only a hundred times worse. The spell cast by Apple is so potent, the queue-waiting disciples think that by purchasing and using their latest consumer electronics and surrounding themselves with the technologically cool makes them tech savvy by sacrament. In the parlance of the real tech savvy, these people would be called “end-users” which doesn’t sound all that flattering now does it? You’re an “end-user”.
What is it about Apple—not their products—but their corporate image, that keeps people rabidly devoted all the while being happily deceived? Apple enjoys a image of being open (they are the most closed and proprietary of any platform), not corporate greedy (they’re valuation has topped 600 billion and they are scrutinized by the justice department for anti-trust violations), environmental (Apple promotes a perpetual consumerism that is decidedly not good for the environment), labor-friendly (Foxconn), and infallible (Newton, 4G iPhone, iPad 2.0, Macbook Pro, Lisa) and high quality (for design—I agree, for production quality – made in China)
I am not an Apple person because I cherish the technical freedom to do, configure and fix things they way I want them or they way they should be. Almost every turn I’ve had with the few Apple products I’ve encountered came with an all encompassing requirement for unwavering fealty:
- iTunes – my first purchase was a Red Wall Audio book for my daughter. It was DRM so much we could only listen to it in the iTunes App at the computer. Now if we had an Apple portable audio player, that would allow us to play it on the go.
- Despite occupying twenty discs I decided to burn the audio books to CD Audio. It wouldn’t work because a single file would span two discs worth and iTunes had issues burning across CD boundaries. After battling their technical hubris I finally figured out that it had to do with my using the CD-RW because I didn’t want to pollute the environment with twenty unrecyclable CD-Rs.
- I purchased a season of TV shows, but alas, I could only play them on the Apple devices. Even DLNA wouldn’t work. If I purchased a proprietary cable that would output to analog video audio I might be able to play it on my TV. Of course the special cable was sixty dollars even though I have about a thousand video cables in storage (VGA, HDMI, Composite, DVI, and WTF)
- Apple’s interfaces are all proprietary despite decades of standardizations by the tech community to promote interoperability. I have a thousand USB cables but none of them will work on Apple’s iTouch or iPhone. It has to be white.
My latest encounter centered around a Macbook Pro—not mine but that belonging to our ward, Charlotte. The screen was blank and tell-tale sounds indicated that it might still be alive. No problem, since against all probability, the unit had a standard (PTL!) DVI output for an external monitor. But alas, no signal from it was forthcoming. Prayer wouldn’t even work. The critical part was getting the data out since Charlotte had been working on a biology assignment for days.
After much sleuthing, it was likely the embedded video card gone bad as a notice on Apple’s website confirmed that this had been a problem with the unit; customers should make an appointment with their local Apple retail “genius bar” for a fix.
My heart started to warm to Apple—admitting their shortcomings and making good on it? Well, well, well…
Since I was tied up I couldn’t make the appointment but Kimberly went at noon the next day. Just as well since I feel like Joe Gargery in London society when I go to the Apple Retail Temple. When she returned she was as mad as a wet hornet. Apparently, the egg-heads at the genius bar pushed back on the problem:
- “…if, If, IF it’s the video card!” said the Grinch to little MaryLoo Who who was no more than two. “I’ll fix it out there (Curpertino) and bring it back here”, for five hundred dollars.
- “But alas! Our recall is only good for four years. It’s been four years 1 month, 3 days, 12 hours and 1 minute,” and there is no grace here.
- Can we get the data out? This kind only comes out with prayer and fasting, and another five hundred dollars—maybe.
Charlotte was unfazed; this was the Apple world view she was used to. Not me. I decided that Microcenter and I, Josiah of Old, would fix this problem with fire from heaven. And how:
- Found a web site that had clear instructions on exorcising the hard drive soul of the possessed Mac book pro. Of course it required rare and exotic tools for the titanium screws and integrated demonic presence.
- A thirty-five dollar universal drive kit would couple the Fujitsu hard drive to a windows machine which worked but windows could not mount the special Apple partition. OK so Windows isn’t all that marvelous but at least I know the score with it.
- Kim’s Ubuntu platform took care of the special partition and mounted the unit with no sacrifices or wave offerings. After more liturgy, the lost data was recovered using command line utilities.
- Finally the macbook was resealed, tossed into the Lake of Fire and the hard disk hermitically sealed in a Ziploc bag.
Like Google, Facebook, Starbucks, Abercrombie and Fitch, Apple is just another corporate Balrog full of fire and fury. And I am Gandalf hanging off the cliff telling the fellowship “Run!”, pause for effect, “You fools!”