I wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph this week in which I talked about a crucial aspect of Apple’s appeal: the way good old Steve Jobs relieves us of the burden of installation and other tedious tasks by making his designers and engineers do the intermediary work for us. No Protestant work ethic for straight-out-of-the-box iPad users! We leave that to PC customers, who peruse their tiny-print instruction manuals as intently as Calvinists poring over their well-thumbed Bibles. And that rang a bell…
Back in 1994, Umberto Eco declared that Mac was Catholic and the intimidating MS-DOS operating system was Protestant. Windows, meanwhile, was a sort of half-way house: Anglican, in fact. Here’s what Eco wrote in Espresso magazine:
The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counterreformist and has been influenced by the “ratio studiorum” of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory, it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach – if not the Kingdom of Heaven – the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.
DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: a long way from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.
You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counterreformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It’s true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions…
And machine code, which lies beneath both systems (or environments, if you prefer)? Ah, that is to do with the Old Testament, and is Talmudic and cabalistic.
It’s just the last bit that doesn’t ring true these days – at least, not judging by the Hasidic Jews playing delightedly with iPads in the new Apple Store in Covent Garden this week.