Apple is obviously a cult (and Samsung isn't), says cultural historian

Technically Incorrect: From the huge doors of Apple Stores to the architecture that generally makes you feel small, Apple shows many characteristics of a clever sect. So says an intellectual.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Cult members? CNET

The idea that Apple is less a brand and more a religious cult has been around for a while.

Even Saint Bono has declared himself on the subject.

Not so long ago, Samsung mocked the living bejaysus out of Apple's cultitude in very funny ads. It built the Galaxy franchise upon that pedestal of mockery.

It takes, though, an intellectual to put a deeper stamp of authority on Apple's cult status. Hosannas, therefore, to Atlas Obscura, which probed the views of NYU professor Erica Robles-Anderson.

Robles-Anderson is a cultural historian who, when examining a Manhattan Apple store, declared, "It's a cult. Right? It's so obviously a cult."

What's obvious to one person may be very subliminal to another. However, Robles-Anderson whose recent work has included looking at how churches are using technology to enhance religious experience, noted how deeply orchestrated the Cupertino, California-based company's product launches are.

She contrasted this with Samsung. She explained that it opened a store in Soho.

"They had giant ropes outside, as if anticipating a giant crowd, and big bouncer-looking people in fancy suits. And then...crickets," she said.

Why were there only crickets? "It was a deep misunderstanding about special access, as opposed to what Apple has built, which is the feeling of being in it together, as though you were fighting something," she explained.

Robles-Anderson believes that communal ritual has always been part of technology's, and a cult's, lure.

She pointed to the Apple store's huge, heavy doors -- pointless, she said, other than to make the place seem important.

The whole design, she insisted, is there to make you feel small and Apple to feel a little other-worldly. So are the skylights and the steep stairs.

"You're always seeing others and being seen by others," she said of the experience in the store. "And the ways that any employee can serve you feels personal, but it's going on all around you, in a cacophony of like-mindedness."

She even suggested Apple's Geniuses are like priests. I suspect they don't quite behave like priests, but no matter.

Her arguments are alluring. But one question that's asked a little more rarely is whether there's a limit to this cultism.

Is it really that the faithful swallow everything from above? Or do they just occasionally tell the gods when they've got it wrong?

Remember those ads that featured the Geniuses? The congregation took one look at those and asked for them to be removed from the temple.

Then there's Apple's newer products. Are all the faithful blindly wearing their Apple Watches just because? Or are many still being circumspect about whether they want one tied to their wrist, making them look terribly silly when they take a call on it?

There's Apple Music, too. There's little evidence that, simply because it's from Apple, a horde of iPhone users have immediately dumped Spotify. There's a credible argument that it should have been called Beats Music. Oddly, the most lauded part of Apple Music so far has been Beats 1 radio. Hard numbers may begin to emerge when the streaming service's free three-month trial period begins to run out at the end of this month.

If you think that Apple is a religious cult, then perhaps it's more like one of those religions that makes people feel good, but the practicing believers will still pick and choose their doctrines.

Love thy neighbor sounds good, but I'll give that anti-contraception, anti-gay marriage stance a miss, if you don't mind.

There's also the feeling that Apple itself is beginning to tone down its cultism. Apple events have become more self-deprecatory. Even phone launches don't seem quite as frenzied as in the past.

The brand now has broader horizons. It's no longer a niche, rebel entity fighting the man.

If it's a religious cult, it's a very big one. So now it's taking on more statesmanlike qualities.

Yes, just like Bono.