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iPhone release 'religious' event - Is it God machine or tech tempter?

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For the believers of this other faith, it's the day of deliverance they have long awaited, the moment when they'll finally be able to grasp the Holy Grail which they've long lusted and defended against all nay-sayers, sight unseen.

I'm talking, of course, about the release of Apple's iPhone. And to say that the thought of nabbing one makes my brain water would be putting it lightly.

To be sure, I'm a new convert. But as with many others, the living encounter with the Mac has changed my life and the way I work. Even the Vatican "webmistress," Sister Judith Zoebelein, recently disclosed that the Internet Office over at Catholic Central had just undergone the same conversion experience.

PC 3 Mac 1

So, yes - I've drunk the Kool-Aid. Yes, I've become something of a Cupertino cultist. But if your workload just happened to kill three PCs in the space of seven months, you'd probably end up one, too.

Mac-heads aren't known for moderating their enthusiasm for every word that comes from the mouth of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and the release of what's been dubbed "The God Machine" has become a cultural watershed, with press coverage rivaling Paris Hilton's now-multiple jail stints. When the first commercials for the device (which only a handful of people outside Apple's top brass has even been able to touch yet) began airing last week, even devotees were quick to label them "iPhone porn."

Simultaneously, the enormous swath of cyberspace devoted to Apple gossip dissected the ads' glimpses of the product with a compulsiveness putting even the most anal-retentive liturgical critiques of the Catholic blogosphere to shame. (For the blissfully unaware, that's an astonishing level of unhealthy hair-splitting.)

Some might see this as making God out of gadgets, or simply the end of the world as we know it. But even the hype bears a message of hope, and a challenge as big as the buzz.

Staying in touch First, let's be grateful that people are getting excited about technology that actually has the capability of keeping them in touch with the rest of the world, as opposed to the usual frenzy over the newest video-game console that further seals its possessed into a virtual bubble. I may be a computer nut, but I can't help but think of PlayStation 3 or the Wii as further sentinels of the disintegration of mankind.

Second, the folks from Apple just seem to have an ability for captivating innovations in design, capability and ease of function. The company prides itself on its reputation for great aesthetics; the clean lines and iconic looks of its product designs that (thankfully) have replaced the boxy, clunky old models many of us 20-and-30-somethings used in our school days.

Message here? The quest for, and appreciation of, beauty still exists in the world - and a bitten-into piece of fruit marks its vanguard.

As an amateur architecture buff I see a parallel at work. While the modernist project in design sought to exalt utilitarianism, banishing what it saw as a superfluous emphasis on the "decorative," the post-modern movement has restored the balance, as if to say, "Sure, functionality is helpful, but in our focus on function the uplift of something bigger went missing."

There's an analogy of faith in this. People want to belong to something that makes greatness manifest in our own time, a movement that can show beauty and achievement as more than just traits of the past. If that weren't true, today's masses wouldn't go to the ends of the earth - or, alternatively, blow thousands of bucks after keeping vigil all night on a strip-mall pavement - to it seek out, bring it home and plug it in.

Ticking tradition

As far as some of our own are concerned, man's expression of his God-given creativity halted sometime around 1570. But just as there'd be no internet without Gutenberg and no iPhone without Bell, tradition's clock never stops ticking. It extends even into our own time and becomes our responsibility to cultivate, grow and pass forward even richer than we found it, but just as faithful to its beginnings as it was before.

I recently watched one of the most prominent preachers of our age speak to this. "The best bits of the past we'll take with us, we're interested, and we're excited, and we have faith in the future - that's where we're headed."

The preacher's name is Bono. He's not as young as he used to be and his answers aren't always perfect but, unlike so many self-styled evangelists, his message still has relevance.

If only Apple's sense of embracing the future was heeded within the walls of the church. We need to change the perception that the only future we can offer is a return to the past. Until that happens, don't be surprised when the eager masses find their future's promise not in a living God, but in his battery-powered stand-in instead.

---

Rocco Palmo, 24, is an American correspondent for The Tablet and author of the blog Whispers in the Loggia.

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