Forget Lent, It’s iPad Season

Image courtesy of the Economist

 

For millions of Christians around the world, this week marks the beginning of Lent. With Ash Wednesday comes the advent of a spiritual season marked by humility, repentance, prayer and self-denial in remembrance of Jesus Christ’s suffering and eventual crucifixion some 2,000 years ago. Most of all, Lent prepares the Christian believer for the highlight of Jesus’ ministry on earth – the week of his passion, crucifixion and resurrection. Lenten preparation is steeped in a tradition that reaches back hundreds of years and is full of meaning for Christians throughout the world.

Throughout the season, liturgical churches are full of decorations and traditions that imbued with sacred meaning. The colors of the vestments set the tone for the services: purple for Christ’s suffering, black for his death and then white on Easter to proclaim new life. Many sermon series and devotions invoke images of Christ’s suffering and death to call to mind the extent of his passion. Believers are offered ore times to gather together for food, fellowship and worship with specially themed services on Sundays and Wednesdays for Protestant churches such as Lutherans and more celebrations of the Mass for Roman Catholics. Above all, Lent is a tactile learners dream where people get to see, touch, taste, smell and hear the passion of Christ. On Ash Wednesday believers receive ashes on their forehead and are told, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Throughout Lent, the faithful practice some form of self-denial and almsgiving (fasting). On Maundy Thursday, when Christians remember the Lord’s Last Supper (Jesus’ celebration of the Jewish Seder Meal) many pastors will wash their parishioner’s feet and preside over the Celebration of the Eucharist (aka Communion, the Lord’s Supper) where participants taste the bread and wine and hear the words of Christ at this Holy Meal as they are recorded in the New Testament. On Good Friday there are many churches that perform a Tenabrae service, a service which reads through Christ’s Passion until his death as the sanctuary gets progressively darker. Other churches stage a full Passion Play, acting out the events and character interactions leading up to Jesus’ death on the cross. Then, on Easter Sunday, Christians go all out with bright colors, full feasts and celebratory songs to celebrate the resurrection they claim brings about their salvation.

This all undergirds the fact that Lent is not a cerebral season, it’s an interactive experience.

Meaningful Christian holy seasons aside, I am one to posit that this week, many more people are headed to get iPads than ashes. For all those who remembered Ash Wednesday I would venture to say that just as many – if not more – will be headed to the white washed walls of their nearest Apple cathedral (er…I mean “store”) to recognize and celebrate iPad Friday.

Why?

In the words of Hutch Carpenter, a tech-news commentator at Cloudave.com, the “iPad is tapping into an emerging dynamic of a more interactive, tactile experience with digital technology and information. These interactions make technology less of an interface, and more of an extension of ourselves and our environment.” In other words, that which Lent does so beautifully for Christians, the iPad and its newest manifestation, the iPad 2, does for tech-users across the world.

It’s already been documented and discussed that Apple-ism is an implicit religion unto itself (read a related Ubuntu post here). If this is to be accepted, then Apple’s major release dates, such as iPad Friday (March 11, 2011), are the high holy days of the “Gospel according to Jobs.” Thousands of people will flock like pilgrims to Apple stores across the country on iPad Friday to be one of the first to get their hands on the newest and hippest relic of the age. With their new iPad 2 in hand they will experience “digital intimacy” like never before. At their fingertips will be the magical user based digital interface of a post-PC era that lets them manipulate, customize and give shape to their world. iPad 2 users will be able to create in ways previously unheard of, interact across thousands of miles in via video and voice and store information, cherish memories and entertain themselves at the touch of a finger.

Who needs the tangible-but-transcendent mystical nature of Lent when something “magical” is as immanently close as my fingertips?

Forget what some say are the fatal design flaws of both generations of iPads (lack of Adobe Flash capabilities, no USB port, low-res graphics in comparison to other tablets etc.); faithful Apple users will still clamor for the new iPad and defend it to a digital-martyr’s death in the blogosphere with unwavering and unapologetic devotion. Ignoring rational argument and the rules of logic, devoted Apple fans let faith guide them in their new found, or old and comforting, implicit religion of fidelity to products like the MacBook Pro, the iPhone 4 and iPad 2. And they are not alone. Disciples of Steve Jobs and his Apple crew find support in their faith as they confess, “I’m a Mac-user.” Saying this is just like professing, “I’m a Christian.” It is to claim a community, to be part of an historical narrative with myths, beliefs and traditions.

And why do such Apple-ites possess such undeterred faith?

Hope.

A beautiful belief that the iPad 2 is going to tangibly transform their world.

In a post-modern world where little seems to be within our reach and under our control, the iPad 2 makes the user master of their reality. No one can tell the user what she can and cannot do when an iPad is in her hands. With over 65,000 apps to choose from she can fly a plane, make her own movie, play her own music, confess her own sins, trade her own stocks, talk to her friend in Peru or write her own blog.

Lent offers the penitent believer the opportunity to remember the suffering of Jesus Christ for humanity’s sake and walk the path of suffering that eventually leads to the resurrection of life, love and hope. In the words of Linda Parriot, Lent practitioners “are invited to nothing less than a ‘transformation of the soul.’” However, while Lent is about cultivating patience and experiencing transformation partially now, but fully in the future; the iPad 2 season delivers transformation immediately and directly and customized to the individual. You don’t have to wait for this salvation baby, it’s right there in your hands…and it’s sleeker, lighter and more interactive than ever before.

There is no church authority to tell the owner how to use it, no political government that is going to take it away and nobody who can tell the faithful user to stop believing. The hope and belief is that the iPad 2 is going to renew life and give the user a hope, destiny and identity that he can create, control and use to connect. No longer does an individual have to wait for salvation or practice their faith in a church community, it’s here and it’s a tablet that allows him to take the world and shape it, transform it and give it new life through his own creative imagination and manipulation.

On March 11, 2011 thousands of people will be proclaiming and purchasing a new message of hope for the post-modern millennium when they buy their iPad 2 and begin using it. They will declare implicitly, “Who needs Lent? Who needs Jesus? Who needs the church? I have my iPad 2!” However, despite the similarities in the promises of Jesus and Jobs, the path is much different.

For the skeptic, perhaps the question is which one really delivers. For the Christian, it is whether or not they will celebrate both Ash Wednesday and iPad Friday this week. Or, an even deeper question (tongue in cheek): can they head to their Lenten services with their iPad in hand so they can use their Bible App to read about the Passion of the Christ and not feel as if they are serving two masters? To that end, I leave this to you, the readers, to tell me what you think of Lent, Apple-ism and the manifestation of post-modern salvation in the form of new technologies such as the iPad 2.

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Filed under Christianity, New Age, Religion and the Public Sphere

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