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Posted at 04:50 PM ET, 10/13/2011

How Steve Jobs became a saint — the new monoculture


Phone icon. (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images) (STR - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Don't get me wrong.

In life, as much as the next guy, I revered Steve Jobs. “Hungry” and “foolish” are adjectives that describe me admirably, and his admonition to stay both was heartening.

But he has attained secular sainthood faster than you can download a season of “Mad Men” onto your iPad 2.

Now he's up there edging Edison out of the pantheon. “Thomas Alva who?” we say. Didn’t he say, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration”? Sounds like some sort of sweaty guy.

Newton? He just got hit on the head with an apple. Jobs created one.

The Curies? Too luminous.

Archimedes? He can’t have contributed that much to science if Merlin named his owl after him.

I thought the Cult of Jobs was strong while he lived, but clearly I had no idea. This is insane. He’s reached almost Oprah levels.

We want everything instant: coffee, gratification, downloads. Canonization is instant, too.

Already, cartoons are cartoons depicting him upgrading Moses' tablets.

There’s a show called “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” — and that began while he was still with us.

His Stanford commencement speech — the Jobs sermon on the mount — has been watched millions of times.

All our Blackberries are flying at half-mast, out of respect.

 Ordinary saints are a somewhat dour and antisocial bunch, prone to wearing hair shirts and delivering sermons to birds.

Secular saints are the opposite. They are all things to all people. They smile down on us from the fronts of T-shirts and the backs of buildings. We find them painted on the walls of our coffee shops, Marilyn Monroe high-fiving Oscar Wilde. Hunter S. Thompson shooting pool with Andy Warhol. Like ordinary saints, each has a beat: John Lennon and Yoko Ono, patron saint of those with ’60s envy. Bob Marley, patron saint of that guy with dreadlocks in the back of your math class. Che Guevara, patron saint of those unwilling to wear blank T-shirts.

But the requirements for secular sainthood have somewhat shifted. It used to be, you touched a guitar or a microphone with success at some point in your life, and you got a pass to the head of the canonization line.

It’s no longer so simple.

Amy Winehouse? Tragic, but not saintly.

Michael Jackson? He was the last of the musical saints. Sure, we’ll mourn the Boss and the remaining Beatles. Jagger? Keith Richards? Not to worry; the Stones evidently sold their souls to a malign force that preserves you intact forever, even though you look like the picture of Dorian Gray on a bad morning. But the only musicians who will ascend to the cloud on the wings of our collective prayers are the ones from an era when we all listened to the same thing. And that’s long over — thanks, in no small part, to Jobs.

These days, what unites us isn’t our music. It's the devices we listen to it on. We no longer talk about the same things. But we talk on the same devices. We don’t buy the same things, but we buy in the same places. We are united in our desire to fragment and customize our consumption. We’re all on Facebook getting updates on the fact that our friends are listening to songs we’ve never heard of. But at least we’re hearing about it together.

People often lament the demise of the monoculture. “I miss when we all read and listened to and talked about the same things,” we say. “And when the nightly news didn’t agree or disagree with you.”

But the monoculture isn’t dead. It’s in our hip pockets. It’s what we hold in our hands while we read and watch wildly different things. Thanks to Jobs.

We don’t line up outside movies. We line up outside the Apple store.

We await the iPhone 5 with a rabid expectation the followers of Harold Camping’s wonted apocalypse can’t begin to match.

If we didn’t notice it when “The Social Network” came out, now we can’t miss it. There’s a new pantheon in town — Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg. They changed the meaning of the word icon — it’s not an oily image of a saint that you sometimes discover while excavating old Orthodox churches. It’s something you click on — and the person who handed you the thing to click with.

Saints have to wait. But adding a new icon is the work of a moment. No wonder Jobs shot to the front of the line.

By  |  04:50 PM ET, 10/13/2011

Tags:  Steve Jobs, technology, religion

 
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