Umberto Eco likes Macs, dislikes Calvinists

Posted on 19 January, 2011

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Andrew Sullivan refers to a 1994 essay by Umberto Eco (“La bustina di Minerva”) from the Italian news weekly Espresso. In it, Eco presumes that the Mac is Catholic (specifically, Jesuit) because “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.”

Hmmm.

Thankfully, Computer Science ProfessorJoel Adams, wrote a clever response that rightly places Mac back on the Calvinist side of the ledger. Adams provides four lucid defenses of this position, my favorite being,

“In classical Catholicism, a person interacted with God through memorized mystery rituals that were conducted in Latin, a language foreign to “common” people. Protestantism greatly reduced such ritual, and used people’s native languages, eliminating the mystery from those rituals it kept. DOS-users interact with their PCs by memorizing mysterious rituals of commands that are foreign to most people (e.g., move the cursor, push ALT-Shift-F9, move the cursor again, then push ALT-F11, …). By providing the mouse as a prosthetic hand by which the user could touch and grab items on a virtual desktop, MacOS reduced such complexities to three behaviors simple enough for a toddler to master: move the mouse, press its button, and do both at the same time.”

Where I differ from Adams (Eco does not address the matter) is that UNIX is Eastern Orthodoxy. I remember being nagged by a friend about the virtues of UNIX, that it is tons easier to operate than Windows-DOS, even though it is not as intuitive as Mac. Therefore, I would have to say that UNIX is Lutheran.

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Posted in: technology