My interns inform me that the The Huffington Post has declared that “technology is anthropology.” Wow. That’s heavy. As they say on “30 Rock,” tell us some other things we already knew. Not sure if you’ve been paying attention to Apple for the past three decades, but, see, this concept is pretty much the foundation of our operation. Remember those people who spent a week camping out on folding chairs outside Apple stores back in 2007, so they could get the iPhone? They didn’t do it because there was shortage of phones. They did it because they wanted to make a statement about themselves. I don’t know how this camping out thing got started, but Apple people really love to sleep on sidewalks and in malls. They’ll do it for almost anything that involves Apple, especially my keynotes.
The reason is, Apple is not really a company — it’s a cult. Imagine what it might be like if the Church of Scientology went into the consumer electronics business, and you’d have a pretty good idea of how we operate.
We have a philosophy, a way of looking at the world. Minimalism is part of it. Simplicity is another. Our fundamental belief is that people can achieve transcendence through technology – that by owning certain products, meaning our products, a person can become smarter, and even better than other people. The products we make are simply totemic objects – signifiers, as Saussure would have said. (I’m assuming you’re up to speed on your semiotics, and if not, well, keep using Windows; it’s the right solution for you.) Our products are physical representations of our philosophy, capsules that let you carry our belief system around with you and share it with others. For me, the process of making these objects and splattering them all over the world is a kind of performance art – what Christo does with cloth, I do with aluminum, glass and plastic.
People sometimes complain that we charge too much for our products, but the truth is, our prices are irrelevant. How much is a Picasso worth? Our prices are not based on cost of goods or any kind of research into what the market will bear or how much profit we need to make. We set prices based on numbers that we think will make our fanpersons feel special. They don’t want something cheap. They want to feel good about themselves. Paying more is one way to achieve that. (I’m amazed that more companies haven’t figured this out.) If you’re asking about the price of an Apple product, you’ve already self-selected out of our target demographic. Not because you’re too poor, but because you just don’t understand what we’re about. And that’s fine. We’re not for everyone. True fanpersons are always ready to buy whatever we make, without question, because they know the object will give meaning to their lives. You can’t put a price on that.
How did I figure this all out? Back in the Seventies, before I started Apple, I made a trek to India and studied with a holy man, Baba Shreepakdeva. He taught me one thing: People are desperately hungry to find meaning in their lives. They will go to great lengths and spend huge amounts of money in this quest. Ever seen the Vatican? Okay then. Religions are the greatest marketing organizations in the world. All you have to do to become rich and powerful, he told me, is create objects that are imbued with spiritual significance. I left India knowing what I would do with my life.
Why tech products, instead of, say, furniture? For one thing, Woz and I both sucked at woodworking in high school. But also, technology has the benefit of seeming like magic. Think of the old Arthur C. Clarke line: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And religion is all about magic. Transubstantiation of the host? Please. It’s Penn & Teller in colorful robes. Or think of Pizarro and the conquest of the Incas. You know how the Spaniards converted the Incas to Christianity? They built churches and crammed them full of mirrors and shiny objects, with loads of flickering lights. Everywhere I go I see people staring down into their iPhones, zombies hypnotized by the flashing screen, and I think, Oh, Pizarro, you’ve got nothing on me, hermano.
Right now we’re working on this tablet computer, and it’s all about anthropology. At least it has been since I came back to work. While I was away they were just doing things the way ordinary MBA idiots do things: focus groups, market research, engineering, feature sets, specifications. But I came back with my new liver and I was like, Damn, people! Hold up here! We need to ask some fundamental questions – not about the product, but about the fanpersons who will use the product. Will they write on this tablet, or just read from it? Maybe they will just buy it and put it on their coffee table and look at it. Or maybe they will carry it around in a stylish, modern-looking bag and place it on the table in restaurants to impress other humans.
Will it be shiny? It must be. It must be so shiny that fanpersons can see themselves reflected in its surface and adore themselves when they are using it. How will it feel in your hand? It must be smooth. It must be light, yet substantial. It must feel perfect. It must feel like something that sprang into being, fully formed – one day it was not there, and the next day it was. It must inspire awe, and even a touch of fear. It must cause people to admire you. It must intimidate them and make them believe that you possess some powerful magic that they do not understand. Plus, it must have great battery life.
Can we really do all that? Can we really make something that will change people’s lives? Of course we can – all you have to do is believe.