Alex Duner

Edward Mendelson Thinks That AppleScript is the Messiah

I didn’t think it was possible but Edward Mendelson made every possible “Apple is a Religion” metaphor and then some in a ridiculous article for The New York Review of Books titled Faith and Works at Apple:

As everyone knows, the world-religion of the educated and prosperous in the twenty-first century is Apple, with its Vatican in Cupertino and its cathedrals in the light-filled Apple Stores that draw pilgrims gripping iPhones and iPads like rosaries. Apple’s flock is secured against heresy by censors who rule the online App Store; only applications with Apple’s imprimatur are allowed on an iPhone. Programmers risk excommunication—with all their works condemned to being listed in an Index of Prohibited Software—if they violate canon law by bypassing Apple’s banking system or ignoring its infallible doctrine. Rebellious heretics can “jailbreak” an iPhone and induce it to accept software anathematized by Apple, but a heretic’s phone is refused communion when presented for repair at the Apple Store.

At least it’s not “Apple is Dooooooomed!”

What’s strange about Mendelson’s article is that it’s (mostly) positive about Apple; his thesis is that AppleScript gives users freedoms in OS X that aren’t available to users in iOS. But it’s almost like while he was writing an article about AppleScript he realized that he was missing the one thing that every article about Apple needs in order to get lots of pageviews be persuasive: an over-used and laughable metaphor.

The closed world of the iPhone and iPad is, however, only one branch of Apple’s empire, the branch that values centralized doctrine, visible works, and universal rituals.

Mendelson (unfortunately) continues:

But OS X also contains a little-known region of individual freedom and personal vision named AppleScript…AppleScript gives any individual worshipper much of the autonomy and freedom in using a computer that is otherwise possible only for the priesthood of programmers—and in iOS is limited even for programmers, in part through the design of iOS itself, in part because of Apple’s watchful, restrictive eye.

AppleScript is protestant with a lower-case “p,” as iOS and much of OS X is catholic with a lower-case “c.”

The above passage just shows how out of touch this guy is with iOS’ current offerings1. He needs to spend an afternoon reading through MacStories’ archives and playing with apps like Drafts, Launch Center Pro, and Pythonista.

I dislike the ways in which iOS demands conformity and obedience, while offering an illusory freedom to choose among a million apps that do only what Apple lets them do…AppleScript, in contrast, encourages freedom and rewards initiative.

If after reading through the MacStories archives and you don’t think that Federico Vitcci exhibits creativity and ingenuity with URL schemes on iOS, then you are out of your mind.

Also, iOS doesn’t demand conformity; everyone can change their wallpapers!

I want to take a brief pause from Mendelson’s article to ask the question: Could this point have been made in a non-melodramatic way? I have these hazy memories of reading an article John Gruber wrote in Macworld about AppleScript a couple months ago in which he clearly and eloquently made the same point:

AppleScript has survived and remained relevant during a turbulent decade-long transition, despite its unbeloved language syntax and technical hurdles, for the simple reason that it solves real-world problems in a way that no other OS X technology does. In theory, AppleScript could be much better; in practice, though, it’s the best thing we have that works. It exemplifies the Mac’s advantages over iOS for tinkerers and advanced users.

Maybe it’s just that Gruber’s piece, clocking in at 977 words, didn’t need to do anything special to keep it’s readers around whereas Mendelson’s piece, a true model of longform journalism at 1419 words, just needed some extra pizzazz, like this, to keep people interested:

Like the Protestants of the Reformation who translated the Bible into the vernacular, AppleScript put the means of salvation into the hands of the laity. Unlike vernacular Bibles, some of whose translators were burned at the stake, AppleScript arrived without bloodshed: Apple nailed its Ninety-Five Theses to its own door.

Historical accuracy aside 2, I’m pretty sure that’s a bit of an overstatement. I can imagine some Apple fanboy blogger like me comparing Steve Jobs to Martin Luther for introducing world changing products like the iPhone and the iPad. But it takes a really special individual to compare the introduction of AppleScript to the event that began the Protestant Reformation.

Who needs logic and reason when you can get sentences like this published in the New York Review of Books? 3

When Jobs reclaimed infallible authority in Cupertino, he killed off most of the projects begun in his absence, but he had the good sense to preserve and encourage AppleScript, perhaps because it recalled his own countercultural beginnings.

Steve Jobs’ countercultural beginnings can clearly explain every one of his business decisions. What other explanation could there be for why Apple issued plastic bumpers for the iPhone 4 after Antennagate? I sure can’t think of anything besides LSD.

The Macintosh OS was nine years old when AppleScript divided it against itself and—I like to think—helped to assure the later triumphs of OS X. iOS is now six years old, and has so far resisted any such division, and its position of world-domination may suggest that it doesn’t need it, that it can repel barbarian invasion and prosper forever without internal reformation. History says otherwise. The ways in which iOS evolves in the next few years may place the fate of empires—today’s empires are corporate, not ecclesiastical or national, neither holy nor Roman—in the balance.

I agree that the way iOS evolves is one of the most important things that will determine Apple’s success in the current phase of computing. But just because Apple is one of the few companies that has a very strong philosophy does not mean that it is a theology.

Also, I think it’s a bit racist to call Koreans “barbarians”; Samsung might be a conniving patent-infringing company, but calling them barbarians seems like a low blow.

  1. Maybe he is out of touch because he follows his “own lower-case-“p” variety” of Protestantism. Maybe if he got on board with the capital-“P” version he would at least be in-touch with 800 million other people

  2. Gruber explains that, in reality, “AppleScript’s English-like syntax often made (and to this day continues to make) things more difficult and confusing for scripters, not less”. So it’s more like translating the Bible into Klingon than German or English. 

  3. The New York Review of Books claims that it is “the premier literary-intellectual magazine in the English language.” If this is the premier magazine, I don’t even want to know what mediocre looks like.