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Mormonism and…cell phone adoption?

January 5, 2010
Palm Pre

No iPhones in this article

The last I brought Mormonism and tech together in an unlikely match up, I compared the LDS church to Apple. But it turns out that things can go a lot further than that.

This time, it’s not about Apple…rather, it’s been about my escapades in the community of Palm Pre owners…and my thoughts about that community and the church.

The summary is simple: The Palm Pre is a new phone. It hasn’t even been out for a year. It features a new platform (WebOS), new devices (the Palm Pre and the Pixi), and new challenges for a company that can’t really be considered a powerhouse (while Palm has been known for its PDAs…in the past few years, it has slowly been shrinking to precipitous irrelevancy.) But as I wrote before, the Palm Pre might very well have represented salvation for Palm.

It’s foolish to take these salvation claims on face value, of course. No matter how promising the Pre seemed before release, every product — and especially every new product — has its bugs and shortcomings. So, the Pre, rather than wrecking the status quo of Apple dominance and leading to an era of Rubinsteinian dominance, has had a rocky start.

There are people who write off WebOS as just a blip. After all, what can it do in the face of Apple iPhone or the Google (and non-google) army of Android devices? I don’t think these people are particularly interesting to talk about, because they are, I guess…the norm. Naysayers are so predictable. Expectable.

But what is truly interesting is the inner community of fans and adopters of the Pre. Within this community you see an intermingling of people who are amazed, people who regret, people who justify their purchase, people who are patient, people who are impatient, people who are in awe, and many more. There is a rhetoric for leaving (why stick with a phone that is so behind the other available options? Who cares if we are comparing a first gen Palm platform to a third gen Apple platform…it lacks staple features for a smartphone) and there is a rhetoric for staying (Palm’s methodology represents a different way. It is more open than Apple, so it offers more growth, yet it is more refined than the anarchic Google approach. Not only that, but Palm has regularly updated its software and is supportive of its open source community.) There are even castigations against the rhetors for staying (you guys support mediocrity!) and castigation against the rhetors for leaving (you should’ve realized what you were getting into with a first generation product!)

This dynamic is also present within Mormon and ex-Mormon circles — although perhaps I should restate that as saying it was present *first* in more established social circles like the Mormon ones and has migrated to new social circles like those formed around technology.

Seeing the immense progress that has been made in the past few days in the Pre developer communites with SDL (which portends of new possibilities for app development and gaming) has made me re-evaluate what I once thought were mere “feel good” stories about community identification in the LDS church (like this one.) When people say, “I understand and accept that my community is not perfect and the people are not perfect, but this enriches, rather than detracts, from the experience, for these are my people,” I’ve begun to see what they mean.

Obviously, things aren’t one-to-one. Generally, when people stick with a product, they probably don’t have an attachment based on something they perceive to be an overwhelming spiritual witness. But let’s just enjoy the moment regarding that (huge) distinction.

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