The following excerpts are from an English translation of Umberto Eco’s
back-page column, “La bustina di Minerva,” in the Italian news weekly
Espresso, September 30, 1994.
….Insufficient consideration has been given to the new underground
religious war which is modifying the modern world. It’s an old idea of mine, but
I find that whenever I tell people about it they immediately agree with me.
The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer
and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the
Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is
counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ‘ratio studiorum’ of the
Jesuits. 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
DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of
scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics
upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation.
To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: a long way
from the baroque community of revellers, the user is closed within the loneliness
of his own inner torment.
You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come
to resemble more closely the counter-reformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It’s
true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the
cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change
things in accordance with bizarre decisions; when it comes down to it, you can
decide to allow women and gays to be ministers if you want to…..
And machine code, which lies beneath both systems (or environments, if you
prefer)? Ah, that is to do with the Old Testament, and is talmudic and