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The Big Difference Between Technology And Religion

Last year while watching “The Social Network”, I couldn’t help but think that the world at large just doesn’t get what makes geeks and geek-trepreneurs tick. Aaron Sorkin wrote a great screenplay, but he had to invent both a non-existant love story and an unconfirmed desire to make it in the prestigious Harvard clubs to account for Zuckenberg’s willingness to spend nights and days hacking on Facebook.

Of course it’s been pointed out many times that there needs to be nothing more motivating for a geek than a chance to create something, earn the respect of his peers and the sheer ecstasy of delivering the first version to the world and seeing it being used, valued and eventually bought.

Something else just hit me last month. As I was putting together a job ad for a Technology Evangelist position, I had to figure out what to put there. And then I started thinking about the meaning of “Evangelist”. I’m from a generation and a country where I learned the meaning of the word in a technological context rather than a religion one. And then I couldn’t stop myself from finding more examples of borrowed religious terms for the startup/technology world, like visionary, cult following, spread the word and so on.

My feeling is that, for many, technology has replaced or supplemented the behavior and psychology usually associated with religion. The well-known drive to work 14 hours a day, sometimes unpaid, can be compared to the belief and piousness expressed by dedicated monks or nuns (with a very similar lack of social life).

The cult-like following that some tech leaders enjoy can be compared, well, with something like a group of  followers in a cult. I could go on, but the most interesting things about analogies are always the differences and the unexpected similarities.

I guess the biggest difference is that technology, unlike religion, is based on solid facts and science. Except not really :)

Nobody really knows why Facebook succeeded so much, where so many others have failed. Nobody has reproduced the magic of Apple products. Creating new companies, products and technologies is still largely an artform, with little in the way of solid guidance. And largely it’s the art of getting co-founders, investors and user to believe passionately in the product or technology you are building, which takes us back to religion again.

Another difference is that unlike religion, the technology world is not organized. While the Catholic Church still shepherds over a billion people, the startup world remains blissfully an independent smattering of random people, organizations and communities in different countries.

Another interesting question is: Will it stay this way forever?

In the last 10 years, a great number of networking organizations sprang to life right before my eyes. It is not unthinkable that as time goes by, they’ll become more and more organized, until like the Church they will shepherd without governing. Just an idea.

So what’s the last thing I want to leave you with? In any religion there are always people who are so pious and so full of vision, that they turn the world around. They call them prophets, in the startup world their role is filled by entrepreneurs.

I’m still looking for that Big Difference. What do you think it is?