Internet users back return of iPhone monument to Petersburg campus

The monument to Apple founder Steve Jobs at the St. Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics. Source: Igor Russak / RIA Novosti

The monument to Apple founder Steve Jobs at the St. Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics. Source: Igor Russak / RIA Novosti

A Russian social network, a local university administration and regular citizens have proposed to restore a large iPhone monument dedicated to Apple founder Steve Jobs. The memorial was removed from its site on the campus of an IT university in St. Petersburg on Nov. 3, the day after Apple CEO Tim Cook announced he was gay. RBTH investigates the reasons for the monument’s removal and finds out about the initiatives to restore it to its former location.

On Nov. 3, a metal and plastic monument in the form of a huge iPhone 4, dedicated to one of Apple's founders, former CEO Steve Jobs, was removed from the courtyard of the St. Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics (ITMO), where it had been installed in 2013.

The incident, which was widely reported in both Russian and Western media, caused widespread criticism following comments made by Maxim Dolgopolov, chairman of the board for the owner of the memorial, the West European Financial Union (WEFU), who indicated that the decision to take away the monument was linked to Apple CEO Tim Cook's announcement on Nov. 2 that he was gay.

Supporters rally around

WEFU originally announced its intention to destroy the monument, but then decided to allow internet users to vote on its fate. Currently, the majority of voters (54 percent) wants the 188-centimeter-high monument (6.2 feet, the same height as Steve Jobs) to be returned to its former location. 

Russia's largest social network, VKontakte, has offered to pay for the repair of the monument and transfer it to its office. ITMO's rector, Vladimir Vasilyev, has said that the university is also willing to finance its repair and return the monument to where it stood originally. Even internet users announced that they would chip in and buy the monument from WEFU.

However, the company has refused. "The sum offered by ITMO or VKontakte is irrelevant," said a spokesperson for WEFU. "Our position is not up for negotiation."

A false legend

Although numerous media sources reported at the time of the incident that the removal of the iPhone had taken place in accordance with the controversial ban on the promotion of homosexuality that is currently in force in Russia, RBTH has discovered that the action has nothing to do with the law and was carried out on the personal initiative of the owners.

Explaining why the monument had been removed, Dolgopolov told RBTH that the giant iPhone is "an object that spreads a false American legend, a legend and ideology that are contagious and harmful, even hostile."

"First we bought into the beautiful myth of Steve Jobs, the brilliant programmer [a mistake, in fact Jobs never worked as a programmer - RBTH]," Dolgopolov said. "Like most of our IT colleagues, we followed in the wake of the American model of information technologies and approaches that Apple advocates. So we decided to signify, with the installation of this monument, that St. Petersburg is ready for global cooperation in the information field."

WEFU's illusions were shattered by former CIA collaborator Edward Snowden's revelations, according to Dolgopolov.

"Apple's products are an instrument of manipulation and complete surveillance of users throughout the world by the American secret services," he said. "The cyberwar with them will be the first and most painful blow to Russian citizens."

The last straw for Dolgopolov was Tim Cook's declaration about his sexual orientation. "Sin should not be considered a norm in any circumstance, while tolerance is a poison that paralyzes society's immunity system,” he told RBTH.

WEFU's next step after destroying the monument will be the fight to reject the use of all Apple technology. Dolgopolov's company is now developing business systems that will launch "an avalanche of rejections of Apple technology." However, he declined to reveal the details of the scheme.

The legend of Jobs as a motivator

Yet the collaborators of the technopark in whose courtyard a fragment of the monument is now getting wet actively use Apple technology. President of the Student Council at ITMO Alexander Golovaty says that everyone at the university liked Jobs' monument.

"The story of such a leader in his field cannot but motivate the university's students and collaborators,” says  Golovaty. “Let's say you come to work or to study in the morning, everything is bad, your project is not bringing you any money… And then you see Steve Jobs' monument and you immediately feel that you must keep going, keeping striving."

At ITMO they emphasize that first and foremost the iPhone is a monument to a legendary personality, not an Apple product. Residents of the technopark say that the monument has helped them make international connections. "We always brought our foreign colleagues to the monument," says Alfred Khamzin, founder of Business Set Agency and a collaborator at the technopark's business incubator. "Hardly anyone would refuse to have their photo taken next to the giant iPhone."

The long-suffering iPhone

The sculpture, which was erected in St. Petersburg in 2013, was the first monument in Russia to be dedicated to Steve Jobs, and the third in the world, after similar dedications erected in Hungary and Ukraine. It cost the owners several million rubles (about $200,000), though they do not say exactly how much.

The front of the memorial has an interactive screen, which originally presented Steve Jobs' biography. By touching the screen you could obtain information in Russian, English, Spanish and Chinese. Music came from a small speaker. The rear panel, instead of the Apple logo, exhibited the QR code of a website dedicated to Steve Jobs.

The monument's creators deliberately kept its internal mechanism a secret. Since the monument was erected in the courtyard of the best IT University in Russia (the ITMO team has won five world championships in the field of computer programing), people feared that the computer inside the iPhone would be broken into.

However, instead it was St. Petersburg's rainy climate that penetrated the ‘iPhone’. In spring 2014 the memorial started malfunctioning and in the summer the interactive menu stopped working completely – for the last few months of its existence the monument had a merely decorative role.

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