1. “Bottom Feeding”
Many of my colleagues in the Mac/iPhone/iPad developer community had a deep, personal connection to Steve Jobs, which they expressed on Twitter and in blogs immediately after his death. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’m grateful for it.
Personally? The unwavering praise combined with a circling of the wagons made me uncomfortable, and awoke my contrarian nature.
Do you think the man who started phone calls with strangers by swearing at them would begrudge a realistic portrayal of himself after death? Articles on public figures, including obituaries, don’t omit flaws and failures. The page-long article from the October 8th issue of The Economist called “The Magician”, for example, has, amid the tribute, a single-sentence caveat in it.
We haven’t had our caveat yet.
2. “Mourning a Billionaire”
Here’s a tweet from Jana Olsen on October 6th: “Kind of weird how we all went from talking about a huge protest against big business to mourning a billionaire.”
The Occupy Wall Street movement started its encampment in New York City on September 17, over two weeks before Steve Jobs died. His death prompted criticism of the group from both the right and the left. The right made fun of the protesters for the contradiction of protesting the actions of the richest 1% while grieving the death of a very rich one. The left hectored the protestors for feeling any sympathy for Jobs at all.
I’m a lifelong Mac developer. I’m also as liberal as they come, and it’s becoming harder and harder to reconcile the two. On the one hand: the Apple vision of ever-sleeker, ever more useful devices connected to a burgeoning global network of information. On the other: the end of the Western way of life when the oil dries up with no realistic substitute. On the one hand: a thriving consumer market and developer ecosystem providing a good standard of living for many of my colleagues and friends. On the other: deepening unemployment and inequality, fostered by a corrupt media and political class.
3. “Steve Jobs Didn’t”
The always insightful Horace Dediu wrote a clever article using the deflation of some of the myths attributed to Steve Jobs to point out his true accomplishments.
I’m going to be less original, and point out the things that he really didn’t do:
1. He didn’t challenge the entrenched, monopolistic power of most of the industries Apple got involved with. While the big music labels are dying, that’s not Apple’s doing, and in some ways Apple helped prop them up temporarily by dragging them into the digital age. Apple has done nothing to disrupt the movie/television/cable industry that’s in the process of killing TiVo and Netflix. And the telephone carriers, while they can’t dictate phone models like they used to, still follow anti-consumer practices with impunity.
2. He didn’t break the glass ceiling or the tech industry boy’s club. The current Apple executive bios page contains no women. The parts of Apple that I saw had the same lopsided ratios of men to women in their engineering sections as the rest of the industry. I’m not without blame: when I was a hiring manager at Apple, I didn’t try hard enough to find qualified women candidates, and I’m sorry for that.
3. He didn’t help prepare the industry for the post-peak oil era. Bit more of a futuristic point than the others, and even more crazy-hard, but still true.
4. Perhaps most importantly in the near term, he didn’t challenge two great harmful industrial trends, the outsourcing that has all but destroyed America’s manufacturing base and jobs, and the employment of foreign companies that cut corners and endanger workers in order to keep prices low.
You can argue that none of these things were his responsibility, that he had his own company to run and his own vision to follow (which he did extremely well). You can argue that these problems are simply insurmountable or just the Way Things Are—many do.
The reason I think it’s worthwhile to bring these things up in the context of Steve Jobs, in the context of our Mac community, at this very moment, is that our praise of Steve Jobs brings it all to a head: if he was so innovative and unorthodox and uncompromising, if he could achieve the impossible (if he was, as the Onion snarked, the “last American who knew the fuck what he was doing“), what does that say about how we view these problems when we give him a pass on them? They’re worse than impossible? They’re not anyone’s responsibility?
Or as a beginning, maybe this, trite as it is: there’s a lot of bad shit coming down the pike, and we can’t rely on our heroes to save us from it.