In the early days, Steve Jobs came to a company Halloween party dressed as Jesus (NYT, link below). Now, after his death, the media and fans are treating him like a dead messiah.
It is surely tragic when an extraordinarily talented man dies so young. And all Steve Jobs’ accomplishments should be justly celebrated. He almost single-handedly changed computing and brought it to the masses. I owned a 1984 Mac and personally felt the power of what it meant. He revolutionized music with the iPod and mobile phones with the iPhone. Finally, he launched tablet computing in the first real and meaningful way. The man was a true visionary with, perhaps, unique intuition regarding what consumers both needed and wanted.
It must be noted, though, that Steve Jobs, like many innovators, stood on the shoulders of others. One could look at each of the “inventions” noted above and see a long history of attempts by others. For example, Jobs did not personally invent the original mouse. He saw Douglas Engelbart’s innovation and took it to the masses. Visionary, yes. Thomas Edison (a comparison with whom has been bandied about a lot in the last few days), probably not.
But, more importantly, I believe some moderation is needed in all the posthumous adulation. Steve Jobs invented and sold consumer products. Gadgets, gadgets and more sexy gadgets. They are beautiful, innovative and transform information delivery and connectivity. However, he did not cure cancer, feed starving children, or stand in front of an oncoming tank. It troubles me that, for the most part, people who do that kind of thing have no mounds of flowers outside their homes, no iPad candles burning in their honor. What does that say about us, our heroes and our values?
Our culture and media latch on to glossy-surfaced things. We beatify those with charisma (Barack Obama, Princess Diana) and largely ignore others whose achievements may be far more important to humanity itself. Yet I see the sincerity on the tear-filled faces of Jobs’ admirers. Are we simply a people who has lost the understanding of what a true hero is? Has the media influenced and manipulated our emotions to that extent?
For a very long time the mainstream media, which covers technology a naïve and puerile way, (seemingly by people who can barely operate a computer) has given Apple a free pass. I’m all for credit where credit is due. But other companies with similar claims to transformative influence on our culture (Amazon, Google, Facebook) do not inspire the kind of fawning media coverage that turns every Apple product into a story worthy of leading the nightly news and transforms its fallen founder into a saint.