Steve Jobs’ resignation from Apple has caused the Internet’s collective head to explode into several trillion pieces. The resulting gory splatter is a treasure trove of tributes and travesties, incessant babbling about the legacy — good or bad — of the man in the black turtleneck. This endless jabber about Steve Jobs is misguided, absurd, and frankly, infuriating, which is why I’m going to make it worse by endlessly jabbering about the aforementioned endless jabber.
I, like every single freaking person on the planet, have an opinion about Steve Jobs, and the things he has done in his life. I’m not going to share it with you right now, because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all.
When most people blabber about Steve Jobs, they’re rarely flapping their lips about him, personally. After all, most people in the world don’t actually know Steve Jobs, nor have they ever even met him in passing. The things about which most people yammer are the effects and consequences of Apple, Inc.’s product releases and business practices. These things matter.
The influence of Apple products on the consumer electronics industry — not to mention computing as a whole — is palpable, prominent, and profound. Simple, intuitive machines, modal in nature, driven by finger input on a touchscreen, with system resource management relegated to the background — this design philosophy has been or is being adopted by most of Apple’s competitors, and is a strong signal of where computer technology is headed. At the same time, the notion of electronics being “magical”, their inner workings not to be considered by the user; the unchecked advance of DRM into every nook and cranny; the ignorance or acceptance of needless monitoring and tracking — the success of Apple products have also affirmed and exacerbated these problems.
It’s those trends and issues that matter. But the fact that Apple, specifically, was the company to catalyze all of them doesn’t. And it especially doesn’t matter that His Holiness Dalai Lama Steve Motherfucking Jobs happened to be the CEO and founder of the company that did all of these things.
Steve Jobs is a very smart man with impeccable attention-to-detail, marred by some control issues. This does not make him a special little snowflake that must be cherished for all of its beauty and uniqueness. Millions of people are just like him, probably came up with the same ideas that he did at or around the same time, and could have had the same effects on the world. Now that he’s “gone”, there will certainly be many more like him in the future. The only thing unique about Steve Jobs is that he was in the right place at the right time.
Because he was in the right place at the right time, many people take their feelings about the direction of computing and technology, and direct them at Steve Jobs.
This is not innocuous. This tendency to equate ideas with their executors leads to equally absurd lines of thinking: patents, copyright, and “ownership” of a component of human development. In obsessing over the individuals who win the race to set a particular change in motion, we create a culture that values not progress, but personality. When we worship, for example, Steve Jobs, it becomes easy to make the ad hominem argument that the ideas he promoted are his, no one else’s, and other such drivel.
I’m not saying we should completely ignore the individuals who change our world — everyone likes recognition for their achievements — but must we put them on a pedestal? Steve Jobs, and people like him, are to be learned from and studied, inspired by or rebelled against. Not to be revered like some kind of larger-than-life deity with herculeanly monotonous fashion sense.