The Week in Review (a.k.a. the feature formerly known as Picks of the Week)
Jobs. I’m somewhat ambivalent about the mass adulation directed at the late Apple co-founder this past few days. No doubt he and his company revolutionized the way we interface with technology, even if he didn’t come up with the component parts now often credited to him: the mouse and desktop interface; and no doubt that his autocratic and autonomous stance helped further a vision that might otherwise have crashed and burned like so many Windows operating systems.
But admirable as these characteristics are in a creative, individual businessman, and even perhaps in a small company, they take on an insidious edge when they become the governing principle of a large corporation. It amplifies human shortcomings in a way that leads to rotten ethics and ultimately limits the freedom of consumers.
Look, I dig my Macintosh computer, even if I don’t care much for the weak, impossible-to-change batteries that come with most Apple products. I haven’t once regretted switching away from the ongoing disaster that is Windows. (And Linux is just too damn bothersome). Oh, and Pixar’s pretty fantastic.
Trouble is we’re talking a corporation that behaves increasingly like Jobs reportedly did to the people around him: tyranically censorious and blind to the people around it. As if their disturbing record of outsourcing production overseas weren’t troublesome enough, their record of innovation — transformative as it has been — carries troubling perspectives.
Apple’s takeover of the music industry (couldn’t have happened to nicer people!) has proposed some interesting solutions for digital delivery, but is basically an overpriced quasi-monopoly concentrated on a crap format, the mp3. Other industries seem to have learned not to but all their eggs in the Apple basket, but it seems inevitable that the company, with their arbitrary censorship practices and Chinese box approach to user participation (as opposed to friendliness), is going to be at the center of digital delivery technology for the foreseeable future.
Apple’s achievement, however, goes beyond the transformation of user interfaces and content delivery. They’ve built a new type of brand. We’re not talking mere consumer loyalty, or even identification — people seem to regard their products as a kind of personal, even spiritual fulfillment, as if they were an extension of themselves. This is mass cybernetics, people. Psychological interface.
An amazing achievement, no doubt. And Jobs was at the center of it. He made consumerism a personal matter. Which I guess makes sense, now that corporations are defined as people. RIP.
My Jobs list: Mike Daisy: “Against Nostalgia”, James Surowiecki: “How Steve Jobs Changed”, Vaclav Simil: “Why Jobs Is No Edison”, Ryan Tate: “What Everyone Is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs”.