Monday, October 10, 2011

Take This Jobs And Love Him

Politicians throughout the land, indeed, around the globe, must be shaking their heads over the collective adulation for Steve Jobs. I imagine them wondering how they could possibly manage to receive a small fraction of this outpouring of praise. And, we can imagine as well other CEO’s scratching their heads in wonder over a guy, who by all reports was every bit as tyrannical as the toughest of them, while being forgiven because he had a genius about him and his creations, which made him unique in our culture.

What is even more startling is that ours is a culture, which basically abhors business. We begin educating young people about the horrors of business in elementary school through the searing eyes of Ida Tarbell, Teddy Roosevelt, and others. One supposes, after 2008, that state-educators can finally dispense with the “muckrakers" and simply point out the stupidity, corruption and greed among the political and financial titans, who have brought us to our knees. They will probably treat Jobs as an interesting anomaly, and camouflage the fact that he had some J.D. Rockefeller in him in addition to the Edison.

And, by the way he had $8 Billion, but that’s okay; he’s Our Jobs.

Even the Times loved Steve Jobs, and the Times loathes anything to do with success in business, except, of course, its own. What other figure, in our time or any time, has caused the Times and the Journal to agree? That fact in itself might be more amazing in our talk-a-thon century than the iphone and ipad put together.

I think of Jobs, in certain respects, as having been the real Fifth Beatle. His approach to business and design combined Paul’s melodies and John’s angst. Like them, he was both driven to trust his inner voice, his song, if you will, but, at the same time, drove and became a part of something a whole lot bigger than themselves. And there was the name itself, Apple, over which he fought the Beatles for many years with the fierceness of an estranged brother.

Andy Couch in his WSJ Review essay* on Jobs’s passing says he was able to “…articulate a perfectly secular form of hope…” 

Couch adds, “…it is a religion of hope in a hopeless world, hope that your ordinary and mortal life can be elegant and meaningful…” (italics mine).

This is true. I have often been struck by the undeniable chapel-like feeling of the demonstration areas in Apple Stores (Soho especially), with their pews, lecterns/pulpits, and a downright sacramental feel as you watch the attentive, worshipful brethren at each tutorial.

Editors and producers these days go to great lengths to explain the big difference between what some call “god,” or “spiritual,” or “sacred,” and secular events and heroes. Strange, but they seem to imply that the secular inhabits some higher moral ground, as if what it represents is, in fact, the creation of something far higher. Secular is their religion and Jobs was their high priest. Gosh, they might even have to believe in some secular afterlife now that he is gone.

The Times obit mentioned The Whole Earth Catalogue twice. This is entirely correct. As I write this on a MacBook, with my iphone ready in my shirt pocket, two old copies of that back to earth, DIY bible sit nearby. Jobs combined the best of hippie-dom with the emerging new technologies and a keen personal sense of design. Few remember that Stewart Brand’s W.E.C. came at around the same time the Department of Defense lent the early internet system to universities. The marriage of the two created The Well ( ), the first social network. Jobs knew all about that progression; he fused it all together in tasteful packages, which made us all want a piece.

In the early days of Apple, Jobs rented a theatre so that all of his employees could see the first Star Wars movie. He was himself a unique combination of both Darth and Yoda, with the fierce focus and combativeness of the one and the lyricism and universal trust of the other.

We are not going to get one like this again in our lifetimes. If he had a message, it was that we are going to have to become that one in  billions of small ways.

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