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The legacy of Steve Jobs

2011-10-07 09:56:33
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“Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius”—the most famous “Jobs-ism” of all time. The promise that being different was the only way to get ahead, Steve Jobs set out to change the world and he most certainly did. He has changed how people interact with technology and inspired a generation of radical thinkers. Reflecting on the passing of Jobs, Skid Row musician Sebastian Bach tweeted, “Thanks for allowing me to put my whole CD collection in my pocket. You have made air travel a lot more fun among other things.” While Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, thanked Jobs for “the tools, the inspiration, the possibilities.”

Jobs is said to have embodied the American Dream, making something out of nothing but ideas and hard work. Born in San Francisco and raised by adoptive parents, his biological heredity is Syrian.  He dropped out of College after one semester and spent time at a Hippie Commune in Oregon. He then went off in search of spiritual enlightenment to India.

On his return he began Apple with two others, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in 1976 and the rest is techno-history. After being relieved of his duties in May 1985 he went on to found NeXT and later acquired the company that would become Pixar. In late 1996 he returned to Apple and began the new wave of technological innovations that would impact a generation.

In addition to the contribution made by Jobs to technology he also influenced how people looked at innovation and life. At his many graduation speeches, product launches and other media platforms he expounded the virtues of passion and clear vision. In 2005 at Stanford he told students; “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” He informed people of the importance of not settling for second best in choosing their careers; “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.”

Jobs will also be remembered as a resilient survivor.  In mid-2004 he announced that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. However he continued at the helm of his company as CEO and introduced ground breaking products to the world. Despite the sadness of his passing Jobs won’t ever be forgotten, because his legacy is carried in the handbags, pockets, briefcases and backpacks of far too many.

However in appreciating all that he has done for our generation, we must also acknowledge that history and popular culture has an almost arbitrary way of elevating to the status of icon/ hero certain individuals and painting others as villains. In that sense history has proven to be almost incapable of objectivity. At this juncture it is apt (at the risk of being criticised by those ardent Jobs fans, carrying “R.I.P Steve Jobs” on their status updates) to consider whether, the “Mac-verse” that Jobs created was all that great. 

Objectively looking at the passing of Steve Jobs one needs to understand that yes he did change our relationship with technology, yet at the same time he created an elitist enclave of exclusive products that few of us in Sri Lanka and other underprivileged parts of the world, could afford. The principle retailer for Apple in Sri Lanka, quoting prices over the phone; an iPod Shuffle selling for Rs.7,800 and an iMac for Rs.167, 500—the salesperson wasn’t very pleased that she might potentially have a price motivated customer on the line. The pricier items such as the iPad and iPhone were not even available, for obvious reasons. With prices like these it is clear that Apple might attempt to be user friendly but it makes no claims of being wallet friendly. So what exactly is Steve Job’s legacy to the world; user friendly technology for those that are privileged enough to afford it? The only thing he served was his own selfish capitalist greed; all he wanted to do was make money and redeem his failing company, this “great service” of changing our relationship to technology was just a convenient byproduct that could be used for marketing purposes later on.

Jobs also propelled the world into blind consumerism, by creating a lifestyle through heavy branding of products, no one  thought they would need, until they saw them in sleek coloured plastic packages and touch operating systems. Jobs found a way to further monopolise the market, he created out of thin air, by introducing iTunes. Let’s not forget that he had a vindictive streak as well, in 2005 he banned all books published by John Wiley & Sons from Apple Stores—just to get back at them for publishing an unauthorized biography, iCon: Steve Jobs. Not the most forgiving or tolerant move by a man that attempts to propound a free spirited Buddhist lifestyle. Again, contravening his very Zen lifestyle is Apple’s blatant disregard for environmental issues, where they don’t have a comprehensive programme for e-waste recycling.

Jobs didn’t seem to care very much for the underprivileged, he was involved in no philanthropic work, and neither did he allow for the support of any causes by the Apple Coperation. In 2007 the Stanford Social Innovation Review called Apple one of "America's Least Philanthropic Companies." He halted all of Apple's long-standing corporate philanthropy programmes, after a few weeks of returning to Apple in 1997, claiming it was a necessary move to restore profitability to the company, yet the programmes are yet to be resumed. In 1987 he made a face value attempt to be generous through establishing the Steven P. Jobs Foundation, but the foundations most notable action was hiring an expensive graphic designer to create a logo, according to CNN Money in 2008.   Although his management style is also criticised as being aggressive and egomaniacal, that disparagement is far too subjective to be held against him. 

At the same time even for those that vehemently oppose the capitalist profit making exploitation that Apple and its founder stand for, none can deny its embedded impact on our generation. The New York Times reports on how one Wall Street trader, witnessing the Occupy Wall Street protest (which is seemingly opposing cooperate exploitation) commented, “look at these kids, sitting here with their Apple computers. Apple, one of the biggest monopolies in the world. It trades at US$400 a share. Do they even know that?” 

Therefore whether you venerate the Apple and think that it has profoundly changed your life or are against the selfish motivations of its turtleneck wearing founder one thing is certain, his impact on technology will be felt for generations to come and future innovators are sure to quote “Jobs-isms” in support of their radical ideas. (DS)


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