Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Ram's-Eye View on Steve Jobs

So, as you may know, the mascot of Fordham University is the ram, which makes sense, when you think about it, Fordham being linked to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, and the ram being a biblical beast (e.g., Abraham sacrifices a ram in place of Isaac in Genesis).  

Our sports teams are the Fordham Rams, except for the women's teams which are called the Lady Rams (it wouldn't sound so great to call them the Ewes, or the Sheep).  We have a van service that shuttles back and forth between our Bronx, Manhattan, and Westchester locations that we call the Ram Van.  And the student newspaper at our Rose Hill campus (it wouldn't sound so great to call it the Bronx campus) is also called, The Ram.

I bring all this up because I wanted to add one more entry to my previous posts, Steve Jobs, Media Ecologist, and Jobs, Disney, and the Future of Apple, as last week I was interviewed by one of our many bright and talented student reporters, Karen Hill, for an article about Steve Jobs that appeared online on The Ram's website:  Fordham Community Reacts to the Loss of Steve Jobs.

The piece begins by placing the news of the death of Steve Jobs in the context of our school:

The big question on campus has been "Did you hear about Steve Jobs?" On Oct. 5, 2011 Steve Jobs, the revolutionary co-founder of Apple, passed away from complications of pancreatic cancer.

His loss has hit the world of technology, and Apple consumers, hard. Many are left wondering how the company will continue to thrive with the loss of such a unique figurehead as Jobs.

For years, Fordham University classrooms have been lit by the glowing apples on MacBooks. With the prevalence of Apple's technology on campus, Jobs has had an inevitable impact on the students and professors alike.

"My MacBook is my life," Noelle Bohlen, FCRH '12, said. "I work on it, which brings me income. I write computer programs on it for school and design posters or build Web sites."

And here's where I come in.  Please note that I am erroneously identified as an associate professor--I have not been demoted, I'm still a full professor, or full of something, anyway...  [Actually, they have since corrected that error, and also the name of the department, which is Communication singular, not the plural Communications.]
Apple products have proven to be more than just a fad used for solely entertainment purposes. They are serious machines built for serious workers. According to Dr. Lance Strate, an associate professor in the communications and media studies department, Mac computers have been used on Fordham's campus throughout his two decades as a professor here at Fordham.

Now, the point was that our Edward A. Walsh Media Lab (which was set-up by my colleague, friend, and fellow media ecologist Edward A. Wachtel, in the mid 90s, and funded by Rose Hill alumni who remember their old professor from our department from back in the 50s and 60s, Ed Walsh, with enormous fondness) was set up as a Macintosh lab, the only computer lab at Fordham that used Macs rather than PCs.  If you want to do video, audio, graphics, multimedia, art, creative work or media work, Macs are the way to go.  

Me personally, I've had a Mac since 1991, when the printer for my old old Atari 800, on which I wrote my dissertation, broke down in the middle of printing out the final version, and I couldn't get it repaired or replaced, a crisis resolved by retyping the whole damn thing!  So, it's been Macs ever for me ever since.

But I digress...

"Mac users are known for their loyalty despite all the trouble that went along for the first 10 years or so of the product [Mac computers]," Strate said.

This period of "trouble" was due to Job's resignation as CEO of Apple in 1985, when he left to work for a hardware and software company, NeXt. In 1997, Apple bought NeXt and Steve Jobs returned to his position as CEO; thus, the revival of Apple began.
Some may have forgotten this, or might be too young to know, but Apple almost went under at one point.  In fact, Bill Gates even helped out right around the time that Jobs returned to Apple.  It was only the loyalty of Mac users that kept it going during those dark years.  If Jobs had not come back to Apple, I think the Macintosh would have gone the way of the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST, both of which used graphical user interfaces (GUIs) similar to the Mac.

I think the loyal Mac users deserve some credit here, don't you?  But of course, so does Jobs himself.

For Apple customers, Jobs' products are popular because of their advanced and innovative technology, which maintains usability.      

"He understood early on that computers are not merely tools or appliances but tools for communication that culminate into a compelling experience with pleasurable aesthetic," Strate said. "Steve Jobs was one of us – super representative. Being a leader isn't be[ing] separated from everyone else, but being a part of everyone else."

This is a point I made in some of the previous posts.  So now, let's hear from someone else, say, my colleague, friend, and fellow media ecologist, Paul Levinson:

Jobs' determination was a large portion of what made him a success and inspiration to budding entrepreneurs, inventors and even the average Joe.

"It is one thing to have a dream, and another to make it happen," Dr. Paul Levinson, an associate professor of communications and media studies, said.

Here too, Paul is also mistakenly identified as an associate professor [this too has been corrected].  Oh well, at least they're being consistent!  Anyway, back to the article:

Jobs clearly made his dreams happen. He moved from building computers in his garage to becoming CEO of the world's second richest company.

While Jobs was a college dropout, he still serves as inspiration to college students.
This is something that, amazingly, comes up in McLuhan's work, notably his 1972 book, Take Today: The Executive as Drop-Out, co-authored by Barrington Nevitt (and note that they also collaborate on one of the chapters in Media and Formal Cause, which, as I've mentioned before, can be ordered just to the right of this post).  Dropping out is a common characteristic of many of the executives of the new media age, Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, etc.

But kids, if you're reading this, don't be a fool, stay in school:

"As students at Fordham University, it is understood that college betters the students," Levinson said. "However, even without a degree, Jobs has provided a lesson that everyone, including students, must follow their inner most powerful dreams [...] But every student must evaluate what they really want [...] and if they have a real dream to peruse then they do what they must."

"If I had never dropped in on that single calligraphy course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts," Jobs once said.

It seems as though Jobs and Apple are so iconic that everyone looks up to him, and that the only people without Apple products are Bill Gates and his family.
Now, I would bet good money that Gates has a Mac, probably quite a few.  But that's besides the point.  And now, Karen being a good journalist, looks to other points of view on the passing of Jobs:

When MacBook Pro owner, Amy Gembara, FCRH '14, was asked how she felt about the loss of Jobs, however, her innocent response was "Who's that?"

Besides those who simply are not aware of Jobs, anti-Apple students exist.

"[Jobs] was incredibly rude and insensitive in business relationships. I own no Apple products. Their history with DRM, closed source and standards non-compliance leave me ideologically opposed to the company," Jeff Lockhart, FCRH '13, said.

Regardless of one's personal opinions, Apple and their products will never be quite the same.
"Jobs was unique and quite possibly irreplaceable," Levinson said.

While some fear that Apple will face a downfall, loyal customers have faith in the legacy Jobs built. Others doubt the quality of products to come.

And that is the six billion dollar question, isn't it?  And only time will tell, after all.  I do like the fact that Karen brings the article to a nice closing at the end, and back to the local angle:

Jobs was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, and planned his business in direct response to that diagnosis. The Apple University was formed in 2009 to train future employees. In addition, Jobs resigned from Apple in Aug. 2011, due to the progression of his illness. While Apple will not be the same, it will be well equipped with Tim Cook as the new CEO.

Ultimately, Jobs' death came as shock, especially since the iPhone 4s was released one day before his death. The Upper West Side Apple store, a few blocks from the Lincoln Center campus, was decorated with flowers, sticky notes and real apples with a single bite taken out of them. Jobs may be gone, but he still lives in the legacy of Apple and hearts of consumers, including students and professors of the Fordham community.

And through this small, close-up view of the impact of Steve Jobs on our community, we gain an intimate view on what his passing means (or doesn't mean) to the similar communities throughout the nation, and the world.

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