Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Steve Jobs Was One of Us

So, it's time for some more on Steve Jobs (see my previous post, Jobs, Disney, and the Future of Apple), this time coming from the Business section of The Washington Post website, and an article entitled Why does Steve Jobs inspire this kind of reaction? If you click on the link and go over to the website, you can take a look at the cool photo galleries they included with the article, but otherwise, stick around and you can read the piece, written by Hayley Tsukayama, right here.

And in case you're wondering who Hayley Tsukayama is, she

writes for The Washington Post’s “Faster Forward” and “Post Tech” blogs, covering consumer technology and technology policy. A Minnesota native, she joined the Post in 2010 after completing her master’s degree in journalism. She lives in Washington D.C. where she sings alto with a local choir and plays video games in her copious free time.
                                                               And here she is:  

But let's not make the reporter part of the story, shall we, except to note that she probably wouldn't be doing what she's doing if not for Steve Jobs.  Well, maybe she would anyway. But maybe not.

So let's get started, shall we?

Candlelight vigils. Sympathy cards left at Apple stores. Prayers and flowers. As flags flew at half-mast at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., Steve Jobs’s death inspired the kind of reaction across the country that’s normally reserved for the world’s most famous pop stars and celebrities.

An excellent point.  Jobs was a celebrity.  It's true, he kept his private life pretty private, which was not typical for a celebrity, but it also was due to the fact that he never got involved in a sex scandal, or drug or alcohol related incident, or political of financial controversy, or legal trouble.  He just worked hard, and kept his life relatively clean.  

Sure, he was wealthy enough in the last decade or so to keep his life and health relatively closed to the public, and it is also true that if you're having health problems, you have less of a chance to get into trouble in other parts of your life.  But the main point I'd make is that he was Apple and Apple was him, a degree of personal identification rarely see in the business world, Walt Disney being one exception (again, see Jobs, Disney, and the Future of Apple).

Okay, back to Hayley:

“It’s so sad,” Manish Ramji, a customer visiting from London, told The Washington Post’s Michael Rosenwald. “He understood people, and he wasn’t like one of these other CEOs who you never see. He was always out there.”

Some might say he was way out there, but you might be saying, c'mon already, get to the good stuff.  And your wish is my command:

According to Lance Strate, a professor at Fordham University’s Communciations and Media Studies department, that sentiment is exactly why Apple fans are reacting to this death in this way. Jobs inspires this kind of reaction, Strate said, because his approach to technology spoke to a generation that initially saw computers as the domain of unapproachable IT experts. Jobs was able to quickly establish himself as someone different, someone on whom the average user could project their attitudes about computing.

“He understood that the computer is not simply a tool or an appliance,” Strate said. “He understood that it’s not just a thing, it’s an experience. And that was the genius behind him.”
You see, my point is that he was one of us, someone we could relate to and project ourselves on to, someone to identify with, getting excited by our gadgets, and still wanting to be cool about it all.  And he understood that the computer is a medium of communication when most were talking about using personal computers to balance checkbooks and file recipes.  He understood that, as media, computers are environments that we immerse ourselves in, environments that we experience, and Jobs understood that the interface is the key to giving users a compelling experience.

But back to the point that he was one of us, what we used to call "the common man" (McLuhan once said that charisma is looking like everyone else), but the one among us who made good, and thereby proved that success is possible for any and all of us, if we have the right combination of pluck and luck. That's the myth of the American dream, the Horatio Alger myth, or the Cinderella story, rags to riches:

Jobs’s own personal story may also have something to do with the devotion he’s inspired, Strate said, noting that the often-repeated narrative of how he was forced out of Apple only to return as its savior has echoes of the classic American dream.

“That anyone of no particular means can, through hard work and talent, reach great success...that’s what we really want to believe,” he said. The belief in this narrative, Strate said, could also explain why people are willing to gloss over the executive’s well-documented personality faults — excusing his volatility because they admired his perseverance.

In this sense, is he any different from anyone else who made it big?  Does anyone get to the top of the game by being nice?  Ambition goes hand in hand with aggression, after all.  But in American culture, we admire those traits, to a point.  We like winners, but we don't like cheaters.  Jobs seemed to get there fair and square, and to keep at it despite setbacks, and through adversity get to the stars, so to speak.

Hayley ends the piece by noting the global reach of the reaction to the news of his passing:

Reaction has been similar around the world. Apple users have said repeatedly that Jobs has both improved their lives and stood as a role model. In Syria, where Jobs’s biological father was born, a 22-year-old student named Sara told the Associated Press that, “This shows that this country can produce geniuses, if only we had freedoms instead of a suffocating dictatorship.”

Impromptu tributes also popped up at stores in Tokyo, Moscow, Hong Kong, London and others around the world. Perhaps most fitting, the bulk of remembrances appeared online through social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, where thousands commemorated Jobs’s life by using the devices he invented.

Fitting indeed.  The social networks are the media where there is no distinction between producers and consumers, performers and audience, writers and readers, where we are all together as one group, and where we all can mark the passing of one of us, Steve Jobs.

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