Andy Crouch, A World Without Jobs:
As remarkable as Steve Jobs is in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (ruthless and demanding) leader—his most singular quality has been his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple’s early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and made it a sign of promise and progress.
A thought provoking piece on Steve Jobs and finding hope in a secular world.
January 18, 2011 at 5:25 pm
Please tell me that is satire.
January 18, 2011 at 7:46 pm
I think it’s overwrought (the last few paragraphs are horrifying) but it’s clearly not satire.
January 18, 2011 at 8:29 pm
I like Apple’s UI and industrial design and greatly appreciate their obsessive focus on excellence. They’ve done a lot to advance the state of the art.
The reason why people are weirded out by the Cult of the Mac – and I am one of those weirded out, a bit – is that the idea that you can have a deep and satisfying emotional relationship with an inanimate (not to mention ephemeral) piece of technology is rather odd. It’s a tool. Humans like tools, but we don’t fall in love with them. Well, creepy, weird, cold-hearted Nazis fall in love with machines, but that’s sort of the point. The marketing for all glossy high-tech gear aims to tell you that you can be emotionally satisfied by things; that for Apple and BMW and other technical leaders just does it more effectively. But if you actually are emotionally satisfied by things, you’re a weird sort of person indeed.
I don’t know quite where I’m going with this. But industrial design is not going to save the world.
January 18, 2011 at 8:36 pm
Or, well, let me put it another way: the hope that Steve Jobs can bring is only hope that machines can be perfected. But we know that machines can be perfected. That’s a fairly easy task. What is hard is to perfect human happiness, or even to improve it by tiny amounts. Technology has done things to reduce suffering, but that is not the same as increasing happiness.
To fetishize the perfection of machines as a substitute is very strange. When I mentioned Nazis, it was because I think that was a culture where the perfection of machinery became a substitute for happiness. The MG42 and the Panther tank and the 88mm AA gun and the V2 rocket were great feats of technical excellence in a culture of emotional hollowness and corruption. So when someone thinks that technical advancement reigns supreme the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
January 19, 2011 at 10:04 am
“if you actually are emotionally satisfied by things, you’re a weird sort of person indeed.”
You’re fighting with some strawmen, here (who exactly is trying to substitute machine perfection for human happiness?), but…
On the issue of emotional satisfaction with things, tell that to antique car enthusiasts, Hummel figurine collectors, and, well, the vast majority of consumers in this country who are compulsively addicted to purchasing ever more stuff-inaminate things-to fill their McMansions (and their trailers) with. Tell it to any child who has a favorite stuffed toy. Tell it to anyone who collects anything for that matter.
More seriously, serious practitioners of almost any craft do have emotional connections to their tools – carpenters, machinists, artists, and hairdressers all typically end up with a carefully-chosen set of tools (that they don’t share) in order to practice their craft.
The beauty of what Apple has done is to refine the general-purpose computer so that it can be an excellent tool for a wide swath of creative endeavors – from software development to photography to writing to musicmaking (and more)–all creative human endeavors.
Elegance in both form and function is compelling and there’s nothing genocidal about enthusiasm about finding and using truly excellent tools to further one’s own creative and professional endeavors.
It’s absurd to suggest my hairdresser is a Nazi because she’s found a well-balanced, finely-crafted set of shears to trim her clients hair with. Nor do I think she’s at all out of line for caring a great deal about the tools she does her work with.
I also quibble with the notion that it’s “fairly easy” to perfect machines. In fact, it’s extraordinarily difficult for even the experts to do so.
I don’t actually know what “happiness” is – but reducing suffering seems a laudable goal indeed, surely related to happiness.
January 19, 2011 at 10:45 am
I’d agree that technical advancement reigning supreme is not a comforting vision. In that sense, it reminds me of transhumanism, a sort of faith that deeply creeps me out.
January 19, 2011 at 2:43 pm
Medley, of course I don’t entirely disagree with you. I indulged in a little hyperbole in response to the hyperbolic tone of the original article.
I am a technophile with an iPad in my bag that I rather-too-often take to bed. (My wife takes hers too. No comment.) So I can’t take it too far. But in terms of Steve Jobs being the great hope of all mankind… no. That is not to detract from his accomplishments. He’s up there with Brunel or Edison in my own technological pantheon.
Apple makes nice tools, for sure. I keep Apple devices after they are obsolete because they have such a striking physical form. Hell, we keep the boxes they came in. But better technology has not uniformly led to more happiness, and I think we should keep that in mind.
And I disagree on the relative ease of perfecting machines. We have ultra-reliable cars and computers and jet aircraft and high-speed trains and cellphones and cameras and endless other technological marvels. We also still have illiteracy and extreme privation – not just relative poverty, but real, miserable, grinding suffering and want – right here in the richest country on Earth. It’s hard to make a technological innovation. It’s been damn near impossible to make a dent in the worst suffering here. I’m not going to rejoice too much in the former while the latter stares me in the face every day.
January 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm
I don’t think the author was saying that Steve Jobs is the savior of mankind, but rather is perhaps the best modern embodiment of a certain set of hopes and aspirations. So he is significant for what he represents rather than who he is, at least in this regard. He is also important due to his real accomplishments as well, but those aren’t what the writer is talking about in this case, I don’t think.
January 19, 2011 at 5:08 pm
Just noticed that Andrew Sullivan picked this one up as well: