Let me say up front, I’m not an Apple person. I’ve used Apple products for work, but I don’t buy them, and I don’t currently own any, preferring to stay on the Samsung/HP/Android/Google/Windows axis. I take a very practical approach to electronics, preferring function over form, and I’m tech-savvy enough not to need to have my hand held.
While Apple products are very aesthetically pleasing and work well (with each other, that is), I always had the sense that buying into that world — which is overpriced for the functionality, in my opinion — meant buying into Apple founder Steve Jobs’ personal view of what’s good.
Minimal buttons = good. USB ports = bad.
I don’t mind extra buttons, and I really like USB ports, but that’s just me. Your results may vary.
Anyway, I just watched the new documentary “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” currently available in theaters (and at home off On Demand, where I got it). The history of personal computing is a longtime interest, and this isn’t the first doc I’ve watched on Jobs, Bill Gates, etc.
The fact that Jobs tried to deny his eldest child and was cruelly indifferent to her mother (despite having himself been conceived out of wedlock and then adopted); that he could be tyrannical, demanding and autocratic at work; that he was averse to sharing (credit, profits, etc.) and positively allergic to paying American taxes; or even that he used his wealth to put himself in a better position to get a liver transplant, came as no surprise.
But, the film is engrossing and bracingly honest — and filmmaker Alex Gibney is a Apple user — both about Jobs’ and Apple’s successes and numerous black eyes. It also goes into Jobs’ fascination with Asian culture and Zen Buddhism, which is ironic, considering that Chinese workers have suffered much to produce his products. It’s not unusual for people to admire a culture without actually admiring the humans that live in it, or merely cherrypicking the bits of it they like best.
To dig deeper into the history of computing, I’d recommend Tracy Kidder’s book “The Soul of a New Machine,” about the development of a seminal Data General minicomputer; the 1999 TV movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley”; and journalist (and early Apple employee) Bob Cringely’s outstanding PBS miniseries “Triumph of the Nerds.”
(You can also read my recent two-part piece with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak — click here and here for that.)
All that being said, here are some thoughts from the Jobs documentary:
Daniel Kottke, Jobs’ friend and Apple colleague during the late ’70s and early ’80s, remarking on their search for enlightenment while on a four-month trek around India:
When you think about Hindu spirituality, you think of Mother Teresa, feeding the poor. That’s not really the path that Steve took. Those weren’t Steve’s values.
If Steve Jobs had not made wonderful machines that people loved, it seems unlikely that his prickly, difficult personality would have inspired widespread devotion on its own. This reminded me of a lesson (one of many; I could do a whole exegesis) I learned from watching the 1964 animated special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Ostracized by both Santa Claus and the inhabitants of Christmastown because of his red nose, Rudolph runs away but returns as an adult, to the same reception (except from his sweet but nameless mom, accepting girlfriend Clarice, and remorseful dad Donner). But, as soon as Santa figures out that Rudolph’s red nose can light his way through a terrible storm, all of a sudden the misfit is the hero of the day. Heh.
My takeaway is, “If you can’t be acceptable, be useful. That which is useful is always acceptable … at least to the extent of its utility.”
It’s cold logic, but it’s often true.
Adoption saga and Catholic connection:
Jobs is seen at a commencement ceremony talking about his adoption after being born in 1955 to unwed college students. His biological father came from a Muslim family and was raised in Syria; his Midwestern American mother was of German descent and raised Catholic. As the story goes, Jobs was conceived in Syria, but his paternal grandfather refused to allow the couple to wed at the time (they wed later and had a daughter). So, Jobs’ mother decided to give him up for adoption.
Because Jobs was a boy, the first set of adoptive parents (who reportedly were well-educated, wealthy and Catholic) rejected him. Then the agency turned to his eventual parents, who were on a waiting list. They got a call in the middle of the night and said yes. But Jobs’ biological mother objected after learning that Paul and Clara Jobs, who were of Christian Armenian descent, weren’t college graduates. She only relented when the adoptive parents promised that the child would go to college. Jobs later dropped out of college.
One wonders how the world might have been different if that first couple had said yes (or how many potential future Steve Jobs have been incinerated or flushed). But thank God the second couple did.
The Cult of Personality:
There’s a reason why the Church considers these so dangerous. We should use things, love people and worship only God. Anytime a cult — whether religious or secular — grows up around a fallible human being, it’s a bad idea.
Jobs’ death from cancer in 2011 at the age of 56 caused a worldwide convulsion of grief. But it wasn’t so much about Jobs the man as it was about the things he built, and how people are emotionally attached to them (and by extension, to the image of the man who created them). Someone recently commented to me that using Apple products is like Catholicism — if you do it Apple’s way, everything fits together and works beautifully. I responded that I already had a religion and didn’t need another.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a fondness for Apple products and preferring them over other products. But every now and then, Apple fans’ slavish devotion to their devices, and the lengths they’ll go to in order to obtain the latest iteration, can be disturbing. Before Catholics decide to camp out in the street for days to get the latest iPhone, they may wish to ask themselves if they’d do the same for Christ or their fellow man.
If the answer is yes, God bless you!
Jobs and Apple are no longer one and the same. Current Apple CEO Tim Cook is “proud to be gay” and a fervent supporter of same-sex unions, etc., and no fan of the Catholic view of religious liberty (as outlined here by traditional-marriage advocate Ryan T. Anderson). Like Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz — who recently advised a pro-traditional-marriage shareholder to “sell your shares” — Cook is one of a growing number of powerful corporate leaders who, either through personal conviction or as a marketing strategy, are using their influence and money to support an array of “progressive” causes.
While Catholics watch SCOTUS and Congress to see what happens with marriage, abortion, etc., they can’t afford to ignore the cultural and financial influence of companies that have planted themselves on the opposite side of these debates (and by the way, these companies are welcome to do so, and the market will decide). In the end, while one can use boycotts, etc., to protest this influence, the best way to counter it is to have business leaders of our own with the courage to come out for values Catholics can support — if such people are willing to run the risk.
In the end, the battles we’re in will be fought not only in the courts and legislatures, but in the media, the entertainment industry, business and in our own pockets. As American consumers, we’re either active or passive participants on all these fronts.
There’s no such thing as sitting on the sidelines anymore.
Here’s a look at the trailer:
Image: Courtesy CNN Films/Jigsaw Productions
For more entertainment and digital-media coverage, visit my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos.com, or like my Facebook page.