I am of two minds when it comes to all the attention surrounding the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. I should say up front, by way of full disclosure, that I am indeed a Mac user. I have really come to love the products and software that Apple has produced over the last several decades, my real familiarity with the Apple systems beginning when I was in journalism school (which was my minor field of study) in college. Those involved in photography, graphic design, journalism and other forms of publication have long been familiar with the advantages of the Apple systems and the ways in which they have aided journalists in their work. But my personal use of the Apple products (the Macbook, Macbook pro, iPod, iPod Touch, and the like) does not factor directly into my thoughts. Instead, I’m both edified and taken aback by the attention Jobs’s death was elicited.
On the one hand it is tragic that a man so young (56), regardless of his contributions to business and technology, has died. It is a tragedy any time someone’s life ends too soon, or at least sooner than one might otherwise anticipate. That Jobs was a very talented person compounds the sad milieu, for he will certainly be remembered — as he is today — for revolutionizing much of the way we understand technology in the consumer landscape. He is largely responsible for the digitalization of music (iTunes), the expansion of broadcast journalism and entertainment (podcasting), the importance of aesthetics in product design (everything Apple has ever made), the effectiveness of smart-phone technology (iPhone), and so much more.
On the other hand, the amount of posthumous attention that Jobs is receiving, particularly in the ways that people are paying their respects and treating this moment as a solemnity, is a bit startling. What is it that merits this sort of attention? Does someone’s success in business, advantageously capitalizing on innovative technological advances, rank among noble reasons for veneration?
Noble-Prize recipients and humanitarian exemplars rarely get the kind of enthusiastic attention, in life and in death, that Jobs is receiving now. The reason I can’t allow myself to be swept away in the commemorative river — which strikes me as not unlike white-water rapids this morning — is that for as much as Jobs did excellent work and brought about some key technological developments during his lifetime, he did so through normative structures of capitalism that continue to wreak havoc in our world today. There are issues of systematic injustice that Jobs played into and of which he took advantage. Then again,nearly every CEO does — that’s how someone becomes a billionaire.
I suppose the question is whether or not it is right for anyone to be a billionaire, to appropriate such wealth that as an individual your wealth ranks among the GNPs of some sovereign nations. The Christian tradition and the Franciscan movement that arises from within Christianity says quite clearly that it is never right.
This is not to suggest that Jobs was an inherently bad guy nor that what he accomplished isn’t worthy of remembrance, but everything must be taken in due measure and with an appropriateness worthy of the legacy.
I will certainly be grateful for the insight and creativity that Jobs brought to a company that has so inextricably become a part of my life, but I don’t think that I’ll be lighting any candles or visiting any posh Apple stores to pay my respects.